Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque

A whole mess of furor surrounds the announcement that a Muslim cultural center was going to open about two city blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan.  It has stirred so much controversy one has to believe a lot more than this one building is really being discussed.

Consider.  There are thousands and thousands of Muslim Americans living in Lower Manhattan.  Many were killed on 9/11, including fire fighters, police officers and nurses.  By no stretch of the imagination is anyone connected to the proposed center associated in any sane way with Al Qaeda or with anyone of that nature.  Claiming anything like that would be like accusing Vice President Joe Biden of being a child molester because he is Roman Catholic.

To be sure, this is a time of great uncertainty.  As with similar times, conspiracy theories and suspicion run rampant.  During the first World War, the British royal family had to change their name because its origins were German!  During the second, the USA literally forced thousands of Americans into camps where they could be watched and kept isolated (decades passed before we officially admitted we were wrong).  Why?  Because they were Japanese.  Incidentally, there are Japanese Buddhist and Shinto shrines very near Pearl Harbor today.  Look it up.

Also, politicians are painting in broad strokes to get attention.  That the party doing so lost (and lost big) in the last two national elections makes them willing to take chances.

But methinks one major reasons exits for all the furor.

Ignorance.  By and large, Americans are poorly educated when it comes to history or really anything to do with foreign cultures.  We soak up our images of other countries from popular culture--hence we imagine the English look and sound like characters on Masterpiece Theater.  Given the sheer amount of stuff we get from the UK, this is at least mitigated by variety.  Not so much France.  Even less Russia (where James Bond films probably helped shape our notions of Moscow's citizens).  But the Arab/Islamic world?  That is a culture we've almost never seen in our films and television--at least not in ways more realistic than The Thief of Bagdad or Sinbad the Sailor.  The only other image we've gotten of the Midlde East has been various kinds of thrillers in need of stock villains.  Whereas once Nazis or Soviets or Mafiosi or Banana Republic dictators served, the current stereotypical foreign antagonist is an Arab Terrorist.  Ever since the terrible Olympics Massacre in Munich, that has been the most telling icon of the Middle East in our collective minds--as real in our imagination as the monocled sadist in a German uniform.  In its own way, that massacre was as big a shock in 1972 as 9/11 was a quarter-century later.  It defined a region of the world, an ethnicity and a religion to those who knew next-to-nothing about any of them yet suddenly ignoring them impossible.  Both these events made Arabs and Muslims real in a way Genies and flying carpets never could.

Nature abhors a vacuum.  In the mind as in elsewhere.  Without genuine knowledge, the few facts immediately available flowed in and were followed by assumptions, rumors and the wild accusations of those who know very little but think themselves experts.  We take what we think we know of Arabs--often with images such as Jafar from Disney's Aladdin--and fill in the blanks.

Methinks this is anything but a conscious process.

When you think about it, such ignorance is more than a danger to peace-loving Muslim Americans.  That I probably have to make the point that such exist is an example of this ignorance.  Are all Irish Catholics supporters of the IRA?  Timothy McVeigh was a Gulf War veteran--are all Gulf War veterans murderers of American children?  Ted Bundy was a Mormon.  Andrei Chikatillo was a Communist.  John Wayne Gacy was a Jaycee.  Jeffrey Dahmer was an alcoholic. Are all Mormons, Communists, Jaycees or alcoholics serial killers?  Are they even fans of serial killers?  Supporters of same?  It literally makes zero sense of any kind to assume that all one-billion-plus Muslims are somehow supporters of terrorists.  Especially since plenty of them have been victims of terrorists!  Plenty denounce terrorism (although this last gets little enough coverage--probably because there's only so much space in any news venue and so much happening at any given time).

One of the most important military lessons is "Know Your Enemy," articulated by the great military strategist Sun Tzu.  There can be little doubt that Muslim Extremists are a threat to the United States.  Yet we, the electorate who chose this country's leaders, we by and large do not know our enemy.  Instead of facts we swallow sweeping comments by pundits, comments very often false on their face.  Most of us seem to have no notion that Islam is far more divided and fractured than Christianity.  It simply does not and cannot speak with one voice.  We realize very little about Middle Eastern history, which fuels the rage and despair so common in that area of the world (I would posit that if the Middle East were Christian, we'd be facing pretty much the same problems as today--religion is an excuse, there as elsewhere).  Pundits and editorials make all kinds of claims about Islam, but are nearly always wrong--cherry-picking quotes and misinterpreting complex issues.  Imagine if you will someone doing the same to the Bible and Christian history.  Easy enough to do.

Give yourself this test.  What is the real meaning of the word Jihad?  How much do you actually know or believe you know about the life of Mohammed?  The word sharia gets bounded about alot--but what does it actually mean?  What nations are predominantly Muslim?  What does the Qu'ran actually say about Christians, and about Jesus?  Can you identify the man pictured here?  He's a famous Muslim poet.  Not perhaps the greatest or most famous, but he did write a verse that has haunted me ever since first hearing it.

O let my name be in the Book of Love
If it be there, I care not
About that other Book above.
Strike it out!  Or write it in anew.
But let it be in the name of Love!

Violence and intolerance are indeed part of the history of Islam--simply because both are part of the history of Man.  Yet such is not the whole story.  We--by that I mean the human species--creates beauty as well as ugliness, virtue as well as vice.  No segment of our race is devoid of the entire spectrum.  If we are to win against the worst aspects of ourselves--ourselves as in all human civilization, Christian and Muslim, black and white and brown, etc.--we need to understand what we have in common.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Violence, intolerance and ignorance are indeed part of the history of man. It's easier for man to hate and fear the unknown. We all do it. Great post. Jihad is any kind of struggle. The personal struggles that you have in your life is a jihad. I have a jihad with myself at the moment ;o)