It is The Religion
October 7, 2001 3:40 AM   Subscribe

It is The Religion A very strong case made for Why They Hate Us...and it is not so much our world-wide policies. This piece along with the earlier piece I had posted by Paul Berman (American Prospect) are fine appraisals of why Islam "fears" the West and what they ideally want. Sullivan avoides the (for me) overly simplistic single causes that so many seem convinced of and offers instead a much larger view. Via NY Times, free reg. req'd.
posted by Postroad (37 comments total)
Frankly I've never read anything that smacks of such a large degree of self-congratulation. Ask yourself this question - as Westerners, is it in our best interests to believe that we could be hated for the way we exploit and interfere in the rest of the world *or* because there's just some difference between us?

The line in this article that annoys me most is this one:

"In that sense, this surely is a religious war -- but not of Islam versus Christianity and Judaism. Rather, it is a war of fundamentalism against faiths of all kinds that are at peace with freedom and modernity."

This is a clear statement that THEY are bad and WE are good, and that THEY hate US because we believe in freedom and democracy and they don't.

Be honest with yourself. A lot of people will resent success, economic power and cultural dominance in and of itself. It doesn't matter if the culture is that dominates is saintly or satanic - it will always have enemies because it is BY THE VERY NATURE OF ITS BEING a threat to smaller countries / less powerful countries.

And that is clearly part of what is going on. But we have a situation in which Western governments simply HAVE declared war on people that MIGHT threaten their existence. We HAVE put up unstable regimes where before there were possibly communist ones. We have supported despots to get oil. We have done everything in our power to maintain our own quality of life whatever the effects might be on other people and other nations.

And while we're doing it we've pumped out images of our excesses, our willingness to compromise decency for cash - and most of us aren't even aware how little power we have compared to the huge multi-national corporations that loom over us.

A lot of people around the world are uncomfortable with the position of the west. ANd a lot of people in the west are uncomfortable with the position of the USA.

Attacks will have little to do with their hatred of freedom and democracy. They'll be based in positions that THEY THINK ARE COMPLETELY REASONABLE. And while I could never countenance the actions of people attacking the WOrld Trade Center - I'm not sure I could countenance supporting Saddam Hussein, training Osama Bin Laden, interfering in Cuba, Honduras etc. etc. etc. either.
posted by barbelith at 4:07 AM on October 7, 2001

Barbelith, did you actually read the entire article? The author's main thesis was that the conflict is terribly complex because to proponents of Islamic radicalism, the actions of the terrorists are perfectly reasonable and do make sense.

I, for one, think the article was one of the most cogent and detailed examinations I've read of how internal conflicts within Islam are coming into play in a large and resoundingly complex manner - but that the internal conflicts themselves are starkly simple: modernization and secularism, with all of the messiness that entails, versus purity of culture and dogma.

And I think that taking this whole thing and plopping it unceremoniously back into the "this is just about how awful American foreign policy has been" is utterly vapid from an intellectual standpoint. American foreign policy has been awful in many respects. There also have been occasional actions the United States has taken that have been supportive within the Islamic world - which the article points out. The secular regimes have thus been see-sawing between outright opposition to the U.S. and quiet accomodation to the U.S. when it is in their best interests. That is about U.S. foreign policy - it is a situation where America's misteps have done a great deal of harm, and a place where a review and alteration of U.S. foreign policy could improve ties.

But the fundamentalist aspect of this is different - it is not just about U.S. foreign policy, although that plays a role. It is not just about America's wealth and power, though that is a factor. It is also about the conflict between a secular world and a fundamentalist one. And if you think that by changing U.S. foreign policy that that conflict is going to go away, you're fooling yourself. Changing U.S. foreign policy may gain the U.S. allies in the region, and it may improve the region economically - but it will not erase radical Islam.

And, contrary to your first paragraph where you imply the author is saying that "there's just some difference between us" - I think the article is clear on the fact that there's not - that the Islamic world is fighting within itself a conflict that is very similar to one the Western world has fought within itself, one that even now the West continues to struggle with.
posted by Chanther at 4:53 AM on October 7, 2001

Or, if I may summarize : the Shiite has hit the fan.

