Why Another Blog?

I've decided to set up another blog, (my other one is called Writer's Musings), because there are some topics just too weighty for that blog.

So here it is. In this space I'll explore more serious issues in more detail. I do not expect visitors to agree with me in all cases.
In this forum feel free to take off the gloves, grab a handful of mud and fight for what you believe in.

Simple rules, rather like cage-fighting in the blogosphere:
No direct name calling. No excessive profanity. No whining when smacked in the face with mud.
Sling inuendo. Feel free to ask leading questions even if in a snide tone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Comments on the Comments about Mumbai

In the aftermath of the Mumbai massacre, a number of Western pundits, both liberal and conservative, have offered some pretty irrational commentary. Most of them get off the main issue of the specific event and turn their commentary to a general condemnation of Islam and Muslims.

This is a counter-productive and flat wrong-headed approach. Have any of these writers bothered to tally up the Muslim victims of terrorist violence? In the Mumbai attacks, for example, there were also Muslim victims. These murderers, who claim they are killing for God, are no respecters of one’s religion. They gleefully kill anyone. Look at who is primarily dying in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the hands of these murderous thugs. It isn’t coalition troops or foreign aid workers; it is the local inhabitants – Muslims – who are dying in the tens of thousands.

Another argument that seems common is to claim that Muslims do not condemn these attacks – that the voice of Muslims is silent. Well, it only seems silent because the West’s ever-vigilant professional journalists are as intellectually lazy as their readers and viewers. Muslims are speaking out. Many have been murdered for doing so. In order to find this out, one must make the effort to read Muslim media. It’s out there.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference, an association of 56 Islamic states, condemned the terror attacks in Mumbai stating that: “…these acts of violence contradict all human values and can be justified by nothing” (emphasis added).

A businessman from Dubai writes:

It is not enough for moderate Muslims to be revolted by the attacks in Mumbai as we have been revolted by the attacks on the New York office towers, Amman wedding, London transport system, Madrid trains, Beslan school, Jerusalem pizzeria, Baghdad markets and numerous other places. It is time to take a serious stand against these perpetrators and reclaim our religion.

Muslims must be more vocal in their sentiments regarding such criminals and Islamic states must counter this behaviour proactively. To borrow from an unpopular phrase, the Islamic states must launch a psychological pre-emptive strike against these terrorists and more importantly those who encourage them. Muslim preachers who fail to condemn terror must either be re-educated or discredited completely, and those who excuse terror using certain conflicts as a pretext must be silenced because the poison that they spread today will come back to haunt us all tomorrow.

Some media outlets can also act as a conduit for the terrorists’ propaganda. The stories of reformed radicals such as Sayed Imam, also known as Dr Fadl, must be highlighted to the ignorant minority. Our message must be clear: “These acts of violence contradict all human values and can be justified by nothing.”


Nothing.

Sultan Al Qassemi


These are just samples of the outpouring of anger and frustration I read in Muslim media. Muslims are not unaware of the hatred and anger their co-religionists are generating with these senseless crimes and they are just as perplexed at how to stop it as we are, even more so given that they ostensibly share the same religion as the murderers.

Then there are those who say the Qur’an tells Muslims to spread their religion by the sword. Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact the Qur’an is full of statements showing that belief in any religion is an individual’s own concern and is a matter between the individual and God. Here are a few.

(2:256) “There is no compulsion in religion.” This is the clearest statement in the Qur’an against spreading religion by the sword.

(76:3) “We have truly shown him the way; he may be thankful or unthankful.”

(18:29) “The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe and let him who please disbelieve.”

6:104) “Clear proofs have indeed come to you from your Lord; so whoever sees, it is for his own good; and whoever is blind, it is to his own harm.”

(17:7) “If you do good, you do good for your own souls. And if you do evil, it is for them.” (for your own souls)

It seems to me that the two predominant views portrayed in Western media about Muslims are either the condemnatory pieces that tar brush all Muslims with the Islamo-facist label, or those that help propagate their insane justifications for murder (Bush’s policies, Israeli policies, grinding poverty). Both are wrong.

The most common shared trait among all these writers is that they have not lived in a Muslim society – certainly not for any significant length of time. I’ve spent the greater part of the last six years living among Muslims in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve known Muslims who I’ve felt confident would lay down their life to protect me, just as I would do for them. I’ve seen Iraqi soldiers weep when their American counterparts were killed or wounded. I’ve seen the anger of Afghans when a foreign aid worker is killed or kidnapped. An unarmed Afghan bystander was killed in Kabul several weeks ago trying to thwart the kidnapping at gun-point of a French aid worker.

The vast majority of Muslims throughout the world are good, civilized human beings with whom we share many, if not most, values. This is, I believe, a fact. Yes, there are differences between Western societies and Islamic societies, but for the most part these differences are no bigger than a line drawn in the sand.

12 comments:

Doug said...

Bravo, John, Bravo! I mean that. I actually agree with every word. (Can you believe that?) If fact, it's so good I wish I wrote it.

Stephen Parrish said...

"The young man boards the bus as it leaves the terminal. He wears an overcoat. Beneath his overcoat, he is wearing a bomb. His pockets are filled with nails, ball bearings, and rat poison . . . Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy---you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it easy---to guess the young man's religion?"

from The End of Faith by Sam Harris

J. L. Krueger said...

Doug,

Is that scary or what? :)


Stephen,

It is equally easy to guess the religion of most of his victims. They will be Muslim.

The fact of the young man's professed religion is irrelevant when he is acting contrary to the teachings of that religion. It could be argued that his not, in fact, a true Muslim based upon his actions.

Stephen Parrish said...

