Hesham Sabry holds a BSc Engineering (1972), and a joint Honours Psychology-Anthropology, University of Waterloo
Vol 10 # 1, 2004
What the tragedy of September 11, 2001 taught me
EVIDENCE OF HISTORY
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It’s been three years since the horrifying events of September 11, 2001. The whole world is still experiencing its aftershocks with no end in sight. But on a more individual basis, soon after that fateful day many people began forming considerably different views of the world they live in than they had before. Personally, as a non-religious, secular Canadian of Egyptian-Muslim background, I changed my own perspectives on several fronts. In particular, my normally disinterested understanding of the relation between a religion’s teachings and the conduct of its followers turned into great curiosity.
For the first time ever I began to look at how certain aspects of a religion, any religion, influence its followers, either positively or negatively.
My main focus of interest was how a religion affected the way its followers treated the followers of other religions. After all, I never heard a preacher of any of the so-called great religions preach that all religions are equal, compared to how easily they usually preach that all races are equal, for example. The number of times I’ve heard certain televangelists insult Islam explicitly or implicitly, and extol the virtues of Christianity, putting it above all other faiths!
Whilst living in Egypt for nearly four decades, I never heard a Muslim preacher insult Christianity in any manner explicit or implicit. It would be totally condemnable and unacceptable, and we shall see why in Part Three of this series. But they also never, ever preached that all religions are equal. To them Islam was and is the final revelation of the God of Abraham, and therefore the religion all humanity ought to follow.
Since no amount of “tolerance” or compromise can bring a traditional clergy-man around to declare all religions equal, this obstacle still poisons global understanding to a great extent. Even from the days of ancient Egypt, Pharaohs chiselled temple walls to erase the images of gods of previous Pharaohs. They often even destroyed whole temples and all other signs of the previous gods whom they replaced with their own.
So when it comes to which god to worship, how, and through whom, each person’s religion is the one and only. In religion and gods we are not all equal, “we” are the best, whoever “we” is. Since that is the case with religion, then one of the most reliable ways to judge what any religion is truly like toward other human beings, is through its most difficult aspect, how it influences the way its followers treat those from other religions under diverse situations and circumstances.
But how do we assess a religion on that criterion, do we look at its teachings on that matter, do we look at what its holy books advise on it, do we look at the example of its prophets and their attitudes towards non-believers, or what? I guess the reader will already have formulated the obvious answer: we can realistically assess a religion on that matter only through the facts on the ground, the actual behaviour of the followers of a religion toward others.
In other words, no single issue – holy books, holy verses, life style of prophets – can be indicative of how a religion affects the conduct of its followers. It is the holistic effect of a religion as demonstrated by how its followers actually treat others that gives us a true picture of its workings. And one robust way to investigate that is through its history.
History provides an exhaustive, concrete written record of how diverse religious traditions treated others across the ages under various circumstances and situations, and across regions of the world. Such a record can give us a true picture of what a religion is all about in that respect. It would certainly tell us much more about the holistic nature of that religion than any amount of analysis of its teachings and holy books.
Once we establish how well or badly it performed on that point – how it treated those of other religions – then perhaps we could start searching its holy books, teachings, or whatever, for the possible reasons behind it. That would undoubtedly be the harder task.
The first part is basically reading the history of a religion across time and space. That is fairly straightforward and could be easily applied to any religion that has a written history. So the question then is how did Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other followers of religions of humanity fare in their treatment of followers of other faiths over the ages?
Focus on Islam
In looking for an answer to 9/11 in Islam, the focus of the western media was specifically on The Qur’an (aka The Koran) – the Islamic holy book – and particular “verses” in it, something I found trivial from the start. For one thing, I knew the answer lay in politics rather than religion. Second, I read the Old Testament in its entirety years ago and was horrified by what I read. But like most ancient books it did not surprise me, and it had no relation in my mind to what I expected of Jews, or how I viewed the Jews I knew or did not know. I had read little of the New Testament back then, but still there was enough in what I had read that was very unflattering. So religious texts were not where I believed the answer lay, if indeed we expected to find an answer in religion at all.
The debates I watched on American television, and analyses I read in the media after 9/11, rather than reasoned argument, were often full of hate and venom hurled at Islam. Every argument the haters made was easily refutable and served to open my eyes further as to how wrong they were. In fact, their arguments could be easily turned against them, and often applied to them alone rather than to Islam at all. Initially, just after 9/11, my interest – like everyone else’s – focussed on Islam. But watching such haters ply their hatemongering trade inevitably forced me into making comparisons with Christianity (and to a lesser extent, Judaism).
The revelations my search led me to regarding the three monotheistic religions – were staggering and sobering. However, in this analysis, I will focus mainly on Islam, with comparisons only where they are unavoidable. The data that eventually interested me the most and were the most revealing dealt with Islam and Muslims post the 9/11 tragedy up to this day. But that begs first investigating the history of Islam across the some 1300 years that came before those last three years.
