I have frequently deplored on this blog the silence of Muslims regarding violent jihadists who want to destroy us. The silence is especially perplexing because the same jihadists kill many more Muslims than they kills Christians, Jews and others, put together. Incidentally, the Jews of Israel have made it exceedingly difficult to murder them. A large Muslim population lives in their midst ( I refer to the Muslims who are Israeli citizens, about one-and-a-half prosperous million of them. They are almost as numerous as Muslim Arabs are in the Gaza Strip.) Yet, the Jews of Israel are not shy about offending Muslim sentiment in support of self-protection, and of the protection of the same Israeli Muslims, by the way. Those Israeli Muslims have no intention of leaving Israel. They don’t mind being “oppressed” that much so long as they can raise their children in peace. The Jews of America, on the other hand, perversely continue to support in his daily degradation the man who has been trying to take the gun of self-defense from Israelis. The resistance to facts of delusion astonishes me.
The Muslims I know don’t take well to reproaches about their passivity. One, a young woman I love dearly, also a pious person, declares, “It’s not more my problem than yours. Why don’t you do something?” Another to who I am close though he lives in another country, one that is 100% Muslim, has this attitude: My children are going to private school; I am taking my family to Rome for Spring Break, we just want to enjoy our normal middle-class life; we can’t spend all our time repeating that all Muslims are not terrorists. The deflective nature of the last phrase gives me pause. I don’t know anyone who says that “all Muslims are terrorists.” I don’t know anyone who thinks it. It’s a red herring intended to change the subject.
And then, there are the people, here in America, with Muslim first names and last names who share my lifestyle, my beer, and, I think, more or less, my values. “You don’t know what hit you,” they whisper. “It’s worse than anything you think, much worse.” They appear discouraged; they won’t lift a finger. I ask myself what I would do in their place. I have answers but I am not sure they are realistic; I am not sure I would have the courage to implement them. They seem discouraged. Also, they don’t act, I think, in part because they remain cultural Muslims in spite of their atheism. They are Muslim atheists, the way I am a Catholic atheist. There are fundamental texts to which one remains poetically attached long after they have ceased to possess divine, spiritual meaning. Yes, I like the Gospels. They are good stories. Jesus’ first reported miracle was to turn water into wine. Later, he fed multitudes with five dinner rolls and three fishes ( or the reverse, I am not sure). He stopped the Jewish jihadists of his day from stoning a poor woman who had been carried away by her senses. (That one resonates with me; I feel as if I had known that woman, rather well, in fact.) What’s not to like about Jesus? The most violent thing he ever did was to threaten to beat on the usurers plying their trade in the courtyard of the Temple. He used a piece of rope he had found lying in the same courtyard. No weapon, not even a small sword.
Exceptionally, seldom, a brave Muslim (not an ex-Muslim like the courageous Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of “The Infidel”) speaks out as one did recently in a Wall Street Journal op-ed page (10/27/14) He is an Egyptian writer living in New York. His name is Aly Salem. He addressed some of my concerns squarely.
Salem had this to say: “What is so compelling about radical Islamism may lie within its founding texts. It’s time we acknowledged the powerful influence these texts have even on ordinary Muslims. The political ideology based on them has already dragged the Middle East back toward the Stone Age.” (Bolding mine.)
This makes sense to me at the same time as it rings a bell. Christianity has a bloody history that includes communal massacres, frequent slaughters of Jews, the brutal naked, massive, repeated aggressions that were the Crusades, several centuries of the Inquisition’s vicious closing of free inquiry, complete with the burning alive of heretics and of witches, the devastating Wars of Religion. Yet, yet, Christians have no trouble finding their way to the meek beginnings of their religion! The Prince of Peace sits right below the surface of Christian history. There is not even much debate among Christians about what the founding Scriptures of Christianity are: The four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, especially the sermons of the prolific St Paul, the former persecutor and later convert.
