This rant, dated some time earlier this summer, is inspired by the "Islam: Heal Thyself" meme that I so detest. Dont' get it? Read on: you will. (Or, at least, maybe you will -- the rant is not presently completely, in the strictest sense, coherent.)
...Even my hero, Jon Stewart, talking to Fareed Zakaria last night (video) (where last night = July 21,2005 -- ed.), seems to have bought into this claptrap. That claptrap, of course, being the “Muslim world’s” responsibility to save itself, or to save us from it. Thomas Friedman is only the latest and most egregious example of this idiotic conflation of religion and uniting cause. (Nice critique of a later -- and similar -- Friedman column here, and another TF critique here; and a really nice critique of Zakaria-on-the-Daily-Show here... Sad to say, actually, these critiques might make my points better than I do in my "rough draft" brain dump below, but please, don't let that stop you from reading the following... even though I've just given you good reasons not to continue... doh....)
Why does Friedman, or anyone else, think that Muslims have any more ability, much less responsibility, to stop radicalists among them from carrying out terrorist attacks? The radicalists conducting these attacks, by and large, don’t seem to consider moderate, progressive, or even non-violent conservative Muslims as valid fonts of religious or personal directives. Not to mention the new study which says there’s NO CORRELATION BETWEEN RELIGIOUSITY IN ISLAM AND TERRORISM. No shit. But at least there’s now clinical proof. (Nota bene -- regular attendance at a mosque was a relatively good predictor for support of terrorism, but nevertheless a majority of the millions who attend mosques do not -- but apparently it is their responsiblity to control the some thousands who may support it; somehow; after all, by comparison, the Pope has absolute control over Catholics, right?)
Let’s go through how this “Islam: Heal Thyself” nonsense is about as valid, helpful, or non-bigoted as trying to get the “House Niggers” to control the field folk.
Ok, so A) like I said, linked to here, religious conviction NOT LINKED to extremist terrorism. This is unsurprising as there are, perhaps, thousands of terrorists and potential terrorists from Muslim and Arabic countries. There are, what, 900 million to 1.4 billion Muslims in the world? Let’s see: even assuming 50,000 ready & willing terrorists, that’s… 50,000/1.000,000,000 … 5/100,000… 1/20000… less than one hundredth of a percent of Muslims in the world. Unsurpisingly then, it is hasty and inaccurate to link any religion too closely with a phenomenon that, even extremely generously, represents about 1 in 20 thousand (0.005%) of its adherents. Why don’t I count more Muslims you say – surely more than 50,000 are agitating for violence, what with the flag-and-effigy-burning protests of recent years, in addition to terrorist attacks? Because it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Muslims encouraging violence, we can only count Muslims willing to conduct violence against civilians – otherwise, we become even more hypocritical because how many Christians, in the here and now, advocate violence against Muslims, and/or other non-Christian/non-White groups? We’ve got our Michigan Militias, our anti-abortionist radical murder-advocating crusaders, our Klu Klux Klan, even our TV Talking Heads (Ann Coulter) advocating the violent destruction of other people (i.e. "It would be a mistake if we just futz around and the whole country became like one long Falluja. I thought we were wasting way too much time on that. This is a war, let’s go in and win it. Just take the city! I think if it got to the point where it was going on for six, seven years, and it was just Americans patrolling without killing anyone—I’m getting a little fed up with hearing about, oh, civilian casualties. I think we ought to nuke North Korea right now just to give the rest of the world a warning." Just a joke, maybe? (Answer: No.)*). Just because Ann Coulter or her ilk would call it self-defense does not make it so – and it also can’t be dismissed as not terrorism just because we have the military might to aim at military targets and “only” collaterally kill thousands of civilians. (Apparently only the blood-sucking baby-eating liberals of Ann Coulter's fevered imaginings would have such respect for human life that they allow this respect to cross international borders...)
So there are many radical Muslims advocating violence. So what? There are plainly, besides Ann Coulter, millions of radical Christians advocating indiscriminate violence as well. The only ones we are allowed to attempt to jail or kill are those actually using violence and those plainly in a group inciting them to violence that they later commit as a direct result. (Only my extreme devotion to freedom prevents me from saying Ann Coulter should be arrested right this second.) The Islamic terrorists aren’t listening to just your average angry Imam, but a very specific set of people who are more akin to our jailed pro-murder pro-lifers than to our Ann Coulters – and their Ann Coulters are no more guilty of incitement than ours.
ISLAM HAS NO RELATIONSHIP TO TERRORISM.
B) More on why Islam has no relationship to terrorism.
So we’ll just say that perhaps 1 in 20000 Muslims are theoretically willing to commit terrorism. Given the non-Muslim groups I’ve listed, plus the IRA, the Basques, and any number of Christian or Christian-country related terrorists (rightwing guerilla armies in Latin America, say, or, say OUR armies in Latin America, which were illegally bombing Nicaragua in the 80s, supporting Manuel Noriega, and helping to bring Augustus Pinochet to power), it would seem at LEAST 1 in 20000 Christians are prone to terrorist violence as well. Is it then the “Christian world’s” responsibility to fix this? And if so, we don’t seem to have completely figured it all out, and certainly not over a brief period, and certainly not just by “condemning” terrorism from our “good Christians” (some of whom, like our President, nevertheless have effectively advocated/ordered the death of thousands of civilians – Iraqis, Iranians (the CIA coup), Latin Americans, Cambodians, millions of Vietnamese, hundreds of thousands of Japanese, Africans…), even if couched in military necessity, these millions of civilians are still dead at the support of Christians.**
How did we resolve many of our internecine Christian conflagrations? Through negotiation, in most cases, with the mainstream groups with similar grievances (and/or connections to) the terrorist groups. And in other cases, our problems were homegrown and Christian-backed – we are only recently plausibly able to say that we don’t have many of the civil society problems we point to in Muslim and Arab countries. Lynchings are way down in the US. But 40, 50, 60 years ago – when there was vast Christian support for lynchings – was that Christianity’s problem, world wide? In a more recent example, was something wrong with Christianity that allowed millions of its adherents to be complicit in the massacring of thousands of Jews (the Holocaust, and Hitler’s Christian overtones), much less our earlier practices of enslaving millions of Africans (throughout Christendom, though the US was a long hold-out on our particularly Christian “peculiar institution”), and kill millions of First Peoples?