Centuries of Evidence
One can simply begin by stating that across 1300 years of various Islamic empires, which at times stretched from one end of the Old World to the other, Christians and Jews lived under conditions that were rarely, if ever, enjoyed by minorities under the rule of others. Even the Ottoman Turks, known for their ruthlessness in war, did not try to eliminate Christianity in the Balkan nations they ruled for several centuries. The inhabitants of the region emerged from that extended period of Muslim rule as Christian as ever, their holy places, monasteries, churches and shrines intact and secure.
In that example, we see Christian peoples under four hundred years of absolute Islamic rule, when no NATO, no America, no power could have stopped Muslims from doing as they wished with their conquered subjects, and yet they never forced those Christian populations -which were totally at their mercy- to convert to Islam. Neither did they exterminate them nor ethnically cleanse them or even place them in concentration camps or relegate them to reservations. Any of those options they could have easily carried out with impunity back then, yet they never did any of that. That reality is not only in written records, but in the real live evidence of millions of thriving Balkan Christians.
If Islam truly commands its followers to kill all “infidel”, as Islam haters would have us believe, those lands would have all long been European Islamic nations today. Serbs would not be worrying at this time about their sacred monasteries being damaged during the Kosovo war, they would have long been razed to the ground, and they, the Serbs, long either exterminated or converted to Islam.
None of the Ottoman Islamic rulers, who came and went over the four hundred year period did that. That’s why Greeks, Macedonians, Serbs, Bulgarians and others remained Christian, alive and well after centuries living under absolute Islamic rule.
In four entire centuries, not just four decades, no Nazi-minded Islamic ruler happened along and butchered them all, forced them to leave, or even forced them to convert to Islam. Mind you, one cannot overemphasize the fact that this was all long before human rights declarations, Geneva conventions, United Nations organizations, NATO, American military might, or any of that. Some may argue that perhaps such admirable Islamic rule was just a fluke or only confined to that region, even for four hundred years, hard as that may be to imagine, while in other regions or other times, other Muslim rulers were massacring Christians and Jews, forcing them to convert, expelling them, etc., so let us explore further . . .
A quick look across the regions and ages where Islam ruled in the world will produce the exact same results. In Egypt, which was the seat of several Islamic empires during some 13 centuries of Islamic rule, there are now a reported eight to ten million Christians living there, the original descendants of the great ancient Egyptians. For well over one thousand years they were not exterminated, ethnically cleansed, or forced to convert to Islam by the many Islamic rulers that came and went there. They still thrive in Egypt today, where they now, quite rightly, demand a greater share in running the affairs of the country.
But had Islam, or The Qur’an, truly commanded Muslims to kill non-Muslims there wouldn’t have been one Christian or Jew left in Egypt by the 8th century, let alone millions of them in the 20thcentury. Christians in Egypt continued to live under Islamic rule across the centuries, century in century out, keeping their own churches and monasteries across the land,and worshipping in peace. They even maintained their own Egyptian Christian (Coptic) Pope.
There were some limited restrictions on them, as well as some conflicts of interest, where Christians had to follow certain Islamic rules, much like Muslims have to follow Canadian law, even if it conflicts with their own belief system.
And every once in a while a deviant ruler would come along and commit some wrongs against them, but never anything like extermination, ethnic cleansing or concentration camps such as some peoples have committed against others.
Not only that, but such aberrant rulers often practised their idiosyncrasies against all their subjects, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
So there we have the Balkans where some 400 years of Islamic rule left Christians in their millions thriving as Christians. And then we have Egypt where Islamic rule continued for over 1300 years, and yet the Christians there too emerged as Christians in their millions.
The same in Iraq, where Christians – the descendants of the Assyrians – and Jews lived under several great Islamic empires. Ditto, Lebanon and Syria whose Christian and Jewish populations are and were, respectively, sizable.
The Holy Land
But let’s look at a very significant region of the Islamic world which also remained under Islamic rule for centuries, and which had large numbers of Christians and Jews living all side by side with Muslims under Muslim rule in peace and harmony. The Holy Land.
In the Holy Land, despite the massacre of Muslims and Jews, and the desecration of mosques and synagogues by the Christian Crusaders when they took Jerusalem, when Muslims retook it, Christians and their holy sites were protected and revered, and continue that way to this day. Those holy sites and churches that so many Christian pilgrims from around the world visit nowadays are there, not thanks to NATO, America, or Israel, but thanks to the humanitarian, kind, merciful nature of Islam and its followers.
Think of it, for hundreds of years the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were under absolute Muslim rule. Those Muslims whom we are told are ordered to kill all “infidel”, those Muslims whom we so facilely call haters of infidels, protected those churches and many other Christian holy sites and let Christians (and Jews) in the Holy Land live in peace and security under their rule.
