the anniversary

You’re awoken by the sound of a ringing phone. You nudge your better half, but he doesn’t move. You mutter something about how it’s always you who picks up the phone. Then you do. You hear the voice at the other end. Then you say “huh?” Because It can’t possibly be true. It musn’t. You ask your friend to say It again. Then you jump out of bed, shake your better half, drop the phone, turn the TV on, all at once it seems. And It is true. You cry out, you make phone calls, you donate money, you try to donate blood. You cry. You pray. Oh how you pray that It isn’t the work of your co-religionists. You maintain hope, even as the facts are trickling in, and then when the perpetrators’ names are announced, you cry as much out of sorrow as of rage. Pundits turn hysterical. Harrassment and hate crimes follow. Some people speak out against this. You feel somewhat better. You put a flag up on your house. You try to speak up, too. You phone in during talk shows. You post on the Web. You write Op-Eds. Your better half pleads with you to please keep a low profile. He worries about you. You continue on. The hysteria seems to subside, but in its place is a new vision. The world is nicely, neatly split now between “Us” and “Them.” When you disagree with this, you’re told “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” You get a few nasty comments here and there. But your friends tell you not to worry. After all, you’re told, you don’t “look” like one of Them, whatever that means. And in the background, It won’t go away. It is there. For a few weeks, a few months, you continue on. Then you start to wonder why you have to defend yourself, explain, contextualize, recite, answer, nod, smile. You stop. You decide to just be.

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8 Responses to “the anniversary”

  1. Miel Says:

    Very well written. Yes. That was a major part of it. I only hope it doesn’t last for our lifetime.

  2. alex Says:

    Excellent post! One of the reasons why I like to check your blog, is to get to know a little bit of the so called “moderate Islam”.

    There is one thing that seems pretty obvious, though: there is clearly something very wrong in many Islamic countries.

    I understand that everyone has the right to choose how they want to live – who are we to impose the our western lifestyle to people that don’t want to be westernized? – but what we have been witnessing since the 911 has been a clash of civilisations: western/christian civilisation and fundamentalist Islam. That is the real truth. I am not saying that Muslims are terrorists (if that was the case, half the world would already be blown up), but many Muslims do show a great deal of bitterness to the western world.

    That puts ordinary tolerant Muslims such as yourself in a very, very dificult position…but really, can westerners really be blamed? I honestly do not know. From my point of view, modern Christianity (particularly the Catholic Church) has shown way more tolerance than any other religion. The fact that I can’t remember a single Islamic country where State and Church are clearly separated probably doesn’t do any good to the image Islam has in the western world.

    What I can tell you is that people are very concerned. In Spain, they already have a large Muslim minority demanding mosques, and many say that they will have as many children as possible to reclaim Spain to Islam. That scares people, and it doesn’t do Islam any good, trust me.

    Like the Portuguese opinion maker Jos

  3. eldan Says:

    I’d hesitantly put forward Turkey as an example of a Muslim country where religion and state are separated. I’m being hesitant because there are issues around this (a minority of Turks would like to turn Turkey into a theocracy, and this minority is big enough to matter), but at least as things are at the moment the constitution enforces a separation between the two things, and this was a central part of Ataturk’s vision in founding the Turkish Republic.

    That said, Turkey is also a somewhat oppressive and very highly corrupt state, but these issues are quite independent of its population being mostly Muslims.

    I’d be wary of making sweeping statements about what ‘Islam’ believes (like “Islam envies the modern technology of the west”) because it presupposes that there is one thing called ‘Islam’, which is no more fair than to say that all christians believe x. Last time I was in Turkey an old family friend proudly showed me round a mosque his sect (the Alevi) had recently built, and the most prominent thing visible on walking in was a portrait of Ataturk – the very man who removed Islam from government in Turkey – who they honour as one responsible for great progress in their country. I rather suspect that the anti-Western sects of Islam would choke on this, but it strikes me as a great example of why we can’t judge all Muslims by the abominable crimes of some.

