Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Anti Americanism, Part Two of Three
Anti Americanism, Part Two of Three
Religious Dogma and anti Americanism
We are told on a daily basis, that Anti Americanism in the Arab world is at an all time high. News media pundits, in serious pontificating posture, tell us how it is we who are to blame. It is our foreign policy, it is our negative view of Islam andour decrepit culture that has inflammed the fabled 'Arab street'.
Demonstrations in Arab capitals, replete with the requisite American and Israeli flag burnings and the obligatory burning of western leaders in effigy, serve to reinforce the idea that somehow we are at a breaking point-- that we are closer than ever to a political Armageddon with the Arab world. Arab leaders reinforce that view with serious, measured pronouncements directed at the American electorate advising us that the foreign policy follies of the the US administration are to blame for the breakdown of the kind, gentle Arab population's view of America and Americans. There is a thinly veiled warning that in order to keep things from boiling over, we need to elect the 'right' administration- that is, an administration that sees things their way.
The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Everything in these Arab totalitarian regimes is orchestrated. Massive rallies take place with the blessings and encouragement of the government. Political 'bureaus', are employed to direct the propoganda and action. As in the heyday of Soviet Communism, 'spontaneous' demonstrations are populated with government workers bused in and school children by the thousands mysteriously given the day off and paraded in front of the media. Cameras, both local and western, are placed at strategic points so as to provide the most dramatic graphic images of the rage and hysteria. Selected 'man on the street' interviews are aired that only reinforce the images we are shown. Arab print media, virtually all government controlled, back up the images with virulently anti American rhetoric.
Without government support and encouragement, these protests would never be allowed to take place. Anti America hysteria and demonstrations, have been curtailed, as if by magic, in Saudi Arabia. Those kind of things no longer serve Saudi purposes, now that they are facing Islamic terror in the face, themselves. A miracle, indeed.
This anti Americanism is staged to serve a purpose. That purpose is to influence Americans and westerners as to the supposed error of their ways. In other words, these regimes want to create a sense of symapthy for the people they are subjugating and to somehow. place the blame for their suffering on the west.
Still, one cannot help but see the rage. Unlike Soviet era demonstrations where protestors were seen as lamely parroting the party line, shuffling along, these protestors are indeed inflammed. The question is why.
Arab leaders are no fools. They understand that the cause of Arab nationalism is longer a viable way to galvanize the masses. Arab leaders are divided themselves and have no use for one another. They are interested only in themselves, and enriching and preserving their family dynasties.
Arabs feel humiliated, we are told. Citizens of these Arab regimes know, that after decades of going nowhere, they are falling behind. In reality they realize who is to blame. They will not gather to support leaders who have done nothing for them. They will however, gather for their faith, Islam. Their faith in God is untouched by despots. They see their faith in Islam as their only hope and their deliverance. God will save them, if only they are deserving.
Arab leaders understand this. It is yet another calculated way to deflect attention outward, away from themselves and their ineptitude and corruption. So, (what they thought was) the use religion as a method of whipping up dissent was a double blessing. Arabs find hope and salvation and governments get to direct attention away from themselves. Best of all, there are enemies, real ones they say, portrayed as evil and as hating Mulsims. The US and Israel fit the bill perfectly. They are the manifestations of Satan, with political and religious differences from their own, mercilessly attacking the poor and defenseless Muslims. A Hollywood script if there ever was one.
How then, can one Abrahamic faith be so different in values than the other two, that allows itself to be a vehicle for such hatred and virulance? What is it about Arab Islam (there is an important distinction between Arab Islam and that Islam of other regions. The Islam of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore is nowhere near as virulent and anti American as the Arab version. In fact, outside the Arab world and Pakistan, cooperation and integration with the west is regarded as key to progress.They are far more secure in their Islam than the Arab world) that sets it apart from Judaism and Christianity?
(The following contains some selections and extractions from a letter I wrote a Muslim friend. That letter prompted me to write this piece.)
It isn't just the Quran. Violence is part of both the Old and New Testaments as well. So is the authoritarian God, omnipotent and ever judging. However, we in the west choose not to define our beliefs in those terms. We see God very differently from Muslims. We read the bible very differently than Muslims. It wasn't always so, but it is now.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam have the significant and important concept of Imitatio dei, the deliberate choices we make in imitating God. We are after all, 'Created in His image' and charged with living our lives in a Godly way. To those who accept faith, this is a basic tenet.
