Sic et Non
The Sultanahmet or Blue Mosque in Istanbul, one of the most glorious cities in the world
Here’s something that I nearly missed, but that’s worth reading:
So in addition to befriending a Muslim, touring a local mosque, and learning about the atrocities committed by medieval Christians, what else would you propose we do about Islamic terrorism?
Sorry if I’m being sarcastic, but it seems that whenever radical Islam rears it’s ugly head there are a flood of sophisticated and cultured people like yourself who direct the conversation to how great the majority of Muslims are. Okay, fine, and then what?
I oppose American interventionism, drone strikes, and the CIA meddling in the affairs of other countries, and I supported the right of Muslims to build the “ground zero” mosque. I have no animosity to Muslims in general. But I am growing exasperated with the people who in the wake of terror attacks jump immediately to the defense of Islam’s public image. I think it’s at best insensitive, and at worse a distraction that obfuscates discussion on an actual solution to terrorism.
It’s like you’re running 24-hour squirrel coverage here. It’s SNN, the Squirrel News Network.
Hmm. Brother Peterson, I will have to beg to differ with you on this topic.
Let’s start with the good part. Islam was a civilized and civilizing influence through much of the Middle East during the Middle Ages. Certainly, there were wars and conflicts, atrocities and brutality, however the political and civil rights accorded to the average Muslim, the intellectual attainment of the Islamic world, and the cultural achievements in architecture, art, literature, and handicrafts, put them in advance of Western Christendom in particular and most of Christendom in general. The Byzantines were probably on par through part of this period, at least in some important areas, but the Franks, the Lombards, the English, the Normans, the Visigoths, the Russians, the Mongols, none of these entities attained to the same level of technical sophistication in terms of city building, the same level of juridical accomplishment or literary output, the same depth of insight into scientific questions, that was attained to in the Islamic world. Anyone looking at the world in 1200 would be forced to conclude that it was Europe that was backwards and poor and it was the Islamic world which was forward-leaning and rich. And that remained the same for several more centuries. Even as late as the early Ottoman and Safavid Empires, it can be argued that these empires were wealthier, healthier, more scientifically capable, and better administered than their European counterparts. Italian states were making serious in roads in all areas by the late 1400 and the mid 1500s. England, France, and Spain picked up later in the mid 1500s but there is little doubt Western Europe lagged behind in many important ways.
Major changes convulsed Europe and forced innovation and reorganization and that reorganization resulted in an ascendant Europe. By the late 1700′s Europe had clearly ascended to a position of cultural dominance.
Now, how does all of this apply? Let’s use your analogy of a climb up a mountain. What you say is true. It is not fitting for one who has ascended to speak unkindly of those who have not. Those toiling up the mountain should have our sympathy and encouragement. However, what should one who has ascended to the top of a difficult peak say to someone who was ahead of him on the trail and who has not only stopped ascending but who is now walking back down the slope toward the foot of the mountain? If the goal is the top of the mountain, then going downhill is not a successful approach. Put bluntly: the Islamic world is going about getting to the top of the mountain all wrong.
Let me be candid: I think that the present culture of the United States and Europe is a cesspool of sexual depravity, rank materialism, familial dissolution, ever greater intellectual sterility, and criminal glorification. Sadly, I believe that things in the Islamic world are probably worse. There is no less sexual depravity, though Muslims still largely have the decency to view it as depraved. There is no less materialism, though in many places Muslims have not successfully attained to the trappings of wealth as they would like. Familial dissolution is a subject that is very complex in the Islamic world but there is sufficient divorce, infidelity, and domestic violence to sate the appetites of any watcher of Jerry Springer Show. Intellectual sterility is a serious problem in the Islamic world, though for different reasons than those in the West. Criminal glorification is not the same but the cult of the violent martyr largely fills the same role. By these measures the two societies would be equal. However, the Islamic world has become less free, less tolerant, less open, less scientifically inclined, and less interested in the health, education, or employment of its own citizens, than it was even 40 years ago. That puts it in a class by itself.
The Islamic world has become consumed by its own position vis-a-vis the rest of the world and rather than acknowledging the need to make substantive changes, cynically chooses to view the rest of the world, and the West in particular, as enemies to overcome, rather than possible examples to be emulated. The Islamic world could have learned from the previous experience of the Japanese, the Koreans, or the Chinese. Each of these countries, at certain points in recent history, was poorly developed, compared with other nations, and in need of a fresh approach. All of them have seized upon the challenge to better their position and are far more developed, tolerant, open, scientific, and functionally educated, than countries in the Islamic world. The result of the Islamic world’s regress toward the foot of the mountain is a rage and hatred of the rest of the world and a desire to blame and punish their competitors. This is, of course, not true of all Muslims. However, until the Islamic world as a whole acknowledges their defects, stops blaming others, and begins to take responsibility for their own progress, I am afraid there can be no dealing with them as equals.
