Israel is not the real issue
September 19, 2001 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Israel is not the real issue the piece speaks for itself. Many have blamed our foreign policy, our support of Israel, our bombing of Iraq. This view sees a different issue and confrontation.
posted by Postroad (46 comments total)
Brave article; brave post. Well found and well presented. I'm still digesting Fred Siegel's ideas but wanted to alert others to their importance.
Some cultures are definitely more violence-prone than others. Ours is probably number one. But Muslim culture is definitely number two.
Of themselves, they are peaceful. But they do contain mysterious elements that encourage massive life-taking and dogmatic holier-than-thou propaganda.
Think the "crusades", the "inquisition", the WTC attack.

People talk about the Middle Ages as being dark but the truth is everybody lived better with each other then - specially under Muslim rule.

My country, Portugal, and Spain are the proof of that. After the "Moors" were expelled, hate kept growing and growing.

Beats me...

Perhaps we all need to go back in time, to the days when believing in one G-d united us.

Or take a lesson from the non-monotheistic religions, the Buddhist, the Hindu and so many others, who have done so much less harm to the world.

Or, even better, all the atheist and humanists, beginning with Spinoza and continuing here at MeFi, who are truly peaceful.

We're all at a loss; we must admit.

Confusion and befuddlement seem like the only answer right now.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:55 AM on September 19, 2001

I really liked this article -- and I'm the biggest lefty, anti-war, U.S.-foreign-policy critic, Bushwacker I know. This is more information (assuming it's all accurate), and part and parcel of the process of gaining understanding. Kudos, postroad.
posted by mirla at 12:01 PM on September 19, 2001

I really liked this article -- and I'm the biggest lefty, anti-war, U.S.-foreign-policy critic, Bushwhacker I know. This is more information (assuming it's all accurate), and part and parcel of the process of gaining understanding. Kudos, postroad.
posted by mirla at 12:01 PM on September 19, 2001

who is fred siegel?

another perspective.
posted by fishfucker at 12:02 PM on September 19, 2001

I wouldn't look into the heart of Islam (which is to say, the Koran) for evidence that Islam basically tends towards violence or peace; as with the Bible, it tends to incline all ways. I wouldn't even look to Islamic history for that answer.

But this particular, singular modern strain of Islam, the one that weds clerical authority to governmental power, is a bad influence on the world. As would be a U.S. government run by Jerry Fallwell and minus all consitutional constraints on the establishment of religion.

I guess I've run out of patience with blaming U.S. policy for the attacks because this particular strain of Islam holds a distorted mirror up to the West. We should always seek to understand ourselves and the limits of our policy. But we should try to view ourselves clearly, and not in that distorted mirror.
posted by argybarg at 12:02 PM on September 19, 2001

whoops - sorry for double post.
posted by mirla at 12:03 PM on September 19, 2001

You can fly an airliner into a skyscraper, or you can kill a doctor cuz he performs abortions or you can beat and cut the beard off of a rival hasidic congregation's rabbi or you can be the reigning pope of catholicism and turn a blind eye on the WW2 concentration camps or you can be Fallwell put your foot in your mouth up to the knee. . .

I could go on and on, but as they say in islam, "god is [fundamentally] great"
posted by BentPenguin at 12:06 PM on September 19, 2001

Thanks for posting this, I've been coming to about the same conclusions as the author in my private discussions with others. Still, it's nice to see it all fleshed out.
posted by revbrian at 12:08 PM on September 19, 2001

Hey, BentPenguin, if you really are Dan Quayle I'm prepared to forgive your less enlightened homonym just for the succint wisdom of your words.

He would probably think I was gay.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:18 PM on September 19, 2001

then again, maybe Israel was a factor.

I have to say I find Siegel's argument poorly thought out and devoid a decent examples. It essentially boils down to "Islam is violent," rather than looking at the region's complete religious, economic, historical, and political picture. To boil everything down to religion really does a disservice to the issue.
posted by eric anders at 12:19 PM on September 19, 2001

I appreciate this well-reasoned article. Discounting for a minute any possibility that US policies abroad could be part of the reason for the attacks of Sept 11th, there is another point made in the guardian articles posted last week.

