American Muslims and Terrorism

I am on a difficult mission today. I am attempting a brief and dispassionate observation and analysis of American Muslim responses to the Fort Hood mass murder. I want very much to do it in a way that hinders my fellow conservatives from yielding to blind anti-Muslim sentiment. I have to do all this without regard to political correctness, of course. I have to do it also without lying, the way the main, liberal media are dissembling right and left about the Fort Hood massacre. (The ineffable Chris Matthew of MSNBC said recently that trying to contact Al Qaida was “not a crime.” I don’t know if it is. That’s a technical question. It was sure a reason to tell Major Hasan’ s superiors, up and down the chain of command. They might have kept a better eye on him. But, this is an unfair representation of the media, perhaps: Matthew is the guy who confessed on air that he felt a tingle run up his leg when he thought of candidate Obama!)

First, personal considerations, because they matter. I have known Muslims all my life, from kindergarten. I spent a significant amount of time in Muslims countries (Senegal, Turkey, Morocco). I like many aspects of the cultures of some Muslim countries, especially the music. There are Muslims in the favorite branch of my family. I have Muslims friends currently. No, I did not say, like the racists of old, “Some of my best friends are Muslims.” I am simply claiming that my numerous personal contacts, however “anecdotal,” matter a little. The long and the short of it is that I find Muslims easy to like and even to love. There is usually a personal warmth among them that is fairly rare in the US and among Hindus in India, and absent in Western Europe and in Japan, I think. The point is that if I found the company of Muslims detestable, many people would agree that it is useful information.

Second, some facts. Consider all the unarmed people intentionally murdered, assassinated by strangers and near-strangers. Consider only the unambiguous cases, such as shooting people and detonating bombs. Since the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka were destroyed last year, 99% and more of the victims of terrorism were killed by criminals who called themselves “Muslims.” I know there are still ETA Basque terrorists but they kill mostly inadvertently. They are mostly old guys who should have retired from handling explosives. As for the IRA terrorists, they have not killed anyone for years. So, my back-of the envelop estimate is correct. If you don’t like it, make it 95%, or even 90%; it does not affect my argument.

As I have said before repeatedly, the terrorists who call themselves Muslims have killed many more Muslims than Christians, or any other category of non-Muslims. This undisputed fact does not alter my question in the least: Is there a Muslim propensity to slaughter those with whom Muslims disagree and /or don’t like for some other reason?

Confronted with these raw facts, the good people I know who are Muslims go into denial, I think. Their denial takes two forms. First, they seem to say, there are bad apples everywhere. Second, they deny that the assassins can’t possibly be good Muslims because good Muslims don’t do this sort of things – which are explicitly condemned by their religion. My view is that there are too many bad apples and that the public ethical vagueness of contemporary Islam has something to do with this high number. (I say “public” because I don’t know what Muslim preachers say to the faithful in the mosques, obviously.)

I like to check my perceptions in ways that go beyond, I think, what the average reasonably educated working person my be expected to do. Accordingly, on the 11th of November, and on the 12th of November (a week to the day after the Fort Hood massacre), I visited the websites of four important organizations. My selection may be arbitrary but it’s not biased. It’s the product of limited time and of ordinary but not pronounced laziness. And that’s my first point: If responsible American Muslims want me to understand their perspective better, they are not trying hard enough.

The first organization I consulted was the English website of the mostly Arabic-language news channel Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera has earned my respect for two reasons. First, every tyrant in the Middle-East has tried to get it shut down. Second, it’s the only organization worldwide that consistently supplies in depth news of the Middle-East (and much beyond). I went to Al Jazeera because Hasan was identified as an Arab-American.

What I read on Al Jazeera was a straightforward news report of the Fort Hood massacre, of the kind that you could have got from United Press in the good old days when that news agency was still doing straight reporting. No analysis, no editorial view.

My second visit was to the Arab-American Institute. I went there because I have always liked its director, James Zogby. He often comments on Middle-East affairs on television. I have always found him a fair-minded and rational man. In particular, he does a better job than anyone at presenting the Palestinian viewpoint, in the American media. (And, yes, I know that not all Muslims are Arabs and I know that some Arabs are not Muslims. Don’t be boring!) Zogby learned of the the massacre while traveling overseas. Here is an excerpt from his column on Nov 10, five days after the bloodbath:

Though I wanted to be with them [ his staff at the Institute], to provide whatever guidance I could, as I continued to read their emails, I found that, for the most part, they had the complex demands of this situation well in hand. Since some had sent questions to me (not knowing when I would get them, or whether I would be able to respond in time), I used my wait in the airport lounge to give my best advice on next steps: what a follow-up statement might include; what messages to avoid (I noted that among the emails I had received were statements for some other groups with headlines condemning the killings and warning against anti-Arab or anti-Muslim backlash. My advice was “don’t go there”. This is not about us right now, it’s about the victims and the pain of their families. (My bolding – JD) If it were to be about anyone or anything else, it shouldn’t be about the potential this horrible act poses to Arab or Muslim American groups. Rather concern should be shown for the challenges all this will pose for the thousands of patriotic Arab Americans currently serving with distinction in the US military, some of whom, may now unfairly be targets of suspicion.; how to log and deal with threats should they come, and who should do what before I return.

