Those of you who are regular readers know I have not courted (political) controversy on this site, especially compared with my writing on my old site. But if the fight comes to me, I’ll certainly never turn the other cheek. I’m the other kind of Christian.
In a post on the lunacy of a new Fox reality show based upon arranged marriage, I made the mistake of naming it “The Islamists Should Like This One,” even though the post had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, apparently due to the title, many a stalwart friend of Islam leaped into the breech to defend what had not been impugned in the first place. Now I know what Charles Johnson feels like.
But since agitated and defensive Muslims (and their reflexive yes-people) have taken my assault on coercive feudal social practices in general to be an assault upon them, I am forced to bring up a few odds and ends from the news.
Egypt is one of our allies in the Middle East; they are held to be moderate. Yet the state-owned Egyptian television is set to broadcast this:
- “We don’t think government TV stations should be broadcasting programs that we consider racist and untrue,” a senior State Department official said on Thursday.
“It is a series … supposedly on other topics, but that incorporates or is based on these odious protocols, the Elders of Zion. We have raised it with (Egypt and) other governments,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
The 30-part series “Horseman without a Horse” tells the story of an Egyptian man fighting British imperialism and Zionism in Palestine in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
It draws on some elements of the Protocols, a forged document purporting to prove Jews plan to dominate the world.
Egyptian television plans to broadcast the series during the fasting month of Ramadan, when television audiences peak.
Speaking of hate: The Protocols is a forged document created in Russia near the turn of the last century to deflect criticism away from the czarist government and onto the Jews. It is hate speech pure and simple, and it was created for the sole purpose of inciting hatred against Jews.
- The Anti-Defamation League, a New York-based group which tracks anti-Semitic activities, said: “Once again, the Arab media is demonizing Israel and Jews, and no one is speaking out. Arab leaders must put a stop to programming that appeals to ignorance, hatred and anti-Semitism.”
Jewish organizations said on Thursday that Jews in the Washington area would rally outside the Egyptian Embassy on Monday in protest at the television series.
I call to my Muslim friends, if you are against hatred and falsehood, especially falsehood created for the express purpose of inciting hatred, then attend Monday’s rally – speak out against hatred and religious intolerance.
- “The show advances a false and ugly conspiracy theory about Jews that has fanned the flames of hate and persecution for more than a century,” they said in a statement.
“The production of this show, which was approved by the Egyptian Ministry of Information, is in breach of the 1979 Israel-Egyptian peace accord, which calls on both sides to prevent incitement against each other,” they added.
Jerrold Nadler, a Jewish Democrat who represents a New York district in the House of Representatives, on Thursday circulated a letter to other members proposing to cut off all U.S. military aid to Egypt, worth about $900 million a year.
He said the cut should last until the Egyptian authorities “have begun the road to peace with, and understanding of, other nations, cultures and religions.”
Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979 but relations between Egyptian and Israelis have fluctuated according to the state of talks on peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Egyptian Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif has denied that the series includes anything anti-Semitic.
And speaking of denial:
- Makers of an Egyptian TV drama to be aired in November have rejected accusations by Israel, the United States and Jewish groups that it is anti-Semitic and incites racism.
….The series, “A Knight without a Horse,” tells the fictional story of an Egyptian who fights British occupation of Egypt from 1882, then in 1906 stumbles on what the story says is a secret scheme for global domination drawn up by an international Jewish movement.
“He discovers there is a plan to oppress the whole world,” Mohamed Baghdady, one of the scriptwriters, told Reuters. The hero distributes the text among his fellow resistance fighters, finding himself pursued by those who guarded it.
The text is the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
….The serial does not try to prove or disprove the Protocols,” Baghdady told Reuters. “I found this text for sale in the shops and I don’t say whether it is true or false.
“This is an imaginary television drama — it doesn’t assume that this happened in reality,” he said.
He said the Protocols occupied only part of the 41-episode series, which is due to be screened on two Egyptian channels — one state-owned and the other privately owned.
To appreciate this situation, simply put the shoe on the other foot: imagine that Israel aired a show over Hanuka based upon a book that stated as fact that Islamists were out to takeover the world. How would Egypt and Muslims in general react? They would scream and yell and whine about hate and lies and intolerance and ignorance, wouldn’t they? (I won’t even bring up the inconvenient fact that Islamists DO want to take over the world). And remember, Egypt is held to be a “moderate,” not an “Islamist” country.
So that’s what a moderate Muslim country is up to. Let’s look at what some clear Islamists have been doing – this is from yesterday:
- The British government has added four al-Qaida-linked groups to its list of banned terror organizations, including a Southeast Asian group suspected in the deadly Bali bomb attacks.
Issuing an order to ban the groups, British Home Secretary David Blunkett said the four had “discernible links” to al-Qaida.
Remember them? They killed a few thousand Americans, including Muslims, about a year ago.