The US had a long history of supporting dictators and oppressive regimes when it was thought to serve US ends (Pinochet, for example).

If we are to have strong moral standing in the future, we need to stop doing this.
posted by 4midori at 12:21 PM on September 19, 2001

The Kashmir conflict is not an Islamic attack on Hindus. It is a freedom movement which uses guirella tactics against an Indian army presence three times the local population. Just like the Ireland issue, Kashmiris also have their political and militant wings.

United Nations resolutions in 1948 have called for a referendum in Kashmir where people get to decide what state (Pakistan or India) they want to join.
posted by adnanbwp at 12:24 PM on September 19, 2001

I am in strong agreement with the author's point. We in the West, and in the US especially, are so indoctrinated with the virtue of "freedom of religion" that we have a blind spot.

Why extend the concept of freedom of religion to organizations that under different circumstances would be considered hate groups?
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:31 PM on September 19, 2001

Some comments...

Siegel: The issue is the inability of Islamic regimes around the globe to come to grips with the modern world.

Bullshit. There are only two effective "Islamic regimes" (non-secular Islamic states): Saudi Arabia and Iran. If you want, add Afghanistan and Sudan. All the other states where Muslims are in the majority are secular states.

Siegel quotes: "radical Islamism is a world ideology, fielding a world terror-army, which oppresses millions with a racist ideology".

"Radical Islamism" is not one world ideology. There are many kinds of radical Islamism. People become radical and organize in radical groups in different social, economic, historical and political contexts. Putting radical Islamist groups into one category is a big mistake: you have to take the context in which radical Islamists emerge into account to be able to find ways to "fight" their emergence.

Siegel: rationalizers of Palestinian and Islamic terror...

There we go. "Palestinian and Islamic terror". As if it is all the same. The danger of those words? (1) It sticks in your mind and demonizes Palestinians and Muslims. (2) It creates the illusion that there is one evil enemy. There are many "enemies".

Hey, by the way, there are a lot of Christian Palestinians. There are even Jewish Palestinians.

Siegel also lashes out at the Palestinian incitement. He is right to do so, but, like many journalists do, forgets to mention that Israel is as guilty of incitement as the Palestinians are, although Israel is more subtle (and therefore more effective with this kind of psychological warfare).

No, Israel does not have to be the real issue... But Siegel appears not to be informed well enough to explain that...
posted by igor.boog at 12:32 PM on September 19, 2001

“Israel is not the real issue” is pushing it. The actual title of the short piece is “Radical Islam At War With America” which is much more accurate. The essay doesn’t answer why America is “The Great Satan” and a target for terrorist acts. By Siegel’s formulation Germans and Australians are as much an infidel as I am. Why weren’t their planes hijacked?

Put another way, why would the “Egyptians, Palestinians and the Arabs of nearby Paterson, N.J” celebrate the WTC attacks, but not the massacres in East Timor? That could be seen as a Muslim nation slaughtering Catholics. If it’s as important as Siegel seems to think it is, there would be non-stop partying in extremist Muslim neighborhoods when dramatic deaths of infidels occured.

Purging non-muslims is only part of the formula, and not quite as important as Siegel seems to think.

This essay isn’t opposed to what people are saying about US intervention in the Mid East. It’s part of the issue, as is extreme forms of Islam being engendered by regional governments. One could say, rather accurately, that US support of an oppressive Israeli government will push others in the region to become as equally oppressive, but that isn’t the whole story.

The part American citizens can actively change and are at least partially responsible for — since this is a democracy — is the US policy bit. I am not responsible nor could I even consider preaching to someone 8,000 miles from where I live. If my government takes actions which disenfranchises people I can try to change it.
posted by raaka at 12:35 PM on September 19, 2001

Freedom of Religion applies to the freedom to practice your religion in the United States. It is one of the values this country was founded on.

The author's point is essentially a round-about way for people to blame human evils and corrupt regimes on the ic Islamic religion. Was christianity to blame for slavery in the west? Was "Americanism" or Christianity to blame for the deprivation of civil rights for Blacks in America until the 1960's? Is Christianity to blame for ongoing racism in Christian countries? How about the massacres of Muslims in Bosnia? It is a major trap to blame religion, even when couched in terms such as Siegel's.

