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Salman Rushdie weighs in. (NYT)
November 2, 2001 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Salman Rushdie weighs in. (NYT) An Iraqi writer quotes an earlier Iraqi satirist: "The disease that is in us, is from us." A British Muslim writes, "Islam has become its own enemy." A Lebanese friend, returning from Beirut, tells me that in the aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11, public criticism of Islamism has become much more outspoken. Many commentators have spoken of the need for a Reformation in the Muslim world.
posted by semmi (20 comments total)

 
Rushdie is an intelligent writer and scholar, and his opinion piece is well worth reading, but he misses the whole, political point. The reason the world's leaders are saying this isn't about Islam is because, politically, it's an untenable position. The West has welcomed Muslims into its midst, and wishes to welcome Muslim nations into the global economy. Whether or not this is "about Islam" in any historically relevant sense is still irrelevant, politically speaking. Rushdie should address his piece not to today's readers, but tomorrow's historians.
posted by mattpfeff at 3:00 PM on November 2, 2001


Osama disagrees: Osama bin Laden sought to stoke the flames of Islamic militancy against Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, yesterday by accusing him of supporting a Christian 'crusade' against Islam. 'The world has been divided into two camps: one under the banner of the cross, as the head of infidels, Bush, has said, and one under the banner of Islam,' said a statement purportedly signed by Mr bin Laden, which took the form of a letter delivered to the Qatar satellite television channel Al-Jazeera. 'The Pakistani government has stood under the banner of the cross.'"

It is a religious war to the Islamists, but not to the rest of the world.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:17 PM on November 2, 2001


An Islam that condones terror cannot survive in the world; indeed, cannot be permitted to survive. To fall back on simple causality, though, rather than moral arguments: an Islam that condones terror will never be trusted by the West. This is simple and so obvious.

There's an overwhelming tendency on the left these days to attribute to Islam only a reactive role. Did Mohammed Atta commit murder? No, he only reacted to the actions of America. Is bin Laden a terrorist? No, he only reacts to the choices the West has made. Are the Taliban terrorist sympathizers or supporters? Perhaps, but they are only reacting naturally to the laundry list of complaints they have against us. The constant use of the term "innocent Afghans" suggests that it's completely understandable for Muslims to give aid and comfort to terrorism when they're defending their homeland in reaction to our attacks. What, then, was September 11? In this worldview, apparently, no terrorist, Muslim, or Afghan is an individual actor capable of making adult choices to act lawfully or immorally. The only people capable of making choices are us. There are even intimations that the entire operation was orchestrated in favor of a long-planned war in Central Asia. Once again, the most stunning mass murderers in history are reduced to the role of pawns in some sort of American Reichstag, the purpose of their actions subsumed in a larger American plot. It's getting very disturbing, and to this liberal, sad.

Americans both Muslim and otherwise may decry the civilian deaths as unnecessary, but many of them go farther and perpetutate vile racism (such as the 4000-Jews-who-escaped story), irrelevant red herrings (no evidence presented against bin Laden, when he has not yet been arrested or appeared in court, remains at large, and has a previous 1999 indictment for "only" one-tenth the murders of 9/11 when our embassies were hit, backed up by UN sanctions), absolve the Taliban for protecting him (either on the basis of Afghan self-defense when most of them are Pakistani carpetbaggers, or bizarrely, on the very basis that they are al-Qaeda pawns), disingenuously call for a Ramadan truce (which Islamic armies fighting each other rarely observe), paint the Afghan campaign as Western revenge attacks (when they are clearly aimed, instead, at strategic and tactical pinning of an organization which remains at large and deadly and has made no secret of its future ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction) ,and then finally, in what should be the ultimate judo kick in one's own genitals, suggest that bin Laden's very popularity among Muslims is a reason to lay off.

