One of the negative by-products of the 9/11 attacks is the emergence of hordes of self-proclaimed experts on intricately complex issues such as the Middle East, Islam and terrorism.
In fact being an 'expert' in one of the above-mentioned topics has become something of a lucrative industry for some. The problem arising from this new - or perhaps not so new - phenomenon is that some people, even some intelligent people (and at times some intelligence people) start to believe the rot that is disseminated by these 'experts.' A method used is to take an element of truth and mix it with fabrications and the two become intertwined and difficult to separate. Repeat a falsehood often enough and it becomes the truth - or at least it appears to be, especially to those who don't know better. Josef Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, perfected this fine art.
What pushed me to write this column is an article titled 'Is a Nice Muslim a Good Muslim?', written by a Bill Warner, someone who was described to me as a 'serious scholar of Islam.'
I was aghast at what I read and told the friend who relayed the article that people like that scare me as much as the Islamist fascists. What the article does is take extracts of the Koran and uses them to justify that there can be no such thing as a nice Muslim. According to the article, one is either a Muslim or is not. One either follows the principles of Islam, or does not, and therefore is not a Muslim. Says the 'expert:' 'However, the truth is that a Muslim' is not always a Muslim. When they do not follow Islamic doctrine, they are no longer a Muslim, but are kafir (non-Muslim).' In fact a kafir is a non-believer. Very rarely would a Muslim be considered a kafir, except if he cursed the prophet or insulted the Koran. Rather, he would be considered a 'murtad.' (Heretic)
One can argue that similar rules apply to the Catholic Church; you either believe in the teachings of the Church, including the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the virgin birth, or you don't. There is no pick and choose when it comes to religion. Any religion. Of course one can comb through the Koran and find pages upon pages that incite Muslims to violence and look upon the rest of the world as non-believers. But can the same not be said of the Bible? The Old Testament is packed with chapters of a God who urging his people to war, to kill and to show no mercy towards their enemies.
One can make a similar argument about Catholicism when the Church went about killing non-believers (kafirs?) by the thousands during the Spanish Inquisition. And what about the Christians who slaughtered Africans and Native Americans and native South Americans because they were considered to be heathens?' There seems to be an inverse relationship between how vociferous believers are in claiming that their religion is peaceful and how peaceful their religion actually is,' writes Austin Cline regional director for the Council for Secular Humanism, a former Publicity Coordinator for the Campus Free thought Alliance, and a lecturer on religion and religious violence. 'Christians can be especially critical of how Muslims keep insisting that Islam is a "religion of peace" despite the extensive world-wide violence being committed by Muslims in the name of Islam. Such Christians seem to want to insist that theirs is the real "religion of peace," said Mr. Cline.
Yet history shows us that Christians can be as ruthless as others. The Cathar War in 1209 when the pope based in Avignon waged a crusade against the Cathars in southern France is but one example. When asked how they could recognize Catholics from Cathars as the crusaders were about to assault the city of Beziers, Arnaud Amalric, the papal legate and inquisitor sent by Pope Innocent III is reported to have said, ' Kill them all, God will sort his own.' ('Kill them all, Let God sort them out,' emerged during the Vietnam War.) Amalric was also responsible for the mass burning alive of "many heretics and many fair women" at Casseneuil;" and for the slaughter at Beziers of some 20,000 men, women and children, in what was termed an "exercise of Christian charity."
I do not claim to be a scholar although I have lectured at several universities in North America. I was published in scores of international newspapers and respected journals and appear on more than 40 radio and television channels as a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs; as a journalist I have covered the Middle East and its associated problems for the good part of 30 years, more than half that time based in the region, and with the exception of two countries, I have visited every country in the Middle East multiple times.
As such I can claim to know Muslims fairly well - good and bad ones. I grew up with Muslims. I went to school with Muslims. I socialised with Muslims. During my late teen years when I stopped going to church my best friend at the time, a Sunni Muslim (and my Jewish girlfriend) would each grab me by an arm and force me into church to please my mother. During my junior high school days when economic times were tough and the Christian grocer down the road refused my mother credit, it was the Muslim and the Druze restaurant owner and the green grocer next door who gave us credit.
This is not an apology for the bad things happening in the world being committed by bad Muslims. There are good Muslims and there are bad Muslims. Lumping all Muslims in the same basket with the rotten few is short-sighted, plain wrong and does a disservice to mankind.
Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and author of two books on the Middle East.