the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2005 July 19


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There are a billion مسلمون Muslimūn in the world, as any one of them will tell you. That is a number that demands respect, and most of them will in fact demand it. But it would perhaps be better to be merely impressed by the great mass of believers, and instead to offer the higher honor of respect to مسلمون Muslimūn only individually, and only to the precise extent that they individually earn it. Respecting الاسلام ’al-’Islām as a religion is not something we should feel obligated to do at all. And attempting to respect مسلمون Muslimūn as a collective is a disservice to individual مسلمون Muslimūn who have earned respect, because it suggests that we can fairly judge the individuals by the collective. I cannot imagine why any one of them would want this, given the actions of the collective. I respect the collective less and less with each new report of the actions of “مسلمون Muslimūn” worldwide.

The recent قرآن Qur’ān riots are on my mind, among other things. Nearly twenty persons were killed ― all مسلمون Muslimūn, I believe ― because it was merely reported in Newsweek that a few copies of القرآن ’al-Qur’ān were possibly damaged by US military personnel to provoke their مسلم Muslim prisoners. Reports that مسلم Muslim prisoners had similarly damaged copies of القرآن ’al-Qur’ān to provoke US military personnel were completely disregarded. Retractions made by Newsweek were disregarded as well. It is easy enough to believe that US soldiers would deliberately damage a book that they do not personally value. It ought to be difficult to believe that مسلمون Muslimūn would sacrifice their lives, or more often the lives of fellow مسلمون Muslimūn, in protest against such action, regardless of how much they value the book. Sadly, though, I believe it. I now believe that there are many مسلمون Muslimūn who value even a copy of القرآن ’al-Qur’ān more than they value innocent human life. They would sooner flush a dozen lives down the toilet than a single copy of a book.

If I believed that disrespect to a good book merited a violent response, I would have assassinated Peter Jackson years ago. But I am a sensible person, so I do not believe this. Nay, not even for so good a book as ‘The lord of the rings’. A book like القرآن ’al-Qur’ān falls much, much lower on the scale. I have not read the entire قرآن Qur’ān, but I can confidently say that it is not an especially-good book. I have read as much as I could before the motivation of historical knowledge was outweighed by the marked lack of literary value. Put another way, I would like to be able to judge القرآن ’al-Qur’ān after having read the whole thing, but not if it means having to read the whole thing.

But then I have never been one of those who felt a need to appease religious believers by offering hollow tolerance for their beliefs. You will not hear me say, “There is a lot of wisdom in the Bible.”. Even if that is true, as I doubt, it is hardly worth mentioning among the nonsense of which there is also a lot of in the Bible. In order to identify the wisdom in the Bible, to separate the wisdom from the nonsense, the reader must be wise already. Of what value is the wisdom then? It would be of exactly the value of the statue of David contained within a block of marble. If only Michelangelo can get to that statue, then all credit goes to Michelangelo. A block of marble is just a rock.

And the fundamentalist attitude towards a book is more pronounced in الاسلام ’al-’Islām than in Christianity, a religion in which fundamentalism is already sufficiently silly. Er, logically insupportable. The idea, as many non-مسلمون Muslimūn know, is that the archangel جبرئيل Ĝabrī’īl dictated القرآن ’al-Qur’ān to an illiterate محمد Muham:ad word-for-word in عربى Carabī, and not only every word but the عربى Carabī language itself is now somehow seen as divine. Old copies of القرآن ’al-Qur’ān cannot merely be discarded; they must be buried or burned. When it is translated (or, as the pious insist, “interpreted”, since no real translation from the divine original is possible), it is often rendered in archaic language meant to give the book the same falsely-elevated sound as the King James bible. And my local bookstore violates its own classification system to place القرآن ’al-Qur’ān on the top shelf, thereby placing it higher than any other book (except, of course, the books on the dozen floors above the top shelf, but never mind that). This, among other things, gives it preference over the תורה Toŭrah, the महाभारत Mahāb‛ārata, and the 道德經 Dŕo Dé Jīng, and the only reason this is viewed as acceptable is apparently because יהודים Jĕhūdīm, हिनदू Hindūs, and 道 Dŕoists have not appeared en masse to complain.

Some مسلمون Muslimūn have responded to the reported قرآن Qur’ān desecration (so called) by burning the United States’ flag, or a copy of its constitution. If this is revenge, it is also chauvinism, the belief that مسلم Muslim symbols require respect from all, but non-مسلم Muslim symbols do not. It hardly matters, though. Fortunately, the United States is presently liberal enough to tolerate (even if not universally) symbolic attacks. That does not make Yankee individuals superior to مسلم Muslim individuals. But it does mean that, if we must consider them collectively, the United States is superior, in this respect at least, to the امة ’Um:aĥ, the community of all مسلمون Muslimūn.