Until Muslims recognize that it is their fellow Muslims who are choosing to act in ways which will make Westerners distrust all Muslims, they'll only play a losing game. Instead most Muslims, particularly those with prominent public profiles, have chosen the route of "defending Islam" against slights which would not be there -- such as the perception that Islam is all about violence -- if it weren't for those in their midst who perpetrate it. Thatcher, alas, was right (and it makes me sick, and angry, that she should be, and the left on the wrong side): Muslims in the West have a responsibility, but they have made the mistake of believing that responsibility is to explain to the West that the fanatics do not represent all of Islam, when instead their responsibility as residents or allies of the West is to explain to the fanatics that Islam will no longer tolerate their violence. We won't, indeed, eliminate all of al-Qaeda by bombing Afghanistan; but we're only bombing Afghanistan because that land offers no legal process for dealing with the criminals. The rest of the story is the terrorists hiding in plain sight in other Muslim lands, or even among Muslim populations in the West. As long as the peaceful, tolerant, non-paranoid Muslims continue to find ways to portray themselves as victims and deflect investigations and scrutiny (e.g. of the enormous charitable slush funds which funnel money to dubious organizations), they are extending the survival of the terrorists in their midst, and are themselves rejecting -- or at least seen as rejecting -- the West and its values, and thus the period of their own alienation and segregation from Western society.

(matt and Carol Anne: Rushdie dismisses the Western political pronouncements as "necessary", in an early paragraph. His argument is not about those pronouncements, but about the responsibility of Muslims toward the terrorists.)
posted by dhartung at 3:27 PM on November 2, 2001


What an awful article. Firstly, no one has said "this is not about Islam." What they clearly said was that this is not a war against Islam.

Furthermore, his 'evidence' for the underlying proposition that Islam somehow contributed to the Current Situation are a demonstration of 10,000 people, the fact that Imran Khan wanted proof of Al Queda's involvement, unattributed "routine anti-semitism", and a handful of quotes by unnamed 'friends' and writers.

It's not that there isn't a point to be made here (and it has been made, with a lot more skill, most recently by our own Dhartung), it's that Rushdie is out of his league and unable to support his idea that religion can be used for political purposes if the stage is set properly.
posted by cell divide at 3:35 PM on November 2, 2001


Dhartung, I appreciate what you're saying but at the same time you appear to be hiding behind some of the same falsehoods that you ascribe to the Islamic world.

For one thing, you say that Muslim violence is what creates the impression that Islam is a violent religion. In fact, the preception that Islam is a violent religion is an age-old Western myth that has existed for centuries. Are people in the West merely actors who react to Muslim violence and then accurately report it? No-- the West magnifies Muslim violence and dismisses the fact that 99% of it is political, instead focusing on the religious aspect. Islam, Catholocism, Communism, all of these are just yokes in order to move the ox of rebellion.

If your arguments were bookended by the fact that those in the West have to stand up and tell their government(s) to stop supporting repressive regimes, stop tolerating human rights abuses by Israel, Egypt, China, and Saudi Arabia, in order to make this a two-way street and not just "hey Muslims, stand up and condemn the .001% of you who would manipulate your religion for murderous and destructive political goals", I would be a lot more impressed. Americans have to stand up and make sure their government acts according to the precepts of our constitution, just as those in the Islamic world must rely on the true values of the Qu'ran to shut down those who would hijack the faith.

As long as peaceful, tolerant Americans continue to portray themselves as blameless, they will be best known in the Middle East for dealing weapons, supporting Israel even when Israel is wrong, and dropping bombs, instead of spreading the true genius and goodness of America's internal values.

Instead most Americans, particularly those with prominent public profiles, have chosen the route of "defending America" against slights which would not be there -- such as the perception that America is all about violence and injustice-- if it weren't for those in their midst who perpetrate it.
posted by cell divide at 4:05 PM on November 2, 2001


dhartung: indeed (on several points). But Rushdie addresses his piece to a Western audience, one which includes a large poplution of Muslims, many of whom have prospered in the West and even become, dare I say it, "Westernized". Their peers are other Westerners, and he hardly motivates any argument that they (or the rest of us Westerners) have responsibilty toward the terrorists. (I completely agree with you, which I didn't quite pick up before, about his thrust being one of Islam's responsibility for these events on some level (and of course he himself says that the relevant question is on what level that is).)

