Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Dangers of Hating Books: Thoughts on American Anti-Islamic Sentiments

So now that things are becoming more manageable in my academic life, I'm finding there is quite a backlog of events and issues that I wanted to write about. Most of these feel too old-news to be worth the trouble with, but perhaps a few are still relevant enough, like the wave of anti-Islamic sentiments in the blogsphere and political arena.

Being 21, I'm a child of the late 1980s and 90s. The anti-Christian fad was at its peek when I was a teen. Marilyn Manson was big. Post Regan conservatism was running rampant in both parties as the creation of the Parental Advisory sticker on music proved. The jabs from the Grunge scene still lingered like morning breath in pop culture. All that ruckus Sinéad O'Connor had stirred up on SNL when she protested the Pope's failure to address pedophile priests was starting to become horribly valid. The Laramie Project was making people more aware of the Matthew Shepard beating. Such fine Christian role models as Fred Phelps were making headlines. Churches were constantly telling us that all kinds of geeky stuff was duh devil. D&D was duh devil. Mtv was duh devil. Is it any surprise that many youths were less than cheery about Jesus?

In 2000 I remember a kid in the video diary class I was taking at Light House stated in one of his entries that in high school, "Jesus is a dirty word." People that know me know I on occasion enjoyed making cracks at Republicans that feelt like everybody ganged up on them when they had control of Congress. Emo Cons, I liked to call them. That's not really what I'm talking about here though. There were certainly a lot of so called Christians that bully and excluded people, but a lot of live and let live Christens really did catch flack at this period from the jaded or cynical aspects of the counter culture (of both I'm sure there still are many). As a result, more liberal Christians often ended up either loners or assimilated into the conservative flock. In either case, a major potential bridge between ideas was lost in the name of absolutism.

What struck me about most anti-Christians at that time was the fact that they hadn't read the Bible. Perhaps a passage here and there that sounded like it supported their stand, but rarely even the entire book that those passages came from. (A common misconception that I heard was that the phrase 'spare the rod, spoil the child' meant that people should beat their children.) How can you judge a religion you haven't even read the entire scripture of? How can you blame the Bible? Johnny Cash was a Christian. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian. Lots of cool people happen to be Christians. What about them? So the idea that people who haven't read the text would assume the problem was the book and not the person at the pulpit has always bewildered me.

To me, the great thing about the Bible is that it's a great measurer of character. The fact that the Civil Rights Movement and the KKK can both be products of the same book through different interpretations of it shows a lot more about the reader than the book. It also makes it a very dangerous thing to write laws with as their basis. My secularism isn't grounded in the notion that the Bible is particularly bad, but that people can use the Bible to justify (correctly or incorrectly) very bad things. Unless you are someone who has studied the Bible, I think to blame Christianity for radical Christians is entirely unfair, much like blaming Christ for violent Christianity. I say give the book the benefit of the doubt; debate Christians that you disagree with, and challenge those that hide behind their faith and force it down your throat.

That brings us to Islam. The first thing I have to ask all the bloggers and political Islamophobes is simply this: have you ever read the Koran? Not part of it, but the whole thing. If you haven't than how can you personally blame it for those that seem to clearly be its radical element? How can you account for the millions of Muslims that have been citizens of the United States for years and have not tried to blow us up? I've had friends over the years that were Muslim, and they were good people. Did I agree with them on every aspect of their personal life style and beliefs? No, but I'm at a loss to list anyone that I agree with on everything, and besides, they never shoved their beliefs down my throat. Live and let live is an option sometimes folks. We all hide behind supposed experts for one issue or another, but if you haven't at least taken the time to read the text and make a few decisions for yourself when it is so readily available, then how can you make the time to oppose it as a whole instead of those that clearly and directly threaten us?

A lot of people find it hypocritical that Liberals seem to be so protective of Islamic rights while being so hard on Christian-based legislature and Christian lobby groups. The problem with these criticisms tend to be that they overlook the fact that there are many groups trying to clearly pass their interpretation of Christian values as legislature. If a Muslim legislator tried to outlaw restaurants staying open in the daytime during the month of Ramadan, or woman showing their hair in public... watch how quickly I'd oppose them. It is a common misconception that all seculars are atheists out to get Christians. Secularism simply means that no religion, be it Catholicism, Islam, Taoism or other, should interfere with government. If you allow one to, then how can you not allow another? In short, anyone that is really worried about Islamic legislature ought to be cheering seculars for being tough on Christians that try to pass Christian legislature.

From this point on let us now say that, hypothetically, Islam is evil. Let's say the militant extremists are practicing true Islam. That statement proves problematic sense it groups several very different and often rivaling interpretations into a single body. So let us instead say that Islam is a religion of violence. From there we have to address again all those laid back people that aren't blowing everyone up. A good way to look at them is as the softy, lefty, peace, love and understanding hippie Muslims. Everyone knows that only conservatives can be real Chris... I mean Muslims! (They're probably the Bill Garnett's and Archie Levine's of Islam... with maybe a Johnny Cash or two in there as well.)

So now that we have read our Korans and found that the religion itself is the problem, I have one question for Sean Hannity, Dennis Prager, Virgil Goode, bloggers (ya know who you are) and everyone else on the crusade:

What are you trying to accomplish? Do you have some grand dream of a world without Islam? That's 1.4 billion people you are talking about! We don't have that many daisy cutters folks!

The only alternative to genocide would seem to be ideological assimilation. An Enlightenment, if you will, or "Reformation" as others have called it. However, if you are interested in changing Islam's violent oppressive nature, you have to encourage clear ideas and attack specific issues. In the last few years we've seen a rise in Islamic feminism, an interest in women's rights is on the rise, particularly (by women) in Africa. Saying that their faith is evil closes all possibility for a dialogue though. It also makes enemies out of allies.

That anti-Islamic sentiments are so outspokenly held by supporters of the war in Iraq, and particularly Bush's deployment of twenty-thousand more troops, is the most puzzling aspect of all in this mess. We are in a propaganda war with Al-Qaeda. Invading Iraq and taking down Saddam Hussein's regime has created a vacuum for new terrorist recruitment. With every innocent death from an American bomb, Al-Qaeda can potentially gain a mourning family's worth of new terrorists. We are trying to maintain peace between Muslim Shi'as and Sunnis. With all these tensions that we are sending are troops in to deal with, could there be anything more irresponsible than to be creating an image of America as anti-Islamic? Anyone that thinks Al-Qaeda doesn't watch American TV and Radio is a fool. As I recall in earlier stages of the war, there was a lot of debate as to how much information the media should be allowed about military strategy for that very reason. Al-Qaeda knows how to spin a story against America, so for god sake don't give them ammo!

Militant Muslim extremists like Al-Qaeda are a serious problem. Confusing them for the whole of Islam only empowers them. What we should be doing right now is exploiting their hypocrisy as a group bent to unite all Muslims against the West while at the same time turning their backs on the Shi'as in order to keep a finger in Iraq.

This is not meant so much to change peoples' stands on immigration, the war, nor is it to bicker about party agendas. Those are debates for another forum... perhaps even on another blog. This is simply a call for responsibility among Americans. For people to think before they make statements or propagate ideas that can hurt our relations with the Islamic world and potentially further endanger the lives of our troops and civilians.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Austen said...

Sadly, Sean Hannity, Virgil Goode, Dick Cheney, and the rest of them do dream of a world without Islam.

I wish more people were as insightful as you. Thanks for such a good post! (And I appreciated the trip back to the '80s and '90s.)

7:29 PM  
Blogger Cory Capron said...

Thanks!

6:07 PM  
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3:02 AM  

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