Despite many of the very serious defects that Europe and the United States have faced in the past, both civilizations have acknowledge things that they have done which have not worked or were atrocious. Slavery, the Holocaust, Fascism, discrimination, religious intolerance, and colonial exploitation. All of these have been acknowledged. All have been issues for sober reflection and areas where action has been taken to right wrongs, including changes in law, changes in education, payments to affected parties, and in some cases, wars to extirpate certain systems of exploitation. In truth, all wrongs cannot be righted. No one is asking the Islamic world to go back in time to fix evils that have been done in its name. However, an acknowledgement of those evils, and an attempt to forestall similar evils going forward, would go a long way toward lessening the animosity that is becoming more evident toward Muslims and Islam in general.
There have been denunciations of evil committed in the name of Islam, which is a good start. But those denunciations are far from universal. There are still far too many Muslims who want to temporize or equivocate about violence committed in the name of Islam. Some of them want to explain why those killed had it coming.
They are similar to hard core left wing ideologues that do the same thing in regards to Communism. “Well, sure there were atrocities. Sure people were killed. Stalin was a bad guy, but you can’t paint all Communists with the same brush.” To which I say, “Why not?” If they do not stand up and denounce atrocities committed by Communists in the name of Communism then why should I not equate the ideology with the actions? But most Communists still will not say, “Katyn should not have happened, the Red Brigades were wrong, Che Guevara was a monster, and East Berlin was an awful place.” Do I really have to try to differentiate between those “bad Communists” and the “run-of-the-mill Marxist-Leninist-Maoist economic utopians” who wouldn’t hurt a fly?
The same applies to Islam. Why should we accept assertions like the following, “Major Nidal Hassan’s situation was complicated and his screaming Allahu Akbar, while shooting a bunch of people isn’t really indicative of Islam. Or, “The hijackers on 9/11 were not representatives of true Islam.”
To which I say, “Well, Major Hassan, thought his actions were indicative, and the 9/11 hijackers believed their actions were truly Islamic. Why should I disagree with them?” Or, more maddening yet, statements like, “September 11th was a terrible tragedy, but…”, a statement which I have personally heard from Muslims, I do not know how many times. I agree, not all Muslims sympathize with evil actions such as this but they make it awfully hard to tell which of them do and which of them do not.
Why should I still be willing not to tar the group with the same fat brush? In the same way I don’t think all Communists wanted to send people to the GULAG and the way it appears that Mensheviks were likely less ruthless and authoritarian than Bolsheviks, I don’t think all Muslims want to blow people up or cause them all to pay the jizya. Most Sufis are less likely to want me to submit to a political form of Islam than the Wahhabists. But both Communism and Islam are belief systems with political, economic, and social components that I also do not wish to submit to in any form. I’ve lived for several years in Muslim countries and I have also lived and am now living in former Soviet countries. (One of the countries had actually been Soviet and is now nominally Islamic). Both the Communists and Muslims argue that they can make the lives of their adherents better. But both, at least in the last 40 years, have oppressed and killed people for not adhering to their respective ideologies, and their apologists, continue to find ways to justify their evil. This makes it tough to maintain that, “Not all Muslims are like that,” and makes it tough for outsiders to distinguish those who are and those who aren’t.
A little anecdotal evidence, my Canadian Muslims friend who was living in Egypt went to a major mosque for Friday prayers. During the prayer, the Imam called upon the Lord to kill all the Israelis and to kill all the Americans. The congregation said “amen” to these prayers and did not miss a beat. My Canadian friend was more than a little shocked and vowed not to go back to this particular mosque. My point isn’t that there are wackos at mosques. That has been amply demonstrated over the years. My point is that the crowd in general had no concern or surprise at this request to the Almighty.
As the following study shows, there are still substantial Muslim minorities in the United States that subscribe to violence, at least in theory, against non-Muslims. There are also large numbers of mosques where imams or prayers leaders point congregants in the direction of literature that advocates violence, even though that literature is not authentic religious literature and is not accepted as such by Sharia scholars. The fact that imams and prayer leaders view this as acceptable shows the level of popular acceptance that Muslims in the United States have of violence against non-Muslims. In the case of this study, we are not referring to small percentages. We are referring to large percentages that view violence as normative.
The onus is on Muslims to purge these views from among their congregations. The onus is not on non-Muslim citizens to engage in extended mental gymnastics to accept into their midst individuals who wish to kill them. I am not advocating policy initiatives for the removal of Muslims, their suppression, or incarceration. What I am advocating is publicly shaming Muslims and Islam until they and it sorts this problem out. Such criticism certainly does not apply to all adherents to Islam. However, public shaming and calls to give up violence against others can serve as an inducement for Muslims to change and to show that, on the contrary, they have put these kinds of behaviors behind them . The alternative is to pretend these things aren’t happening or that they are happening but somehow Islam has nothing to do with them. (This last is pernicious lie and a reaction that dishonors the victims of these acts).
