ISLAM - Its public face after 9/11greenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
Sunday, November 18, 2001 Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
THE PUBLIC FACE OF ISLAM AFTER SEPT. 11: 'Only God can judge that'
Some local Muslims embrace conspiracy theories, refuse to distance themselves from radicalism
Aziz Eddebbarh of Las Vegas, representing the Muslim Public Affairs Council, came to the Review-Journal last week because he wanted to make a presentation on the religion of Islam, and some of the ways it's been misinterpreted since the events of Sept. 11.
The idea, clearly, was to leave the staff with the notion that the Muslim faith is one of peace and tolerance -- nothing at all like the hate-filled, violent, bigoted sect that some might imagine, if they were to judge only from the actions of 19 young Egyptian and Saudi men who flew airplanes full of innocent passengers into office buildings full of innocent New Yorkers, or the Muslim Palestinians videotaped dancing in the streets of the West Bank when they got the news.
It didn't quite work out that way.
The first half of our time at the Tuesday lunch was taken up by a little slide show which I dare say plays well to sixth-grade classes: photos of the faithful gathered in Mecca, listings of the five pillars of Islam, that kind of thing.
The slide show was presented by Mr. Eddebbarh's wife, Toni, a native Minnesotan of Swedish descent, who converted to Islam seven years ago. That was a nice touch, public-relations wise. But things went downhill from there.
Islam is not a religion of compulsion, the Eddebbarhs explained. Each Muslim gets to decide for himself the meaning of the dictates of their holy book, the Quran. Traditional Muslim women are not required to wear head scarves; they choose to do so in a gesture of modesty, and "so they will be viewed not as sex objects, but as intellectual equals," Mr. Eddebbarh explained.
But is that the case in Saudi Arabia, where women are barred from driving cars, or in the previously Taliban-dominated Afghanistan, where women who sought an education -- or who left the house alone to seek medical attention, or who showed an ankle in public -- were beaten with sticks? For that matter, Western relief workers arrested and threatened with death sentences for possession of books that could be used to "teach Christianity" were released only Thursday, upon the fall of the Taliban. Does that mean the Taliban are bad Muslims?
"Only God can judge that," responded Mr. Eddebbarh.
Nor is it just the Taliban. Less than three months ago, on Aug. 25, Dr. Younis Shaikh, a medical lecturer, was sentenced to death following his conviction in a Pakistani court for violating the country's blasphemy laws.
According to The New York Times, Dr. Shaikh was arrested in October 2000, after delivering a physiology lecture which included a discussion of practices prevalent in pre-Islamic, 7th-century Arabia. He stated that Mohammed was not a Muslim until his revelation at age 40, and thus neither he nor his family practiced many of the customs associated with the Islamic religious tradition. According to The Times of London, "He was also said to have made reference to certain customs of the day, such as circumcision and removal of underarm hair."
Pick it up from The New York Times: "The Movement for the Finality of the Prophet, well known for pursuing blasphemers, filed a criminal complaint and sent a mob to the college and the local police station, threatening to set them on fire." As has become commonplace in the anti-blasphemy crusade in Pakistan, religious hard-liners vowed they would kill the doctor even if he should be acquitted. (See www.secularislam.org/news/shaikh.htm.)
Given all this business about tolerance and peace, I remarked how strange it is that the state-controlled press in theocracies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia insists on continuing to rile things up with their anti-Zionist slanders.
Writing on New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's rejection of Saudi Prince Al-Walid bin Talal's proffered $10 million for the families of the World Trade Center victims (less than the Saudi royals have contributed to bin Laden, if Sy Hersh of The New Yorker is to be believed), Mahmoud bin Abd Al-Ghani Sabbagh, columnist for the Saudi paper Al-Riyadh, recently wrote (as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute):
"Because the governor [sic] of the Big Apple is a Jew, he refused [to accept the donation] and caused a storm. ...
"Giuliani said: `The prince's declarations are grievous and irresponsible; these Arabs have lost the right to dictate [to us what to do]. What we (America) must do is kill 6,000 innocent people.' By Allah, I am amazed at your act, you Jew; everything Prince Al-Walid said was true. What happened proves beyond any doubt the public insolence, the open hatred and the collapse of American democratic theory. If democracy means a governor [sic] who is a homosexual in a city in which dance clubs, prostitution, homosexuality and stripping proliferate, the U.S. can keep its democracy."
Joining in the attack on Giuliani were columnists in the Palestinian Authority mouthpiece Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, editor Hafez Al-Barghouthi writing: "New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was obsessed by his hatred of Arabs even before the terrorist attacks on New York. He hides his first name, chosen for him by his Italian father, so as not to remind the Jewish voters of the infamous Rudolph Hitler [sic]. ..."