If مسلمون Muslimūn are looking for something offensive: it is offensive to spend so much time talking about how we have offended prisoners’ delicate sensibilities, and particularly offensive to worry about mistreating القرآن ’al-Qur’ān, when there are so many more important problems in the world. القرآن ’Al-Qur’ān is a book. If we damage a copy there are hundreds of millions of other copies. Each human life is unique and irreplaceable. If مسلمون Muslimūn wanted something to worry about, something to protest about, something to rage and storm about, they might consider that a human life lived in the مسلم Muslim world is one of the most dismal that our world has to offer, and that it is largely مسلمون Muslimūn who have made it so.

عراقيون Cirāqīūn, for a long part of the post-war period, blamed the United States for failing to bring peace and stability to the country. But those reporting on the situation are now describing a شيعى Šīcī majority that recognizes that the insurgency is not عراقى Cirāqī nationalism but سنى Sun:ī chauvinism, and that the situation is essentially a شيعى Šīcī-سنى Sun:ī war. The rhetoric and apparent motivations of the foreign جهاديون ĝihādīūn is certainly anti-شيعى Šīcī, and such sentiment is the only way at this point to explain the vicious and relentless attacks on the شيعى Šīcī populations, not merely current and potential “collaborators” (those who prefer a government job to no job) but also regular citizens and even worshippers.

When ordinary شيعيون Šīcīūn in العراق ’al-Cirāq are not being massacred by سنيون Sun:īūn for doctrinal reasons, ordinary شيعى Šīcī اعراب ’Acrāb and سنى Sun:ī Kurds are being massacred by سنى Sun:ī اعراب ’Acrāb for tribal reasons. This second motivation is simply a replay of the صدام Sad:ām régime, which lasted for thirty-five years and involved the murder and torture of hundreds of thousands of مسلمون Muslimūn by مسلمون Muslimūn, with no outside powers to blame. The current secular element of insurgency is nothing more than the desire by one group to rule over another, and again, this has nothing to do with anyone but مسلمون Muslimūn.

But ‘insurgency’ calls to mind images of guerrilla, while attacks on civilians engaged in daily living are usually called ‘terrorism’, and rightly so. So with the mass transit attacks in London. The idea that London commuters, even if they also be voters, should die so that Britain will withdraw from العراق ’al-Cirāq and افغانستان ’Afğānestān and thus leave millions of ordinary, decent مسلمون Muslimūn at the mercy of a small number of extraordinarily indecent مسلمون Muslimūn ― the fanatics of the طالبان Tālibān, the حزب البعث Hizb ’al-Bacţ, and القاعدة ’al-Qācidaĥ ― shows the barbarism of the ideology that seems not to be a major concern to the امة ’Um:aĥ.

The مصرى Mis ambassador-designate to العراق ’al-Cirāq was killed at around the same time on the spurious grounds of apostasy (as though that were a capital crime anyway), because he, through the state he served, was associated with Christians and יהודים Jĕhūdīm, and with their nefarious plot to support democracy and moderate اسلام ’Islām in العراق ’al-Cirāq. His killers were part of the قاعدة Qācidaĥ movement ― and it is fundamentally more frightening to recognize القاعدة ’al-Qācidaĥ as a movement than as a single organization. ابو مصعب الزرقاوي ’Abū Musacab ’al-Zarqāŭī, القاعدة ’al-Qācidaĥ chieftain in العراق ’al-Cirāq, is making a show of fealty to أسامة بن لادن ’Usāmaĥ bin Lādan, but he is clearly an independent force, and much more of a murderer personally than أسامة ’Usāmaĥ. But it is not just اعراب ’Acrāb who will murder for bizarre doctrinal and theocratic reasons. Attacks by سنيون Sun:īūn on شيعيون Šīcīūn happen frequently in پاکستان Pākistān also.