    Yes, there are many people out there who give Islam a bad name, but when some idiot Christian decides to bomb an abortion clinic other people don’t get stabbed in the street for wearing crucifixes or having fish bumper stickers….

  4. alex Says:

    but it strikes me as a great example of why we can’t judge all Muslims by the abominable crimes of some.

    We can’t judge all Muslims because under any lawful State someone can’t be blamed for the neighbour’s actions.

    Yes, there are many people out there who give Islam a bad name, but when some idiot Christian decides to bomb an abortion clinic other people don’t get stabbed in the street for wearing crucifixes or having fish bumper stickers….

    I agree, there are many ignorant fanatical Christians (especially in the US – most Europeans rarely go to Church, even those that see themselves as “Catholics”). The point is that the weirdos that bomb abortion clinics don’t specifically target Muslims.

    Another thing that you pointed out, was Turkey (I completely forgot about Turkey, and Turkey really is an exception when it comes to the separation of the State from Religion in a mostly Islamic country). I could also name another one: Iraq. Iraq under Saddam could be in many ways compared to Turkey. One thing both countries had in common, was that was only achieved thanks to opression (mostly from the strong military). One thing they are different, is that in Ataturk was instrumental in doing as much as possible to try and bring Turkey to the European pole. In my opinion that is a great deal for Turkey. I am not so sure if it is such a great deal for the rest of Europe. Just as an example, inspite of not even being a EU member, Turkey has already objected against the inclusion of the reference in the future EU Constitution about the role of Christianity in the shaping of the modern European societies. Even though that is of little practical importance, that also shows that there is a lot separating ordinary Europeans from Turks.

    I wasn’t trying to blame Muslims as a whole. Any sort of generalisation is not only dangerous, but usually extremely unfair. I am also not a particularly religious person, so the clash of religions doesn’t even bother me that much. What concerns me is the culture clash. I ahve seen in many countries, muslims saying that they will have as many children as possible so that one day they can turn England (or Germany, or France, I have even heard that some wanted to recreate the Cordoba Caliphate – and that affects my own country, Portugal) into a Muslim state. That is completely untolerable to native Europeans. Not only that, but I honestly do not know if moderate Muslims would stand up against such a thing. They might be totally against terrorism, but if they were the majority, would they change the shape of Europe as we know it?

    That is something that greatly concerns Europeans. To be honest, I don’t think that Europe could cope with something like that.

    What we are seeing daily in Iraq is a clash between civilisations that do not understand each other.

    About 5 years ago, I saw a movie called “Under Siege” starring Denzel Washington. When I saw it, it sounded completely unrealistic: to arrest people just because they “might” be guilty? Just because they were Muslims? It reminded me of what happened to the Japanese-American minorities during the Roosevelt administration. The truth is that there are hundreds of Muslims under arrest without any evidence against them only because the US government thinks that they might be guilty of something. Innocent Muslims are already paying the price.

    Another thing that is not understandable, is something like this. To westerners, it appears that there is some sort of solidarity between at least a portion of the Muslim population, and some of the actions performed. There probably is a silent majority, but no one listens to silence, we just hear the hooligans.

    As unfair as this may sound, hoping and praying that the terrorists are not Muslims is simply not enough. The Islamic religion needs an urgent reform to adapt to modern times. Catholicism had the “Holy” Inquisition, and partly thanks to the atrocities performed in the name of religion, several reforms were necessary to make it acceptable.

    When a Cleric incites people to violence instead of telling them to go home, then there is something very wrong – either with the religion, or with the cleric.

    I hope I am not insulting anyone – that was certainly not my intention. I am just giving my opinion as an outsider.

    Like the mentioned Portuguese opinion maker said: “If poverty had anything to do with religious fanaticism, then Africa would be the perfect breeding ground for terrorists. It isn’t.”.