It is here that differences between the faiths occur (Again, i'm referring to the Abrahamic faiths as we know them today.)
God as accepted by Jews and Christians is limited in his interaction with us, in that laws of nature, once established, are part of His Dominion. He has symapathy for man and suffers when we do. (For example, when a infant drowns in a swimming pool, God cries with us. In the laws of nature, infants cannot swim. Islam sees the death differently. The child's death is a punishment) He takes pity on the disenfranchised and the persecuted. The Christian God came to earth and foretold of his own crucifixtion and even welcomed it. The poor and the weak elicit God's love most deservedly and most clearly. Jewish and Christian theologians speak of "divine humility".
These notions are completely foreign to Muslims today and have been for a while. That Allah is, beneficent and the merciful, is a given. However, Franz Rozenzweig, philosopher and theologian, made the following astute observation. "For Islam, the notion that man's failings more powerfully awake God's love than man's merits is an absurd, indeed an impossible thought. Allah has pity upon human weaknesses, but the idea that he loves weakness more than strength is a form of divine humility that is foreign to the God of Mohammed". His remark is profoundly insighful in these tiimes.
Thus, it is only through stregnth and forcefulness that a Muslim can truly be a Believer. He must force himself and his beliefs upon others with no quarter for mercy or compromise, if he is to fulfill his destiny as God's agent on earth.
This will prove to be a continuing great obstacle to the credibility of Muslims. The focus of Islam-- religious and political-- has always been taking the offense, and in lieu of a real issue, creating a position that requires an offensive posture (thus never ending jihad), and less on what Jews and Christians call 'good works'.
While Christians and Jews build hospitals, for example, to serve their own and communal needs, no such model exists in the Muslim community. In the post Protestant western philosophy to which Jews and Christians ascribe, there is an inherent need for less subjective nuance and an emphasis in more of the tangeble reality in everything we do. While we in the west focuses on 'statistics',-- the tangeble record of achievement to measure where we have been and where we need to go, the Muslim political/religious/educational institutions focus on nuance only-- ever clarifying meaning and intent, but never accomplishment. Thus, the disdain and derision for statistics and measurements that can't compare.
It is within this version of Islam that Arab Muslims have chosen to vent their political rage. They cannot measure up in any meaningful way, to their enemies, the US and Israel. Therefore, unbridled hatred of those who are measurably more accomplished than they has become the mother's milk of their faith.
Complicit with these Arab regimes are the official Arab Islamic clergy (all government approved and controlled), who too, had to find a way to keep their flock in line. With Islam less and less a vehicle for advancement and integration into the modern world, what better way to fire up the multitudes than the road to salvation and demonization of the very progress their so societies so desperately need.
Neither the Arab political or Islamic religious communities see the need for integrating reality into their societies. Indeed, it can only work against them, upsetting the status quo. If speaking out against the atrocities in Darfur, for example, might challenge the current Arab and Islamic value systems, then silence becomes the 'Islamic' thing to do.
We in the west do not even speak the same language. Until there is a confluence of ideals, the status quo will remain dominant in all our exchanges. Islam must take the initiative here, to seek the high road.
It is not unknown to Islam. The Golden Age of Islam had lasting impact and foundation building as one of it's hallmarks-- the nuances of philosophy and religion and the strict adherence to the scientific method. That the Arab world today keeps reminding us (in reality, themselves) of the once great sphere of Arab influence, is truth, no more than a pitiful mirror in which the Arab world is viewed today.
The emphasis on warrior aspects of Islam life have supplanted many historical realities of Islamic community builders, religious teacher/philosophers, artists and scientists. Contrast this with our own view of the biblical David, a prolific warrior in God's name-- yet he is recognized and revered as the gentle author of the Psalms, a far more benign image.
The extrication of this one sided Islam can only be accomplished with the separation of the religious aspects of Islam from the narrow political agendas that fuel the deliberate and orchestrated anti Americanism and desired misunderstandings between Islam and the West (so that they are perpetually 'victims').
If that doesn't happen soon, the genie Arab governments, in concert with what their Islamic clerics have unleashed, will come back to haunt these regimes. Just ask the Saudis.
America, and for that matter, the west, will defend themselves more forcefully from religiously inspired/politically orchestrated hatreds, acted upon. Of that, you can be sure.