(Sorry. Probably not anywhere near denominationally correct, but I couldn't resist.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:01 AM on October 7, 2001

Sorry for being a spoil-sport, but there is the fact that Islam, in the 21st century, allows the interpretation(however abusive and recent)that it is OK to kill yourself. Suicide, for the Jews and the Christians and any other religion going today, is absolutely condemned as wrong.
Never mind suicide leading to the death of others.
(Which is what we're talking about but too cowardly to say outright)

Better to say - and very easily proved - that murderous Islamic fundamentalism in our day and age doesn't have a leg to stand on, when it seeks justification in the Koran - than to pretend it's yet another facet of the secular/religious divide.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:26 AM on October 7, 2001

Having come out of a fundamentalist past, I can concur with nearly all of the points the author makes in this article. Well thought out, well written.
posted by at 5:42 AM on October 7, 2001

For MiguelCardoso: read this and then tell me that the Koran is the easy going holy scriptukre just like the Old and New testaments:

Now if you don't believe these citations, go to any on-line translantion (assuming you have no Arabic) text of the Koran to prove that this is accurate.
posted by Postroad at 6:30 AM on October 7, 2001

Old and New Testaments are easy going books? Let's have a 'religion preaches violence' debate! Yeah!

Here are the proper translations that postroad asked to compare against. Not a bosom in site (hey, I looked in the X-rated paradise of islam bit first as I thought that seemed a bit odd - those verses seem to have lost a bit (and gained a bit!) in translation - I can read arabic, and although mine isn't the best in the world, that translation seems to be quite odd.. :) Here for articles about all that stuff from an Islam viewpoint..

Suicide, otherwise known as intihar is expressly forbidden in Islam, but what we seem to have hear is people thinking, hey, the ends justify the means, God won't mind..

Now I'm off to read that article :)
posted by Mossy at 6:58 AM on October 7, 2001

The Bernard Lewis article "The roots of Muslim Rage" which is extensively quoted by Sullivan is here.
posted by grahamwell at 7:11 AM on October 7, 2001

Postroad: have you actualy read the old and new testements?
posted by delmoi at 7:21 AM on October 7, 2001

It's pretty naive to look at Islam and say, "What a violent book! Those crazy Muslims," when really, the bible tells me to kill everyone from homosexuals to people who squeeze the toothpaste out from the middle (it's in there, I swear). All of these religions tell me that I, as a believer, am pretty much better than those people who aren't believers. Now, it might SAY I'm not, but clearly, when you're told that you are going to heaven cause you're such a swell guy, but Marty is going to hell, well, what does that unconsciously tell you about Marty? And having the belief that there is an all powerful being backing up your every move, well, that can't be too good for anyone's psyche.
So, what, in closing, they all stink.
posted by Doug at 7:50 AM on October 7, 2001

All of these religions tell me that I, as a believer, am pretty much better than those people who aren't believers.

While, ironically, stripping you of your autonomy, your individualism, your free will, and pretty much everything else that gives you value as a human being.

What a racket.
posted by rushmc at 8:27 AM on October 7, 2001

I do wish you would stop relying on Hindu polemicist sites, Postroad: it's as unhelpful as deriving your position on Islam from Jack Chick.

As for Sullivan's piece: well, first of all, it's amusing to see both he and Chris Hitchens playing the "Taliban Fascists" card. That's the way of the expat, to instruct his adopted country in patriotism just as a new convert preaches to his adopted church. But there's also some irony in his premise that totalitarianism is attractive because it brings a kind of internal consistency and teleology to society:

Under Lenin's and Stalin's rules, the imminence of salvation through revolutionary consciousness was in perpetual danger of being undermined by those too weak to have faith -- the bourgeois or the kulaks or the intellectuals. So they had to be liquidated or purged. Similarly, it is easy for us to dismiss the Nazis as evil, as they surely were. It is harder for us to understand that in some twisted fashion, they truly believed that they were creating a new dawn for humanity, a place where all the doubts that freedom brings could be dispelled in a rapture of racial purity and destiny.