  5. 0xdeadbeef Says:

    Some very thought provoking posts. A good read, as usual.

    My $.02: Any religious fundamentalism is bad. Plain and simple, and it exists in the US too. And it’s bad. It seems to me that the teachings of the prophets of all the major religions has been tolerance, why does that get left by the wayside?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the god of the jews, the christians and the muslims the same guy? Not to claim to know the mind of God, but I think it’s pretty likely that He’d want us to get along…

    :)

  6. alex Says:

    You make some good points, Oxdeadbeef, but I don’t think that they could be used in the post-911 world. Most opinion makers expressed their opinions right after the attacks by saying that “The world will never be the same”.

    At that time, I thought that it was an exageration… I mean, we see Palestinians blowing themselves up almost every week, there was that attack against the American ship, the situation in the Moscow theatre… What was new? Nothing really. Everything, actually. Americans were hit in their own heart… at the time I couldn’t relate why so many of them kept making the relation “Pearl-Harbour -> 911”. To me they are completely different situation, but I guess they Americans aren’t used to being invaded or to see their area of national security violated. Most of the rest of the world (particularly Europe) is probably less naive, because European history is essentially a history of violence.

    I have seen some people comparing America to a young 20 year old man, filled with expectations, courage, with the hot blood running through his veins, while Europe is a 40 year old guy, more experienced, probably thinks more about the consequences (lives less for the moment, and more for the future) and probably is a bit of a coward. Not only is he a coward (he needs the young man’s protection), but he also envies that the young man is getting most of the attention (this partly explains the French position, while Britain is trying to get a free ride to show how powerful it is(n’t) ). I think this illustrates almost perfectly Western History since WWII.

    As to religion, I don’t think that the problem is simply “to get along”. I compared a portion of Islam to medieval (and post medieval) Christianity. These christians believed in the concept of saving souls at the point of a sword. Modern christians don’t care about the conversion of the “non-believers”, they just want to be left undisturbed (I am neglecting the missionary work of Jehova’s witnesses and other sects of the christian faith).

    The Muslim extremists simply want to convert everyone to Islam (they particularly want to restore or even expand beyond the borders that preceeded the battle of Poitiers in 732). They see western society as decadent (in some ways it might be, but I wouldn’t call people that want a 14th century society particularly progressive…). They see our ways as unclean, our women as independent prostitutes, our men as rapists, our children as lost souls… Basically they can’t stand us and our decadent culture, and they want to educate us even if we want to remain ignorant.

    Would someone be allowed to build a new Christian Church in North Africa or (especially) in the Arabian Peninsula? Europe is filled with mosques. The only EU country that doesn’t have one is Greece, and they are thinking of building one for the 2004 Olympics. That is a sign of tolerance.

    The essential point remains the same: Islamic countries are hostages of religion. Europe had revolutions to put the Church in its rightful place (away from state power, and relegated to the role of an opinion maker). I don’t know that much about Islamic reforms, but the only I can remember is the one that happened in Turkey in the 19th century, that destroyed the power of the Janissaries (and weakened the role of religion in state affairs).

    To support a believer against a non-believer forgetting rightiousness (if there is such a thing in International Affairs) simply because of religion, looks like something taken out of the Crusades (pardon the expression).

    Just my thoughts.

  7. Miel Says:

    I distrust the ‘clash of civilizations’ metaphor. I think the Iraqis–or many of them–do understand the U.S. (the ‘west’) and don’t agree with it. We can’t understand the fundamentalist terrorist because he isn’t acting rationally. Yes, perhaps he does not understand the U.S. but I’m sure many Muslims who disagree with the U.S. don’t fail to understand what’s going on. They do not want U.S. interference in their region. Strife and conflict are not all caused by misunderstandings but by conflicting interests.

