Defining a religion
Abridged form published 1/15/03 at the Duke Chronicle
Religions are defined not only by ideals but by realities, not just by their deepest & most beautiful insights, but by their adherents’ behavior. So while Christianity’s profoundest principles are mercy and forgiveness, the reality of Christianity in the Middle Ages and colonial period was inquisitions & empires. When moderate Muslims state terrorist attacks are disconnected from Islam, they ignore the reality that Islamic fundamentalist imperialists act in the name of Islam and Muslims, claiming “true Islam’s” mantle from conspicuously absent moderates. This reality must be confronted especially because many Muslims argue against separating church from state, hence, Islam exists as spiritual ideal and political reality. Until the realization that theocracies cannot be democracies (and thus have no place in politics or law) dawns throughout the Islamic world, actions of self-declared Muslims perpetrating violence in Islam’s name define key realities of the Islamic world. Saying terrorism is disconnected from Islam is a smokescreen employed to abdicate responsibility to face reality.
Over centuries, Christians broke the Church’s stranglehold over politics and ended religious persecution with moral and physical force, teachings and wars. The founding moral flaw of the US, slavery, was confronted intellectually and ended in 4 years of titanic war; persistent racism was assailed with the castration of the KKK, civil rights movement, etc., requiring active participation of colossal leaders and ordinary people. Due to the church-pedophilia scandal, Catholics felt shame as Catholics, and forced change. Yet Islamic fundamentalist imperialism has usurped the face of Islam with little resistance from moderate Muslims. Today when some Americans oppose conflict with Iraq, they protest “Not in my name” or “No blood for oil”; where are moderate Muslims protesting the actions of Islamic fundamentalists with “Not in our name” banners or “No blood for Quran”? There are countless demonstrations by Muslim-Americans against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but perhaps none against Osama bin Laden’s treatment of Americans. Replies that Islamic fundamentalists don’t represent Muslims are irrelevant; they claim to without a murmur of renunciation and are esteemed by multitudes throughout the Islamic world cheering bin Laden as Robin Hood, e.g., 2/3 of Kuwaitis believe 9/11 was justified. It’s vital not to let others speak in your name if you disagree, especially if they speak with guns and bombs. Rather than take on terrorist co-religionists, Muslim-American organizations compare themselves to Jews in Weimar Germany, an offensive depiction of America that is absurd when one notes FBI reports that twice as many Jews as Muslims have been victims of hate crimes in America since 19 Muslims killed 3,000 Americans.
Nowhere is silence of moderate Muslims’ voices more deafening than in discourse on suicide bombing, which glues the hydra-headed Islamic fundamentalist imperialism. Numerous imams, including at the holy mosque of Mecca and the esteemed al-Azhar university in Egypt, issue fatwas approving suicide bombing, while “opposing” Muslims remain silent, state it is merely counterproductive while being nonjudgmental, ignore the enticement of 72 celestial virgins, or proffer inane excuses for the inexcusable. Apologists for suicide bombing who qualify moral judgment with equivocal “Yes, but”s have regard for neither history nor consequence. Why are groups employing suicide bombing and terrorism more deserving of sympathy or intervention? With regard to account, why are Palestinians more worthy than Kurds, Tibetans, or southern Sudanese who have suffered much more? With respect to precedent, won’t political success of suicide-bombing inspire other groups to use it? Squeaky wheels don’t always deserve grease, especially when suffering that seduces (i.e., suicide-bombing) is needless or self-inflicted.
Saying suicide-bombing is used by the weapon-less is nonsense: Gandhi, Mandela, and King achieved tremendous success without violence. Waving them off as unique reveals a soft bigotry that Palestinians and Muslims cannot distinguish right from wrong, valor from cruelty, or self-determination from mass murder. Every region has heroes: Havel (Czechoslovakia), Walesa (Poland), Chammorro (Nicaragua), Aquino (Phillipines), the Dalai Lama (Tibet), Suu Kyi (Burma), Sakharov & Solzhenitsyn (Russia), Ramos-Horta (East Timor), Landsbergis (Lithuania), Alberdi (Argentina), Aylwin (Chile), the anonymous Chinese man who blocked a tank in 1989, and many others show nonviolence’s power against oppression. Most achieved success, and others continue fighting despite overwhelming odds without murdering civilians, even if their opponents do.
Another platitude, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” romanticizes suicide bombers as comparable to Washington, Che Guevara, Patrick Henry, or de Gaulle. This is the menace of cliché: statements without substance pervert history, as those leaders targeted military assets, never sending suicide-bombers to kill opponents’ civilians or children. Even kamikazes attacked battleships and carriers, unlike today’s cowardly suicide bombers who attack not tanks but buses, towers, and restaurants.
The world cannot afford the luxury of waiting centuries for Islamic societies to evolve.
Denial equals criminal indifference; the prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever sees evil, let him change it with his hand, and if not able then with his mouth and if still not able then hate it within his heart …Allah does not punish the general public because of wrongdoing of specific people unless they see evil while able to stop it and do not.” Justifying suicide bombers anywhere by whatever grievance bestows Mohammad Atta justification by his grievances.
Moderate Muslims must choose whether or not to let megalomaniacs, liars, misogynists, and murderers hijack societies and religion and pilot them into destruction’s abyss. Ideals which Muslims proclaim are belied by revolting realities practiced in their name by Islamic fundamentalists – love dies where hatred is preached, freedom wilts under despotry, wisdom withers when all problems are blamed on Jews, Hindus, & America, learning is unattainable when free scholarship is banned, tolerance flees where dissent earns death, equality is a sham when women and minorities are enslaved, justice is mocked by shari’a with a travestic set of rules for believers and another for women and “disbelievers”, and peace is a veiled fraud when the peace of the grave is pursued by killers with Hitler’s enthusiasm. Sidelines are not moral high ground; silent indifference equals complicit assent. Unequivocally repudiating and forswearing terrorist methods and imperialist aims of Islamic fundamentalism by moderate Muslims is overdue. This requires calling the present jihad by mujahadeen and martyrs awaiting paradise its name, hirabah (unholy war) by mufsidoon (evildoers) bound for jahannam (hell).