A long time friend exclaimed: "Of course the war in Iraq is working! If it wasn’t every street corner would have a mosque and we’d all be forced to convert at gunpoint!"
It was rather a sad thing to hear. I couldn’t help but wonder where his shocking Islamophobia came from. I have to suspect the usual culprits, the mainstream news, late-night comics, talk radio, the list goes on.
Such is the era of George W. Bush’s with us or against us mentality. However it would be unfair to place this Western fear of Islam on George’s shoulders. His foreign policies have exacerbated the fear of Islam but as much as I think he is incompetent at best, George W. Bush is not to blame. The Western fear of Islam goes back centuries since the days of the Crusades to reclaim the Holy Land and the defeat of the Crusaders by Salah al-Din. In America the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 with the hostage crisis was a turning point towards greater fear of Islam.
My friend’s fear and ignorance of Islam is staggering. But it’s not uncommon. The fact is that he, like many are afraid. They are afraid of what they do not understand.
Most Americans know nothing about the true nature of Islam. What they do know is often distorted media presentations governed by agenda driven think tanks and "opinion leaders." It is what Robert Parry refers to as "perception management."
In the post-9/11 era, managing the perception of Islam as a violent aggressive religion has been a simple task, too simple. Hysterical angry "experts" with little or no real understanding have been more than happy to drive the campaign of Islamophobia. They write hate-filled books, rant on TV and radio and fill the Internet with their fear mongering… often to make a buck.
The desperate acts of resistance groups Hamas and Hezbollah have not helped their cause or the perception of Islam in the west. But then their actions are rarely portrayed in a fair context. The inflammatory rhetoric of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has served only to exacerbate the situation. All too often, his statements have been deliberately misquoted and out of context in the Western press. Ahmadinejad is a master propagandist and politician grandstanding to the Iranians and much of the world. Everything he says should be taken with a heavy dose of salt.
Is this representation of Islam as a collective of hysterical fanatics realistic?
There are those who sincerely believe it to be true. However, is that a rational view? Not hardly. It is not based on reason or experience but rather emotion and ignorance.
A survey conducted between 2001 and 2007 by the Gallup Research Center of tens of thousands of Muslims around the globe failed to find a trend of murderous hysteria. The vast majority of Muslims have the exact same values as most Christians and Jews. Family, friends leading a good moral life are as important to Muslims as anyone else.
But what about terror and the word that sends shivers up the spines of the Western backs: jihad?
Terror is simply a tactic most often used by weaker resistance movements and radicals rather than a unique trait of Islam. One of the most brutal organizations which employs terror, and has for years, is the secular group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam in Sri Lanka… not Muslims.
Often terror is employed on a grand scale by the most powerful states. I find it hard to view General Tecumseh Sherman’s famed March to the Sea, a campaign waged on civilians, or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as nothing more than state-sponsored terror.
And what of jihad?
Often sited in the mainstream press as a "holy war" implying Muslims waging war against "infidels." Nothing could be further from the truth. A more accurate and general description of jihad is that it is a struggle to live a just and righteous life as God intends.
However, there have always been those throughout history who have abused the term jihad, as a rationalization for aggressive actions be they empire expansion or the suicide bombing of a night club in Tel Aviv.
Is the use of religious rationalizations limited to Islam or have Christian and Jewish leaders been guilty of the same thing? Could it be Islam is not to blame for the murderous nature of "humanity"?
Returning from battle to defend his growing community of Islam from extermination the Prophet Muhammad is said to have told his followers: "We return from the lesser jihad (battle) to the greater jihad." The greater jihad Muhammad was speaking of was the daily struggle of the soul.
Muhammad was breaking with the tribal social structure of seventh century Arabia and rattling long-set pagan beliefs. As such, Muhammad and his community of Islam had to defend themselves against the status quo. Muhammad’s wars were political decisions not zealous religious campaigns. In Islam defense is acceptable, aggression is not.
Muhammad considered Jews and Christians to be "People of the Book." The Patriarchs, Moses and Jesus are all considered prophets in Islam. Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in the same god. There’s nothing in the Qur’an about killing non-Muslims simply because they’re non-Muslims. That concept is pure ignorance and should not be tolerated.
Possibly a good fair history of Islam, a good biography of the Prophet Muhammad and a good English interpretation of the Qur’an might be a better source of information than the ravings of hate-filled lunatics.
The fact is that Islam is not a threat to anybody. Ignorance and fanaticism is a threat to everyone no matter where it originates. It’s a universal curse that favors no religion over another.
Islamophobia is a disease eating away at the Western soul and endangering all of mankind. Now we have our own jihad to eradicate it once and for always.
Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Currently he resides somewhere in the Caribbean.