    To say there is a clash is to say that (1) These differences cannot be resolved by anything other than force (2) Those who resist Western encroachment do so because they do not understand the wonderfulness of what they resist. (3) Violence and mayhem perpetrated by Westerners is intelligible but violence and mayhem perpetrated by those in the Middle East is unintelligible. (4) One side has to win. Let’s hope it’s us!

    That’s all malarkey. But scary too.

    Crazy Italian or Irish German (or Peruvian or Colombian) terrorists are just as extremist and immune to discussion as the Middle Eastern terrorist.

    I strongly doubt that there is anything less incomprehensible about even fundamentalist terrorists in the Middle East than about racist or violent fundamentalists in the U.S. But aren’t they from the same ‘civilization’ as I?

  8. alex Says:

    I distrust the ‘clash of civilizations’ metaphor. I think the Iraqis–or many of them–do understand the U.S. (the ‘west’) and don’t agree with it.

    I doubt that they do – not after 30 years of dictatorship, even though Iraqis are more permeable to western culture, than (say) Saudi Arabia or Yemen.

    We can’t understand the fundamentalist terrorist because he isn’t acting rationally. Yes, perhaps he does not understand the U.S. but I’m sure many Muslims who disagree with the U.S. don’t fail to understand what’s going on. They do not want U.S. interference in their region. Strife and conflict are not all caused by misunderstandings but by conflicting interests.

    I agree. This is all largely the fault of the US foreign policy since the end of the XIX century (it all started with the Spanish-American war). The war in Iraq was unleashed ONLY because the US wanted a new “ally” in the region, and get rid of the wahabi-dominated Saudis.

    To say there is a clash is to say that
    (1) These differences cannot be resolved by anything other than force

    You can’t argue with terrorists. What you can do, is try to prevent that ordinary civilians become terrorists. That is something both the Americans and the Israelis could learn.

    (2) Those who resist Western encroachment do so because they do not understand the wonderfulness of what they resist.

    I don’t think that the west is “wonderful”, and I can understand completely if an Iranian does not want their ancient culture replaced by Britney Spears and Michael Jackson (I have heard that Jackson is actually popular in Iran !!!). The best thing about Europe is the amount of diversity. I wouldn’t want my country to lose its national identity, and I can relate with others who want to preserve theirs.

    (3) Violence and mayhem perpetrated by Westerners is intelligible but violence and mayhem perpetrated by those in the Middle East is unintelligible.

    I was as much against the “Nato” intervention in Kosovo, as I was against this war (or even the war in Afghanistan). I am particularly sorry that Mr Bush was blind enough to not see how important it would be to involve Arab and Muslim countries in such a mission.

    There is a great deal of resentment against the US in Europe. Anyone that knows recent Portuguese history, should know just how much my country was screwed by Kennedy’s foreign policy. My country lost 25 years of development as a result. I don’t think that it would cross any Portuguese man’s mind to target assets or individuals of the countries that harmed our interests.

    Crazy Italian or Irish German (or Peruvian or Colombian) terrorists are just as extremist and immune to discussion as the Middle Eastern terrorist.

    Colombian terrorists act solely on Colombian soil, and they usually do not target foreigners. They especially do not target their own soldiers (many Muslims also died in the 911). That is the difference.

    I strongly doubt that there is anything less incomprehensible about even fundamentalist terrorists in the Middle East than about racist or violent fundamentalists in the U.S. But aren’t they from the same ‘civilization’ as I?

    Fundamentalism is essentially a fruit of ignorance and resentment. I agree that there are many dangerous people (particularly in the US) linked with extreme right movements, Aryan nations and idiots like those. I have actually been fighting an online “battle” against some of these idiots’ claims about my country – that is how much I despise them.

    Nevertheless, we are not dealing with the main issue, which is: you will erradicate racism with education, and you will erradicate religious fundamentalism with religious reforms, regulations, and a laicisation of the State. In my very modest (and probably somewhat naive) opinion, that is something deeply needed (not only in Islamic countries, mr Bush himself seems to be a bit of a Chistian fanatic himself).

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