After the outrage following the September 11 terrorist attacks had subsided somewhat, a jihadi fellow traveler corps stepped forward to assure us we had earned what we got. We were insensitive to the Muslim world. Bullies and Bigots 'R' Us.
The party line has notably changed since then. Events like the Afghan Head Chopper Ball this weekend make the good guys (them) vs. bad guys (us) paradigm a tough sell. So, the Left and the neo-cons have put aside their petty differences to make common cause. Anybody gets too fractious in the Middle East, we'll flip Tomahawk missiles and bombs at them till they plead for Democracy.
Muslim apologetics in their purest form are thin on the ground these days, which is why I welcome a column by James Carroll at Boston.com. Only a paleontologist finding a half-billion-year-old insect preserved in amber knows the joy of finding such a specimen.
James Carroll writes:
There is evidence that Muslims in the United States are disproportionately discriminated against (according to Justice Department figures, 14 percent of religious discrimination cases involve Muslim institutions, while Muslims make up 1 percent of the US population). But pervasive negative attitudes toward Islam go far deeper into the American psyche even than these manifestations suggest, for contempt toward the religion of Mohammed is a foundational pillar of Western civilization.
Yes, the ancient Greeks and Romans looked into the future, read the omens and saw the sweep of Araby across the desert sands. Cato the Elder was famous for saying in the Senate, again and again, "Mecca must be destroyed." Doubtless Carroll is correct that the Justice Department has a surplus of religious discrimination "cases" involving Muslims. Since a case is the automatic result of a complaint, clearly Muslims claim more discrimination than anyone else.
From early on, Western civilization understood itself positively against the negative foil of Islam, a polarity that was institutionalized during the decisive centuries of the Crusades. That Christendom failed to liberate the Holy Land from infidel control only made permanent the fear and hatred of Islam.
A sliver of truth resides here among the glittering generalities. The Crusades were not Western civilization's finest hour. No honor, no glory. Furthermore, almost everything about the various Crusades was as badly planned and executed as the Iraq occupation that has been our occupation for nigh eight years.
Taking the movement’s impressively rapid spread into Asia, across Africa, to Iberia as the result only of violence (jihad, which in Arabic means spiritual effort, was misunderstood), Christians entirely missed the key factor that generated the religion’s astonishing appeal. ...
Mohammed’s insistence on the immateriality of God, against prevailing tribal cults built around material representations of deities (idols), was the heart of that revolution. God’s immateriality is the precondition of a felt intimacy with God, universally available to every believer. The "oneness" of God that defined Mohammed’s revelation, also known as monotheism, enabled individual human participation in that oneness. Each one in communion with one God.
Carroll appears not to have heard of Judaism or Christianity, both of which twigged monotheism centuries before Islam. Even Mohammed gave his predecessors credit.
Ignorant Western assumptions about Islam’s inherent slant toward violence still undergird the prejudice that defined preoccupations in Congress last month. But more than civil rights violations are at issue. After all, America’s war on terrorism was launched, protests to the contrary notwithstanding, with a generic Muslim all but explicitly identified as this nation’s enemy.
Nonsense. The war on terrorism was spectacularly bungled in large part because it could never define the enemy as having anything to do with Islam. We were assured with the regularity of rain in Scotland that Islam was a religion of peace. Islam was waiting for democracy; we just had to clear out a few extremists who sullied its name, turn our armed forces into Peace Corps volunteers digging wells and building schools, and the Muslim world would rise up as one into the sunshine of Democracy, the universal solvent.
"Ignorant Western assumptions about Islam’s inherent slant toward violence ... ." Ignorant indeed. How could anyone possibly have such a biased assumption? If you want to see how ridiculous our prejudice about Muslim violence is, this site should set you straight.
Many Americans have since learned to be self-critical about the visceral Islamophobia that followed upon 9/11. But for every Senator Durbin there is a Representative King. That we must decry the bigotry means it lives. Acknowledging that this ancient current runs silent and deep below the ocean of our history is the start of getting free of it.
As I noted, James Carroll has given us a reminder of the good old days on the Left when everything was simple, and people like him knew what was what and were happy to share their knowledge with us. Only one thing mars the complacent perfection of that paragraph. How does a current run "silent and deep" below an ocean?