If Islam is a tolerant, peaceful, open-minded religion, then why do 1.5 billion Muslims hate us? This is the question Westerners often ask. Why do so many Muslims take such militant stands against the West and commit terrorist acts?
In order to answer, I must admit first that there are individuals who, either on purpose or through ignorance, misinterpret the Holy Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) to legitimize their personal hatreds. Why? Some of them are prisoners of history; the cultural and physical ghettos they live in sustain their ignorance and lack of awareness. They are ignorant and need both teaching and enlightenment. Then there are militant Muslims from similar roots and environments who mix their agenda with a political analysis of current Western positions. They are more aware of the world, well-traveled and involved in current affairs.
They believe the Crusades are linked to the history of colonization over the last three centuries and also to recent wars against Muslims in Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Eastern China, Southern Philippines, Afghanistan and Iraq. That is in addition to Western support of oppressive regimes or anti-Islamic secular ones. Muslims seem to have been under attack for nearly a millennium — since first Crusade. Thousands of the faithful marched to Palestine on one of history’s most cruel, bloody and destructive invasions. Later other Crusaders went on the march for a similar reason — to occupy, enslave and steal the resources of the Muslim world. The second time it was called colonization.
And US President George Bush announced his own crusade in response to Sept. 11. Only, he didn’t care to find the accused and dismantle Al-Qaeda; he used the event as a pretext to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, he turned a blind eye to other attacks on Muslims from Palestine to Chechnya, Kashmir and the Philippines.
The “under siege” mode in the Muslim world, coupled with past and present anger and hatred, have produced a very explosive mix.
Thanks to Bush’s neo-Crusade, now even those who only disliked the West have been convinced to join the militants. Wave after wave of angry people — young and old, male and female — have joined the ranks of those who decided to “do something about it.”
The equally harsh, unwavering, unrelenting Western response helped and introduced the world to a vicious cycle of violence, mistrust and hate. Indiscriminate aerial attacks on Fallujah are followed by suicide attacks on military and civilian targets in Baghdad. Blind support for Israel leads inevitably to more Islamic support for militant groups. Revealing statements, such as Bush expressing disappointment if the Iraqis were to elect an Islamic government, are answered by angry sermons beginning with “I told you so,” and ending with “They are after us; we must hit back or become history.”
How can we stop this madness and shortcut the vicious circle? How can intelligent, good people improve situation and steer things to more effective dialogue leading to better understanding and collaboration? How can we replace confrontation with cooperation and peaceful coexistence? How can we end the “Clash of Civilizations” instead of heading for the “End of History”?
Frankly, I have little hope or faith in those who led us into the mess in the first place. The Bin Ladens, Bushes, Putins and Sharons of the world will always relish a good fight. Their political, ideological and self-interests are so entrenched that no matter what we do to change them, we end up on a dead-end street. I do hope, however, that a new breed of leaders will deal more effectively with the roots of terrorism. Kerry, are you listening?
Academia, the media and the intellectual world can — and must — help overcome the gaps of misunderstanding and to build bridges of communication between cultures, religions and nations. So far, we have remained in the mode of “Either you are with us or against us” that put us into opposing camps. Given this stark choice, people, no matter how intellectual or intelligent, tend to rally round their flags.
This is changing, however. After rigorous self-examination, The New York Times apologized for not scrutinizing earlier government propaganda about Saddam Hussein’s WMD and decided to change and improve its editorial standards and policies. The Economist also made a similar about-face in their support for the Iraq war. These are good signs.
The rest is up to us, the citizens of this world, and the residents of this planet. And the first step is the most basic — to sit and talk.