Saddam Hussein is a secular leader, and yet his regime is probably the worst when it comes to racism and oppression, I am especially thinking about the Kurds here.

The fact is that this article is a roundabout way for the author to express his unease with a major world religion bu cloaking it in specious examples, ignoring ethnicity, world politics, and history.
posted by eric anders at 12:43 PM on September 19, 2001

[nb: I saw eric anders's post while previewing this; it touches on some of the same points....]

some previous comments have touched on this, I think -- the main flaw of the argument in this article is that it conflates the politics of some backwards regimes with the religious beliefs of its peoples.

Throughout history, Christian regimes have also been oppressive (think Inquisition, Crusades, slavery of Africans, ... ). It is only recently that we have had the economic security necessary to become "enlightened".

Islam is concentrated in the Middle East, a region lacking in physical resources and long subjected to civil unrest. The countries there are poor. Their economic conditions lead to the rise of oppressive regimes.

Even in the U.S., some leaders try to use Christianity as a rationale for oppression of minorities -- gays, etc. It's a political device. Scapegoating creates unity among a majority. In impoverished, struggling nations, leaders must work hard to create unity and patriotism.

I'm rambling. But does that make sense? I mean, haven't followers of almost every major religion oppressed other people at some point in history?
posted by mattpfeff at 12:52 PM on September 19, 2001


Yes, almost every major religion has been used to oppress others.

But to argue that the religion is incidental -- merely a neutral instrument, might as well be any other religion -- is to risk missing many dimensions of the problem.
posted by argybarg at 12:59 PM on September 19, 2001

This article is correct but the author doesn't provide evidence only justifications for his opinion. The seminal writings of bin Ladin and his philosophy were linked here on MeFi days ago. Why read an opinion column when you already have the facts?
posted by username at 1:28 PM on September 19, 2001

The article is incorrect because the author is not arguing that Bin Laden is a fanatic. He is arguing that Islam is at its core a repressive and racist religion. It takes just a few minutes of scholarship to ascertain that this is not true... so where is the author coming from? Perhaps he is putting his own 'racist' views in semi-scholarly language as he asks facile questions and delivers evidence-free responses.
posted by cell divide at 1:34 PM on September 19, 2001

Indeed, it is not correct. The situation is far too complicated than the article acknowledges. In fact, sad as it may seem, the latest attacks are simply two on a list of thousands of incidents since 1949. Sadly, most if not all fo them, have been connected to a unified hatred toward Israel and any Israeli sympathetic countries... can you guess who's on that list?
posted by Dean_Paxton at 1:56 PM on September 19, 2001

bin Ladin's interpretation of Islam IS repressive and racist, as is Fallwell's version of Christianity. Islam is far from a unifaceted religion.
posted by username at 2:01 PM on September 19, 2001

...He is arguing that Islam is at its core a repressive and racist religion...
...The author's point is essentially a round-about way for people to blame human evils and corrupt regimes on the ic Islamic religion...

I re-read the article three times, and nowhere could I find the author arguing any such thing (unless you feel that all Muslim should be characterized as "Islamic militants").
posted by dchase at 2:08 PM on September 19, 2001

Maybe Islam could be argued not racist....but I do believe it can be interpretted as sexist...
posted by carolinagrl at 3:02 PM on September 19, 2001

dchase: read between the lines.

What do you think he means when asks a loaded question like this:

Why is it that everywhere in the world where Muslims are in the majority, their minorities are persecuted?
posted by cell divide at 3:07 PM on September 19, 2001

"Israel is not the real issue." When I think of this claim (whether made in the fashion of the linked article or otherwise), I think it has to be evaluated carefully. I think all the profiles we're reading on bin Ladin and al-Qa`ida are quite right to characterize his ideology as more based on Gulf War/Saudi issues and a sweeping anti-secular apocalypticism than on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

BUT I think it is fair to say, undo 35 yrs. of Israeli occupation of the West Bank with U.S. military support, and bin Ladin is undone as well, because his radical and apocalyptic brand of Islam just stops making sense to many of the people he's been able to recruit. Before this attack, it might have been right to criticize this argument, since front-line suicide bombers could be claimed to be heavily indoctrinated, adolescent-psychology, damaged-psyche whatevers. But, despite the fact that my inability morally to comprehend the actions of the terrorists who flew into the WTC leaves me on some level still believing in that profile, I can't believe that the bin-Ladin-type ideology alone is enough to motivate the shopping-at-Wal-Mart, pilot-trained men who perpetrated last week's atrocity. This leaves a lot of well-educated and, in many senses, Westernized Arabs (in both hemispheres) asking themselves hard questions about their sympathies as they reel in shock with the rest of us at what was done on 9/11. It is complicated for them, and for the rest of us.