And given that First Peoples the world over are still, by and large, fucked – from the indigenous peoples in Australia or Taiwan to those of Canada or Hawai’I – whose civilizational problem is that? What are we doing about Christianity’s Cold War against the once and present victims of Manifest Destiny, who we don’t kill in cold blood any more, but are nonetheless dying behind curtains of “semi-sovereignty”, the formulation explicitly made by President Andrew Jackson to fuck the Cherokees and bypass their legitimate demands to be treated either as citizens or as a sovereign foreign nation?
Or, let’s get a little crazy here, the millions, upon millions of children and adults who die each year because of hunger? In Christian countries as much as any others? Sure, it’s less flashy than terrorism**, but there is good reason to believe that the way we set up our economies, or colonialist history, is the reason that they are hungry in large part – the reason that poor people starve in India while SURPLUS wheat rots (link link), the reason that it’s estimated that we could eliminate poverty in 20 years (sez Jeffrey Sachs, who of course, has his critics***). We’re not talking about handouts here, we’re talking about structural change – we’re talking about taking advantage of people through the WTO, blockading Cuba while trading with far worse regimes, blockading Iraq and blaming Saddam Hussein for the immense starvation and death that flowed from the sanctions as almost a direct result, the vast resources against terrorism, which kills thousands each year, versus the less than 1% of our budget we spend on foreign aid, for lack of which MILLIONS die each year – and you know what, THAT’S what’ll fucking bring peace to the Middle East, and much of the rest of the world, not democracy per se.
Equality. When people are equal, equal in terms of their opportunities and their ability to get what they need to have healthy lives, that’s at least as important as democracy. And to pretend that now that outright colonial exploitation is over it’s not our responsibility to help those whose resources we plundered is not only un-Christian, it’s hypocritical, illogical, and just plain bullshit. We talk of bringing democracy, yet two democracies, South Africa and Brazil, are two of the most inequal societies in the world. China, which we do not consider a democracy, and India, which we do, both have millions upon millions of poor and starving. Shouldn’t, by our logic, India be vastly better off than China, having had democracy for decades longer than still-Red(ish/ State Capitalist) China? Does it matter if we bring democracy if those at the bottom of it see no change for the better no matter who they vote for? Does poverty and violence in democracies continue just because the poor aren’t voting for the right mainstream parties? (I think not.)
From the violent Zionist settlers in Israel and Occupied Palestine (the poorest “region” in the world – what would be the poorest country if they had a sovereign state), to “raghead”-hunting bigots, volunteer civilian border patrols (link), to well-meaning soldiers inflicting thousands of collateral deaths, to hunger in the midst of plenty throughout the world, Christian, Muslim, Hindi, and any other, democracy and autocracy, the bettering of our fellow human beings’ conditions is all of our responsibilities, not one more than the other, and that hard-to-pacify .1% of all of our civilizations that is determined to use means the rest of us may consider unjustified is not any more or less one skin color, creed, religion, or nationality’s responsibility than any others to do all we can to bring about a world where there will be neither excuse nor reason for such violence, not because in such a world we will have killed all the “bad people” but rather because the good people have no reason to want or need for radical violent change, radical help that some will use as an excuse for violence against unwitting or innocent members within or outside their own group.
*She continues: "Nuke North Korea?
"Right—and this is tied to my point that, in Iraq, let the Marines do their job. There may be some civilian casualties—that’s known as war. Americans can live with that. And when did we become the guardian of the world to prevent all civilian casualties, ever—how about our civilians?"
After we bomb North Korea, what’s the next country we should invade?
"Iran. Though that’s the beauty part of Iraq: It may well not be necessary. Because precisely what I’m saying with nuking North Korea—despite that wonderful peace deal Madeline Albright negotiated with the North Koreans, six seconds before they feverishly began developing nuclear weapons. They’re a major threat. I just think it would be fun to nuke them and have it be a warning to the rest of the world.""
**See related speeches by Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva here and here, where, notably, he sort of scooped Bush's "terrorism is our biggest threat" meme with the staggering extent of global hunger (more than a billion people affected, millions dying each year) vs., in Bush's speech, what equates to hundreds, perhaps thousands of deaths in terrorism. Where's the real global threat? (Answer: hunger. Imho. Though not so humble -- I'm pretty sure I'm right.)
***The last of whom (critics of Sachs) does make a superficially good "grand plans for 'us' to fix 'them' don't work" argument, evoking the spectre of "The Chicago Boys" I think. Of course, I think he's wise to play on liberal imperialist dogmatic fears, but on the other hand, I think Sachs is proposing something much more in the decentralized vein of public policy discourse of the past decade or two, which has fundamentally different rubrics than the Chicago Boys' version of, more or less, centrally controlled capitalist economies, where the central control came from their planning "expertise" and interdigitation with the US economy. But I digress. Suffice it to say, Sachs has something there, imho.