- The House of Commons on Wednesday outlawed Jemaah Islamiyah, suspected in the Oct. 12 attacks on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, along with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; the Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf group; and the Lebanese-based Palestinian militant group Asbat al-Ansar.
The House of Commons vote followed Blunkett’s draft order under the Terrorism Act 2000. It now bans 25 alleged international terror groups, making membership in and support of them illegal.
Blunkett told the Commons the action would send a signal to terrorist organizations that Britain would deal swiftly with groups “that are committing terror across the world.”
…Jemaah Islamiyah seeks a Muslim super-state in Southeast Asia and is suspected in the Bali bombing that killed nearly 200 people on Oct. 12.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan wants to overthrow the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, which blames the group for a series of bomb blasts.
Last fall, the U.S. government designated the movement as a terrorist organization. Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim militant group, has carried out repeated kidnappings and killings in the Philippines.
Asbat al-Ansar, a Sunni Muslim group based in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, is also on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.
I’m not saying these groups represent Islam, but they have taken the name of Allah in vain. Speak out against them. Condemn them unambiguously. Speak out against these terrorists as you would against Jews or Christians who behaved the same way.
Islamic militants have been busy in Afghanistan as well:
- A handwritten letter discovered in this village just south of Kabul on Saturday appears to confirm the opening of a sad new front in the struggle between Afghanistan’s American-backed central government and remnants of the Taliban.
Tacked to a dying tree, 50 yards from a girls’ school attacked Friday night, the anonymous letter urges Afghans to rise up against American forces who have “occupied” Afghanistan and “made our Afghan sisters their servants and slaves.”
“We call on all the countrymen to save their clean sisters and daughters from this infidel net,” the note reads. “Stop carrying out the plans of the Americans, or you will face further deadly attacks.”
The girls’ school was one of four damaged late Friday in remote villages just south of Kabul. At each site the same letter was found, signed by “the hero Mujahadeen of Afghanistan.” It was not clear if that was a general reference or the name of a new group.
….the well-coordinated timing of the attacks, and the copy of the letter obtained today by The New York Times, appear to confirm that Islamic militants have begun a campaign against the education of girls.
The Taliban, with their doctrinaire interpretation of Islam, outlawed most forms of education for girls and women.
Now let’s get really moderate. The website discussed next is held to be as moderate as they come in the Middle East. It’s based in Egypt:
- Inside a run-down building in a middle-class Cairo neighborhood, a hybrid group of eager young dot-commers and idealistic religious messengers produces one of the Islamic world’s leading Web sites, Islam-Online.net.
“We all consider this an act of jihad, how to liberate people’s minds from ignorance,” said Ahmed Muhammad Sa’ad, using “jihad” in its sense of spiritual struggle. Mr. Sa’ad is a recent religious school graduate and a prize-winning reciter of the Koran who helps channel readers’ requests for religious rulings, or fatwas, to Islamic legal scholars around the world.
Islam Online says it wants to present a positive view of the faith to non-Muslims, to strengthen unity in the Muslim world and to uphold principles of justice, freedom and human rights. Scholars of the region say they see the Web site as a leading example of efforts by moderate Muslims to push for the Islamization of societies by nonviolent means.
Hmm, so even the moderates want to make societies more Islamic. I don’t want them to become more Christian – I want them to see the wisdom and necessity of separation of church and state. That’s the kind of moderation I am looking for.
- Islam Online and Al Jazeera are both feeling the influence of an Egyptian-born cleric, Sheik Yusuf Abdulla al-Qarawadi. In addition to acting as the Web site’s spiritual guide and chairman of its board, he has gained prominence through a regular call-in show on Al Jazeera, in which he expounds on theological topics and answers questions about Islamic practices and principles.
He has given mixed signals on the subject of women, saying that nothing in the Koran forbids their voting or driving but that a woman’s main role is as a mother.
Sheik Qarawadi, who has a history of anti-American views, condemned the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as a “heinous crime,” saying on the Web site that the killing of innocents is a “grave sin” under Islam. But the sheik also condemned Egypt’s leading Muslim scholar for rejecting terrorist attacks that killed Israeli civilians. The perpetrators were fighting colonizers, he said, and in Israel all men and women are “soldiers.”
But Mr. Sayed, the site’s deputy editor, said that Islam Online was by no means a mouthpiece for the sheik. He, like others interviewed at the site’s offices, emphasized that it was a vehicle for a broad range of mainstream Islamic views.
“I have this idea about sharing the principles and concepts of Islam with humanity,” he said. “We are defending justice, not only Muslims.”
I do not believe it is moderate, or reasonable, or just to label all citizens of Israel as “soldiers” and thus fair game for murder.
I realize this burden of guilt by association can make perfectly reasonable Muslims defensive. The answer? Loudly and firmly disassociate yourself from the violence, the hate, the lies, the conflation of church and state, the intolerance of other religion and cultures, the arrogant assumptions of exceptionalism. Then there will be nothing to be defensive about.
