Sobering messages for Americans
by JAMIL KHADER
The response of Prime Minister Tony Blair, the British media and other European public officials, to the heinous suicide bombings in London over the last two weeks has a few sobering messages for the American public and media regarding their way of handling and making sense of the global war on terror.
Blair suggests that the problem of terrorism should be secularized, or examined and engaged as a political, not religious, problem. To secularize the terrorism debate, Blair makes a clear and an important distinction between the Islamic faith, with its strong billion and a half followers worldwide, and the actions of a marginal cult of death (sometimes referred to also as political Islam or Islamists), whose barbaric attacks betray more than anything else the values of the faith they purport to represent.
Some Americans need to understand that Islamic societies are as diverse and plural as Western societies, and the problems of the Islamic world are political or secular in nature, not religious. (See, for example, the Republican-affiliated Center for Islamic Pluralism at islamicpluralism.org.) Consequently, we need to steer away from the trap of hasty generalizations about theology about the political issues such as poverty, illiteracy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that muddle the Muslims world, in general, and the Middle East, in particular.
An important aspect of the way the British authorities and other European countries have secularized the question of terrorism is their refusal to hastily turn this political conflict with a fringe of Islamists into a religious war and a mythic clash of civilizations. As Blair correctly states, "What we are confronting here is an evil ideology. It is not a clash of civilizations -- all civilized people, Muslim or other, feel revulsion at it."
I have been recently appalled by some letters published in this newspaper and by comments I heard on C-Span's Washington Journal that reek of paranoia, indignant self-righteousness, white supremacy and alarming Islamophobia. Some Americans wrongly frame the struggle against global terrorism within the history of the Crusades and the fictitious aspirations of the Muslim world for global hegemony, as if Muslims are marching all over Europe and North America to convert White Europeans into Muslims under the blade of their "swords," or weapons of mass destruction.
I'm not downplaying the challenges that Muslim immigrants pose to Western democracies, but to demonize these Muslims and ostracize them for their religious and cultural otherness will only exacerbate the alienation of Muslim youth in Europe and the United States, and make them more susceptible to the ideology of hate that radical Islamists are spewing.
Moreover, most of these Islamic countries that are allegedly trying to seek world domination and to convert us to their "evil" religion have actually gained independence from European imperialism not more than six decades ago. (I'm not saying Christian imperialists, even though many European imperialists marketed their colonial misadventures in the name of God, gold, and glory, as well as in the name of the Crusades, as Lord Allenby did when he conquered Jerusalem in 1917.)
Unfortunately, even the White House has fallen into the trap of these seductive Orientalist, neo-con fantasies, lending thereby legitimacy to such unfounded manichean sentiments. The fact that Congress -- according to remarks made by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., on the Pat Campbell show -- is talking about bombing Muslims' holy sites, Mecca in particular, should raise serious concerns for all people of conscience about where American foreign policy could go if it caves in to pressure from right-wing religious fanatics who are using Congress as an instrument for realizing their beliefs in the Second Coming and the apocalypse.
The irony in all this is that the holy sepulcher in Jerusalem had been protected and maintained under Islamic rule for 1,400 years, before it was taken over by the Israelis in 1967.
Many Americans are sadly unfamiliar not only with the Quranic views on Christianity and Judaism, Jesus,and the biblical prophets and main narratives common to these three monotheistic faiths, but also with the history of the colonial past and the specific socio-cultural context, in which Islamic societies have evolved.
The problem again is not theological, but political. Muslims all over the world, and especially in the Middle East, do not simply hate "our way of life, or our love for freedom," but are angry with our policies that have supported and maintained oppressive regimes in power as long as they serve U.S. interests. After all, the London suicide bombers suffered no lack of freedom or the privileged amenities of life. Perhaps those who accuse Islam of world domination find solace in displacing the campaign for global hegemony that Euro-America has been involved in for the last five centuries and projecting it on Islam and Muslims. Perhaps they find in Islam the fantastic doppelganger, the dark face in the mirror, that haunts and reminds them of their colonial past, "the horror, the horror!" as Joseph Conrad's Mr. Kurtz says.
The shoot-'em (or nuke-'em) attitude is good for fantastic dime novels, not for the real, complex world, in which we live. As we steer away from the religious rhetoric spewed by fanatics everywhere, the international community has to work together, in order to develop alternative, transnational strategies to end this terrorism nightmare. Such a solution presumes that the problem of terrorism is a global problem that requires the cooperation of all affected parties, Western and Muslim, at both individual and institutional (governmental and supra-national) levels.
Let's encourage internal and cross-cultural dialogues in Islamic and Western societies alike about the unIslamic nature of these jihadist death cults, and at the same time, educate everyone here and there about the real political issues that beset the Middle East.
What we need is the power of reason and cooperation, of taking Muslims as equal partners, not the quixotic, imperial dream of molding the Islamic world in our own image. Security should not supersede the call for tolerance, respect and cross-cultural understanding.
History shows that Americans have always stood up for the underdog. Will they still uphold this ethics of care, without precluding religious and cultural minorities from the language of rights and citizenship, in the name of a white, Christian identity? This remains to be seen.
Khader is associate professor of English at Stetson University.
Note: The content of external articles does not necessarily reflect the views of Center for Islamic Pluralism.