Home > Islam, terrorism > Speaking Up

Speaking Up

paris-attackMy gorgeous Paris has once again been attacked. So far, the toll stands at 129 people dead, scores more between life and death in hospitals. The eight perpetrators too are dead (no great loss, that), some blowing themselves up, one shot by police. Huge police operations are underway, two more suspects were killed on Wednesday.

Once again, after September 11, 2001, after the massacre of cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo last January, following terrorist attacks too numerous to list or even count in the West and throughout the world, we are left stunned and heartbroken. Then, right away, awash in pieties: Don’t paint everyone with the same brush, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t hate. Except that it is becoming more difficult every time to refuse to see the obvious: that Islam is a pretty awful religion and its followers benighted for the most part.

It wasn’t always the case. I’m not even talking about Islam historically. Over the centuries, superb art and thought have come out of the Islamic world. One might be allowed to think that these grandiose cultures—Persian, Syrian, Egyptian, etc.—flourished despite Islam as none ever grew out of the sands of Arabia where Mohammad was born. The only gift humanity received from that country is a violent religion based on a “holy” book of dubious origin (discussion of which is blasphemy and punishable by death) and forced by the sword upon countless people. Today, Saudi Arabia is still rotten to the core, home to a corrupt and repulsive highly conservative regime.

No, when I say Islam wasn’t always awful, I’m talking about the way it was before it became a political ideology when the Islamic Revolution happened in Iran in 1979. When I was growing up in that country, people didn’t pay much mind to religion and Islam was, as the grandfather of the Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk used to put it, “for servants and for the poor.” I didn’t know anyone who paid more than lip service to religious belief. Indeed, Iran was not religious. Our feasts and holidays went back to ancient Persia, we celebrated the spring equinox, we jumped over fire as our Zoroastrian forefathers had (it speaks to the resilience of the Iranian spirit that not even the mullahs’ regime managed to ban these, though not for lack of trying). I don’t remember ever seeing a Koran or the inside of a mosque—except once or twice for a funeral.

All that to say that if I didn’t pay much mind to Iran’s official religion, I wasn’t born anti-Islam. But I’m fast becoming so and not only because of extremists and raving lunatics. Muslims demand respect but this cuts both ways. I cannot accept that they would block traffic on Paris streets for public Friday prayer. There aren’t enough mosques? That’s just too bad. How about praying at home? How dare Muslims ask for an equal number of mosques and churches? (BTW, how about building a couple of churches in Jeddah or Karachi?) How dare they ask that all the French eat meat from animals slaughtered according to Muslim rites? How dare they consider eating pork or drinking alcohol as an attack on their faith? How dare they harass on the streets women whose attire they find immodest? On top of all that, how dare they take offense at people’s negative reactions and their growing resentment? Public perception is going to change when Muslim communities accept that even if societies in the West are secular, their culture is judeo-christian (I myself don’t believe in anything. Faith, religion, or even spirituality are all, to me, as Bill Maher puts it, “intellectually embarrassing anachronisms from the Bronze Age.”)
But the worse part of the war of civilizations we are living through, though pretending we’re not, is, as I said above, that in the last decades Islam has become an ideology with a world domination goal. Muslims are first Muslims, then citizens of the Western countries that have taken them in. I myself am not first agnostic, then French-American. My friends in Virginia are not first Presbyterian, then American. My neighbors in Paris are not first Catholic, then French. This is as should be. We belong to a community, to a country, to a flag, to a constitution and a set of laws. But since the horrendous Paris attacks, Muslims interviewed by media or expressing themselves on various sites can only talk about the fact that their faith will once again be viewed negatively. I didn’t hear a single one—except for renegade Muslims whose numbers gratifyingly grow by the day—express chagrin at the actual events, sorrow for the victims, condemnation of the perpetrators or worry about the future of Europe–or the world, for that matter. Not one expressed fear of further attacks against the country. The extremists rejoice while all the so-called moderates have to say is “this is not Islam.” It’s not? Only George W. Bush, not the brightest intellect, ever believed that Islam is a religion of peace.