Maybe Islam could be argued not racist....but I do believe it can be interpretted as sexist...
Read the Christian New Testament lately?
posted by Zurishaddai at 3:10 PM on September 19, 2001

I think it is much more than just an equal rights issue Zurishaddai that exists in "Christian" areas. Check this link
if you are not familar with the beatings, stonings, mutilations etc that exist for women violating the sharia lawin Muslim countries...particularly Afghanistan.
posted by carolinagrl at 3:26 PM on September 19, 2001

My point is that the scriptures of more than one religion can be found to be quite sexist, and the practices of groups within many religions are barbarously abusive of women. Islam doesn't deserve pride of place in that grisly contest. Of course the vast majority of muslims is disgusted by the Taliban's idea of what "sharia law in Muslim countries" ought to mean, and they would not condone the abuses you mention, carolinagrl. And even if the status of women is worrisome in much of the muslim (Hindu, etc.) world, I don't think there's going to be any real progress unless we at least buy into the notion that all religions can get beyond their least enlightened interpretations, and reform themselves by acting on the positive aspects of their scriptures and doctrines to eradicate the spiritually false social practices. Almost any "rule" affecting muslim women in parts of the world that would bother us is, at the minimum, a subject of religious debate and confusingly tied up in local custom. In Afghanistan, particularly, it has to be said that Talibanism has derived its dictates from a lot of sources--from regional custom to sectarian Qur'anic exegesis.

Sorry if this is too lengthy for being off-thread, but I sure didn't want to be misunderstood about something so important. Apologies if my original remark seemed flip--I purposely linked to a site that considers the two strands within Christian scripture and clearly makes an appeal for reform against Paul's crude misogyny based on higher principles found in the gospels, etc., so I hoped my point would not be taken too polemically.
posted by Zurishaddai at 3:49 PM on September 19, 2001

Perhaps we all need to go back in time, to the days when believing in one G-d united us.

Which was when, exactly?
posted by holgate at 4:13 PM on September 19, 2001

Perhaps Zurishaddai, I should have been more specific in my expose of womens rights issues.....I should have said the Taliban specifically... Women being exposed to land mines and not being allowed to attend Human Rights Organizations classes established to help them identify landmines and artillery. If they are not allowed to work and not allowed to seek medical attention from a "male" doctor...Well you get my drift.

All I can say is "shame on them". The definition of barbarism.
posted by carolinagrl at 4:38 PM on September 19, 2001

posted by Zurishaddai at 4:40 PM on September 19, 2001

Why extend the concept of freedom of religion to organizations that under different circumstances would be considered hate groups?

Why indeed.

posted by rushmc at 4:44 PM on September 19, 2001

The Taleban are all messed up - until recently women weren't even allowed to learn how to read - they said it was too dangerous.. I've always found of the major religions, Islam (referring to sunni Islam), is the least sexist - a view reinforced by the presence of an excess number of feminists in my family, all of whom wear hijab (head covering..), anyway, back to the article..

Eh, religions are like guns, they shouldn't be allowed in the hands of madmen or criminals.. Even the nicest idea can be twisted by sufficiently nasty people..

Did the Nigerian government really impose 'Shariah law' on Jos?? I can't imagine any decent muslim attacking a lady, no matter how she walked in front of them.. Argh, its late and I have no time to rant - suffice to say I disagree with this article - there, that should sway most of your opinions..

And I reckon Falwell and Robertson should be sent in before the US troops to convert the muslims - hey, since they seem to know the thinkings of God, they should be safe under His protection and His sanctuary, right? And with that righteous power, how can they fail to bring those infidels to the right path?