It could be argued that his not, in fact, a true Muslim based upon his actions.

And that would leave you with an argument. A bunch of dead people, and an argument. I still can't help noticing that Catholics aren't blowing themselves up on crowded busses.

Doug said...

I haven't read Sam Harris' book, so I wonder if he's addressed pre-Islamic notions of "honor" as a possible motive. I also think the socio-economic conditions, as well as the level of literacy, should be factored into the equation.
John is right to point out that these acts of terrorism are in fact anti-Islamic.

Furthermore, to call someone Muslim because he comes from a country that is predominantly Muslim is like calling you (Steve) Christian because your family is predominantly Christian. Even if you profess to be Christian, it doesn't mean that you are.

I'm planning to write something about honor killings for my blog (inspired by John's post).

J. L. Krueger said...

I still can't help noticing that Catholics aren't blowing themselves up on crowded busses.

So blowing one's self up along with one's victims is somehow worse than simply blowing up the victims?

Catholics in Northern Ireland had no problems blowing up innocent Protestants. They may have preferred to live to blow up more on another day, but the slaughter of innocents was the same. Ditto the Catholic Basques who also have no problems blowing up other people.

The shooters at Columbine were "Christian" and yet they killed themselves.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had no problem blowing people up despite being "Christian."

Afghanistan is a Muslim country that has had its total social fabric destroyed in 30 years of war and yet all the suicide bombers who've struck here are not Afghans. Afghans have somehow managed to maintain that social taboo (stricture against suicide).

There is more to it than religion, or professed religion. There are other pathologies involved that make someone a suicide bomber.

Doug said...

"I still can't help noticing that Catholics aren't blowing themselves up on crowded busses."

Here's what Karen Armstrong, former Catholic nun and popular religious author, has to say related to this topic:

"We need a phrase that is more exact than "Islamic terror". These acts may be committed by people who call themselves Muslims, but they violate essential Islamic principles. The Qur'an prohibits aggressive warfare, permits war only in self-defence and insists that the true Islamic values are peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. It also states firmly that there must be no coercion in religious matters, and for centuries Islam had a much better record of religious tolerance than Christianity.

"Like the Bible, the Qur'an has its share of aggressive texts, but like all the great religions, its main thrust is towards kindliness and compassion. Islamic law outlaws war against any country in which Muslims are allowed to practice their religion freely, and forbids the use of fire, the destruction of buildings and the killing of innocent civilians in a military campaign. So although Muslims, like Christians or Jews, have all too often failed to live up to their ideals, it is not because of the religion per se.

"We rarely, if ever, called the IRA bombings "Catholic" terrorism because we knew enough to realise that this was not essentially a religious campaign. Indeed, like the Irish republican movement, many fundamentalist movements worldwide are simply new forms of nationalism in a highly unorthodox religious guise. This is obviously the case with Zionist fundamentalism in Israel and the fervently patriotic Christian right in the US."

Armstrong goes on to identify what she believes is the real root of terrorist acts emanating from the Arab world:

"Bin Laden was not inspired by Wahhabism but by the writings of the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by President Nasser in 1966. Almost every fundamentalist movement in Sunni Islam has been strongly influenced by Qutb, so there is a good case for calling the violence that some of his followers commit "Qutbian terrorism." Qutb urged his followers to withdraw from the moral and spiritual barbarism of modern society and fight it to the death."

J. L. Krueger said...

Doug,

In 2005 I had the opportunity to talk to a cleric who had thought the events of 9/11 a justified attack. He'd never seen the footage.

When I showed him the video on my laptop, the look of absolute horror on his face was priceless. He could only shake his head. When the video ended, he looked at me and said, "This is NOT Islam!"

Once he saw the footage, he recognized that what happened on 9/11 exceeded all bounds of civilized behavior, even in war.

Doug said...

"When I showed him the video on my laptop, the look of absolute horror on his face was priceless. He could only shake his head. When the video ended, he looked at me and said, "This is NOT Islam!""

The Quran was mostly written during a time of protracted war. The abhorrance of war resinates throughout the Quran, as well as the stipulations of a "just" war.

Massive slaughter of innocent civilians is an abomination in Islam.

Doug said...

resonates*

Tempest in a Teapot said...

Thanks for this discussion, John. It was really fascinating (and I wish it were longer).

I agree that both the media and its consumers are to blame for the myopic view of Islam and its extreme elements, but I don't see how we can go about convincing people to look deeper. Just one example: I think a reasonable percentage of US citizens knew about that documentary on Al Jazeera that came out a few years ago, but very few of them went to see it. It never received wide release, and its box office takings were correspondingly disappointing, though it was nominated for a number of awards.

So why, in the age of the entertaining (or at least, more entertaining) documentary, at the height of the Iraq War, did no one choose to see a movie that could have given them a glimpse into the other side's perceptions?

Or, more succinctly, how would you go about convincing a large number of mainstream media consumers to either change their minds or look harder at 1.5 billion people?

J. L. Krueger said...

Tempest,

It's no secret that I despise the media. However, in fairness, I believe they are pandering to what their readers/viewers want. It's all about ratings and readers and selling advertising. And this is the problem.

The consumers, seeking entertainment, are not interested in looking deeper into any issue or learning facts. The West, especially Americans, have a pathetically short attention span.

One of the guys I work with, a former middle school teacher, is a perfect case in point. His fall-back argument whenever we discuss any significant issue is, "well, I don't know about that." Nor does he typically show any interest in educating himself. That takes work.

Everytime I walk away from a discussion with this individual, I say to myself, "no wonder our kids are screwed up if this is what passes for a teacher these days."

I too am at a loss as to how we can get people to look past sound-bite news.