Things will change only if the Muslim communities in the West reverse their stance. The day Muslim French or British or German or Italian or American citizens define themselves through belonging to the country that has taken them or their parents or their grandparents in, and then, only then, as belonging to this or that faith, is the day they will be fully accepted. Until then, a day probably long in coming, they will continue to be resented and feared. In the meantime, another threat looms larger and larger: that of European nationalist and extreme right parties attracting more followers. Then we can all relive the horrors of seventy years ago—this time aimed at immigrant minorities—courtesy of the Prophet.

  1. November 18, 2015 at 11:05 am

    It is so perfectly clear. I love the way you have to clarify things. It is so simple to understand and why but why people are so blind on the reality of Islam. This politically correctness is making us stupid.


  2. Melinda Barnhardt
    November 18, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Very well-made point. Human community — which the Islamic extremists have desecrated — has to come first. Also, prescient last paragraph, in relating the two great threats.


  3. November 18, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Saideh, While I share your dismay, anger and saddness at the events in Paris (and in Beirut and in every other place mindlessly brutalized), and while I agree with how corrupt the regimes in most Muslim countries are and how feckless many of the Muslim “leaders” are when faced to this scourge, I fundamentally disagree with conclusions based solely on the symptoms rather than on the causes. Let’s not forget the roots of the problem: the support of the fundamentalists Mujahedins in Afghanistan in the 70’s, the spread of Maddressas with Saudi money (with the US & Europeans turning a blind eye), and last but not least the invasion of Iraq, the subsequent :de-bathification”, and the empowering of al-Maliki by the US.

    Actions have reactions: if not for the war Saddam launched against Iran (with the tacit encouragements of the US and the West), the mullahs might well not been able to establish absolute power and control over the country.

    I am all for firm thoughtful action against tfundamentalists and terrorists of all sort, but further demonizing and marginalizing North African or Middle Eastern minorities in Europe ( as suggested by the Front National) would simply cause more problems without reducing the risks. I will refer to no less than “The Onion” to support my view: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-onion-islamic-state_5649fb70e4b08cda3489a3b0


    • November 18, 2015 at 4:02 pm

      Hamid Jan, People committing terrible actions always have perfectly good reasons. Analyses abound explaining why the abused child becomes a serial killer. You’ve done me wrong so I’ll blow you and others and myself up? Really? And others are always to blame. In the case of the Middle East, of course the culprits are the imperialist Western powers and their evil twin, Israel. Let’s say that I believe too much in humankind to accept that we can never be anything but victims, feathers swept in the mighty winds around us. Gratifyingly, voices are rising everywhere, particularly from the North African and Middle Eastern minorities you mention, to refute simplistic tit-for-tat arguments, to move beyond history, (yes, even Karbela and Andalusia and George W Bush) and encourage people to think for themselves, not according to the diktats of the nearest Imam. But we all know that…


      • November 19, 2015 at 2:41 pm

        Saideh jan, I agree that there is a sense of “victimhood” among many in the Islamic world that needs to change from the inside for their own good, but my point was that we, Americans and Europeans, should not make things worse through blatantly stupid actions. such as the dismanteling of Iraq or the demonization of a billion people who happen to have follow a certain religion that is, like many other human institutions, flawed.


  4. Jonathan Agronsky
    November 18, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    Saideh, you pack a powerful verbal punch. If I were one of the murdering scumbags you’ve just skewered, I’d be worried 🙂


    • November 18, 2015 at 6:19 pm

      Wow, Jonathan, your comments always give me a boost. Keep them coming!


  5. lewisjperelman
    November 18, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    Saideh, a long essay in The Atlantic a few months ago took an incisive look at what the Islamic State is really about:
    “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse.” http://j.mp/1lv7HgR


    • November 19, 2015 at 9:27 am

      Lewis, Thanks for your two thoughtful comments. However, past history or the enumeration of the crimes of this or that Western powers to me are the equivalent of “understanding” the serial killer who was abused as a child. The non-stop analyses we read don’t explain or justify the terror unleashed on the world nor the fact that Muslims are Muslim first. As for what should be done about it, I wrote in this post that a growing number of Muslims are becoming aware of the manipulations of their “gurus” or clerics or jihadists and rejecting both faith and brain-washing. So the cycle will end…


      • lewisjperelman
        November 19, 2015 at 11:33 pm

        Saideh, I suggest there is an important difference between ‘explain’ and ‘justify.’

