By Kam Zarrabi
Wow; time to celebrate! Finally there appears a ray of hope in the horizon for the future of the human civilization as we know it. In a recent sermon during the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj, a prominent Saudi cleric declared that Islam does not condone violence and terrorism. When Moslems constitute almost one quarter of humanity, this must be great news, indeed. Now what we need is for the Catholic Church, perhaps the Vatican itself, representing another one quarter of humanity, to announce that Christianity does not approve of or promote the sexual molestation of children by bishops and priests. This way the world can rest in peace; no more Islamic terrorism, and no fear of our innocent children being abducted and raped by Catholic priests. Perhaps the Hindu World might join in and declare that killing of Moslems and the destruction of Mosques in India do not fall within Hindu or Vedic traditions.
During the recent televised campaigns by the Democratic presidential hopefuls, Joseph Lieberman was asked what he would do differently to combat international terrorism if chosen President. Without a moment's hesitation, and with his patented honest and innocent look, he responded that he would engage the Islamic countries in a dialogue to show them better alternatives to violence and terrorism. Following Mr. Lieberman's example, perhaps our future leaders should also demonstrate to the Catholic World that there are better alternatives to child molestation for satisfying one's pent up sexual frustrations. What about convincing the Jewish people to give up the schemes of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the takeover of the world?
Those who believe that terrorism is actually written into the Islamic fundamentals should, by the same token, also regard pedophilia as a part of Christian tradition, and also believe that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion document was real. Who hasn't heard some of the most vocal Evangelical leaders in America call the Prophet of Islam a terrorist? What about the illustrious son of old Billy Graham, Franklin, who claims that the only way to deal with the menace of Islam is to bring salvation to the Moslems through Jesus Christ?
But wait, not so fast; a mere handful of misguided zealots should not be regarded as representing some of the greatest religions on earth; that'd be stereotyping. O, really? How about repeating this sentence a few more times out-loud! No, I don't mean giving lip service to open-mindedness and understanding by proclaiming that Islam as a religion, or Moslems as a whole, should not be subjected to suspicion and abuse, as reality indicates otherwise - guilty unless proven innocent.
Try passing through the security check at any airport in the US if you look Middle Easterner or your name happens to be something like Hussein Muhammad. Once you get through the body search and board the plane, see the reaction of the passengers who realize they are onboard the same plane.
The well-known radio personality in the West Coast, Dennis Prager, starts his daily routine of Islam-bashing by claiming that he is not against Islam or the Moslem World, obviously expecting that, after such a generous disclaimer, his derogatory comments would be taken as objective and unbiased. A few years ago, another high-profile bigot, called Judaism a gutter religion, yet maintained that he had many Jewish friends to demonstrate his lack of prejudice! Our radio talk-show host also condescendingly claims that no, not all Moslems are of the violent sort; i.e., there must be some among them who are perhaps decent people! Being Jewish himself, he'd hate to be put in the same category as that Jew-bashing bigot; but, sorry to say, that's where he belongs.
What is seldom if ever taught to our children at schools, or brought to the attention of the general public through the mass media, is the difference between the principles or fundamentals of any religion, and region-specific cultural, or political influences that affect, and in many cases adulterate, those principles. Who would think that, had Jesus Christ been alive, he would have sanctioned the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition? Yet, both those historical atrocities were committed in the name of Christianity.
When it comes to Islam and particularly the Middle East, public's misunderstanding is compounded by a seemingly deliberate distortion of facts or spinning of information by politically motivated special interests. Our elected representatives who run the country are not immune to such pervasive misrepresentations either, because most are no smarter than the average Joe or Jane, and all must cater to the public opinion for their very livelihoods. So, what is this pervasive public perception of Islam and the world of the Middle East that has been so successfully and tragically distorted?
As I was lecturing at an adult education institute, a lady commented with obvious surprise that she had just met an 'I-ranian' woman who claimed to be a medical doctor. She wondered how that could be possible in an Islamic country where women have absolutely no rights as human beings under the Shari'a. What was even more tragic was the fact the several others in the class were eagerly awaiting my explanation for this 'unusual' phenomenon! I thought it best if I refrained from any comments in response to her query, as anything I might have said would have sounded too condescending and even embarrassingly pedantic. Noticing my silence, she continued that perhaps America could help that 'nice young man', the Prince, to return to 'I-ran' and get rid of the mullahs.