Zogby’s sentiment is understandable and fair but it lacks any causal analysis. Perhaps it was too early. I shall be watching the Arab-American Institute.

Then, I consulted the Islamic Center in Washington DC. I don’t know what the reality is but the Islamic Center often seems to style itself as the official representative of Islam in America. I found nothing there. The Islamic Center apparently considers that the Fort Hood event is none of its concern. I can’t help but think that sometimes, silence speaks louder than words.

Further, on November 12th , I visited the site of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) where I found the two relevant announcements reproduced (incompletely) below:

1 (The ISNA) announced Monday, November 9, the launching of a special fund, The Ft Hood Family Fund, for the benefit of the families of the Ft Hood victims in collaboration with various national Muslim and interfaith organizations.

The fund is a collaborative effort involving national Muslim organizations and mosques. The national organizations that have already endorsed the fund include American Arab Anti Defamation Committee (ADC), American Muslim Armed Forces Veterans Affairs Council (AMAFVAC), Freedom and Justice Foundation, Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and Islamic Relief USA.Several Islamic centers, particularly Islamic centers based in Texas, have also endorsed the fund and agreed to raise money for the fund, including Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) – Houston, TX., Dallas Central Mosque – Richardson, TX, Islamic Association of Carrollton – Carrollton, TX, All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) – Dulles, VA, Islamic Center of Irving – Irving, TX, Islamic Center of Southern California – Los Angeles, CA,

2 The Fiqh Council of North America – Press Release :

We, the Fiqh Council of North America, have become aware that statements by some individuals and groups around the world have been issued on the internet and elsewhere praising the brutal killings and attacks last week at Fort Hood in Texas and condemning the American Muslim community and major American Muslim organizations of “betrayal of Islam and of hypocrisy” for denouncing the massacre committed by the suspect Major Nidal Malik Hassan. These statements are shocking to us and are totally unacceptable.

We at the Fiqh Council of North America emphasize adherence to Islamic values and principles of peace, justice and fair dealing with all people in every situation. We are deeply saddened with the death and injury of many people in the Fort Hood attack. We express our sincere condolences to the families of the victims and pray for the health and well being of the injured.  We denounce such acts of violence and consider them against the teachings of Islam.

The Fiqh Council of North America as a body of Muslim jurists supports the denunciation of this violence as stated by major American Muslim organizations and considers it in keeping with the spirit and values of Islam.  Islam teaches that all Muslim wherever they live must respect the life and property of all people, whether Muslims or non-Muslims.  Muslims must also abide by their pledges. Those who serve in the army should abide by the rules that they have pledged to follow within the general principles of justice and fair dealing as ordered and mandated by God.

The first announcement is heart-warming but it does not address my concern. No one knowledgeable doubts the charitable customs and the generous inclinations of Muslims’ hearts in general.

The second announcement constitutes an unambiguous condemnation of expressions of support around the world for the massacre. (At the same time, note that it acknowledges these expressions of support as real.) This condemnation is important because it emanates from a body of jurists, and therefore, of moralists, in the tradition of Islam. Conservatives, take heed: There are, in our country, Muslims leaders with complete moral clarity on the issue of terrorism.

Yet, and as always, I worry about what’s not there. I see no attempt at analysis. The Fiqh avoids ( so far) what is to me an obvious question:

Is there anything in the teachings of Islam that could have led this very well educated, American man, to think, mistakenly, that it was acceptable to deal with his problems, personal and/or political, by murdering innocent people with great deliberateness?

My Muslim friends and acquaintances (but one) frustrate me in this connection. They tend to respond to every crime by a Muslim with a quote from the Koran to demonstrate that Islam is “a religion of peace.” That’s either disingenuous or silly. At the very least, it’s insufficient. Prophet Mohamed surely said the words they quote. At the same time, he was a celebrated war leader. I realize good Muslims would argue that his were all defensive wars, and that may be completely true. However, his successors, certainly engaged in war of outright conquest. I think Muslim tradition itself says that the Prophet married the wives of some of his defeated enemies. (If I am wrong on this, someone will correct me and if the correction is authoritative, I will immediately post it.) That’s enslavement, in my book, not happy matrimony. It’s warfare on non-combatants, although short of killing them. Many Muslims seem to confuse two things: It could be the case that Muslim soldiers fought more humanely than their pagan and/or Christian contemporaries then. But, that was in the seventh century. There are armies whose policies today include the systematic, deliberate mistreatment of non-combatants. They are considered savages by everyone else, not moral leaders. My point is this: You can’t have it both ways. Either the Prophet’s own conduct is relevant today or it’s not. You can’t simply cite his words as evidence of anything and then argue that his behavior was proper nearly fourteen hundreds years ago though it would not be now. It’s possible to make the transition between actual conduct then and the perennial nature of the Prophet’s words in a truthful way. You have to do it explicitly. Here is what happens when you don’t:

