Very interesting article in the Economist, on the general topic of “Why they hate us” – and “us” is no longer just the U.S., but includes G.B., Australia, Indonesia, France, Russia, and many others. I’m wondering what peoples’ thoughts are? I think one of our main problems is the appalling ignorance of the “man on the street” in Islamic countries – I’m not going to look up the source at the moment, but I remember reading a poll done in the Middle East that indicated a majority of the citizens don’t believe that disease is spread via bacteria and viruses.
And please, I don’t want to hash out – yet again – the views on what the U.S. is or isn’t doing in Iraq. There are other threads for that. I really am interested in discussing the mindset and perhaps what people think could be done to change it.
At any rate, here it is:
Extremists declare that Muslims are the victims of the war on terror and must fight back. Liberals try to save their faith from being hijacked
THREE years after the attacks on New York and Washington, the anguish among the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims has not diminished. Other Muslim fanatics have carried out other fearful crimes in the name of Islam. And non-Muslim armies have stomped into Muslim-populated lands to prosecute a war on terror that some perceive as a war on Islam.
The result is that ordinary Muslims find themselves confronted with increasingly fierce claims for possession of their faith. Rival narratives have emerged at either end of the extremely broad Muslim spectrum, and they could scarcely be more different. Expressing one view, a prominent Arab columnist decries the fact that while it is obvious that all Muslims are not terrorists, it is sadly apparent that these days nearly all terrorists happen to be Muslims. The spokesman for a jihadist group in Iraq dissents. Wherever you cast your eye, he writes in a recent posting to the internet, you find only one truth, which is that infidels are slaying Muslims ?in every way, in every land, and with overspilling hatred.?
The two views produce radically different conclusions. With growing stridency, Muslim liberals are saying that it is high time for Muslims to act, to stop their faith from being hijacked and turned into a cult-like vehicle for a clash of civilisations. Their sense is that the violence of a radical minority is not merely ruining sympathy for just Muslim causes in such contested places as Chechnya and Palestine, it is beginning to threaten Muslims’ peaceful coexistence with others everywhere.
For their part, the jihadists voice the conviction that sympathy for Muslim causes never existed in the first place. Islam, they say, is so imperilled that fighting for its survival is not merely right, but a sublime duty. And so vicious are its enemies that any means may be used to deter them, the more shockingly cruel, the more effective. Ultimately, they believe, Islam will triumph only if all foreign influence is chased from a vast, unified Islamic state.
To the non-Muslim world, there is little doubt which view is more realistic. Three years ago, it was only Americans who asked Why Do They Hate Us? The same question is now being asked by Indonesians, Spaniards, Turks, Australians, Nepalese, French, Italians, Russians and others whose citizens have fallen victim to jihadist ?vengeance?. The puzzle is how so many Muslims could for so long remain oblivious to the extremism in their midst.
Egypt’s leading newspaper, the government-owned daily Al Ahram, provided a clue recently. On September 1st, it relegated to inside pages the brutal massacre of 12 Nepalese kitchen workers by Iraqi guerrillas, who claimed to be ?executing God’s judgment? against ?Buddhist invaders?. A day later, Al Ahram put on its front-page news that rioters in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital, had attacked a mosque?but did not explain what they were angry about. A slip, perhaps, but the omission reflected a pattern, repeated across the Muslim world, of harping on Muslim injury.
There is nothing abnormal in rooting for your own. American coverage of, say, Iraq, is hardly exemplary in even-handedness. The trouble comes with the cumulative effect of repeating a tale of Muslim victimhood, of amplifying it through mosque sermons and manipulating it for short-term political gain. All too many governments have found it convenient to direct their own peoples’ grievances into offshore arenas, such as Iraq, and so deflect demands for empowerment closer to home.
Seeing the world through a lens of victimhood has grown into a comfortable habit. So it is that some Arab commentators have explained the kidnapping and murder of foreign civilians in Iraq as the work of American agents. The agents’ aim, says Galal Duweidar, who edits Cairo’s mass-circulation daily, Al Akhbar, is to ?demonstrate the barbarism of Arabs and Muslims and so justify Washington’s war on Iraq and its purported war on ?terror’.?
Conspiracy as a way of life
Such conspiratorial views seem to reflect a need to sustain coherent plot-lines to explain what are, in fact, rather messy situations. America’s occupation of Iraq must be seen to be just as wicked as Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, or Russia’s of Chechnya. Resistance to all these onslaughts must therefore be noble, however ugly its manifestations may appear.
The desire to paint Muslim resistance with glory leads to peculiar equivocations. Yusef Qaradawi, the most popular television preacher in the Arab world, says that while Islam distinguishes between soldiers and civilians in war, it is hard to make this distinction in practice. Killing prisoners is sometimes justified, he argues, but disfiguring their bodies is a sin. Adel al-Muada, an Islamist radical who is the deputy speaker of Bahrain’s parliament, recently declared that while he personally condemned the attacks on New York and Washington, he could not condemn Osama bin Laden because there was ?no proof? that he was responsible.
Such wilful blurring of lines is made easier by the way the war on terror has been conducted. The lumping of a range of movements that happen to have a Muslim colouring?some of them at root ethnic, some national, some indeed religious?under the single rubric of terrorism can perhaps be portrayed as ?moral clarity?, but it tramples on the real grievances behind many of the causes.
Scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guant?namo have made it difficult to maintain that there exist universal notions of human rights, rather than particularist and discriminatory ones. America’s record in Iraq is not pretty. The past week’s imagery alone has included a bombed ambulance, a dead infant being removed from a shelled building, and the on-camera killing of an Arab television journalist.
Even so, the sheer nastiness of jihadist violence has begun to generate a powerful groundswell of angry Muslim opposition. The coincidence of the anniversary of September 11th 2001 with the horrific slaughter of schoolchildren at Beslan provoked a chorus of condemnation. This was not only against terrorism, but also against the clerics whose extremist interpretations support that terrorism.
Why, demands a former Kuwaiti minister writing in the Saudi daily Al Sharq al Awsat, have we not heard a single fatwa against Osama bin Laden, when Muslims fell over themselves to condemn Salman Rushdie for writing a ?vapid? novel? Who has done more damage to Islam? Muslims must no longer remain silent, declares an editorial in the Egyptian weekly Rose al-Yusef; our fear of speaking out has become the terrorists’ fifth column.