How many people know that to this day the key to the Church of the Nativity is held by a Muslim family, appointed by the many Christian denominations there because they could not agree on which one of them would hold that honour! Every morning the Muslim key-keeper opens the church doors for Christians to enter.
Christian and Jewish places of worship would have long been razed to the ground if indeed Islam commanded any such thing.
So Muslims are ordered to kill the infidel, are they really? Only a total racist, or a total ignoramus could take such ludicrous accusations seriously.
Hateful, bigoted individuals in the west, look at some bomb that exploded yesterday and explain it, not in terms of the complex recent political conflicts that led a few persons or groups to commit such violence, but in terms of the religion of those who committed the violence. How lowly is that? If anything, it reveals more about the accusers than about the religion they are trying to bash.
Spain’s Al Andalus
But for yet more evidence one can travel to the extreme western borders of Islamic empire, Spain. There, during the 400 to 800 years of Islamic rule in what is now Spain and Portugal, called back then by the Arabs, Al Andalus, not only did Jews and Christians live alongside Muslims in total harmony and prosperity, but Christians from the rest of Europe actually chose to flee their lands and go live under Islamic rule where they found they could enjoy more humane and just governance, and much greater enlightenment than under their own Christian-European rulers.
When Al Andalus finally fell to the Christian armies after 800 years – with few exceptions – prosperous, overwhelmingly unprejudiced Islamic rule, Muslims and Jews were persecuted and eventually forced to either convert to Christianity or leave (many were murdered even after they converted).
The same took place in what was then the formative stages of Portugal. Numerous Jews who fled The Inquisition took refuge in Muslim lands, right up to the seat of the Caliph, the supreme Muslim ruler of the Ottoman empire, in Constantinople (Istanbul).
There, along with Christian Armenians and other non-Muslim minorities, they often held high positions in the Islamic government.
The Islamic rulers could have simply done the compassionate, charitable thing and let them live there in peace and security under their protection, where they could worship as they please. But to go beyond that and actually appoint them to high positions in the Muslim ruler’s court, while they were still Christians and Jews, says a lot about Islam’s nature. And that was not in some aspiring multicultural society in modern times, where the rules of “democracy” or “affirmative action” demand or dictate that minorities be represented, that was at a time when minorities were being “Inquisitioned” in other lands.
The Indian Subcontinent
At the other end of the Islamic world we’ll find even more remarkable evidence. In the Indian subcontinent and surrounding region rose a good number of Islamic dynasties for hundreds of years, almost all of which were an example of tolerance and acceptance. Hindus who came under Islamic rule were generally not forced to convert, and indeed in some instances Islamic rulers actually adopted Hindu traditions and incorporated them within their own Islamic traditions.
In fact, the closeness of Muslim rulers in India to their Hindu subjects is demonstrated through one of the rare exceptions of a deviant Muslim ruler, the infamous Tamerlane (Timur Lank), who came from a Mongol tribe in Central Asia that had newly adopted Islam.
Tamerlane waged war on the Muslim rulers of India because he viewed them as being too integrated with Hindus. And as mentioned earlier, such aberrant Muslim leaders often carried out their wrongs against both non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
Tamerlane actually slaughtered tens of thousands, perhaps some two hundred thousand Muslims from India to Turkey over the years of his rampages in the region, in an expression of his own deranged mind.
When he went to punish the moderate progressive Muslim rulers of India (the bright and shining counterparts of Islamic rule in Spain and the Middle East), he destroyed their empires and razed their cities to the ground, including the city of Delhi, killing Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist alike. Naturally, there is no way one can attribute his conduct to Islam at all. He was a barbarian who sought any excuse to slaughter and massacre anyone and everyone, irrespective of religion!
Travelling the Muslim World
Still another significant reality. For centuries Christian explorers, travellers, and visitors have plied the Arab and Muslim lands in safety and security, finding assistance and hospitality from the people they met. Their stories fill the literature. At worst some may have been accosted by common bandits and thieves who exist in every land.
Many such visitors chose to live in Muslim lands for extended periods of time, doing archaeological work or exploring without coming to harm.
Western tourists have visited ancient archaeological ruins in the region for ages. We hardly ever heard or read that they were made to feel unwelcome or hated, nor that they were attacked by the populace or rejected in any manner. The historical record of foreigners in Muslim lands is a bright and shining one to this moment.
So there we have it. Jews, Christians and Hindus under absolute Islamic rule for hundreds of years and not exterminated anywhere, and Europeans welcomed in Muslim lands over the centuries.
That is compelling evidence that Islam never told Muslims to kill non-Muslims, no matter how hard we try to misinterpret or creatively interpret it. It is a lie and the proof is in 1300 years of pudding.
And once more, a reminder that what makes the above Islamic record all the more remarkable is that it took place long before human rights conventions, United Nations resolutions, international law, NATO, or what have you.
