Columnist Walter Williams wrote a piece entitled "Peaceful Muslims," blaming the peaceful majority of Muslims for the actions of terrorists, in response to which I wrote the following, addressed to Mr. Williams:
This column reflects a very common theme coming from all sides, left and right, of the non-Muslim world. Such a piece is an easy one to write, to be sure, as it seems so obvious and there is such a broad consensus in the West on this point. (One point important to interject here is that the article referred to in this piece is this one found on the acrimoniously anti-Islam site where Mr. Islamofascism Week, David Horowitz, holds court, Frontpage. Their bias is that all things Islamic are bad, all things Western Christian are good. End of story.)
This point of view also strongly supports the idea of a Global War on Terror, another point regarding which there is broad consensus, almost to the point where it's become a given, like the assumptions that the universe started with nothing more than a Big Bang, or that socialism in itself is what caused the USSR to become repressive, or that the way to deal with Climate Change is to switch to biofuels and Primuses, join a commune and bring the entire world back not to 1968, but to 1768, when carbon emissions were presumably a tiny fraction of what they are today. It all sounds good on paper, but on the ground it ain't necessarily so.
First, we presume "Islam" and "Muslim" to be one vast, coherent force, one gigantic religious bloc, acting on some level in a manner expressive of what Islam is. "Muslims" are usually, as in your column, seen as and compared with citizens of a nation or, in their case, a huge empire, as if the dreaded/fantasized "caliphate" were a reality and this massive public voice is an expression of unconscionable apathy in the face of evil.
In reality on the ground, the one true thread in all this is the "unconscionable apathy in the face of evil" part. Or you can forget the divisive word "evil" and say "oppression." Even the Qur'an warns against following corrupt and oppressive leaders, emphasizing the responsibility of the "little people", those who use their oppression as an excuse for inaction, abandoning their responsibility to take action to change their situation. The Qur'an refers to them as "corrupt." So does this jive with your point?
Absolutely not. The oppression or "evil" here is oppression. It is the dictatorships that govern almost every Muslim population on the planet, such as Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Sudan, Libya, now Pakistan, and even Indonesia. Note I did not mention Iran. They do have parties and some degree of representative government and Ahmedinejad did not get there by a yes-no referendum, but by multi-party popular vote. Lebanon is another nation with representative government and multi-party elections that also has a sizeable and powerful Muslim population. Notably, we don't approve of either, despite their democratic bent, mainly due to their nasty predilection for pro-Palestinian views. Oooh, those nasty Palestinians! But I digress...
The point is that Muslims are citizens in repressive regimes. They are, for the most part, passive recipients of repression/oppression. They know it is wrong to take this lying down, and nobody likes it. But one look at Tibet and the former Soviet Union and you can see that a little people power can backlash into even more repression. It's like the torture at Gitmo: a "suspect" tries to tell the truth and it doesn't work, so he tells the lies his tormenters want to hear to stop the pain, but it seems they only want to take collective revenge on him.
To most Muslims living under dictatorships, they see the West feeding and caring for their oppressors, and making it impossible for them to get out of their hunger, poverty or misery. "Terrorists" are, to many of them, merely "freedom fighters" with an agenda they understand as taking extreme action under extreme circumstances - people, in some cases, with no truly functioning government, no economy, no infrastructure, no social support, no hope. Or people who feel that the West is catering to a wealthy elite at their expense, plundering the people's resources, using their lands as military bases for adventures that seem only to harm their world. The so-called "liberation" of Iraq was a sham, to them a blatant oil-grab upon which was clumsily tacked-on a promise of "democracy". Word on the street is that "democracy" means "kiss Uncle Sam's feet" and adopt so-called "Western" culture. It means submit to Western dominance. It means obliteration of their culture, their religion, even their pride. It means sinking deeper into poverty. Is that not what happened to Iraq? To Egypt? To other so-called "Western-friendly" nations?
This is not how we see it, of course - this view seems absurd, nonsensical to us. But to them it is obvious fact. In the face of this, the only ones apparently standing for their pride, their culture and religion, their self-determination against the monolithic Western powerbrokers, are the "terrorists". At least they are, in their own deadly way, standing for their Muslim brothers' and sisters' pride. Just as to you, the whole population of Islamic countries is fair game:
"Because those millions of peace-loving Muslims do not speak out and expose
terrorists and don't more fully cooperate with domestic and international
authorities trying to stop terrorists, they become enemies of the West just as
the peace-loving people in Germany, Italy and Japan became enemies of the Allied
powers during World War II. Like them, Muslims should be prepared to suffer the
full might of the West in its efforts to fight terrorism. I'm hoping that the
millions of peaceful Muslims take the proper action to avoid such an outcome.