Also, the nature of these events makes it exceedlingly difficult for Muslims to take responsibility for allowing these madmen in their midst. Very few Christians take responsibility for the KKK, and I can't remember the details of the Papacy's official stance on the Holocaust, but they're not flattering. Nor do you see many Jewish people (and I am one) acknowledging the roughshod manner in which Israel has employed its armed forces in the Middle East. Obviously, one could go on. The fact is that these types of events, being so intensely politicized, are far too polarizing to treat in any scholarly manner: the politics overwhelms it all.

I may happen to agree with Rushdie, but it hardly matters; any solutions we may find will be, first and foremost, political ones. In theory, yes, Muslims must open their eyes to the evil in their midst, and move against it. In practice, they cannot admit that, nor can we demand it of them explicitly.
posted by mattpfeff at 4:23 PM on November 2, 2001


Some interesting and somewhat related commentary by a Muslim professor at ijtihad, including a memo to American Muslim Leaders and a memo to Americans. A rather telling excerpt from the memo to Muslim leaders:

While we loudly and consistently condemn Israel for its ill treatment of Palestinians we are silent when Muslim regimes abuse the rights of Muslims and slaughter thousands of them. Remember Saddam and his use of chemical weapons Pakistani army's excesses against Muslims (Bengalis)?. Remember the Mujahideen of Afghanistan and their mutual slaughter? Have we ever condemned them for their excesses? Have we demanded international intervention or retribution against them? Do you know how the Saudis treat their minority Shiis? Have we protested the violation of their
rights? But we all are eager to condemn Israel; not because we care for rights and lives of the Palestinians, we don't. We condemn Israel because we hate "them".

posted by isomorphisms at 5:10 PM on November 2, 2001


cell divide: I thought we were beyond drawing moral equivalence between terrorism -- deliberate attacks on defenseless civilians -- and military action undertaken within the international system -- where civilian casualties occur despite strenuous avoidance. Certainly I never used the words "violent religion" nor did I intend to equate all Muslims with the actions of a few. Unless you are prepared to argue that September 11 is a myth, what are you trying to say about Western rhetoric describing terrorist actions?

Also, there is no question that terrorism is political. That doesn't preclude it being perpetrated under the flag of religion or with religious aims. And your table-turning is cute but unconvincing. Again you use the meme that the West is acting and the Arab world reacting: is the US coming to the Middle East to bomb just because we're bored? No. Not every instance of US foreign policy is magnanimous, and we have often chosen stability over, say, wider democracy. But to assume that what we support is then entirely our responsibility is, once again, a victimological analysis of geopolitics. Yes, we have bombed Iraq; yes, there has been inconsistent international support of that. But Iraq invaded Kuwait; Iraq tried to develop weapons of mass destruction; Iraq defied UN sanctions and continued its programs. It wasn't like we woke up one day and said, "Hey, let's bomb some Muslims, because we need to sustain the image that they are a violent people." We were rational actors in doing so, to protect our economic interests, but also to protect the economic interests of Muslim states. We have not acted unilaterally against Muslims in our history there; many times we have acted in defense of Muslims, or in defense of Muslim independence and self-determination, e.g. in the Suez Crisis. Have we supported states that are less than democratic? This is true, but we are not ourselves solely responsible for their non-democratic nature, nor are we solely responsible for changing that. In the end our political and military support for e.g. the House of Sa'ud likely pales in comparison to the importance of the flow of capital to that country's elite as they sell oil to many, many countries, not just the US or the West.

those in the West have to stand up and tell their government(s) to stop supporting repressive regimes, stop tolerating human rights abuses by Israel, Egypt, China, and Saudi Arabia, in order to make this a two-way street

And there is no question that this happens in the West. Indeed, many Muslim and Arab democracy activists, as well as terrorists and religious extremists, find the West a fertile place from which to support their causes; and in the West you will most certainly find Americans and Europeans who freely criticize their governments. When we bomb Iraqi military installations, Americans stand up and object. Americans pay for food and medicine for the Iraqi people (while Saddam Hussein builds lavish palaces). Yet when Osama bin Laden bombs American embassies or skyscrapers, where is the Muslim condemnation? There was some on September 11, but mainly wan official pronouncements from friendly governments. Where was the Muslim determination to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden, even to an international tribunal? The region, after all, is run by them. If they condemn the bombings but fail to support justice, this is not a sufficient response. A paean to wait is in effect a defense until the next attack. But we all know that bin Laden is a hero to many, to far too many Muslims. Even the silent majority of non-Pashtun Pakistanis, the ones who are not demonstrating in the streets, have bought into the victimology.