The kind of belief system Muslims follow was evidently way ahead of its times in human rights, compassion and mercy toward others, which is what brought about such spectacularly kind Islamic nations and peoples across the ages.
Exceptions Prove the Rule
Unquestionably, as mentioned earlier there were the exceptions here and there across the centuries, when wrongs were committed by deviant Islamic rulers somewhere or the other against Christians, Jews, or others.
In modern times, while Iran officially recognizes Christianity, Judaism, and even Zoroastrianism as official religions in the Islamic state, it does not extend that acceptance to yet another religion – Baha’ism – because it is a recent religion which its followers believe was inspired by God in an Iranian-Muslim, and as such implies apostasy. Based on that, Iran, and other Muslim nations, severely persecute Baha’is and often deny them human rights, something totally unacceptable.
But we have to look at the overall trend across variables such as time, geographical regions, Islamic leaders, different Islamic empires etc. as a whole, not generalise from the particular deeds of some deviant character here or there, or some very specific events that led to specific atrocities somewhere, sometime in 1300 years.
In 13 centuries, across such a large swath of the globe and so many empires and rulers, cultures, lands and peoples, the rarity of those exceptions, if anything, proves the rule.
Indeed, the only balanced method to assess how a religion treats those who are different is by looking at it longitudinally across time and space. We cannot look at one or two years, one or two rulers, one or two wars, or one or two regions selectively and in isolation, and then draw conclusions. We have to look at all the available evidence and data if we are to reach intellectually and academically acceptable general conclusions.
For Islam and Muslims – across time, Islamic rulers, empires, situations, geographical regions and cultures – the evidence of history unequivocally points to a compassionate, humane, gentle, charitable religion beyond what human rights conventions prescribed centuries later, a religion accepting of non-Muslims far beyond the simple tolerance much touted in our western societies nowadays.
We shall investigate how and what in Islam instills such values and attitudes in Muslims in Part Three. But next time we will look at the evidence of the past three years, post 9/11.
RECONCILING PAST WITH PRESENT
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In Part I of this series we took a brief look at Islam and Muslims in history where we saw quite clearly that Islam does not in any way instruct Muslims to kill non-Muslims. We saw through indisputable, well-documented, overwhelming evidence the extent of the fallacy of that accusation. With a few very specific, well defined exceptions, non-Muslims across history have fared extremely well under Muslim rule. That reality is even more significant when it is viewed within the context of what was happening in other regions of the world.
So the question we’re left with then is ‘How do we reconcile such a remarkably praiseworthy history with the violence we now see committed by “Muslims”, often, it’s claimed, spurred on by their religion, Islam’?
The Muslims I knew
Before 9/11, most of what I really knew of Islam and Muslims was from my life in Egypt. My siblings and I weren’t given much of a religious upbringing at home, so I never really practised Islam beyond following some rituals at an early age. Aside from Muslims, the actual community I lived in had large numbers of Jews and Christians, many of whom were close, very close, or best friends. They all profoundly and positively (I hope) influenced my own character and played a major role in my outlook on life. But the society at large in Egypt was, of course, predominantly Muslim. My interactions at stores, schools, sports, and, later, at work and business were mostly with Muslims.
From what I experienced in my daily life, those Muslims were exceptionally kind, compassionate, decent people, whom I honestly couldn’t even aspire to emulate. As a young man, I was wildly independent, practically a hippie who cared nothing for tradition or religion, even though the society I lived in was very conservative. But that didn’t mean I was blind to the surrounding culture and its dynamics.
As I grew older I went from merely admiring Muslim society to puzzling over its exceptional qualities. It eventually dawned upon me that what made those people what they are had to be their faith. Though it was an eye-opening conclusion, my interest in Islam remained limited to respect for it and its followers.
So naturally, once I came to Canada as a landed business immigrant, the affairs of Islam and Muslims were the last thing on my mind. Very soon, however, Islam and the affairs of Muslims became more prominent in my life than they had ever been before in my 38 years of life in an Islamic nation!
Canada: Hate I had never experienced before
That transformation came as a result of the numerous occasions on which Muslims or Islam were bashed and derided for no justifiable reason by some media outlet or other. Such attacks happened as a matter of course, part of the regular routine of some media. It confused me at first as I tried to figure out what was going on. Then the confusion increasingly turned into pain as I saw that it was a gratuitous hate campaign deliberately intended to vilify Muslims and Islam as well as Arabs. That was in the 1980s, long before September 11, 2001. And then I learned it had been going on for almost two decades already.
For the first time in my life I was experiencing the pain of indiscriminate racist hate as someone of Muslim-Arab descent — the community wantonly targeted by what appeared to be bigoted media.
But the greater the hate and prejudice Muslims were subjected to in North America, the more came to mind their true decent, good nature, which in the past I had taken for granted as a fact of life in Egypt, and later, of Canadian-Muslims as well.