Until that happens, considering the destruction caused by Muslims in the United States in the name of Islam, one can hardly be blamed for looking askance at Muslims as a group.
I don’t know that we really disagree much. Civilizations or cultures, like people, grow, regress, decay, grow, go off the rails, get sick, and, eventually, die. The Islamic world today is, in many ways, dysfunctional. So, increasingly but in different ways, is our own.
The analogy of mountain climbing shouldn’t be pushed too far, and I certainly don’t say that the contemporary world can’t be criticized. I was responding to those who say that the Islamic world is intrinsically incapable of peace and goodness. (Some such have been objecting to my blog posts lately, though they’ve mostly been doing it on Facebook.) Your summation above shows that you know far too much history to be one of that simplistic group.
You wrote, “Let me be candid: I think that the present culture of the United States and Europe is a cesspool of sexual depravity, rank materialism, familial dissolution, ever greater intellectual sterility, and criminal glorification”. Your claim is ridiculous but understandable if you don’t live in the United States and judge our culture by watching Jerry Springer, etc. What kind of “culture” would you like to see?
The late Chalmers Johnson wrote three books on the consequences of American imperialism and our massive military industrial complex: Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire and Nemesis. He also took part in the documentary “Why We Fight”, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TO7-GBRx1xM), an illuminating look at the growth and pervasiveness of our military industrial complex, on which we spend hundreds of billions each year.
Rather than shaming Muslims publicly as you advocate, people should first understand why it is that some Muslims have enmity for the policies we have foisted on them. Consider for example, the sanctions placed on Iraq after the first Gulf war. It has been estimated by various independent organizations, that 500,000 children died during the ten years those sanctions were in place. Bin Laden explained that this was one of the primary reasons for the September 11th attacks. During the first war with Iraq, we had destroyed a large part of their civil infrastructure, which left many without clean water for years.
Few are talking about the root causes of Islamist violence, at least not on American media. Perhaps discussing the death of innocent citizens during the latest drone strike isn’t something most want to hear.
I’ve lived in the United States my entire life, have never watched Jerry Spring, and find the statement that “… the present culture of the United States and Europe is a cesspool of sexual depravity, rank materialism, familial dissolution, ever greater intellectual sterility, and criminal glorification” is much in line with my own observations.
I know of no better writing on this than Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, which I recommend to all and sundry.
I’ve lived my entire 46+ years in the United States and have spent the past nearly two decades in an older Portland, OR neighborhood. I walk several miles each day, and talk to a lot of people on my various routes, and have managed several large retail establishments and dealt with many thousands of people from all walks of life. This culture you describe must exist in your community because it certainly doesn’t exist in mine. There will always be crime. Look, for instance at murder rates per 1000 over the past 50 years. What you don’t see is things getting worse. There are always going to be voices of gloom and doom, especially among the religious, who want to save you from all of this perceived evil. I think it’s a crock.
What I meant to write was “What you don’t see, are things getting worse”.
Lucy, let’s start at the beginning. First, I was born and raised in the United States in the Midwest and the Southwest. My parents are both native born U.S. citizens as are all of my grandparents. I say this only to explain that I am as “American” as they come. My claims, though you deem them ridiculous, are a result of watching the slow dissolution of the families of various friends and relatives due to sexual abuse, greed, drugs, infidelity, and crime. And these experiences are by no means atypical but played out with all-most clockwork regularity among the ranks of my cohort growing up. My mother’s own extended family was a freak-show of dysfunctional behavior. The drug abuse, the multiple neglected bastard offspring, the inability to maintain employment and the culture of entitlement were things I saw played out over and over again. Your experience may have been different and may represent an America which is not the same as the one I grew up in. My claims are not as ridiculous as you seem to think them. Above all of these things was the self-same lack of curiosity, the intellectual deadness, that characterized not just the most dissolute, but the majority of my friends and relatives. My time in Europe was similar, though the Europeans try to cover their own debauchery with a patina of sophistication. The truth is, on both continents, there are too many who have abandoned themselves to a kind of tepid materialistic hedonism. You do not seem to think that the sexualization and sexual abuse of children is depraved? Or the neglect of children in pursuit of material goods? How about movies and songs that sensationalize violence, misogyny, and criminal behavior? All of that is fine? I think you would agree those things are not desirable. What would I like to see? The same thing most would like to see: Schools without the need for security guards, neighborhoods without the need for sex offenders registries, intact families that are frugal, thrifty, and decent. Cities without urban wastelands filled with violence. Rural counties without a proliferation of meth labs. That’s what I would