Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Voices of Tolerance?
In my previous post I wondered where all the moderate Muslim voices were. (Via InstaPundit) Tom Friedman suggests what the White House response should have said and then quotes one of those elusive voices of moderation.
Instead of sending Mr. McClellan out to flog Newsweek, President Bush should have said: "Let me say first to all Muslims that desecrating anyone's holy book is utterly wrong. These allegations will be investigated, and any such behavior will be punished. That is how we Americans intend to look in the mirror. But we think the Arab-Muslim world must also look in the mirror when it comes to how it has been behaving toward an even worse crime than the desecration of God's words, and that is the desecration of God's creations. In reaction to an unsubstantiated Newsweek story, Muslims killed 16 other Muslims in Afghanistan in rioting, and no one has raised a peep - as if it were a totally logical reaction. That is wrong.
"In Iraq, where Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni Muslims are struggling to build a pluralistic new order, other Muslims, claiming to act in the name of Allah, are indiscriminately butchering people, without a word of condemnation coming from Muslim spiritual or political leaders. I don't understand a concept of the sacred that says a book is more sacred than a human life. A holy book, whether the Bible or the Koran, is only holy to the extent that it shapes human life and behavior.
"Look, Newsweek may have violated journalistic rules, but what jihadist terrorists are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan - blowing up innocent Muslims struggling to build an alternative society to dictatorship - surely destroys the Koran. They are the real enemies of Islam because they are depriving Muslims of a better future. From what I know of Islam, it teaches that you show reverence to God by showing reverence for his creations, not just his words. Why don't your spiritual leaders say that? I am asking, because I want to know."
Fortunately, a few courageous Arab intellectuals, such as Abderrahman al-Rashed, have asked such things. Writing in Wednesday's Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat, he said: "When thousands in Afghanistan are concerned about a report in a magazine that does not reach them, written in a language they do not speak, leading them to protest in a manner unprecedented among other Islamic nations that do speak English, the matter is worth pursuing further: it tells us more about the dangers of propaganda and its exploitation by opposition groups than it does about spontaneous popular sentiments."
And a few days ago, a group of Iraqi journalists actually went to Jordan and got right in the face of Jordanian columnists and editors, demanding to know why they were treating Muslim mass murderers in Iraq like anticolonial war heroes. It's already changed the tone. That's the war of ideas.
The greatest respect we can show to Arabs and Muslims - and the best way to help Muslim progressives win the war of ideas - is to take them seriously and stop gazing at our own navels. That means demanding that they answer for their lies, hypocrisy and profane behavior, just as much as we must answer for ours.
I agree, although Bush surely would have been flogged for showing 'insensitivity' towards Muslim culture, but that is no excuse.
Ali Al-Ahmed offers some more self-examination:
As Muslims, we have not been as generous as our Christian and Jewish counterparts in respecting others' holy books and religious symbols. Saudi Arabia bans the importation or the display of crosses, Stars of David or any other religious symbols not approved by the Wahhabi establishment. TV programs that show Christian clergymen, crosses or Stars of David are censored.
The desecration of religious texts and symbols and intolerance of varying religious viewpoints and beliefs have been issues of some controversy inside Saudi Arabia. Ruled by a Wahhabi theocracy, the ruling elite of Saudi Arabia have made it difficult for Christians, Jews, Hindus and others, as well as dissenting sects of Islam, to visibly coexist inside the kingdom.
Another way in which religious and cultural issues are becoming more divisive is the Saudi treatment of Americans who are living in that country: Around 30,000 live and work in various parts of Saudi Arabia. These people are not allowed to celebrate their religious or even secular holidays. These include Christmas and Easter, but also Thanksgiving. All other Gulf states allow non-Islamic holidays to be celebrated.
The Saudi Embassy and other Saudi organizations in Washington have distributed hundreds of thousands of Qurans and many more Muslim books, some that have libeled Christians, Jews and others as pigs and monkeys. In Saudi school curricula, Jews and Christians are considered deviants and eternal enemies. By contrast, Muslim communities in the West are the first to admit that Western countries--especially the U.S.--provide Muslims the strongest freedoms and protections that allow Islam to thrive in the West. Meanwhile Christianity and Judaism, both indigenous to the Middle East, are maligned through systematic hostility by Middle Eastern governments and their religious apparatuses.
The lesson here is simple: If Muslims wish other religions to respect their beliefs and their Holy book, they should lead by example.
What's wrong with the above two examples is that I still harbor doubts as to how many of the rank and file Middle Easterners actually hear these comments, much less give them any serious consideration. I am still waiting for some influential Imams to declare jihad on those that would car bomb a girls junior high or at least start encouraging their Mosques to not kill over a book. Is that so much to ask? Maybe it's happening more than I think and maybe it is simply not getting widespread attention due to a lazy press. I don't really know, but to end on an optimistic note, at least there is this from Fouad Ajami:
"George W. Bush has unleashed a tsunami on this region," a shrewd Kuwaiti merchant who knows the way of his world said to me. The man had no patience with the standard refrain that Arab reform had to come from within, that a foreign power cannot alter the age-old ways of the Arabs. "Everything here--the borders of these states, the oil explorations that remade the life of this world, the political outcomes that favored the elites now in the saddle--came from the outside. This moment of possibility for the Arabs is no exception." A Jordanian of deep political experience at the highest reaches of Arab political life had no doubt as to why history suddenly broke in Lebanon, and could conceivably change in Syria itself before long. "The people in the streets of Beirut knew that no second Hama is possible; they knew that the rulers were under the gaze of American power, and knew that Bush would not permit a massive crackdown by the men in Damascus."
My informant's reference to Hama was telling: It had been there in 1982, in that city of the Syrian interior, that the Baathist-Alawite regime had broken and overwhelmed Syrian society. Hama had been a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fortress of the Sunni middle class. It had rebelled, and the regime unleashed on it a merciless terror. There were estimates that 25,000 of its people perished in that fight. Thenceforth, the memory of Hama hung over the life of Syria--and Lebanon. But the people in the plazas of Beirut, and the Syrian intellectuals who have stepped forth to challenge the Baathist regime, have behind them the warrant, and the green light, of American power and protection.
To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country. I was to encounter people from practically all Arab lands, to listen in on a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty. I met Lebanese giddy with the Cedar Revolution that liberated their country from the Syrian prison that had seemed an unalterable curse. They were under no illusions about the change that had come their way. They knew that this new history was the gift of an American president who had put the Syrian rulers on notice. The speed with which Syria quit Lebanon was astonishing, a race to the border to forestall an American strike that the regime could not discount. I met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future.
Read the whole thing, which is quite interesting. Perhaps all is not lost as the above does suggest the building of a critical mass of vocal reason. More of this please.