Beyond 13 centuries of history: Three more years of evidence across the globe
Then came September 11th, 2001, or 9/11 as it became known, the attack on the United States of America by members of al Qaeda, the organization — led by Osama bin Laden — that came into being as a result of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Though it was very clear that the 9/11 attack was political, it was immediately portrayed as a factor of the Islamic religion. The emphasis was on the perpetrators as Muslim men, and Islam as the source of their violent act. And so it seemed fit that one should take a deeper look into the people and the religion one had taken for granted for so long.
Like most everyone else, following the attack I had the same feelings of outrage and sadness for the hundreds of innocent victims. But on top of that, I dreaded what might happen next. Not to me as an Arab-Canadian of Muslim background, though that too was on my mind, but as to how Muslims worldwide would respond to bin Laden’s call to kill Americans everywhere.
Where Egypt was concerned I really didn’t expect any grass roots response of the kind bin Laden hoped to arouse, for I knew its people very well. The idea of getting up and randomly killing an innocent person in the street because of his race, nationality or faith on the urging of some guy pretending to speak for Muslims was unthinkable. Egyptians in general — Muslim and Christian –loved westerners, and for many generations have welcomed them with great warmth and hospitality, except, as would be expected, when they came as invaders.
I had great hopes that Muslims in other Muslim nations would generally be the same as in Egypt. After all, I had never heard anything that would make me believe otherwise. Quite to the contrary, from what I had read they were as welcoming and friendly towards westerners as Egyptians were. Still, I really didn’t know enough about the people of some 55 diverse Muslim nations, spread across a wide geographical swath of the globe, let alone the Muslim diaspora, to even make an educated guess on that question.
An experiment of global proportions
At that early time, after the attack and bin Laden’s call, one didn’t realise quite clearly yet that the world was embarking on the ultimate empirical research setup, carried out under realistic conditions — as unfortunate as they were — of truly global proportions and ramifications.
It was the largest ever random experimental test of hundreds of millions of subjects. On a global scale, it cut across variables such as peoples, nationalities, languages, cultures, customs, races, and ethnic groups under the most intense circumstances imaginable. Indeed, the only constant among them was “religion”, Islam.
How many millions out of the 1200 million Muslims worldwide would answer bin Laden’s call? Or how many hundreds of thousands? How many average Muslim ‘Joes’ would misguidedly feel it their duty to attack the first American they met on the street in answer to bin Laden? How many of them didn’t know enough of the teachings of their religion to believe the false claims of that man?
I feared it was only logical to expect that of 1.2 billion Muslims there would certainly be more than enough individuals who would ignorantly believe bin Laden’s twisted interpretation of Islam and rush to answer his call. After all, they may feel that God was on bin Laden’s side, given He had allowed him to deal the greatest power on Earth such a severe blow!
If my fears were warranted and statistical probability applicable, thousands of Americans working or travelling all over Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, and the Arab World would be attacked, assaulted and perhaps even killed. I desperately hoped against hope that it wouldn’t happen.
Time is my witness
Incredibly, against all odds and defying statistical probability, the days passed by and there wasn’t one spontaneous attack on any American anywhere. Not one, let alone the millions or even the thousands I feared! That was quite astounding, so astounding it doesn’t fail to deeply impress me to this day.
Ordinary Muslims did not pick up guns, clubs, knives or axes and shoot or hack the first American they came across. And we would have certainly heard if thousands, hundreds or even only tens of Americans and other westerners were being hacked to death across the globe. There was none of that at all. Muslims had absolutely rejected bin Laden.
Still, in disbelief, I thought it may be the calm before the storm. But the weeks passed, and then the months, and more calls by bin Laden came and went, and still not one ordinary Muslim soul, let alone millions, thousands, or hundreds, spontaneously attacked Americans anywhere.
After the invasion of Afghanistan there were organized attacks directly related to that invasion, such as those in Pakistan, where most Taliban and Al Qaeda had fled. Or by organizations associated with al Qaeda in response to the presence of American forces in the Gulf region, escalating Palestinian suffering, and later the invasion of Iraq, all clearly identifiable circumstances, and practically all committed by politically motivated radical groups.
(Since it’s off topic, on another occasion we’ll have a look at the roots of terrorism, a number of examples involving “Muslims”, as well as a brief comparative analysis of international terror by non-Muslims. We’ll also address the claim that Al Qaeda does what it does in the name of Islam)
Sharing ’causes’ not ‘means’: Osama bin Laden and George Bush
What such astounding results told me was that Muslims may share bin Laden’s anger over injustices suffered by Muslims in the world, but, as they have proved with great clarity and certainty, they do not agree with his violent methods. It’s somewhat like President George W. Bush sharing the views and the cause of anti-abortionists, but not the terrorism in which some of them engage. Or as another example, most Americans sharing Mr. Bush’s concerns over America’s security, but only a minority the warring ways he uses to provide it.
