Why are we obtuse when dealing with Muslims?
In the past few months, we have witnessed a serious of bizarre but terrifying episodes of violence, hate crimes and terrorism in the U.S. The frequency of such events in conjunction with the heightened vitriol in the political discourse about health care and President Obama's foreign policy, cause even a die hard optimist and ardent believer in the American dream like me, experience a niggling disquiet.
It started with Major Nadal, the American born Muslim military psychiatrist, who killed 13 and wounded 30 in a violent episode at Fort Hood that sparked debates about whether it was terrorism and if his faith Islam was somehow responsible for his insanity. Then came Farouk the Nigerian bomber, whose father had already warned the U.S. about his son's radicalization, who tried to blowup up a trans-Atlantic flight to the U.S. Both Nidal and Farouk, according to several media reports, were motivated by anger and frustration towards the U.S. because of its wars in the Muslim World.
Both episodes triggered a new wave of discussion, articles and coverage about the radicalizing influence of Islamic values, without much reflection or discussion about the radicalizing effect of U.S. foreign policy.
In the New Year, we have witnessed a different trend. First, a man flew a plane into a building in a suicide mission. Fortunately the damage to life and property was minimal. Joseph Stacks' suicide bombing mission however did not attract much media attention other than the news value of the event itself. I did not see any "in-depth exposes" on his values, about his religion and the culture of America or Texas to provide both meaning and context to this horrible act of terrorism. Wait, it was not even described as terrorism. He was never described as a suicide bomber.
Most recently, the FBI arrested eight members of a Christian militia who were planning to cause terror and mayhem by killing police officers in large numbers using weapons of mass destruction. This group was arrested and a pretty formidable arsenal was recovered from them.
I used to live in Adrian, Michigan, before I moved to Delaware, less than 15 miles from the domiciles of these Christian warriors. I remember encountering a militia sympathizer from the area at a teach-in organized by my colleagues and me after September 11th, 2001. The man wanted to kill all Muslims in the world. I remember asking him, if he would start with infants first, or if he would keep them for the last. Needless to say, he did not share the details of his plans with us.
But I am disappointed that even this latest episode has not triggered a discussion on the relationship between values and violence. Is American culture deeply violent? Does that explain the imperial wars we wage overseas? I am especially disappointed that we have not discussed the Bible and its relationship to gun violence in America, at home and abroad. Does Mathew 10:34 explain American violence, according to which Jesus (peace be upon him) allegedly said,
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
We have had so much discussion on the sword verse in the Quran (9:05), which unlike the Bible does not really have a sword in it, but none on the original verse of the sword. Why are we not talking about radical Christianity or political Christianity?
On a separate note, most sensible observers recognize that the two things that contribute most to the intractability of Arab-Israeli conflict is terrorism by Hamas and the settlement building or land grabbing by Israel. While the former has diminished both in frequency and intensity, the latter persists even in the face of global uproar and condemnation.
The thing that has prevented the resumption of peace talks has been the insistence of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel will never stop colonizing Jerusalem. American foreign policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations has repeatedly and systematically rejected this position and aligned with the rest of the World in maintaining that Jerusalem will be either a divided or shared capital of both Israel and Palestine.
But once again, I was disappointed. There was no exploration of Bibi Netanyahu's religious values to explain how it could be his "radical Judaism" that prevents him from compromise and from sharing Jerusalem with Palestinians. We have heard the other side of the story about radical Islam a million times. Are those Israelis like Netanyahu who wish to take the whole of Jerusalem and leave nothing for the Palestinians motivated by the extremely violent verses of the First Testament (Samuel 15:2-3, Deuteronomy 20:16-18)? We don't know, we never ask these questions either of Netanyahu, or of Joseph Stack or of others.
The reason why we don't ask these questions of them is because we think we understand that the real driving force behind their policies is politics and material interests. Religion, if deployed, is used either to legitimize policies or to mobilize masses. There is no such thing as radical Christianity or radical Judaism. So why waste time discussing the ancient Bible, when we can directly address real and contemporary political issues without unnecessarily riling unrelated and peaceful Jews and Christians.
This is a smart, sensible and salutary strategy. Address the problem without unnecessary complications. Now why can't we do the same with Islam and Muslims too? Why do we insist on being obtuse when dealing with Muslims?
April 5, 2010; 4:23 AM ET
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Posted by: ThomasBaum | April 6, 2010 6:08 PM
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