Ugh, making no sense, sleep time..
posted by Mossy at 5:17 PM on September 19, 2001

argy: (sorry for the delay in posting back)

Could very well be that Islam lends itself somehow to this type of political structure and oppression of minorities, etc. I don't know. But an argument to that effect wasn't in the article, and I haven't seen one suggested anywhere. (Have you?)
posted by mattpfeff at 5:25 PM on September 19, 2001

Thanks folks--as usual, the posters at Metafilter have once again come up with intelligent and diverse views of a post (I put it up ) and have given us a lot to chew on. Question, though: how many posters have read inthe Koran, or for that matter, the Old and new testaments? On a blog I noted the Cat Stevens web site in which he (a convert to Islam) says that the extremists are abusing the Koran to suit their agenda. But he does not go much beyond that.
posted by Postroad at 6:04 PM on September 19, 2001

I don't believe there is an English translation of the Qu'ran acceptable to Islamic authorities. I also don't believe an uninformed reading would produce much wisdom - modern self interpretations of biblical scripture sure haven't. I think the Talmud, Bible and Qu'ran are better understood in dialogue with informed scholars who are familiar with the centuries of collected interpretation than puzzled over in solitude.

I wish bin Laudin thought that way. His writing pulls all sorts of things out of context.
posted by username at 6:36 PM on September 19, 2001

[I think the Talmud, Bible and Qu'ran are better understood in dialogue with informed scholars who are familiar with the centuries of collected interpretation than puzzled over in solitude.]

Just my personal experience... I came back to the "christian" faith when I ignored everything that I was ever told about Christ and his message and just read the "words in red".

It was amazing how clear and concise just reading what HE is reported to have said was. It changed me as a person and much for the better.

That said, I still think everyone has there own path to enlightenment (or lack thereof if they so choose) and this may be just another step in my journey. Still, my understanding of the message of Christ has given me great solace and peace while driving me somewhat batty when I see most preachers speak of tenets that Christ never mentioned.
posted by revbrian at 6:55 PM on September 19, 2001

I think the Talmud, Bible and Qu'ran are better understood in dialogue with informed scholars

Yes, when in doubt, appeal to authority. Betcha prefer the mass in Latin, too...
posted by rushmc at 7:05 PM on September 19, 2001

I don't believe there is an English translation of the Qu'ran acceptable to Islamic authorities.

I think the deal is more that Muslims are very concerned to say that any translation is only an interpretation, since a high value is placed each believer understanding the Qur'an and other sources through reading and study in the original Arabic. Thus translations by Muslims tend to have titles like "The meaning/message/etc. of the Qur'an." That said, there are translations in favor among English-speaking Muslims. This bilingual edition is the most popular one among mainstream Muslims I know (some of the other Muslim translations are considered quite sectarian). I personally like the Penguin, which in its latest revised edition reads very well (though not laden with tons of explanations and footnotes), but since the translator, though born in Iraq (and of Jewish heritage, I believe), is not a Muslim, this translation is not so popular among those reading the Qur'an for devotional purposes. I have thought about this, and my pet peeve is that all the efforts are by individuals--there's no translation by a committee of reputable scholars like the Jewish Publication Society Hebrew Bible or, for Christian bibles, the New Jerusalem Bible or the NRSV. This may be Eurocentric, but I'd buy in a heartbeat an "Oxford Annotated Qur'an" with high hopes of understanding Islam better...

I am not so knowledgeable about Islam or the Qur'an that I would try to answer the call for someone to explain any of the issues that have been brought up from its perspective. But I know enough to know that there's plenty of room for arguing most controversial issues on 2+ sides.
Take "jihad" for example--though if you read the Qur'an you will find a pretty tolerant attitude towards Christians and Jews, there is a long history of two different interpretations of this concept, the "struggle" by actual force in the cause of Islam (which I think we can all join most Muslims in saying the terrorist attacks were not), and an inner struggle for spiritual renewal (a widespread understanding, possibly to the point of being "mainstream" today)...
posted by Zurishaddai at 7:24 PM on September 19, 2001

Islam doesn't make people racist and full of hate. Ignorance does. Ignorance prevails in war-torn countries where people are too poor and hungry and afraid to send their kids to school.