This, after having condemned the American left as a "fifth column" for its refusal to rally around the bellicose right, suggests that while he's alive to the disturbingly attractive homogeneity of religious ideology, he can't quite extend that to political discourse. In fact, he's all too eager to play divide-and-conquer with the left, proving that tolerance only extends to those who fit his example of diversity: gay, Catholic and Thatcherite.

As barbelith says (and Sullivan actually hints), the context of fundamentalist terrorism isn't an "attack against our freedoms", but rather an "attack for their coherent world", an atomic, hermetically sealed one. And I can't help thinking that there are a few nutters who regard themselves both as God-fearing Americans, and as holy warriors against Hollywood and liberals and homosexuals and those with different coloured skin, because to tolerate such incursions would threaten their own closed worlds and closed minds.
posted by holgate at 8:42 AM on October 7, 2001

Excellent summation Chanther. Based on recent posts, I think a key thing to keep in mind before this spins off into a religious/not-so-religious bash fest is that it all boils down to interpretation. Religious Texts have passages of both violence and peace, and as we have learned in the evolution of society, it is how you interpret these texts. The level of your symbolic attachment to these pretty much defines what branch you fall into to, whether it be a strict fundamentalist interpretation or to your (or maybe your parent's) degree of symbolism. I think that was the key point of the article, that there is room for interpretation rooted in Locke's ideas that we adapted. ALL religious books can be good/bad. The article was not about which was good or bad. It was about human interpretation.
posted by dig_duggler at 8:48 AM on October 7, 2001

Religion is mental insanity. Mass insanity.
posted by stbalbach at 9:42 AM on October 7, 2001

I relied on Hindu polemicist...ture. Now check out the passages he has cited, skipping his reading of them, and look at Koran chapter cited. Now, if I gave list of citations from a Jew, or a Christian, that too I assume would be way off the mark? My point is the chapter cited not his interpretation.
Have I ever read the old or new testament? see my Mentor Dictionary of Mythology and the Bible , copyright 1973. (Lapides & Daigle)
see, for Bein Laden's (and house of Saudi Arabia) the extreme form of belief believed in: NY Times, Sunday, 7, (today) reg req.
as for the listing of the skepticsw view of the OT and NT--I am not a believer but that stuff is merely some sorehead listing of passages found offensive and "bad"--but hardly gives a long list of the sort to be found in passages given by the (alas) Hindu sorehead.
posted by Postroad at 9:44 AM on October 7, 2001

You know this is exactly why jesus and almost all the other religions don't save, they kill. I wish we'd outlaw religion.
posted by tiaka at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2001

Sure they hate aspects of our society, but the bottom line is that they wouldn't give a damn if we didn't meddle in their affairs. Our selling of arms, supporting occupying goverments, etc. is the key reason. They hate a majority of today's world societies, but they don't take action against them. They take action against the countries (e.g., us) who are directly or indirectly affecting the Middle East.
posted by fleener at 9:49 AM on October 7, 2001

Postroad: read this and then tell me that the Koran is the easy going holy scriptukre just like the Old and New testaments:

I listed the sceptics site to show that you can't quote like that (if you look there, you'll find a list of direct quotations, no opinions, just citations from the 'easy going' scripture - and I found that list pretty long).

And in the case of that hindu site, you can't add to the translation as you quote from arabic - I'm still learning arabic, but even I can see some of those quotations are falsely translated - you said check the quotes, I did, and most of them seem a wee bit 'embellished'.

This is something that I'm curious about - extremists/funadamentalists have been blamed for the attacks. And yet those identified as carrying them out don't seem to have a beard in sight, needed a reminder of how to pray apparently (according to that note they found), Mohammad Atta was apparently an alcholic and they all seem to have gone to a strip club.. And not a beard in site. What kind of fundamentalist extremist is that?

I looked at that article from the NYT - Wahabbism actually stems from the Khariji position, which started at the time of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) with a man called Dhu'l-Khuwaisira al-Tamimi who accused the prophet of insufficient piety. From then on, the Kharijis, who are described in hadith as men of 'obscured eyes', have represented the lunatic fringe of Islam, consistently rejected by Sunnis and other muslims - it borrows some Islamic forms but in essence is another religion entirely, as disparate as Baha'ism and Qadianism.

