Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! -- A response to a reader's concerns about Muslims
A publication will not always respond to letters it receives from its readership. However, in the case of an anonymous non-Muslim who wrote iviews.com concerning his apprehensions towards Islam and Muslims, a response is warranted. (please read the Dec 28 Letter to the Editor entitled Chechen Conflict)
At the heart of this man's concern, is his perceived connection between Islam the religion, Muslims at large and various incidents of violent activity plaguing the world today. Of specific mention in the letter were the conflict in Chechnya and the recent Indian Air hijacking. He could have easily added to his list the ongoing controversy over Osama Bin Laden as well as the terrorism hysteria gripping the United States as we close in on Y2K. Also at issue for him, is what he sees as the rationalizing of the Muslim community on such issues.
This man has valid concerns, especially with reference to the broader Muslim response to world crises. I will address these concerns.
To start, the writer must understand that outside observers of conflicts involving Muslims have chosen to oversimplify the issues driving whatever violence he sees. Kashmir is not just a situation in which Muslims want to wrest a region away from Indian control. Algeria is not just a country full of extremists lopping off heads wherever they can find them. The Taliban are not motivated solely by a desire to subjugate women and cut off the hands of thieves. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines is not just a band of militants hell-bent on burning villages. The list goes on.
In all these situations however, there is the unfortunate correlation of inappropriate acts of violence and the presence of Muslims. But the writer should recognize that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims in this world, just as there are good Christians and bad Christians.
Hitler was possibly the one of the worst humans to have ever lived, yet history books and media don't refer to him as a "Christian, fascist, genocidal terrorist." Timothy McViegh perpetrated the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, yet he is rarely referred to outright as a "Christian, right-wing extremist." Jerry Adams, despite his almost umbilical link to the Irish Republican Army, has been spun into the "head of the IRA's political wing" instead of being called a "Catholic, Christian, propagandist representative of the terrorist, militant IRA."
These examples might seem extreme, but in many instances, these extremes are taken when referring to Muslims linked to violent activity.
Critics will, however, point to the fact that in questionable situations involving Muslims, there is often a closer tie to the religion of Islam than what might be apparent in the examples I have cited above. The critics would, in some instances, be correct. Osama Bin Laden does use religion as a justification for his stances on armed conflict. Hamas has done the same and there are other groups and individuals who also distinguish their activity as being religiously motivated.
This is where the writer of the letter to iviews.com has the most justification in his concerns; for Muslims are often slow to distance themselves from individuals who engage in terrorism or questionable acts of armed struggle in the name of Islam. And in the worst case scenario, Muslims skirt the condemnation of the questionable act by focusing on issues tangential the act itself.
In the case of Osama Bin Laden, some Muslims argue vehemently that the United States has forwarded no credible proof of his involvement in terrorist activities, yet they ignore the fact that he publicly stated that U.S. civilians are valid targets for violent acts. The minute he said that, Muslims should have stepped far away from him and universally condemned that statement.
With reference to the Indian Airlines hijacking, some Muslims have indeed raced to point to India's illegal occupation of Kashmir and its institutional terrorism of Muslims there as the causal element in the hijacking. But the situation in Kashmir has no relevance to the appropriateness of hijacking airplanes and stabbing passengers to death.
The basic lesson here is that Muslims should be more proactive in defining for the non-Muslim public where the boundaries of Islam stand. There are people who truly think that Islam condones and even encourages acts of terrorism and indiscriminate violence. Many of these same people may also think that Islam calls for the complete subjugation of women. So Muslims must be strident in defining Islam for non-Muslims via pressuring the media, creating Muslim-run media, and by being mindful of personal relationships with non-Muslims.
To the writer of the letter to iviews.com I will close by saying that Muslims are probably some of the finest human beings you will ever meet. In general we cherish family, hold high standards of morality and ethics and seek peaceful, prosperous relations wherever we live. There are over 1 billion of us in the world today, over 6 million in the United States. Many of us probably live not too far from you. Some of our men have resplendent, long beards. Some of our women wear distinguishing, modest headscarves. Some of us are swarthy while others are black and even white. We speak almost every major language in world and are more diverse in our ethnic backgrounds than most other religious groups. We are the world.
Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com
Topics: Osama Bin Laden