        When an intelligence or law enforcement agency is trying to apprehend or intercept a promiscuous murderer (terrorist, serial killer) understanding motives is very helpful.

        Of course there is a difference between the intelligence processes of an official agency and the public discussions conveyed through popular media. But a well informed public can be an invaluable partner to official security agencies. How best and to what extent to engage the public is something that agents in those organizations continually struggle with. But all I’ve known agree that it is crucial.


  6. lewisjperelman
    November 18, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Saideh, I sympathize with your disgust. However your suggestion that there is a partisan slant in America’s dealings with the Muslim world and responses to terrorist threats is off base.

    In particular, you write: “Only George W. Bush, not the brightest intellect, ever believed that Islam is a religion of peace.”

    Only? Barack Obama has made similar statements many times, including in an op/ed this year which distinguished between “violent extremism” and “the true peaceful nature of Islam.” http://j.mp/1LmvIv6

    Columnist Michael Gerson wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post that there is a sound strategic basis for attempting to differentiate the salafist radicals from the mainstream of the Muslim population: “Among other things, the terrorists hope to reverse the narrative of Muslim defeat in Europe that began in 732 or 1571 or 1683. Americans and Europeans should be offering a different narrative — a contest of shared values (including the values of most Muslims in the world) against a political death cult.” http://j.mp/1Lmyy3w

    You may argue, with others, that this view is wrong. But it is a least bipartisan or just nonpartisan.

    Any blunders committed by the United States in handling threats in the Muslim world over the past century have the fingerprints of both Republicans and Democrats on them.

    You are not alone in pointing to the invasion of Iraq as one of them. But recall that President Bush sought authorization from Congress for that action, and it was passed with the votes of 215 Republicans and 82 Democrats in the House and of 48 Republicans and 29 Democrats (including Hillary Clinton) in the Senate.

    The overthrow of the Mossaddegh government in Iran and its replacement by the Shah was fomented by the CIA during the Eisenhower Administration. But the intelligence and strategic failures of the Carter Administration facilitated the revolution that replaced the Shah with the Ayatollah dictatorship.

    As for Saudi Arabia, it was during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration that the kingdom was constituted and was empowered first by the creation of the Arab-American Oil Company and, during the Second World War, American military protection.

    Diverse analysts and critics argue about which of many U.S. actions were either beneficial or harmful to American interests in the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. But it is hard to discern any great difference between the political parties in the overall scoring.

    Finally, if you believe that Islam in general is the enemy, what do you propose should be done about it?


  7. Greybeard
    November 19, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    I don’t find a compelling argument here that Islam is “a violent religion based on a “holy” book of dubious origin” (as opposed to, say, the Bible?); as others far wiser than I have commented, the problem is fundamentalism perverting things. Far-right Christians are no better, I’m afraid, and I don’t mean the Crusades (Kim Davis and her supporters being a recent obvious example); they just haven’t reached the point of *as much* violence. Yet.

    Your point about “citizen first, then member of ” is an excellent one–and, again, one that fundamentalist Christians don’t seem to get, which I’d submit is actually worse in a country where our Constitution defines a separation of church and state. After all, if Whateverstan wants to formally define itself as a Muslim country, that’s their business; and Whateverstan ex-pats are likely to identify that way automatically. That doesn’t make it right or rational when they are ex-pats, but at least they aren’t violating their native country’s principles.

    OK, this all sounds sort of anti-Christian, and that isn’t my point at all (I’m nominally a lapsed Christian, though I tend more to identify as a lapsed agnostic).

    The real problem here (besides tradition, corruption, and greed) is, as usual, education (comma, lack thereof). Folks over there who think that America hates them (well, that’s becoming true, but sure wasn’t the case), that centuries-old grudges are worth holding (Doonesbury nailed this one: https://hbdchick.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/db080113-doonesbury-what-is-the-matter-with-you-people.gif), and that selective reading of a “holy” book somehow justifies objectively hateful actions (again, the same can be said of too many Christians).


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