Americans have to stand up and make sure their government acts according to the precepts of our constitution

... and just how does the litany of complaints that the Islamic public may have with the United States fail to square with our Constitution? In any case, our actions in foreign policy do not have to square with an idealized global world where each state is equal. They have to square with defending the United States borders and interests so that we can have an operative Constitution. That isn't incompatible with a more benevolent foreign policy, but it certainly is a higher priority.

But the final irony here is that the more that we promote liberal democracy, capitalism, open societies, and cultural exchange, the more the Islamists hate us. They hate us for the good we're doing. They hate us for the things about which we have no choice: supporting Israel's right to exist, and remaining militarily and diplomatically engaged in the region. What the Islamists want is for us to turn our back on the Middle East. That is certainly not in our interests, is non-negotiable, and is not in the rational interests of the peoples there. The objections to American foreign policy, however, can be solved through negotiation and modified behavior. We aren't bombing Qatar because of al-Jazeera, after all. We aren't bombing "Islam". But bin Laden is bombing "us". At a very basic level, what we want for the Middle East is better for the Middle East than what bin Laden wants. What we offer is better. What the countries who work with us and the rest of the international community get is better. There is a qualitative and moral difference between liberal democracy and Islamofascism, and Muslims who find themselves apologizing for the latter are -- we hope -- on the wrong side of history, in addition to simply being wrong. Passive victimology on the part of Muslims encourages them to choose these self-defeating solutions.

mattpfeff: Christians may not take rhetorical responsibility for the KKK; but Christians have certainly taken legal and civic responsibility to limit their activities, prosecute their crimes, and extend civil rights in defiance of their goals. We have taken legal and civic responsibility for prosecuting criminal terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh -- or Lt. William Calley.
posted by dhartung at 8:08 PM on November 2, 2001


Unless you are prepared to argue that September 11 is a myth

Dhartung, this is the one failure in your argument style, it's an old usenet game that somehow slipped into your arguments and does you no good. If I gave the impression I was a raving lunatic, who thinks there is a moral equivalence between terrorism and legitimate military action, or thinks that Sept 11th never happened, then I'm genuinely sorry. But I have re-read my post and can't find anything of that nature there.

You wrote a lot, and it would probably not do anyone any good to refute the things I disagree with point-by-point. So instead I'll attack what I see as the central problem with your argument:

When we bomb Iraqi military installations, Americans stand up and object. Americans pay for food and medicine for the Iraqi people (while Saddam Hussein builds lavish palaces). Yet when Osama bin Laden bombs American embassies or skyscrapers, where is the Muslim condemnation?

Virtually all Muslims were horrified by what happened on September 11. But why do you insist on making Osama bin Laden a Muslim spokesperson? No one elected him, no one wanted him, and hardly anyone supports him. Why do you compare an elected government with an outlaw who was rejected by every country in the world and could only find a home among the rubble of a 'country' wracked by continuous fighting?

While I'm sure it would soothe the West, there is no pressing reason for moderate Muslims to protest in the streets against bin Laden. What good would it do? The man is a pariah and the more attention you give him, the worse for everyone else. Bin Laden may be a hero to, as you put it 'far too many Muslims,' but one is far too many in this case. The vast, vast resevoir of the 1 billion Muslims in the world do not support this man and never will.