Bin Laden snubbed
Muslims everywhere have repeatedly ignored bin Laden. In fact, out of humiliation and rather than embarrass himself further, he has lately given up calling upon Muslims to attack Americans and Jews. His calls are now personal pleas to the American people, or threats to the Saudi monarchy, and the such. He no longer appeals to Muslims anywhere to rise and kill anyone; he has been unambiguously rejected and snubbed enough times.
A mere few months after the 9/11 attack, during the 2002 annual “haj” — the pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca — I watched Muslim pilgrims interviewed in Arabia by western media about how much weight bin Laden’s calls had with them. They invariably brushed him aside, saying they did what Islam teaches, or what their conscience as Muslims dictates, not what bin Laden tells them to do. The emphatic disdain with which they referred to bin Laden as a Muslim of no credibility was most refreshing to witness.
Muslims feel ashamed
Far from answering bin Laden’s calls, Muslims have felt ashamed of what bin Laden did. And though they themselves had not committed any crime to feel guilty about, they still felt shame and guilt that someone calling himself a Muslim had done it. Rather than get up and kill Americans, as bin Laden hoped they would, they were deeply embarrassed by the association of Islam with the killing of innocent people. Their almost universal response, as seen by their actions, was to reject bin Laden’s calls for more violence.
No matter how much the average Muslim may be angry at America (just as many non-Muslims, including Europeans and Canadians also are) for its support of injustice against the Palestinians and other similar issues, Muslims do not condone random violence. The hundreds of millions of average Muslims of the world did not act out that anger by killing Americans, Jews, or anyone else.
On the contrary, they — the average, law-abiding, peace-loving Muslims — innocent of such crimes, became themselves the targets of vicious persecution, discrimination and hate crimes, which they still bear in silent pain.
As for the very few who did rejoice about 9/11, they are themselves victims of unjust American foreign policy, which for some of them makes almost everyday a 9/11.
Saudi Arabia and Americans
To this moment, tens of thousands of Americans, Canadians, Britons and other westerners live and work in Saudi Arabia, where for decades they have enjoyed traditional Arab hospitality. And that’s Saudi Arabia, the bastion of so-called Islamic fundamentalism, where we are told the hate for America is supposedly strongest. Or in other words, the worst case scenario. Yet neither before nor after bin Laden’s call were any of them attacked by Saudis.
There have been attacks, but on American military personnel and barracks. And since the Iraq invasion, on nonmilitary targets, but only because of America’s invasion of a neighbouring Arab country, Iraq. Conditions of military conflict create a whole new set of factors which replace everything in the original equation. Yet, even now, after the recent hostilities, Americans and other westerners who live there are reluctant to leave, describing the Saudis as very friendly and warm toward them.
I should add, sadly, that the deeply flawed American foreign policy is increasingly seeing to it that all that good-will evaporate. If attacks on Americans ever reach the grass-roots level in the Muslim world, it won’t be due to bin Laden — who has given up rallying the Muslim peoples’ support for his violence, but thanks to the imbalanced way America has handled its foreign policy.
Violence is triggered by problems
What demonstrates that violence develops where precipitating conditions exist, and not simply because two groups — religions, races etc. — are differently labelled, is that much of the violence in the world has been and still is between groups that sometimes share not only religion, but also race and even nationality. The American civil war, for example, was Christian on Christian, white on white, and American on American! And it was atrocities galore as well.
But we don’t need history to find examples, they abound in the world today even as I write. We see Christian kill Christian, Hindu kill Hindu; Buddhist, Buddhist; Jew, Jew; Muslim, Muslim; and Sikh, Sikh, just as we see those same groups attack one another if there are causes for armed conflict between them.
It’s also as telling that where the conditions that bring about conflict don’t exist, people of different religions, races, nationalities, live in peace and harmony, regardless of how different their religious practices, their skin colours, their languages, and so on.
So it’s fundamentally wrong to reduce complex issues into simplistic “that race or that religion is all bad”, or “the other one all good”, or that this or that conflict exists because one group is Muslim and the other Jewish, or what have you.
Terror and violence in Canada
Though we will deal with the whole Canadian scene in more detail on another occasion, we should note that in Canada we have had various instances of mass violence and terror. We’ve had the very serious Quebec separatist terrorism, the just as serious Sikh terrorism (the Air India bombing; the assassination of prominent Canadian-Sikhs), eco- and environmental terrorism (a range of cases), anti-abortion terrorism, and others. That’s aside from a long list of mass murders against fellow university students — such as in Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, university faculty colleagues, school class mates, co-workers, competing drug gangs, and on and on. Interestingly, or more to the point, very significantly, none of the above terrorism or mass murder cases was committed by any of the 600,000 Muslim-Canadians. NONE!
The Muslim man of the street
Throughout the globe, Muslims, like any other people in the world, have shown that unless it is a case of revolt against oppression, injustice, occupation or the such, they do not engage in randomly attacking or killing anyone, not if bin Laden shouted himself hoarse.
