The backlash that did not happen after 9/11 is taking place now because of Muslim stubbornness, arrogance, or simple lack of articulateness. Americans are tolerant and patient to the point of gullibility but there is a limit. When it comes to the establishment of an explicitly Muslim-anything near Ground Zero, many feel they have been deceived, that their good nature has been taken advantage of. To cap it off, the liberal media accompany some American Muslim spokespersons, and some ordinary Muslims in accusing them of the mysterious sin of “Islamophobia.” (Siddiqui: American anti-Muslim prejudice goes mainstream – thestar.com circa 8/26/10)
I am referring to the majority of Americans who have expressed some degree of opposition to the plan to establish a Muslim cultural center including a mosque near the site of the 9/11 jihadist massacre. I am one of those so accused.
I tend to look seriously at any serious accusation thrown at me seriously. Often, it does not tell me anything about me and my behavior but it gives me an insight into the ways of thinking of the insulter. So, I will look at Islamophobia, the dislike and fear of Islam and, by extension, of all things Muslim, from the standpoint of what I know and then, from that of what I don’t know for a fact but that is plausible. I try to keep the factual and the plausible, the speculative, separate.
In the end, I want to know what I am guilty of, if anything, as an Islamophobic American. I don’t discount the possibility that I am guilty as charged.
Fact: On 9/11/2001, a handful of terrorists massacred about 3,000 people who had not done anything to them. Most of these people were Americans, not all. Most of those people were Christians, or former Christians, not all, There were many Jews (probably about 10% of he victims at the World Trade Center), and a few Muslims among the victims. The killing was indiscriminate. The killers announced clearly and repeatedly that they were doing it in the name of Islam, for Islam. Osama Bin Laden claimed on tape a few months later that he had organized the whole thing. Osama Bin Laden is a Muslim who says he is fighting for Islam.
Fact: All the violent jihadists together, those who have been caught imprisoned or killed and those who have not, plus those who are in terrorism training right now, are but a handful of people among the 1,5 billion ( and growing) Muslims worldwide. I agree that Muslims in general are not a priori responsible for the tiny number who commits crimes in the name of their common religion.
Fact: However, I cannot help but note that the only terrorists currently killing in the name of religion are all Muslims. The Basque terrorists of today may well be Catholics but they don’t claim it’s their Catholic duty to kill civilians (mostly other Catholics). The IRA “Catholic” terrorists of twenty and thirty years ago were not acting either in the name of religion. And they were roundly denounced by their church. The Bengali fighters of Sri Lanka, whom one may consider terrorists or not, happened to be mostly Hindus but they never said they were fighting for Hinduism.
Speculation: I have heard and read bits and pieces of religious history that lead some commentators to claim that violent jihad cannot be separated from mainstream Islamic religious doctrine. I don’t know if this interpretation is correct but it sounds plausible. I have heard others cite verses of the Koran and quotes from the Hadith contradicting this view. I am not cultured enough to decide. That does not make the first interpretation false. It’s unfortunate that it coincides so well with my observations (see above) about religious terrorism.
My mind is not made up. It’s open. In fact, I beg to be instructed. My Muslim friends and acquaintances only answer my queries with one or two peremptory sentences. That’s not enough for me. I don’t know if they are reticent or simply too ignorant to give a coherent reply. No Muslim religious authority has stepped forward for the task. Imam Rauf (of the Near Ground Zero mosque) should be on American television talking to me right now rather than gallivanting around Muslim countries. This overwhelming absence of Muslim religious scholars is like an elephant in the room. Incidentally, Fox News would love to have any of them on. And I would think it’s NPR’s duty to give them a podium.
Fact: Some Muslims in several countries, including in Palestine, danced in the streets and distributed candy on 9/11. These obscene demonstrations were quickly put down by authorities but they did occur. I could not forget them if I wanted to. There was no report of Russian orthodox, or of Papua animists, or of Hindus dancing in the street.