But will we call the terrorist Khariji terrorists/fundamentalists/extremists? That is what they are, but in the popular Western psyche, these people are equivalent to the other billion muslims in the world.

And if religion is insanity, does my being religious make me insane? Or dangerous?
posted by Mossy at 10:53 AM on October 7, 2001

holgate: Sullivan also seems to be in extreme denial as to how much his chosen presidential candidate, Bush, and the Republican Party have benefited from fundamentalist support over the years. Why, they even benefited from Islamic fundamentalists within the United States. One of Bush's main early supporters has even bragged about this. Meantime, one such supporter has, in the past, expressed support for Hezbolllah, according to a stunning Washington Post article. The lack of outreach to mainstream Islamic leaders is discussed here, from the Weekly Standard.

Will the pan-fundamentalist vote idea be ditched in the next election? (Side thought: Will the Democrats try not to respond to it with triangulation?) And if not, will Sullivan scream about it?
posted by raysmj at 11:02 AM on October 7, 2001

Correction: The guy in the Post article, who was invited to the White House after the attacks, harshly criticized the U.S. ("America has to learn, if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come.") while marchers around his chanted support of Hezbollah. Slight difference.
posted by raysmj at 11:44 AM on October 7, 2001

A note in passing: a poster noted that the terroists did not have beards etc and thus seemed not fundies etc. But their training manual, recently released gave specifics not to look Muslim, to shave beard, wear no headgear, move into newerer areas (condos etc) where no one knew anyone...this is called "disguise."
posted by Postroad at 12:56 PM on October 7, 2001

raysmj; I've actually seen Hamza Yusuf on the BBC, before the attacks, talking about Islam as part of its outreach project. He's an intriguing example of the diversity of Muslims in the US: a young white Californian, a convert from Christianity who studied Islam in the western deserts of Mali, a fierce critic of modern materialism. (And I can't really imagine him being a "Bush supporter" as such.) It certainly looks as if he realised the kneejerk anti-US rhetoric caught up with him:

"One of the things I have learned is that we in the Muslim community have allowed a discourse of rage," he said. "This has been a wake-up call for me as well, in that I feel in some ways there is a complicity, that we have allowed a discourse centered in anger."

Quite a mea culpa.
posted by holgate at 1:33 PM on October 7, 2001

they may have shaved and stuff to look un-fundie, but what about the drinking and debauchery?
posted by Mossy at 2:07 PM on October 7, 2001

but what about the drinking and debauchery?

I just wished they'd enjoyed it enough, Mossy.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:37 PM on October 7, 2001

Hamza Yusuf runs the Zaytuna Institute in the Bay area. Zaytuna has a remarkable Islamic dawah/missionary program. Most of their members are recent converts with a surprising number of them being single American females.
posted by tamim at 3:08 PM on October 7, 2001

does my being religious make me insane? Or dangerous?

posted by stbalbach at 4:59 PM on October 7, 2001

stbalbach -

better watch your back then. billy graham and the pope are coming for you.
posted by catatonic at 5:23 PM on October 7, 2001

there is a long storied relationship between religious fundamentalism and "acceptable violence" in all faiths. virtually every religion contains some form of war/death/violence metaphor that someone reads and takes literally.

bin Laden may have very definable political goals and is simply using Islam as a cover. Many of his foot soldiers, however, are not. People forget the the rank and file of Al-Qaeda don't exactly have the same access to information that middle America has. They don't watch CNN. Many of them can't tell you what American foreign policies are in *any* part of the Middle East. They only know that the West is evil because that's what their (available) sources tell them. If you don't think this really happens - that there are people in the world that really buy into mystical and apocalyptic notions that would seem absurd to most people - spend some time with fundamentalist Christians in the deep south. many of these people are not stupid. they just take the bible very literally and so does everyone around them. they raise their kids to believe the same things and the exclusionary nature of their beliefs makes for a very homogenous culture. this environment tends to be self-reinforcing and censors any alternatives. these are people that have easy access to information that should educate them and make them more openminded (books, TV, etc.). Imagine how much easier it is for these movements to develop and flourish (and how much more extreme they can be) in environments where the people are so much less exposed to different ways of thinking.

