Monday, December 03, 2001


The following is a response to a question I received from someone on the email list.

>What do you know about Islam? I know you read the Koran. What was the general
>"feeling" you got from it?

I don't think that you can get a very good feel for a religion by just reading it's book, so I don't claim to be knowledgeable just because I read the Koran. There is plenty in Judaism that I think non-Jews would find very offensive. It is very clear that it was a commandment from G-d to Joshua to come into the land of Israel and kill everything, including the cattle. There is still a commandment to wipe out and destroy the nation of Amalek. Once one understands that Amalek's ideology was pretty close to that of the Nazis, i.e. no G-d, kill the all Jews, etc.; this commandment becomes more understandable, but this explaination is not given in the Torah, so somebody who just opens up and starts reading may very easily get the wrong impression. Likewise, I don't think that there is anything in the Christian bible about launching masive Crusades to wipe out thousands of innocent people, I don't think I've ever heard that Christianity gives you exemption from all you! r sins if you kill an infidel, which is what the Pope did. I don't think there is anything in the Bible which says that you have to torture people to get them to convert, which is what the Spanish Inquisition did. I am therefore loath to judge a religion based only on its book.

The grand irony of today's situation is that what Bin Laden claims to be fighting, the Crusaders, is precisely what he has become. The Crusaders were offered eternal paradise in heaven in exchange for dying in a holy war while killing infidels. So was Muhammad Attah and the twenty other hijackers. The Crusaders did not differentiate between civilian and military, and neither does Bin Laden. There is a sickening similarity between the Crusaders' decision to lock the Jews of Jerusalem in the city's main synagogue and burn it to the ground and the footage of the world trade center collapsing in a ball of fire on its occupants.

The gut feeling I get is that the majority of Muslims the world over, and especially the Arabs, are very supportive of the September 11 attacks. Of course, I don't want to make a blanket judgement about an entire group of people because every group has a variety of opinions, but I still have not personally heard an unequivocal statement of condemnation of terrorism from a Muslim religious leader, either here or in America. If one does hear a condemnation, it is always a conditional statement. I.e., "We condemn the attacks but... a) It's the United States' fault because they got involved in the Gulf War b) It's the United States' fault because they are trying to democratzie the Middle East c) It is the United States' fault becuase they support the Jews." These conditional condemnations turn the terrorist attacks into a political ultimatums. It's as if they are saying, "If you would just get out of the Middle East, give up this whole 'freedom for the world' ! ideology, and abandon the Jews, then we will get on board and condemn this attack wholeheartedly."

These ultimatims backfire on those who issue them. The American deal is that if you want to be an American, and you are willing to contribute yourself wholly to the country, then you're in, regardless of where you were born or what your religion is. When American Muslim leaders issue these ultimatims, they present themselves as outsiders. After all, you don't make ultimatims to your own people. I think that when Americans see American Muslim leaders on television saying that America has to do a, b, and c before the Muslim community will get on the bandwagon and condemn terrorism fully, then Americans feel a subconscious sense of betrayal. Here is someone who is taking advanage of American hospitality and acceptance without fully subscribing to the American deal.

One of the problems in the interactions between east and west is the differences of approach. In the west, everything is straightforward. The prices in the stores are always labeled, signed contracts are to be kept, and the rules are the rules. It is an attitude which manifests itself in every aspect of society. We westerners like big, tall box-shaped skyscrapers, preferrably dull metallic chrome or gray. We like knowing that there are a million McDonalds outlets all over the country where we can buy lunch and we know how much it will cost and what it will taste like before we look at the menu. Even our written language is composed of twenty six standard, easily identifiable and distinct letters.

Arab and eastern cultures are almost exactly the opposite. The prices in the stores are never labelled, you always have to ask and haggle. A word is to be kept as long as it is mutually beneficial, but no longer. Everybody has an angle and everybody else knows it. Arab architecture is typified by pointy domes, graceful curves, and flourescent colors, without hard and fast rules. The language is written in a cursive script in which one letter runs into the next, and you're never sure where a word begins and ends. The sands are always shifting and nothing is ever certain.

When two western countries have a disagreement, they go to war, fight it out, and the winner gets to decide the future. America assumed that the same would be true of its war in Iraq. It was assumed that Iraq, being militarily defeated, would ascede to the US's will. Instead, Sadaam started pushing and testing. Let's see what happens if I try to sneak out some oil. Nothing? Ok, let's see what happens if I try to close a few places to weapons inspectors. Nothing? Ok, let's see what happens if I kick out these weapons inspectors altoghether. In response, the US started bombing his country, which is when he backed down. After the US airstrikes, he started testing and pushing again. It is really quite remarkable, he totally lost a war by every standard imaginable, and yet today most sanctions have been lifted and he is free to continue developing weapons of mass destruction. America never had to re-bomb Germany after World War II, but now everybody's talking about go! ing back to Iraq 10 years later.

The same is true of those Muslim religious leaders, be they in America or elsewhere, who say, "We condemn terror but..." They realize that America wants to accept and respect them, and are pushing and testing to take maximum advantage of this generosity. Until they come out and say forthrightly, "We condemn terrorism, period," the perception of disloyalty will continue.

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