Your points about the need for people to take responsibility for their own actions I agree with 100%, but as I tried to state above, it cuts both ways. The United States, for example, does not just support Israel's right to exist, as you say. It very specifically supports Israel's right to oppress and displace Palestinians in violent ways that we do not tolerate from any other country. Not only do we allow this, we reward it each year with massive subsidies for a country that has has a per-capita GNP higher than Spain. Supporting Israel's right to exist would be a big step forward, in so many ways.

Dhartung, you talk a good game about how what we want for the region is better than what bin Laden wants-- and who can argue with that? My question is, where was this caring, this desire, this justice before September 11? I really can't see it.
posted by cell divide at 9:50 PM on November 2, 2001


When I behold what is happening in the world of Islam, I regard it as a sort of "preview" of what could happen here if George Bush and his legions of anti-secularists succeed in incorporating evangelical Christian beliefs into our political system in the form of government policy. The same sad state of affairs that Islamic extremism imposes on societies in the Near, Mid and Far East, can just as easily be imposed in our own societies in the West if we don't maintain a reasonable distance between State and Religion. The brain of an Islamic extremist has the same dearth of oxygenated cells as does the brain of a Christian Identity extremist. We must be wary of these people, here as well as there.
posted by semmi at 11:08 PM on November 2, 2001


I finally get it. I finally get the difference between what we're doing, and what the "evil-doers" are doing.

There was a child the other day. It was her first trip in a big airplane and at last she heard the screams of her parents and watched the front of the airplane blossom into unbearable light.

Today another child watched the big airplanes pass over, then picked up a bright yellow package they left behind. She heard the too-late screams of her parents and watched the unbearable light blossom at the end of her hand.

One child was an American. The other child was an Afghan.

There. There is the only difference.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:36 PM on November 2, 2001


Cell divide: Virtually all Muslims were horrified by what happened on September 11.

They were? How do you know this? What polls or public opinion can you point to to verify this?

Why do you compare an elected government with an outlaw who was rejected by every country in the world and could only find a home among the rubble of a 'country' wracked by continuous fighting?

How many elected democracies are there in the Middle East? Or in the Islamic countries? Egypt -- sort of. Turkey -- Yes. But that's about it. Not many democracies there!

The vast, vast resevoir of the 1 billion Muslims in the world do not support this man and never will.

I think the "vast, vast reservoir of the 1 billion Muslims" would very much disagree with you -- at least many of them. If you don't believe me -- how many Pro-American/West rallies have you seen in Muslim countries? And even in those Islamic countries where there are demonstration against the bombing, you see much support for Osama bin Ladin. I believe you are wrong to assume that most Muslims do not support bin Ladin.

When it comes to issues about US vs. the Islamic world, no matter how divided the Muslim world is, they will ALWAYS rally behind their religion, and people like bin Ladin, because they invoke Islam to justify their cause.
posted by Rastafari at 7:06 AM on November 3, 2001


fold_and_mutilate: that's the most beautiful thing i've seen in a while. your own, or quoted?
posted by phoenix enflamed at 7:37 AM on November 3, 2001


One child was an American. The other child was an Afghan. There. There is the only difference.

Wow. Talk about *massive* oversimplification.

This may the be the most shallow moral argument I've seen yet.

Intent not important to you, fold? Here's the difference:

19 hijackers down four planes *fully intending* to produce *mass civilian casualties*.

American forces bomb enemy military targets *taking great care* at their own expense and effort to avoid *any* sort of civilian casualties, and in the process, civilians unfortunately and inevitably get killed as they have throughout the course of history in every war that has ever been fought.

International law recognizes the difference between the two. You seriously don't ?
posted by lizs at 10:18 AM on November 3, 2001


*sigh*

cell_divide: When you argue that "Muslim violence" is only a "myth" created by Westerners -- what are you arguing? That there is no Muslim violence? Then you are arguing that September 11 is a myth. That "Muslim violence" (again, your words, not mine) is a construct where Muslim extremists are merely reactors to Western violence? Then you are arguing that only Americans must take responsibility for their actions. If, instead, you are arguing that September 11 is somehow "rebellion" and "political", there should be some support for how it serves those ends.

Virtually all Muslims were horrified by what happened on September 11.