this is not to say that American foreign policies have not exacerbated tensions, but Sullivan is right to imply that there has been no real dialogue about the actual religious base in these movements and how to deal with that element, (other than to proclaim very loudly and publicly that it's not representative of mainstream Islam.) Most Muslim clerics have been very vocal about denouncing the Sept 11th attacks, but there are very few that have been active in denouncing fundamentalist interpretations of Islam in general or the extremists in this vein that are not connected to Sept 11 (i.e., Hamas and Hezbollah). According to the Qu'ran, Allah requires that Islam be a self-policing community and that Muslims purge the community of these fundentalist elements. Not a lot "purging" going on before Sept 11th, and probably not enough afterwards.
posted by lizs at 6:23 PM on October 7, 2001

see my Mentor Dictionary of Mythology and the Bible

Gee, I'm so glad to know that libraries and bookstores can fill their shelves with reference books by frothing bigots!
posted by Zurishaddai at 8:46 PM on October 7, 2001

Isn't the real difference between Islam and the other two faiths that there are no significant numbers of Christian or Jewish looneys committing mass murder and murder by suicide?
posted by ParisParamus at 9:02 PM on October 7, 2001

(in the year 2001)?
posted by ParisParamus at 9:02 PM on October 7, 2001

Blimey, I'm dangerous.. Maybe I should stop being religious and go for that greed is good thing again..

The Jews are killing the Palestinians, 700 of them in 2001, thousands injured. There. Want me to post links to the kids with bullet holes in 'em? Obviously they would grow up to be terrorists, so its ok to shoot them.

As for the Christians, they've been quite good this year actually - give me a while and I'll dig up some dirt though (journalism rocks).. Are there any Christian states btw?

Let me point out once more what we have here is the Khariji faction of the somewhat extreme Wahhabi movement doing all this bombing (indeed, almost all terrorism attributed to 'Muslims'). It takes bits from Islam, but its as different a religion as Baha'ism is from mainstream Islam as practiced by Sunnis and Shias. So there.
posted by Mossy at 6:33 AM on October 8, 2001

Am i the only one who thought the post said "Paul Barman"?
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:12 AM on October 8, 2001

There is a lot of interesting ideas in this article, however Sullivan can be faulted for simply brushing aside the conditions that allow fundamentalism. While his analysis from the historical view starts to make sense, it loses steam when he gets to the present. While he is willing to accept logical reasons for Christian fundamentalism in the past, he seems unable or unwilling to impart the effect of Imperialism (British), meddling (American) and corruption (Arab, with Western support and encouragement) on the Arab and Muslim World. Without a sense of the destructive policies and attitudes of the past, there is no way to understand the rise of fundamentalism, particularly in its overt and revolutionary (Iran, Afghanistan) forms.

In other words, this article does a good job of telling half the story.
posted by cell divide at 9:55 AM on October 8, 2001

More from Hamza Yusuf in this Guardian interview, reiterating his mea culpa, and making some interesting points about the possibility of an Islamic theological renaissance within the West:

"We Muslims have lost theologically sound understanding of our teaching," he says. "We are living through a reformation, but without any theologians to guide us through it. Islam has been hijacked by a discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage. We have lost our bearings because we have lost our theology."
posted by holgate at 8:45 PM on October 8, 2001

The crisis of a needed Islamic Reformation is a point well-taken, holgate. In Iran, a fascinating hotbed of interesting ideas these days (hell, the president of the country translated Tocqueville into Farsi...), one interesting figure (though perhaps not the "Muslim Luther" as in some press reports) is Abdol Karim Soroush (also spelt Soroosh).
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:04 PM on October 8, 2001

Aren't most Western states Christian ones?

"Blimey, I'm dangerous.. Maybe I should stop being religious and go for that greed is good thing again.."

THere are OTHER options you know!
posted by barbelith at 12:48 AM on October 9, 2001

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