Granted, this lady was in a small minority in the group attending the lecture; but, unfortunately, she and others of her level of mental presence about world affairs are not a minority among the vocal and voting public. They constitute the audiences that listen to, believe and admire those entrepreneurial radio talk-show hosts from coast to coast. The hyperventilating windbag, Rush Limbaugh, who boasts the largest radio audiences in the history of talk-shows (It doesn't speak well for a great nation, does it?) said the other day on his morning program that America must strike at Iran, next Syria, and after that Lebanon, since nineteen of 'them' (it makes no difference to him who 'them' were!) did that to us in 9/11. He was, of course, rising in defense of the Administration's decision to attack Iraq, irrespective of whether WMDs were present or not. The implication here is quite clear: nineteen Moslems from the Middle East brought down the Twin Towers and killed nearly three thousand people. Doesn't that stand to reason, according to this thug, that anything in the Middle East that has an Islamic color must be our target in our crusade against terrorism?
This jerk's worshipping 'mega-ditto' fans have little reason or incentive to question his knowledge, integrity, or motives in making such cavalier statements. After all, he and others like him on Rupert Murdock's network of Fox radio and television stations, or publications like 'The Weekly Standard', are God's gifts to humanity, as they often so humbly proclaim, and are proven money-making machines for themselves and the network.
The MSNBC talk-show host, Dennis Miller, recently featured yet another one of those 'experts' on foreign policy and terrorism affairs on his evening program. He asked this expert where America should strike next, Syria perhaps. The young visionary suggested that our attention should focus on Saudi Arabia next. How nice; two self-appointed gurus are at it again on the main media channels formulating garbage in the name of commentary for public consumption. It is as though a couple of rednecks, hunting licenses in hand, are deciding where to go to bag their next trophy.
The cowboy redneck, Imus, on the same channel, exclaimed "Who cares?" on the news that an Iranian airliner had just crashed, killing 43 people. Why should he care; didn't Ronald Reagan refuse for years to apologize to Iran for the accidental downing of Iran Air airbus over the Persian Gulf by an American warship, killing 240 passengers?
These hypocrites have become successful by tapping into the large pool of public ignorance, gullibility and, at best, indifference. If public ignorance is what keeps these people in business, then disinformation is the method of choice to perpetuate that ignorance. So, was I surprised at the little old lady's questions and comments at my lecture? Not really; and that is also unfortunate.
Sadly, the burden of proof is on the accused - guilty unless proven innocent! The trouble is, attempting to demonstrate that Islam, or any other religion for that matter, has nothing to do with terrorism, will invariably make one appear as an apologist. How can one convincingly argue against this pervasive close-mindedness that the attack on New York City was not a religious vendetta, but rather a purely politically motivated act with a purely political message?
Right after 9/11, the President of the United States stood near the Twin Towers' rubble, teary-eyed and angry, and proclaimed that the reason the terrorists attacked the heart of America was their hatred of our freedom, our democracy, and our values. So, now we get it: We were already aware that Islam is a religion of violence and Moslems are by nature bent on terrorism; now we are told that they just hate freedom and democracy and a good life. That makes for a very nasty combination; watch out, America!
Some of us who have been trying for years in our writings or lectures to illustrate that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, for example, is not a religious issue of Moslem against the Jew or vice versa, but is rather a struggle over land, property and enfranchisement, understand how difficult it is to overcome the effects of decades of disinformation and anti-Islamic propaganda.
Even some among the so-called educated elite have fallen for the thesis presented by Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations', by concluding that there is an identifiable monochromatic global entity called 'The Islamic World' that, like a dragon rising from the sleep of centuries, is attempting to confront another monolithic entity called The Western Civilization or something to that effect. It is mentally less challenging if we can simplify complex issues by lumping all kinds of non-homogeneous stuff together, and cram the amorphous mass inside one large box with one label on it. This is the garage-sale or grab-bag mentality that appeals to a great number of people, and the academics are not excluded.
If Senator Lieberman thinks that, to rid the world of the menace of terrorism, one should engage the Islamic countries in a constructive dialogue, the implication is quite clear; Mr. Lieberman believes, or at least pretends, that the problem of terrorism is an 'Islamic' problem, no more, no less. This man is a United States Senator, a former candidate for Vice President, and was a hopeful candidate this time for the office of the President.
Insinuations against Islam as the very root of terrorism is clearly implicit in the public rhetoric. We seldom hear that a certain act of violence was committed by terrorists or thugs 'in the name of Islam'; no, it is always 'Islamic' terrorists or thugs - it is easier to digest it that way. By contrast, when the Irish Republican Army detonates bombs in London's Victoria Station, it is never 'Catholic' terrorism; it is the IRA, even though this hundred-year old conflict does have some religious underpinnings. We are used to hearing, for instance, that some 'Islamic' terrorist group in Egypt or Algeria committed certain act of violence or sabotage. In a country where almost everyone is a Moslem, all terrorists, as well as non-terrorists, belong to Islamic groups; that shouldn't be a surprise. So, what is the effect of hearing that certain 'Islamic' terrorist group attacked European tourists visiting the Pyramids in Egypt? Are we to deduce immediately that the terrorists were not Christians, Buddhists or Jews; they were Moslems? A more objective or correct version of the same news would have said that a group of militant Egyptian dissidents attacked the tour group.