So once a few weeks had passed after bin Laden’s call for attacks on Americans and Jews, one would have been hard-pressed attributing any attack that did take place to bin Laden’s call. In any case, such attacks didn’t happen.
Organized terrorist attacks are one thing and a popular uprising by the man in the street attacking any American he comes across is another thing altogether. This, Muslim man of the street, was the target of bin Laden’s appeals, but this too is the person who after all knows his God and the core teachings of his religion well. He is not a killer.
And yet how easy to kill
In America legal and illegal guns are very easy to get a hold of if anyone is intent on committing mass murder. Now there you have some six million Muslims in America, and yet where are all those American-Muslims committing such mass murders in answer to bin Laden? Could it be they’re afraid of the FBI, the CIA, or the “sheriff” ? We know very well suicide killers are prepared to die along with their victims. In fact, even the Columbine School killers, among many other American mass murderers, took their own lives; it isn’t a new concept to America. So why didn’t tens of American-Muslims carry out waves of such easy and unstoppable crimes in all the years since 9/11 no matter how many times bin Laden called upon them to do so? Even those blinded by their own racism and hate of Muslims should begin to see the light here.
Incidentally, the 19 attackers of 9/11 were all foreigners, holders of temporary visas. Not one of them was an American-Muslim, or have a wife or children in America! These were brain-washed individuals sent to carry out a specific mission. To paint all Muslims with the same brush as some obvious criminals is flagrantly prejudiced.
Exposing the haters, bigots and racists
We will address in a coming issue of Cross Cultures events and questions concerning American-Muslims specifically. But it is tedious to the extreme to have to waste so much time and space explaining and analyzing every single elementary issue just to counter the effect of biased politicians, writers, academics, and media who are out to deliberately smear Islam and Muslims. But it can’t be helped; tedious or not, they need to be challenged if we are to avoid the clash of civilizations they are out to manufacture.
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and others live in real peace and harmony in their masses wherever there is no political or other strife. Why instill hate where it doesn’t exist? I do not hold any ill-feelings toward anyone. I enjoy interacting with people from all cultures, races and religions, and my perception is that the feeling is mutual. One constantly finds a sincere desire out there by ordinary people of every race and faith to live and let live, to coexist, and to enjoy each others’ cultures, wouldn’t you agree?
Indeed, one finds there is wonderful peace and harmony wherever the haters haven’t managed yet to drive their wedges between communities. Why destroy that beautiful state of affairs with deliberate efforts to alienate, marginalize, divide, vilify?
So to ignore the haters is to lend credence to their hate, which means allowing it to spread and ultimately destroy the peace and harmony we enjoy.
I’d rather be mountain-biking or skiing
I am fully secularized, verging on atheism, and I have no interest in organized religion at all.
But when the religion of the good people from whom one originated is hammered day in day out, all unfairly and often maliciously, and the general peace and harmony of society are threatened, one finally says enough is enough. It’s not that I enjoy sitting here exposing and challenging hate. But at least if one challenges such hate, the good Christian, Jewish, Hindu and other good people who are willing to learn and act upon the facts would be given the chance to know what the facts are.
Indeed, if it wasn’t for the gratuitous hate – concentrated mostly in the media – that I experienced from the day I landed in Canada, I wouldn’t be sitting here today between four walls writing this. I’d be out enjoying this beautiful, wonderful country, and any of its outdoor activities I love so much. But the haters have imposed their will on us all, and risk to ruin the stability and peace of this gentle nation.
A competition of religions
Interestingly, some of those with anti-Islamic agendas view religions only as competing parties in some global contest to win over converts or to boast greater numbers of adherents. Any effort by people such as myself to educate others about the true nature of Islam and Muslims is taken by them as a challenge in their trivial competition. It isn’t important to them that we learn about each other so that we can all get along, what’s important to them is to put and keep Islam and Muslims down.
It is fine to proselytize and evangelise, but it isn’t fine to promote hate against one’s perceived competitors. When they read anything positive about the peaceful nature of Muslims their only concern is to twist and manipulate it in order to maintain the prevailing negative view of Islam. Rather than promote peace and love, which the good Bible preaches and good Christians follow, they warn whomever will listen to them to beware of people who write or say positive things about Islam!
Achieving the goals of peace and harmony through better understanding is of no concern to them. The focus of their life is vilifying Islam and marginalizing anyone who does otherwise.
A recent case in point is that of a visiting academic who spoke in such hateful terms at a university college in the city of Waterloo, Ontario, under the guise of searching for solutions to multi-ethnic religious problems. His type are reluctant to give up the kind of hate propaganda that is used precisely to promote one religion at the expense of another. So although such hateful academics pretend to be scholars, they stand accused of hate and bigotry themselves. It’s very sad indeed.