I'm not that optimistic. We're involved in a clash with a culture that has
little regard for the Western values that hold the sanctity of human life and
Can you imagine for a moment that Muslims on the street say that the West is a culture that has little regard for the Islamic values that hold the sanctity of human life and liberty dear? They are telling us that our Western civilians should be prepared to suffer the full might of the Islamic world in its efforts to fight oppression. Of course, whether in fact terrorism fights oppression, or is even Islamic in any way, is another issue, to which I would answer a resounding "No!" But the West makes it extremely difficult to take a stand in that way. You’re demanding, on pain of eradication, that Muslims do the West’s bidding for the West’s own interests, preferably in a state of prostration. Somehow, the sanctity of human life and its liberty don’t come off as the value being promoted.
We are, to them, a nation of 21st Century Marie Antoinettes who can't even conceive of what it's like to be poor or powerless. Marie Antoinette is certainly beautiful, respectable, and knows her little world well, but she sure as hell shouldn't be making all these blind, self-assured, self-righteous remarks about people she does not understand in the least. And when a bomb causes tea to spill on her perfect silk designer dress, not a tear is shed in the land of the perennial underdog. When she falls in a swoon, Muslims have a hard time working up a state of mourning. Just as, I suppose, we don’t get bleary-eyed over the wives and children of Guantanamo detainees.
When I heard about the London bombings, I was sick to my stomach. How could these people do this?? Why?? It only makes things worse ... for Muslims! As a Muslim, I am one of the many victims of terrorism and its counterpart, the Global War on Terror. I wanted to reach out and stop this. A large number of Muslims in the UK did just that, protesting the bombings and voicing their anger. But who listens, who hears? Those protests can‘t compete with the spectacular terror events. And again, the West is about as attractive an ally for the Muslim downtrodden as Ms. Antoinette was for the French poor. Being cheerleaders for the West's GWOT, one of history's most unimaginably vast examples of overkill, doesn’t play as a self-respecting option.
The West tends to put Muslims in the untenable position of either A) cheering on people who see their only option to fight oppression is to attack innocents, vulnerable civilians, the easy targets in often-horrific macho “Events“… or B) embracing the islamophobic, Marie Antoinette-impersonating, self-serving, fat cats of the West as the proper representatives of their collective soul.
Given this ugly, banal choice, and they go with their gut. And gut-decisions tend to be xenophobic. Oops! We’re the outsiders. It doesn't help that the word "terrorist" is variously applied to virtually any group that attacks Western targets, even military targets. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, for example, commits atrocities that would be unthinkable to, say, Hezbollah or even Hamas. Many suspect AQI is a Western-backed front organization to foment sectarian violence in Iraq. It's obviously not true, but, hey, after the Hamas-Fatah rift turned out to be a US covert action, causing unbearable human turmoil and agony among an already oppressed and occupied society ... well, what do you expect them to think? That we're all about cooperation and democracy? It's a hell of a hard sell, man.
The news to you is that neither terrorists nor the West represent the Muslim people, a non-homogeneous collection of homo sapiens from many countries, most of whom are barely on speaking terms with each other, if that, and agree on virtually nothing, not even agreeing to disagree, except in a few exceptional moments of triumph. For the most part, they survive psychologically and spiritually by either fantasy, religion, or both. Neither is conducive to calm, logic-based political action. We should cut them some slack, give them some understanding and nuance, try to get off our high horse and stop feeding the man-eating tigers that rule their lands, and stop invading them. After all, the terrorists also work on PR in the Muslim world. And we’re stepping all over our toes to show them how much we don’t give a damn about them, about democracy, or about the earth itself, for that matter, choosing always the capitalistically attractive direction du jour.
And you should stop these easy, careless platitudes that only shift responsibility away from those who can afford it and on to those who can't - whose poverty and powerlessness we support by our taxdollar-fed invasive foreign policies. We put al-Qaeda in Iraq for three trillion bucks. Osama bin Laden's son (and a few like-minded guys) stopped further al-Qaeda action in the US by showing him the Qur'an specifically prohibits this type of terrorist action, and that 9-11-style shows could actually incur God‘s wrath. (I know you want us to take the credit for this, but really - not even a bona fide attempt?? DHS has to manufacture internal terrorist threats to keep its budget up, for God's sake.) But of course, we don't talk to terrorists, as if they were a species of primate cyborg. Only when terrorists are seen by the society as an instrument of oppression, not a fight against oppressors, will there be a stronger movement against it - if they‘re not mowed down in the process, that is.
Guns are expensive and impressive. But talk - and I mean thoughtful, considerate discourse - is cheap and more effective. Sadly, it is something we can't do any more, having sold that ability to the loudest bidders. Yeah, man, it's all about pride, and being treated with a little respect, not a pawn to be mowed down in front of the self-styled "Masters of the Universe." And you, of all people, should know better.