In 1099, an army of Europeans captured Jerusalem from Muslim control. The Crusaders murdered either all or most of the defenders, and nearly the whole population, Muslims mostly, but also the Jews while they were at it. Contemporary chronicles in French, by participants, report that the attackers wielded the sword shouting, “Dieu le veult.” (“It’s God’s will.”)

Why would any rational person think if anyone argued that the Crusaders were not “real Christians” because Christ preached universal brotherhood, as the Gospels show clearly? How would any rational Muslim react if I contended that Christianity, the religion, its teachings, had nothing to do with the Jerusalem massacre, however perversely?

Muslim jurists, moralists, and intellectual have no dealt with this inherent ambiguity in the presentation of Islam, to my knowledge. I would like to be corrected if I am wrong. It’s in the interest of Muslims that this question be tackled because not doing so feeds the growing prejudice against all Muslims in this country and in the world in general.

I will post anything that attempts to answer my question in reasonably polite language. I will not post any excerpt from any sacred scriptures.

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About Jacques Delacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
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3 Responses to American Muslims and Terrorism

  1. Jacques, I appreciate your sharing of your personal experience as a grounding of your perspective, and your taking the time to research this subject and share your findings.

    You raise a great question, what are those aspects of religion seem to justify objectification and mistreatment of others. I also appreciate that you don’t shrink from recognizing that, given the history of Christianity, such elements must also be present in Christianity, and by extension, perhaps in our own culture. In my book honest self-searching is always a good thing.

    For me, this invokes the broader questions: how and why do people draw on religion to justify their own will and actions, and what are the elements that exist in some (many?) religious texts and traditions that seem to support the objectification and mistreatment of others, for those who are so inclined?

    I also notice that there is also a distinction between our conscious values and beliefs and our unconscious values and behaviors — what Jung might call the shadow.

    I hope you will forgive me if this veers too far off topic.

    Best wishes,
    Lisa

    • Luke Arno says:

      Your clause “such elements must also be present in Christianity” is supposed to be, what – a declaration of moral equivalency between mideaval Christian doctrinal autocrats and modern Islamic terrorists? If so, it is a failed image, a flat anachronism, because unlike Islam, Christianity has adapted to the times. If instead you meant by sly innuendo to insert the idea of moral equivalence between modern 21st-century Christianity and 7th-century (in other words, their version of modern) Islam – it is a delusion and perhaps worse, a semantic piece of slander. But arguing about religion goes nowhere, so let’s get secular instead. The founders of America kept slaves – do you keep them? Of course not. The founders of Iran practiced jihad. Does its leader of today? Uh, yeah…… and this hardly makes him your moral equivalent.

  2. Hi Luke,
    It is not at all my intention to declare the moral equivalence between modern 21st century Christianity and Islam. I share the view of most people in this country that Islamic terrorism is a problem.

    I do stand by my statement that there exist elements in Christianity that have been used to justify extraordinary violence over the centuries. And, there are violent extremist groups in the U.S. that draw on their own interpretations of Christianity. For example:

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/apr/14/federal-agency-warns-of-radicals-on-right/

    http://www.rickross.com/reference/christian_identity/christianidentity19.html

    I’m not endorsing either of these articles in particular, just pointing out that examples can be easily found if you look for them.

    Why do I think this is worth mentioning? For the same reason that we find in Mathew 7:3: “And why behold you the mote that is in your brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye?”

    My interpretation of this quote is psychological, in that we have a propensity to project our unowned, undesireable characteristics onto others, and demonize them. The whole dynamic of scapegoating (up to an including genocide) follows this impulse.

    We experience the process of demonizing others as self-rightousness. Self-righteousness feels pretty good, so there is psychological reward.

    So, I’m suggesting a very Christian practice of considering our own self-righteousness and impulses to violence, and how we may draw on religion to underwrite our actions. Such self-searching may have several benefits. We might: 1) better live up to our own moral aspirations; 2) see more clearly; and 3) and perhaps gain some useful insights into the intolerance and violence of such groups and develop better strategies for dealing with the issue.

    Again, this isn’t squarely on topic to Jacques original post, but I think it’s relevant.

    Lisa

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