- A surprising new ABCNEWS/Beliefnet poll shows that after starting out surprisingly tolerant, public opinion of Islam has become more negative.
The percentage of Americans having an unfavorable view of Islam has jumped from 24 percent in January 2002 to 33 percent now.
The portion of Americans who say that Islam “doesn’t teach respect for other faiths” rose from 22 percent to 35 percent.
A total of 73 percent of Americans do not feel they have a good basic understanding of its beliefs and tenets, and that, too, has risen, from 61 percent last winter. This suggests that any additional information people have gleaned about Islam has confused more than clarified.
….Why did public opinion shift?
The most significant moment in 2001 on this issue was when President Bush stood before the nation just days after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and declared, “Islam is a religion of peace.” He followed that up with a series of symbolic gestures: hosting a Ramadan dinner at the White House (a first) last November, posing for pictures with the Koran on his desk, inviting American Muslim leaders to his office, and visiting a Washington mosque.
Since most Americans knew little about Islam, Bush was, initially, America’s teacher. He did it for a mix of practical and idealistic reasons. In diplomatic terms, it was crucial that the United States gain support from governments like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. To get that support, it was important that the war on terror not be viewed as a war on Islam.
But even before his election, Bush had made a point of reaching out to Muslims. When he talked about religion during campaign speeches, he invariably referred to “churches, temples and mosques” a rhetorical innovation not before embraced by presidential candidates of either party.
But conservative Christians were quietly unhappy with Bush’s posture. One group, the Virginia-based Family Policy Network, encouraged members to “thank Franklin Graham for his faithfulness to Christ in the face of criticism.”
….It’s important to distinguish between Graham and other Christian leaders. Unlike Robertson and Falwell, Graham is thought to represent the mainstream evangelical base, one of Bush’s crucial voting blocs. Graham’s comments signaled how unpopular Bush’s Islam-is-peace line had become with this important political group. There was no political cost to Bush after his initial statements; they were viewed as necessary comments to win the war. A direct rebuttal of Graham, however, could have alienated some of his supporters.
On the other hand, it could be argued, a wartime leader needs to be more politically courageous. Bush had plenty of political capital to spend but chose not to. What’s more, the comments from Robertson gave Bush an opportunity. While Graham is a popular figure in evangelical circles and neutral with the general public, Robertson is relatively uninfluential with evangelicals and unpopular with the general public. Bush could have disagreed with Robertson, showing his opposition to extremism on all sides, without alienating his base. His unwillingness to do even that exhibits an extreme caution, and some would say, political cowardice, on Bush’s part.
I agree with this statement – Bush should have condemned the attacks on Islam in general from evangelical Christian leaders, especially nuts like Falwell and Robertson. It is important for him to speak for those millions of Muslims who do practice Islam as a religion of peace. But there is also this:
- There is another factor: Muslim leaders themselves. They, like Bush, asserted over and over that Islam was a “religion of peace” and that “Islam means peace.” There was a cognitive dissonance between these simple assertions and a continuous stream of suicide bombings in the name of Islam. Conservative scholars and religious leaders cited verse after verse from the Koran showing a violent streak. Though many were taken out of context (and were comparable to verses in the Old Testament of the Bible), they nonetheless were effective rebuttals, at minimum, to the claim that “Islam is a religion of peace.”
Reacting to the Muslim Reaction
Meanwhile, polls came out during the winter showing that Muslims around the world believed Israel was partly to blame for the attacks; even a few respected American Muslim leaders echoed those statements.
Muslim leaders maintained that Osama bin Laden was an aberration, a single twisted soul distorting Islam. But the reality is something more disturbing – that Islam is now being used as a justification for violence – not by a few, but by many. Though many Muslim leaders criticized the terrorists, few stated that the problems with Islam’s misuse were dangerously widespread. As a result, Muslim leaders may have lost some of their credibility.
During a dinner in early October sponsored by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Judith Kipper chastised Muslims for not saying and doing more. “There is a need now for Muslims in America to stand up and be accountable,” said Kipper, an ABCNEWS consultant and director of the Middle East program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Keeping your head down isn’t going to work anymore.”
American University professor Akbar Ahmed admitted as much: “For the first time in history, Muslim civilization is on a direct collision course with all the world religions.”
Ahmed said that at this point, he is aggravated that many Muslims won’t acknowledge this. “After Sept. 11, there was this mantra, ‘We are peaceful, we are peaceful.’ After Muslims killed 3,000 people, it makes no sense to me.”
Though probably a mistake, the posture of Muslim leaders was understandable in one sense: American Muslims live in constant fear that antagonism would turn to harassment or violence against them. And indeed, since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been numerous instances of violence against American Muslims, so a defensive posture is not at all surprising.
But Ahmed, a former high commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom and an expert on bin Laden, said Muslims must overcome that posture. “I feel a sense of sorrow and embarrassment,” because, he said, “We are at the bottom of the pile.”