Using the same long-established formula, certain nations in the Middle East have been quite successfully demonized, to where the mere sound of their names imparts images of hatred, terror and backwardness in the public's minds. When George W. Bush named Iran as a member of an international axis of evil, the audience cheered in approval. Neither the audiences across the nation, nor, quite sadly, the President himself, had a clear knowledge or understanding of the situation on the ground in that part of the world. The President simply read what was so shrewdly stuffed into his speech. But the neocon/lobbyist agent, David Frum, who wrote that speech for the President, knew fully well why that statement would prove crucially significant for his group's carefully drawn blueprint for the 'New American Century'. It is ironic that, from the start, the Project for the New American Century, a think tank in Washington D. C., has caused tremendous damage to America's prestige and credibility worldwide, has cost American lives and much collateral damage, and all for a fictitious 'just cause' whose former proponents are even now questioning its merit.
Still, in spite of the current political debates and much open criticism of the administration's war policies, nobody is seriously questioning America's attitude toward Iran or the Middle East. It would, in my opinion, be incorrect to say that the President deliberately lied about Iraq's WMDs; he was being used as the mouthpiece for others who did the actual lying. But, when he misleads the public as to the real reasons for terrorist acts against America, not only is he doing a disservice to the American public, he is exacerbating the real problem by pointing to the wrong targets.
The Democratic presidential hopefuls do offer an alternative to the current inflexible Republican approach, but the bottom-line remains unchanged. The Islamic World, particularly the Middle East, is the source of all problems. Iran continues to be regarded as a rogue state, the chief supporter of international terrorism, and on the way to developing WMDs, including nuclear bombs. As an example, during the current Congressional investigation into Halliburton's alleged illegal operations in Iran, Democratic Senator from New Jersey, Mr. Lautenberg, goes on record condemning Iran as one of the two remaining members of the axis of evil and as the chief perpetrator of international terrorism, responsible for the deaths of many Americans. We don't have to look far to see where this gentleman is coming from and which 'lobby' he caters to. Here, these Democrats are embracing the Republican's agenda for Iran solely to promote their own political ambitions at home.
Is there any hope that, should there be a change of administration in the next elections, rays of sanity might penetrate through the fog of ignorance, suspicion and fear that has permeated America's foreign policy in the Middle East? At first glance, not very likely. Unless systematic steps are taken to detoxify the public mindset from decades of politically motivated negative portrayals, no administration, Republican or Democrat, can change direction on a dime and paddle against the current. Even then, it would be an uphill battle, unless our talk-show gurus also find it personally more profitable to make a U-turn.
If the President's statements were true that the reason for terrorism against America is the hatred for our freedom, democracy and the American values, perhaps we should look into how these values are being interpreted by people around the globe. Does freedom mean being free to do whatever we want around the world unilaterally and with impunity because we can? Does our democracy allow a small group of visionaries with questionable motives, even true loyalties, to commit the nation to global adventurisms? And, are we giving the impression through our words and actions that our cherished American values include self-righteous indignation and intolerance toward those who dare disagree with us, or might-makes-right, and, if you ain't with us, you are against us?
Those who were lucky enough to attend or watch on television the neocon journalist Charles Krauthammer's address at the dinner given in his honor the other evening, might find the answers to the questions raised above. In Krauthammer's view, America as the sole global power in this unipolar world doesn't need anyone else's approval or cooperation to pursue its own, as he said, national interests, by force if necessary. Such interests, as he put it, may or may not coincide with the interests of others, but that is never a determining factor. He also promotes the idea of preemption, if it is felt that even a potential might exist for a 'rogue' nation to defy or deny our will. To drive his points home, Krauthammer cited the example of Israel as a role model for America. What is interesting in Krauthammer's argument is that his idea of what America's foreign policies should be defines America as the penultimate rogue state, exactly as it applies to his beloved role mode, Israel!
Perhaps this might shed some light on why 'they', whoever 'they' are, hate us enough to want to hurt us, or at least try to develop weapons of mass destruction to keep the followers of Mr. Krauthammer's political philosophy from hurting them preemptively. 'They' are not driven by religious fundamentalism or the desire to rush to Paradise to sleep with virgins. Islam had nothing to do with the 9/11 episode or any other act of terrorism. And neither is the Palestinian/Israeli conflict caused by religious differences. The most vocal, influential and active members of the Palestinian community in America are, in fact, Christian Palestinians.
When are we going to wake up?
About the author:
Writer, lecturer, former President-World Affairs Council of San Diego, North County.
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