Speculation: Such indignities tend to confirm something that I suspected strongly anyway: Beyond the small number of violent jihadists, there are Muslims who are not terrorists but who rejoice at acts of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam. I don’t know how many there are. I would like to know, even ever so roughly (1 in 10 or 1 in 10,000). When Muslim authorities and Muslim organizations give answers to this question that sound like, “two or three, maybe four” it makes me even more suspicious. Either they are lying consciously or they are in deep denial. By the way, I take the denial explanation seriously. I think it covers much of the Obama administration behavior and, before it, much of the Bush administration policies with respect to the Middle-East.
Speculation: Beyond this second ring, I suspect, again.based on both readings and live conversations with Muslims spread over forty years, that there exists a much broader circle of Muslims who are shocked and distressed by jihadist violence but who cannot in their hearts condemn it because it seems to be condoned by some of their old religious scriptures.
Many or some are sophisticated enough to transmute religious justifications into non-religious ones. That is not a speculation; I have heard it several times with my own ears. I have read it many times. It goes something like this:
The US, and before it, Britain, have been supporting secular tyrants in much of the Muslim world for many years. When the rebellion against tyranny comes, it takes a religious form almost of necessity.
This form of argument is only superficially sophisticated. The first sentence is true to fact, I think. But: why not a nationalist rebellion, why not a Communist rebellion for that matter? (There was a “Maoist” rebellion in Nepal until recently that won, for practical purposes.) And, by the way, why not a democratic revolution, American-style?
I might be persuaded if those who hold this line of reasoning engaged in serious debate. In my unavoidably limited experience, they don’t; they just walk away as soon as you ask them more than one question.
Speculation: There may be (“may be”) and even wider circle of Muslims who are appalled by violent jihadist terrorism, who are opposed to it without ambiguity but who are too afraid to speak up. I understand this and I don’t blame all of them but this is kind of a false issue. To the extent that there are individuals and organizations who have set themselves as speaking for Muslims, it would be unnecessary for your ordinary non-hero to take the risk. The Muslim spokespersons’ first task, of course, should be to denounce the intimidation of peace-loving Muslims by terrorists.
I have made it a practice to visit explicitly “Muslim” and “Islamic” Internet sites when a Muslims is accused of violent acts. These visits give me the overwhelming impression that those sites are staffed by a bunch of whiners. They use as much space to denounce a rude remark to a Muslim woman wearing a head veil in a small Alabama town as they spend on the killer Major Hassan. It’s as if they inhabited a different country where evil forces mass ominously to insult Muslims and jihadists attacks are more or less like lightening strikes: They happen but what can you do? This does not inspire intellectual respect in me.
Note: the above paragraph is all impressionistic. Even my example is invented. I am sharing my impressions, as an overall reasonable guy, in the hope that some Muslim organization or other will take note.
I say above that I don’t blame “most of them,” most Muslims for being frightened of violent jihadists. After all, as I don’t stop repeating on this blog, they have murdered many more Muslims than any other category of humans. Yet, I don’t wish to exculpate all Muslims. That’s because I can’t help notice that there are Muslims willing to die for what they think is right. They are the violent jihadists themselves who engage in suicide bombing. Apparently, they are more numerous- even in their tiny numbers – than Muslims who detest terrorism and who are willing to take big risks to denounce it. That is unavoidably a comment on Islam, it seems to me: It’s a religion that is better, by a long shot, at inspiring self-sacrifice among its extremists than among its moderates. And here again, if I am wrong, I would like to be corrected, on this blog.
Finally, I have no doubt that there are many Muslims, in America and elsewhere, who just want to live their lives undisturbed, people who wish to remain unconcerned as long as possible. I know some personally. They all happen to be bad Muslims. They do not pray; they do not abstain from alcohol consistently. They are not observing Ramadan as I write. Personally, I have no quarrel with such “cultural” Muslims. I know that I would not feel particularly involved if Catholics started murdering Lutherans, for example because I am an ex-Catholic, a cultural Catholic at best. Curiously, I have never heard a Muslim spokesman present this simple defense: People who are Muslims in name only bear no responsibility for the crimes of Muslims.
Part 2 in a day or maybe two at most.
[Editor's note: this essay first appeared on Dr. Delacroix's blog, Facts Matter, on August 29th, 2010]