پاکستان Pākistān’s North-West Frontier Province is dominated by the same ethnic group, the پښتون Paxtūn, that fostered the طالبان Tālibān, and there the governing party has just established an اسلامى ’Islāmī police state, where minor points of “morality” will be enforced, طالبان Tālibān-style. The پښتون Paxtūn are سنى Sun:ī, but شيعيون Šīcīūn do this as well, as we have seen through a quarter century of theocracy in ايران ’Īrān. ايران ’Īrān’s so-called democratic process has just produced a president who actively supports this kind of thing, and while محمود احمدى نژاد Mahmūd ’Ahmedī Nežād will have only a fraction of the power of the clerical rulers of ايران ’Īrān, he will certainly not be impeding their oppression of the masses. We are supposed to believe that he was popularly elected; if so, that only makes the situation more troubling.

Many مسلمون Muslimūn, it seems, are happy to have their personal freedoms taken away, as the price for taking away the personal freedoms of others. While that statement applies to Westerners as well, the level of oppression tolerated in the مسلم Muslim world is far, far greater than that in the West. Beyond the observation that much of the مسلم Muslim world is a place of medieval superstition, there is the important observation that it is condescending to suppose that persons raised in the مسلم Muslim world are incapable of anything better. It is condescending to write off a billion persons because, up to now, so many of them have been living in self-induced misery. Of course, during the actual Middle Ages, the West was a place of superstition, while the مسلم Muslim world was relatively enlightened. So الاسلام ’al-’Islām is not inherently disastrous. But it has been many centuries since الاسلام ’al-’Islām could be said to be even relatively enlightened.

It is الاسلام ’al-’Islām, of all the religions, in whose name the greatest insanity and even atrocity is committed. The only significant group of Christians committing violence as Christians is the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda ― but then its messianic leader Joseph Kony refers to the “lords” of his inner circle, so the connection to Christianity is hardly solid. हिनदू Hindūs in भारत B‛ārat, बुद्ध Budd‛ists in Southeast Asia, and יהודים Jĕhūdīm in Palestine have done some gruesome things, but the more we look for religious motivations, the fewer the examples become. By contrast, it is easy to find examples of مسلمون Muslimūn doing horrible things with religious motivations. Much of that is intracommunal, especially between شيعيون Šīcīūn and سنيون Sun:īūn, as in العراق ’al-Cirāq and پاکستان Pākistān. Ultimately this violence results from a chauvinism of belief and purity, particularly on the part of سنيون Sun:īūn. But شيعيون Šīcīūn and سنيون Sun:īūn alike wield violence and intimations of brutality against their fellow believers for alleged religious impurity and impropriety, as in افغانستان ’Afğānestān and ايران ’Īrān.

And though it may be only coincidentally اسلامى ’Islāmī, مسلم Muslim cultures both عربى Carabī and non-عربى Carabī have produced honor systems in which whole (male) societies condone the beating, torture, and murder of women and girls for trivial “offenses” ― and only the caste-based violence of भारत B‛ārat compares. In recent days, a teenaged girl in الاردن ’al-’Urdun:, who had fled her home after accusing her father of being abusive, was returned to her father’s custody. He promised in writing not to harm her, which might seem like a surprising demand but for the fact that females are routinely injured and killed for supposedly humiliating their male relatives, humiliation if we accept the rigid and ridiculous idea of family honor that exists in much of the مسلم Muslim world. Even were this father to go so far as killing his daughter, he would face at most six months in prison, which is what the patriarchal parliament of الاردن ’al-’Urdun: considers to be a suitable punishment for honor killings. As it happens, he did kill her. He beat her to death as soon as he got his hands on her.

Living in a مسلم Muslim culture is what physiologists describe as a risk factor. Living in a مسلم Muslim culture does not necessarily lead to an oppressive life devoid of freedom and reason, nor does it lead to an early or violent death. الاسلام ’al-’Islām does not necessarily cause misery; but there is enough statistical correspondence to infer a connection. And that, if we care at all about our مسلم Muslim fellow humans, should prompt some thought, and eventually some action, on their behalf. John Rawls’ veil of ignorance implores us to establish a world in which we would be content to be reborn in any place and any station. Some مسلمون Muslimūn may be content with their lot, but many others must recognize how much better their lives could be, and some must surely resent the fact that few of us in the rest of the world do anything to help. And as for the rest of the world, there are five billion persons who were born outside of the مسلم Muslim world, and must be praising their own gods for the fact. The sentiment of our hearts is a secret ballot; and which of us, in private, would ever want to trade places with our counterparts in a مسلم Muslim country? Cultural relativism is an empty ideology anyway, the vague and inconsiderate assertion that all cultures are equally good or bad, and not subject to outside interference or even comment. I think we might hear a different opinion from our young friend in الاردن ’al-’Urdun:, if her father hadn’t smashed her face in.



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