No argument there. (It's only the moral equivalence that I'm arguing.) However, there are a great many Muslims who believe so firmly that bin Laden and Muslims cannot be responsible for that day, that they blame the Mossad and Israel.

But why do you insist on making Osama bin Laden a Muslim spokesperson? No one elected him, no one wanted him, and hardly anyone supports him.

This is where we part ways. If they don't support him, they damn well better shut up when he makes us need to kill him. It would be even better if they would, as Rushdie says, take responsibility for cleaning up their own region, their own political structures, and their own list of dubiously respectable charities and millionaires who lend him support, tangible support, from cash to kidney dialysis ... to refusal to give intelligence and legal cooperation, as our ally Saudi Arabia has done. That's proved to be "support" that is far more effective in practical terms than any street demonstration.

Why do you compare an elected government with an outlaw who was rejected by every country in the world and could only find a home among the rubble of a 'country' wracked by continuous fighting?

I did not make that comparison. You have made that comparison by drawing a moral equivalence between his terrorism and American foreign policy.

While I'm sure it would soothe the West, there is no pressing reason for moderate Muslims to protest in the streets against bin Laden. What good would it do? The man is a pariah and the more attention you give him, the worse for everyone else.

Right. Five thousand people dead, and the United States is giving him too much attention? This is where you begin to sound insane, c.d. Read those words again, very carefully.

Bin Laden may be a hero to, as you put it 'far too many Muslims,' but one is far too many in this case. The vast, vast resevoir of the 1 billion Muslims in the world do not support this man and never will.

Probably true, and I don't blame Muslims for bin Laden's actions. But Muslims who refuse, as Rushdie has pointed out, to take responsibility for criminals and terrorists who live amongst them are never going to gain the full trust of the West.

lizs: the analogy I imagine when reading such arguments is a newspaper headline that reads

SHOOTOUT KILLS TWO FROM RIVAL GANGS
"Cops", "Robbers" both lose young men to inner-city violence
Cops urged to lay down guns to prevent further shoot-outs
posted by dhartung at 1:36 PM on November 3, 2001


"Islamism" has got to be the silliest word I've seen all year. Try saying it out loud. Admit it! It's a funny word!
posted by ZachsMind at 1:48 PM on November 3, 2001


This is a little disturbing.
posted by lizs at 6:01 PM on November 3, 2001


This is a little disturbing.

Indeed. Whoa.

The NYTimes Sunday Magazine has a provocative piece on antisemitism. Got me thinking about the question seriously for the first time in a long while. Also disturbing.
posted by mattpfeff at 6:45 PM on November 3, 2001


"how many Pro-American/West rallies have you seen in Muslim countries?"
Regardless of how saddened or how much they condemned the 9/11 terrorist acts, there will never be a pro-American or pro-West demonstration in the Arab world, for the same reason that there will never be a pro-Russian demonstration in Poland, or a pro British rally in Ireland. I mean even if the Earth is attacked by Martians. Oh and I didn't see that many pro-Russian demonstrations in the West when the Wahabis (militant islamists) attacked Russians in Dagestan or indeed Chechnya. Or any pro-British demonstrations in the US after IRA bombings in London.
Let's keep a perspective on this...
posted by talos at 4:27 AM on November 5, 2001


*sigh*

What's the point of that? If my ideas are so sigh-inducing, why bother to come down from on high and respond?

When you argue that "Muslim violence" is only a "myth" created by Westerners

When did I do that? Why is it that you can't respond to any of the actual ideas behind what I wrote and proceed straight to the distortion?

But Muslims who refuse, as Rushdie has pointed out, to take responsibility for criminals and terrorists who live amongst them are never going to gain the full trust of the West.

Agreed, but my entire purpose in writing here was to express the fact that it goes both ways. Until the United States can offer a credible reason for its misadventures in the Middle East (and protecting American interests really isn't going to do it), and take responsibility for its own actions, the West will never gain trust from the Middle East. Based on what you've written, that's probably not a goal for you anyway, but its essential if we are to ensure a better world post-911.
posted by cell divide at 9:50 AM on November 5, 2001


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