(In the rough-and-tumble of New York City politics, personal secrets have short half-lives. While Mr. Giuliani has taken some political heat for consorting with a woman not his wife, it would be a considerable revelation to most New Yorkers should he turn out at this late date to be a Jewish homosexual, let alone that he has publicly called for the reprisal killings of "6,000 innocent people.")
Extending this trend of moderation and well-researched reporting, some in the mainstream Arab press even go so far as to suggest the trade center massacre was actually planned by Israel. I pointed this out to our Tuesday lunchtime visitors.
"I find that extremely credible," said local physician assistant Basel Aladham, a gray-haired Palestinian who entered the room after the slide show had begun.
In a Friday follow-up phone call to Mr. Aladham, who was born in Kuwait of Palestinian parents but who immigrated here 23 years ago and has been a U.S. citizen since 1988, I could not get a direct answer as to whether he believes the 19 young Muslim hijackers were duped into doing the will of the Israelis, or whether we have simply been misled about who seized those planes altogether.
"Speaking from a purely Islamic point of view, it's hard for me to believe that any Muslim could think of doing such a thing. The teachings of Islam prevent anything like that from happening; therefore any Muslim with even half a brain or who would claim to be a Muslim, whatever happened would be from the legalistic point of view unthinkable."
Well, yes. But under this doctrine of law, we would have to dismiss charges against any murder suspect -- even one found standing over the corpse with a bloody knife -- if he could merely prove he was Muslim or Jewish or Christian, since all three religions prohibit murder.
"Second of all, you need resources," Mr. Aladham continued. "And the only country that has such resources is the United States and Israel. Whenever you investigate any crime, the first thing the investigator asks himself if who is benefiting. ..."
"The only beneficiary is Israel, so the notion that Israel is responsible is quite credible. Osama bin Laden's organization just doesn't have the resources. When you are in a plane going at 200 or 300 mph, you have to be a pilot with 20 or 30 years experience to hit that building with accuracy. To tell me someone went to a little puddle-jumper school for six months and then hit those buildings so accurately, it's quite unbelievable."
Despite the fact it was the Palestinians who danced in the streets at word of the World Trade Center collapse -- not the Israelis -- he has simply "seen no evidence" that Osama bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Aladham insists.
On Nov. 14, T.R. Reid of The Washington Post Foreign Service reported from London, "In an unbroadcast videotape made last month, Osama bin Laden declares that his al-Qaida network `instigated' the Sept. 11 attacks, the British government said today, and explains that, `If avenging the killing of our people is terrorism, let history be a witness that we are terrorists.' "
London's Sunday Telegraph also cited the new bin Laden video in last week's edition, saying that bin Laden used the tape to justify killing the victims in the World Trade Center. " `The twin towers were legitimate targets, they were supporting U.S. economic power,' " the newspaper quotes bin Laden as saying. "It is significant that throughout the video he uses the personal pronouns `I' and `we' to claim responsibility for the attacks. In the past, he has spoken of the attackers only in the third person," the Telegraph reports.
Back at our Tuesday lunchtime gathering, Mr. Eddebbarh grew slightly more emotional as he spoke of Islam's love of justice, immediately reaching for the "but" which so many Muslim spokesmen can't seem to help introducing after they condemn the Sept. 11 attacks.
"But we have to remember the 800,000 Palestinians who were driven by force from their homes," insisted Mr. Eddebbarh.
Leaving aside for a moment the question of how many Muslim Palestinians left their homes in what was to become Israel voluntarily in 1948 -- the Arab powers, after all, were promising to "push the Jews into sea" and shortly return in triumph -- I decided to ask Mr. Eddebbarh if there were any Jews, even a single Jewish family, who were physically forced from their homes in what is now Jordan between 1922 and 1948, without being compensated for their confiscated property.
"I don't know of any examples of that," replied Mr. Eddebbarh. "But if that were the case, then yes, Islam would stand for justice for those Jews too. Islam stands for justice."
Well, that explains it, then. I daresay that was the sixth demand on bin Laden's list, right after throwing the Jews into the sea and evicting all the non-believers from Saudi Arabia -- though the Eddebbarhs claim there is actually no religious restriction on non-believers visiting Mecca or Medina; the only restrictions are due to "security concerns." Probably they just ran out of room at the bottom of the page to write: "Compensating the Jews who were booted out of Jordan after 1921."
There are plenty of articulate spokesmen in this country for a more secular, less paranoid, less benighted practice of Islam -- one that will take responsibility for the failure of the Muslim world in the past 50 to 80 years to build modern, tolerant, pluralistic, affluent societies, instead of blaming every failure on a conspiracy of the long-gone colonial powers and "the International Jew." I've recently quoted sensible remarks on these topics from Muslim writers such as Salman Rushdie and my friend Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad of Washington's Minaret of Freedom Institute (www.minaret.org).
But if they aim to make new friends and influence people, the Muslim Public Affairs Council may want to make a few upgrades to the Aziz Eddebbarh traveling slide show.
-- Anonymous, November 19, 2001