My 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.
The Western world has no inkling or beginning of an idea, strategy or plan regarding the human wave breaking over it. Behind the sadness over the humanitarian crisis that has sent hundreds of thousands scrambling for shelter, any shelter, and the help extended, even and perforce temporary (water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, a place to lie down for the weary) is the elephant sitting there that most everyone pretend is not: the faith that these refugees belong to, Islam. Over the last few decades, the West has developed fear of and loathing for a religion that until the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was like any other. The blame of the terribly negative connotation it now has lies solely with the faithful themselves. Islam is no longer a religion but, in a frightening return to its roots, a political ideology based on world domination.
The masses who until thirty-six years ago—despite propaganda and more or less covert action from movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other similar conservative, by-the-book Islamist organizations—went about their business, some practicing, some not, never demanding, any more than followers of other faiths, respect or the imposition of their own customs, mores, and cultures on non-Muslims, or judging entire foreign societies by their own standards, now do all this, with a vengeance. The French can hardly find meat not bearing the hallal label; British women are heckled on the streets by ranting Islamists who yell at them to dress more modestly; female American converts cover up from head to toe, ignorant of the plight of Saudi women who chafe under the imposed burka; Muslim women everywhere in the West defiantly cover their heads as a sign of deep piety, not realizing that this is not a cultural or religious sign but a recent trend and that in countries like Iran where women have to, they fight back by stealthily posting photos and videos of their flowing long hair and at least once in recent memory taken to the streets naked, in utter rebellion; swimming pools in European cities have days for women only (who still cover up in “burkinis,” possibly wary of the salacious looks of other women?) Then there are the prophets, the brain washers, the ideologues, who fan these flames on innumerable sites with their public defense of fanaticism and the sanctity of the Koran and the Prophet. Not a word of the first can be changed, not a hair on the second can by mentioned for fear of blasphemy. The punishment for which, quite simply, is death. All the while, moderate voices, often Muslim, rise, asking for revisions and second opinions, to no avail as the violent chorus on the other side drowns all discussion.
So yes, the West is afraid while the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees flee both Assad and ISIS, while the Libyans, Iraqis and Africans caught in the lawlessness and violence in their lands risk a miserable death to reach countries where no one wants them, precisely because of the terrible image that Islam has created for itself. European leaders either act pious and welcoming and open the doors wide or venture into extreme-right discourse and the erection of walls while Europeans on the whole engage into their permanent reductive blame-America-for-everything stance. Of course, the awful Bush administration is responsible for the rise of the Taliban, for the emergence of the ISIS monsters, for the total disruption of countries like Iraq, Libya and others in the God-forsaken Middle East that, despite unpleasantly repressive regimes, knew a certain degree of stability. But whatever the causes of the present chaos, no one wants more mosques, more public prayers in the streets, more veiled women, more sharia, more lessons on morality.
Then we have the Iran nuclear deal. I personally am against all things nuclear, whether for peaceful or belligerent purposes. The protection of our planet and the safety of its populations should be our first consideration. Have we forgotten Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima and the hundreds of lesser accidents constantly occurring? Aren’t we afraid of the next catastrophe? Alternative sources of energy, abundantly available, should be our only preoccupation.
Also, an agreement with a criminal regime which offers military and strategic help to Hamas, Hezbollah and Bashar Assad, a regime which has executed over 700 Iranians since the beginning of the year, which arbitrarily arrests not only its own citizens but foreign journalists and missionaries (The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian has been rotting in a cell for almost a year, on no specific charge) is not palatable. How can there have been nary a mention of this terrible record? Obama and Kerry or their successors will live to regret not only the agreement but their silence on major issues the day the Iranians renege on part or all of the agreement, as they will.
Regarding the migrant situation, idea, strategy or plan should have been an all-out, concerted effort directed at the complex and multiple sources of the problems in the Middle East, reining in the exaggerated power wielded by the Iranian Qods force in the region, reaching some kind of accord with the murderous Syrian leader, actually pushing back against ISIS’s expansion, bringing to heel the awful Netanyahu and his irresponsible talk of an Iranian nuclear attack.
Stopping the flow of refugees has now become an impossible task and numbers will no doubt climb in the coming months and years. The Middle East is in tatters, its fleeing people come up against walls; where they don’t, it’s the local citizens who are not only worried about having to dig deep in their own pockets to fund unwanted visitors but also angered and often terrified by a religion once respectable, now a hydra rearing its many ugly heads.
Despite the complicated and not always happy world we live in, I most often manage to avoid being driven by contempt or hatred. For moral reasons—surely, despising and hating must be harmful to the soul–for trite aesthetic ones (to avoid those vertical lines a lifetime of disapproval etches round the mouths of older people and to prevent those between my eyebrows from deepening), for health reasons (to keep my blood pressure normal, my heart rate slow, my hands warm). Also, my mental setup is such that I believe in silver linings more than in clouds, I deliberately take things at face value, I don’t believe that a new conspiracy is being spun every minute, and I see the line running from A to Z as always straight. In sum, I refuse to be goaded into suspicion, anger or indignation.
Not an easy resolve, as this past week demonstrates.
First, the appearance, seemingly out of nowhere, of hordes of m-f-ing murderous flesh-eating Islamists, the ISIS. And how do these names, acronyms, abbreviations, become legitimate so quickly, how do we go in a few hours from “the IS what?” to “yes, of course, the ISIS,” and start bandying the letters as though these people form a bona fide political group with which, sure, we can talk once we bring them to the table, and indeed, the Sunnis have been ill-treated by Maliki so naturally enough they eat the heart of their enemies or post videos of themselves smoking, relaxed, beside the heads of decapitated soldiers, occasionally pausing in their banter to insult one of the cut heads. What? Several thousand dead already? Well, this is war, it’s not supposed to be pretty. Read more…
We live in a complicated world, awash in a sea of information where topics swell and shrink according to immediate relevance like words in the computing cloud. Right now the two subjects du jour that top every list are a) everything JFK and b) the Iran nuclear talks. This may be as good a place as any to bring the two together.
Although the talks in Geneva, two weeks ago, regarding Iran’s nuclear program became a non-event ending on a stutter, bringing about another Netanyahu conniption, a sudden show of resolve from France’s pitiful government and an exchange of forced smiles between Kerry and the Iranian delegation, that door remains ajar.
The possibility of a deal when these talks resume rests on the fact that Iran has a new president, one that at least on the surface seems more palatable than his miserable predecessor. Also, Iran, on its knees economically, is ready to talk. The country’s oil exports have been slashed in half and remaining clients aren’t allowed to pay in cash but in manufactured goods, which in turn shuts down the industries that used to produce the same goods inside Iran. Given that present sanctions don’t allow financial transactions, the country’s banking institutions are in a coma. Inflation stands at 45 percent. I don’t know if Iran pursues or has pursued in earnest an actual nuclear weapon but at this point the Islamic Republic’s position is not tenable; either it gives in or it collapses. Read more…
I remember a guy once telling me, in all seriousness, of his theory about the Beatles phenomenon. The band, he said, was a creation of the CIA whose goal was to have drug use proliferate through rock concert attendance and such. The young would thus become disenfranchised and have no interest in protesting against the Vietnam war. Wow! It’s wow indeed whenever I hear a conspiracy-prone individual come up with an outlandish and always complicated theory for explaining the world. Read more…