Then again, some highly educated people are still ignorant. Go figure.
posted by Loudmax at 8:32 PM on September 19, 2001

i could easily swipe muslim terrorist with america, and all their "victims" with their foes around the world.

the point is that this article is biased. do you people have any idea why there is a war in kashmir? no, you don't.
posted by incubus at 10:23 PM on September 19, 2001

incubus, can you enlighten us on why there is a war in kashmir?
posted by Saima at 5:44 AM on September 20, 2001

I can read Arabic, and am getting better at translating it.. The Qu'ran is a record of what Allah said to Muhammad (pbuh) throughout the course of his lifetime - thus it requires study in conjunction with the hadith (basically life/teachings of Muhammad (pbuh)) to have any real idea of what its all about.

If you want to fully understand what its all about, it takes quite a bit of time - I'm taking an introductory course entitle 'A brief explanation of the Holy Qu'ran' which is approximately 60 lessons (2 per para) of 1 - 1.5 hours each. The full course is about 30 lessons of about 20 hours each..

However, any level of understanding is better than none at all - I doubt I'll manage to do the full course (mainly as I'd have to go to Pakistan for a year =), but even in the 'brief' introduction I've learnt why I act the way I do as a muslim. Learning about your religion is a wonderful thing - funny that people can find 30 mins a week to watch the Simpsons, but not to read their holy texts..

If I am correct on the Kashmir thing, Kashmir was a contentious point during the splitting up of India by Mountbatten. It had a muslim majority (80-90%), but a Hindu sultan/ruler, so it was given to India. When the partition occured, there was wide spread panic by the muslims in the hindu areas and the hindus in the muslim areas as to whether they would be persecuted because of their beliefs (), and 1 million people died in the mass migrations that followed. I'm not sure what happened in Kashmir, but I believe that a lot of people were not happy about being given to India, and the Indians did not treat them well. The situation escalated, and now we have a sorry state there, where there is no religious tolerance and there are probably more Indian troops than Kashmiris, all with shoot on sight powers.. Every so often, reports on atrocities by the soldiers pop up too - although I only have muslim websites to confirm these, but the pictures are quite horrendous..

Its a shame, one of my best friends is from Kashmir and she refuses to talk about it - if I can recall, the first Sultan to take the area looked out over the valleys and said something like: "If ever there was paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.."

And now its full of scorch marks and terrified people.

Mankind rocks.
posted by Mossy at 7:03 AM on September 20, 2001

Oh, just found this link to the Kashmiri American Council, they should be able to shed more light on the matter than me..

Latin is a cool language btw - after 5 years of school services in Westminster Abbey, I could easily recite to you the Lord's Prayer in Latin, both versions :) Pater noster, qui est in coelis, sanctifecetur nomen tuum....

Ok, maybe my spelling isn't what it used to be...
posted by Mossy at 7:10 AM on September 20, 2001

Why is it that everywhere in the world where Muslims are in the majority, their minorities are persecuted?

I'm still interested in this question. Is it true? If so, why?

Are there any Muslim-majority countries where Christians and Jews have equal rights under the law?
posted by straight at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2001

Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine all have Christian populations and all of them offer equal protection under law. However in practice, as in most countries in the world, there are problems and deviations from the law. Remember that Lebanon (after being destabalized by Israel, Palestine, and Syria) fought a Muslim-Christian civil war.

Before the war the minority Christians had a majority control of much of the country's economic and political leadership. In Syria the dictator and much of his ruling party is are Alawi-minority, the majority are Sunni Muslims.

Beyond religion, in the Arab world there are many minorities, such as Alwawis, Druze, Assyrians, etc. Their rights are protected under law depending essentially on the kind of leadership the country enjoys. There is no real correlation between Islam and the treatment of minorities, just as there is no real correlation between Christianity and Nazism, Christianity and Slavery, and Christianity and the maltreatment of ethnic minorities in Western Nations.

The author's goal is to use specious evidence to present a case for bias against Islam, a world religion with a tradition of tolerance that exceeds or is on par with every other world faith. You could easily replace the statement you asked about, straight, with "Jews" "Christians" "Hindus" "Whites" or just about any other majority population. The author is biased, and presents only a thin disguise for his ignorance.
posted by cell divide at 9:17 AM on September 20, 2001

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