like to see. I do not believe in a time where there were no troubles or no messes made. But there was a time in America when we did not believe it was normal for youth to kill each other, regardless of their background, where people did not entertain themselves by watching depictions of torture and bloodlust, where children did not engage in sexual acts, take photos of themselves and post them on the web. Those things are depraved, dissolute and without redeeming features. It was not always this way. As to you assertions that American Imperialism is to blame for troubles with Muslims, perhaps it is, in part. But if America is so imperialistic, so tremendously terrible, so utterly awful to Muslims, then why do they queue up in droves for visas to go there? Why do they lie, deceive, and obfuscate in order to arrive there, stay there, and obtain citizenship? Sanctions on Iraq? What is your preferred option? A Saddam even less constrained than he was? A policy of letting him alone to murder his own people? Fine. But if Muslims are so averse to U.S. involvement, then why were so many in Libya and why are so many in Syria crying out for the United States to come in and fix their problems? I have sat on the other side of Muslims in interviews who lied through there teeth to obtain visas to go to America. I have also watched as U.S. government officials I worked with ran all around the Middle East as Muslim governments begged for U.S. assistance during the Arab Spring and then in Libya to deal with Ghaddhafi and later in Syria with Bashar al-Assad. If I am a bit skeptical about the existence of some special form of Muslim suffering as a result of American Imperialism it may be due to the utterly cynical and manipulative behavior of Muslim governmental interlocutors when dealing with their American counterparts. The feigned concern for their citizens, their willingness to try to bring the U.S. in to solve some problem, only to turn around and divert popular discontent for their own domestic policies by fanning the flames of resentment toward the United States. I can say unreservedly that the Arab League is the most terminally spineless and utterly craven political body I have ever had the misfortune to observe. The other problem I have with much of what you have written is that it that it doesn’t really account for the chronology of Islamic animosity toward the United States. There have been Muslims, like Said Qutb, who have been preaching enmity toward the West and toward America ever since he visited the States in the 1950s. Our policies at that point, had not really begun to impact Egypt, Qutb’s home. Qutb’s animosity towards the United States was not a case of anger at U.S. policies, or ignorance of the U.S., rather he believed that the United States, its freedoms, its rights for women, its mixing of the sexes, were something that had to be resisted or they would undo Islamic values. Qutb helped lay the intellectual foundations of the Muslim Brotherhood, who in turn helped lay the foundations for al-Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood was driven underground by Gamal abd an-Nasser when Qutb was no longer useful and deemed a liability. Sadat let them back into the sunlight to strengthen his domestic position and they killed him. Mubarak buried them again and at various times tried to co-opt parts of their base. The repression against the Brotherhood was not a result of the U.S., yet the U.S. was always viewed as an enemy. Ironically, various members of the Brotherhood were given asylum in the United States because of the denial of their civil rights at home. Despite this, the Brotherhood, and their ideological descendants, have never let any of these facts bother them. No U.S. benefit conferred on a Muslim country was ever allowed to stand in the way of animosity toward the United States. Eisenhower’s handling of the Suez Crisis, where the U.S. left Britain, France, and Israel to twist in the wind to show U.S. support for Egypt never gave them pause. Neither did the liberation of Kuwait from Iraq, nor the protection of Muslims in Kosovo, nor the piles and piles of aid given to many of these countries or the training, or the expertise and education lavished on these places. None of these could ever be let to interfere with the narrative that the United States is trying to destroy Muslims.
I agree with you about the drone wars, but for different reasons. I believe we should have nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq or Afghanistan. Unlike Bush who believed, however erroneously, that bringing democratic government to these places would drain the fever swamp of radicalism and hatred, I hold no such illusions. Let them self-destruct (as Egypt is very ably doing right now). The poor and the innocent will continue to suffer there but that will not be any different for them than it has been for the last thirty years. The citizenry there will still hate us as they did before. Let us spend not a penny on their destruction or their defense. Let us end our post-modern war by other names. No more killing, no more monitoring. But also, and this is my point, let their citizens no longer darken our shores. No visas, no aid, no delegations. Let them stay where they are and live as they choose. And let us do the same.
We are leaving for the Oregon coast for a few days of clam digging, fishing and wine tasting. I sincerely want to respond, but have zero time. By the way, your writings would be much easier to read if you put them in paragraph form.
Lucy, thanks to you and Brother Peterson for rationally engaging with me. I appreciate it, my wife reminds me I am not always the most easy person to deal with, in print or in person. I hope you have a fabulous time on the beautiful Oregon coast. I have taken your paragraph suggestion under advisement. I’ll try to keep future comments tidier and briefer. I do have a tendency to ramble.
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