Like Christians, Muslims feel threatened by the rise of secularism, non-religion and indifference to religion. Religion is losing ground everywhere in the world except in sub-Saharan Africa where Christianity and Islam go toe-to-toe with frequently horrendous results (Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Fasso). Like Christians, Muslims are “book people.” In times of stress, in times of threat, they too go back to their Scriptures for guidance. Christians are baffled and disoriented or they respond mostly by preaching more and by living closer to their church. Muslims are baffled and disoriented and they respond according to their own sacred writings. Those are the Koran and the Hadith, the collected writing of sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammed. By theological judgment, the older Hadith, those collected during or close to the Prophet’s life – in the seventh century – have the most authority. Both kinds of Muslim scriptures also include many of the Prophet’s actions, his doings, his deeds, including, prominently, his military deeds.
Jesus rode on a donkey. The founder of Islam rode a war steed. He was a successful war chief, a very successful one. The war was imposed on him by his pagan persecutors, say Muslim apologists. And so it may have been, probably was. The fact is that he beheaded his defeated enemies, or he did at least once. He was at war for most of the latter part of his life, in self-defense at first and then, apparently (apparently) to extent the dominion of Islam. And he “married” his defeated enemies’ widows. (How they must have enjoyed their wedding night after their fathers, their brothers, their husbands had been massacred by their new “husband”!) And he enslaved many of the other survivors with all kinds of slavery. According to a female elected representative of the Kuwait Legislature speaking only a few years ago, there is no text in Islam that forbids the sexual enslavement of captured enemy women. She was no theologian herself but she asserted that she had consulted Muslim theologians on the very question. I did not catch the rebuttals.
Incidentally, that’s one of those issues where I would like to be proven wrong. I would welcome the smallest fatwa from the most obscure religious authority saying that it’s not so. About now would have been a good time, what with repeated kidnappings of young girls in Nigeria by people who declare they are Muslims and with strong rumors of mass enslavement of Yasidi women by the Isis violent jihadists in Syria. Muslim authorities’ silence on this issue is deafening. Of course, I don’t believe that the supine, spineless, grotesquely politically correct Western media are suppressing the good news that this or that Muslim cleric has publicly denounced such practices. If even one Islamic authority had whispered his disapproval, it would be on the front page of the New York Times the next day, I believe. Or if not, why not?
Many Muslims respond to the growth of secularism in their own societies the way Christians do in their own, by seeking inspiration in their scriptures but the two scriptures lead to diametrically opposite behaviors. Maybe, it’s that simple. This sensible explanation rarely appears in Western public discussions because we have collectively intimidated ourselves.
The fear of appearing close-minded, prejudiced, bigoted makes the usually intelligent stupid. Many of our contemporaries have lost track of the obvious: If you don’t like football players who beat up their wives, he does not make you a hater of football. Yet, it’s not illegitimate, or even rude, to inquire whether there is something associated with football that induces players to beat their wives more than average , steroid injections, for example. Myself, there is much that I like strongly about Islam that is, within the boundaries imposed by my unbelief. I think the great mosques are the equals of the great Gothic cathedrals, or a little better in the case of the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. I like the sound of the Urdu poetry of Pakistan although I understand not a word of it, obviously. Little grips my gut like the popular music of North Africa, especially when it is sung by women (which the jihadist fanatics would forbid from performing). A complete text of the Shahadah , the Muslim “profession of faith,” even hangs near my bed just because I am so enamored of Arab calligraphy. It goes beyond this: If I had any religious fiber at all, it’s fairly likely I would be a Muslim because I appreciate the dignified simplicity of Islamic practice and and the absence of a mediating class between the faithful and God. (Of course, this all contrasts with the cheap or expensive frippery of the Catholicism I rejected in my youth.)
Yet, if I am half-way right, Muslim scriptural literalism threatens our societies. I would not react to this perception by persecuting peaceful Muslims ( a rare event in spite of constant whining by representative Muslim organizations). That would be unfair, stupid, intolerant, and counterproductive. I would begin to try to limit the damage in the US by requiring all immigrants from anywhere to affirm positively, in clear language, publicly that they support the separation of Church and State, of religion and of government, as stated in the founding scripture of this society: the US Constitution.