A great past and turbulent present reconciled
So the answer to our initial question — how does one reconcile the present perception of a violent Islam with its wonderful past — is simple. It’s just that, a perception. A perception created primarily by a media focussed on sensationalising and amplifying the negative image of a few Muslims, while practically ignoring the overwhelming positive of their multitudes. The media rarely, if ever, show Americans, Britons, Canadians living peacefully among their Muslim hosts. Yet there are tens of thousands of them in the Muslim world this instant working, living, visiting with Muslims and enjoying their hospitality and friendship.
It does prove that whether it’s Muslims in America or Canada, or Americans and Canadians in Muslim nations, good people of all faiths can and do get along and even enjoy life among each other when they’re given the chance and no one drives wedges between them.
The hateful media revisited
So, in essence, due to seriously biased media and others, some of us are unable to discern the “truth” about Muslims and Islam. Yet the ‘truth’ of the present events is as easy to verify as the written history we briefly reviewed in Part I. It’s not something I’m fabricating or forcing upon anyone. It’s an open book of recorded events out there for anyone to inspect and verify.
All we need to do is look for what is conspicuous by its absence in the media, not at what is made conspicuous by the media’s sensationalism. What is absent in the media is precisely what we have briefly reviewed above. The media focus on the negative few hundred and practically ignore the positive hundreds of millions.
But it does appear that many Europeans and Americans strive to search for the truth, elusive as it is, given the mostly biased sources of information available to them. Many others also appear to prefer to err on the side of caution than to wrong people based on information they are not one hundred percent confident of. That is truly refreshing and heart warming.
In Canada, such fair and considerate thinking is even more prevalent. Canada is undoubtedly undergoing the growing pains that come with the introduction of a large number of new cultures and faiths into it. But it’s doing it very graciously despite the incessant attempts at sabotaging that process by ill-willed, and in some cases, almost treasonous media and special interest organizations (we’ll look at that in more detail another time).
The future of Canada’s peace and harmony rests very much on the shoulders of the media. Hate and bigotry are propagated primarily through the media, as are love, peace and understanding. So, which will it be — love or hate — that those who are still hateful in the media will promote in the coming years?
What is the Muslims’ secret?
In conclusion, there we have Muslims in their hundreds of millions, across geographical divides from Morocco to Indonesia, from Britain to China, across languages, cultures, races and ethnicities, rejecting the violence that their religion forbids.
What a relief. But also how intriguing. Statistically speaking alone, it is mind-boggling. In the midst of severely adverse conditions of injustice and suffering we find such a universal rejection of random violence by over one billion Muslim people.
That stunning reality brings us to the moment of truth. What do those 1200 million Muslims, who live all over the globe, have in common that prevented them, as if in concert, from doing any such wrong? They are Asian, Arab, Chinese, African, English, Canadian, Australian, French, Swedish, American, so diverse yet so united in their rejection of bin Laden.
The obvious answer is their faith, Islam. The only thing shared by those otherwise vastly diverse peoples is in fact the very religion that was being investigated as violent, Islam. What an absolutely fascinating revelation. If anything, considering the widespread injustices they are suffering at the hands of non-Muslims, it appears that Islam actually has a moderating and tempering effect on Muslims rather than the reverse.
What was being looked upon as the common evil they shared was gradually revealing itself to be the common good they shared. What’s more, it fits handsomely with the history of Islam, which we briefly reviewed in Part One. Muslims never answered bin Laden’s call because it fully contradicts Islamic teachings, the same reason they did not kill Christians, Jews or others in the past. Bin Laden wasn’t representing Islam, he was misrepresenting Islam and exploiting it to brain wash recruits into committing his abominable crimes. The only thing he had going for him was political: Standing up to America, a nation viewed — rightly or wrongly — as supporting and exporting injustice.
That is not to say that Islam doesn’t suffer from some real problems. In a coming issue we will have a look at the most, if not the only, truly serious problem that ails Islam. It’s the major reason Muslim nations fail to modernize, democratize and move ahead, and it will continue to hinder their progress for ever if it isn’t seriously addressed.
I will leave naming that problem to the time we discuss it. But for now, suffice it to say it has nothing to do with the nonsensical accusation of terrorism made by the west. Islam clearly condemns terrorism as the evidence of history and the actual conduct of 1.2 billion Muslims has shown.
Next time, however, we will take a look at what made Muslims the good people they are toward non-Muslims and overwhelmingly accepting of other faiths throughout their history. The answer lies in one of the very foundations of Islam, one that gave it properties unique to it among the three ancient monotheistic religions.
From Part 3:
“Lately, Rev. Richard Cizik, vice-president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals in America spoke out against other evangelists, saying conservative Protestants should tone down their hate attacks against Islam, and the demonization of Muslims, which they’ve been engaged in for the past while. When asked if he believed that Muslims worshipped the same God as Christians and Jews, he replied that he did not. Well he said a mouthful”