Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fundamentalists Rising

This is NOT the line to the Justin Bieber concert.

When I was in my early 20s, I corresponded with a group of Armenian intellectuals, which included writers in California, New Hampshire and Canada, and an educator in Holland. We’d write letters about politics, culture and current events and share our own unique perspectives in a passionate albeit wry way, with the consensus that the powers that be are letting the planet fall to shit.

Recently, I was rummaging around my old steamer trunk and found a box filled with letters from those halcyon days, when the written word carried more weight and correspondence was more than a few hastily typed characters texted over cellphones.

In the summer of 1993, I attended an expository writing program at Harvard University and lived with relatives in Watertown, Mass. The letters I received from my pen pals kept me engaged and thinking about current topics and issues and pushed me towards critical writing.

During my recent excursion to the steamer trunk, I unearthed one of the letters, whose subject matter always stayed with me, particularly after the terrible events of 9/11.

The letter, dated June 20, 1993, was from Stephan, a teacher in the Netherlands, who wrote about the influx of Muslims into Europe:

“I used to articulate thoughts like yours about the brotherhood of man, survival, monsoons, earthquakes, ‘in the long run we are all dead’, etc. What is at stake is culture. Any culture, say the Dutch culture which took 1000s of years to evolve. If one does not protect it, it can become endangered and disappear in a 1000 days. That is the issue. In a sense the Dutch culture, like the American culture is self destructing. It is weakening with corruption and apathy, while other cultures are becoming more militant and threatening to replace it. According to one research, in the last 10 years the number of Dutch churches has been reduced by 8%. At the same time there was a 5 fold increase in the number of mosques in this country. In Britain the Moslems have set up an Islamic Parliament. In Pakistan, there isn’t a single church, because all planning permissions for the construction of churches are denied! A similar policy is to be found in Turkey. If you lived in Europe, you would feel this. I am not a xenophobe, or a racist, but the growing menace of militant fundamentalist Islam worries me and many people like me. If we are not careful, Paris could become another Istanbul in a 100 years, or less. At this moment two people out of every five in Paris are Moslems. Their plan is to turn the whole world into an Islamic planet. We must not sleep walk into such a hell. Early action is called for. Already there is a growing spread of female circumcision in Africa. Have a great summer and write soon!”

Two things: I find it prophetic that the concern over the rise of Islamic fundamentalism happened nine years before 9/11, an attack perpetrated by Muslim terrorists. Secondly, one should never end a letter with references to female circumcision and wish someone a happy summer.

“Have fun thinking about mutilated vagina while you’re on the beach!”

But I digress.

The cri de Coeur against the mosque in lower Manhattan, the claim that President Obama is a Muslim from Kenya, and the skittishness of anyone on an airplane who is brown and wearing a headscarf is based upon the West’s uneasiness with Islam.
My friend wrote this letter because he saw that what was occurring in Europe was a harbinger of things to come. Now I’m not saying all Muslims are terrorists. I’ll save that for the Fox News commentators. I am saying that militant Islamic fundamentalists are the problem.

In August I blogged about the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” and how Americans shouldn’t rush to judgment and allow the Islamic center at Park 51 to be built. I stand by my assertions that Park 51 will not harbor an American chapter of Al-Qaeda, but I do understand the concerns many have regarding the proliferation of Islam, especially those adherents who believe Islam is the only way and everyone else should be exterminated.

Unlike those who are behind Park 51, who desire to develop a dialog with those of different faiths, fundamentalist Islam is determined to wreak havoc upon America. They don’t want us dead because “they’re jealous of our freedoms”. They want us dead because we’re infidels. We’re the wicked country where women go to school, porn and pork are popular and we’re not mandated to kowtow to anyone.

The brand of fundamentalist Islam propagated by the Taliban has no problem with treating their women like animals or decapitating their criminals or marrying children. It might not be PC to criticize other cultures or beliefs, but when you’re operating from a fucked up 7th century worldview that’s mired in overzealous religious dogma incapable of expressing forgiveness or preaching tolerance, you deserve a little scrutiny. Recalcitrant in their attitudes and barbaric in their application of the law, they make life in rural Alabama seem liberal by comparison.

But it’s the use of violence to prove that their God is supreme that sets them apart from everyone else on the planet.
Christianity went through a gloomy phase of death and mayhem called the Dark Ages, but it’s the 21st century. Civilizations should have evolved from a medieval mindset.

Apparently, not everyone got that memo. If you can talk a child into strapping explosives to his chest and taking several innocent lives, then that’s some pretty hardcore shit. We’re dealing with an enemy who doesn’t care about dying, and even welcomes the martyrdom because it brings his family prestige and riches.

This week Muslim insurgents attacked the parliament in Chechnya and killed six people. In September, a suicide bomber in Pakistan crashed into a police station, which killed 11 policemen and four children and wounded 40 others.

These are not random, freak events. They’re business as usual for fundamentalists who’ve declared jihad on what they see as a threat to their way of life and the encroachment of the “decadent West.”

Many in the West are worried about Islam’s proliferation and influence.

National Public Radio recently fired news analyst Juan Williams because of comments he made to Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel about Muslims.

Williams said, “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country… But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

NPR clarified that Williams was fired because his remarks didn’t meet their editorial standards and practices, and that his credibility was “undermined.”

Well, of course it was. He was talking to Bill O’Reilly.

What standards and practices does NPR have? Not being complementary enough after the goateed intern in the Che Guevara T-shirt delivers your herbal tea?

If one delves into Williams’ comments, they do reveal something profoundly important about many Americans: Muslims, whether they’re terrorists or law-abiding citizens, scare the living shit out of us.

Why? I guess after 9/11, the beheadings, the threats made to cartoonists over the depiction of Muhammad and the fact that Islamic fundamentalists would be right at home with serial killers, genocidal madmen and history’s most depraved and bloodthirsty butchers kind of makes us Yanks nervous.

What of Europe’s dealings with Islam? In France, wearing a burqa is illegal. French lawmakers this year overwhelmingly passed the burqa ban because the Muslim garb “constitutes a threat to our society,” according to Jean-Francois Cope, leader President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, the Union for a Popular Movement.

After that, the falafel hit the fan and the protests began.

Other European countries are also viewing Islam’s rise as a threat. Part of this is based on xenophobia and part on the connection between fundamental Islam and violence.

If Muslims are tired of the West portraying their faith as one of barbarism and terrorism, then they should step up and condemn Al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban and any faction or group that uses the teachings of the Koran to enslave or kill.
I know Muslims view the Koran as the literal, unbreakable word of God and their own practices reflect a submission to God. Going against the Koran for Muslims means going against God.

But there’s got to be some understanding that Islam shares the planet with others who don’t view their religion as the absolute way. It’s up to Muslims who are tired of being lumped into the murderous rabble of Islamic fundamentalism to stand up and show they’re not afraid of any repercussions from the crazies in their own religion.

This struggle is not about cultural differences and we can’t, as one local hippy put it, try to “understand our enemies”. Joining hands with the Taliban and singing “Kumbaya” around a campfire won’t stop the bloodshed in the Middle East or change the way the terrorists feel about the West.

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