President George Bush’s ignorance of the Middle East and its people is well-known. So also is his habit of parroting words and sentences given to him by other people. He hit a new low when he referred to “Islamic fascists.”
No two more opposite concepts are to be found. Fascism glorifies the nation-state; Islam is transnational. Fascism demands slavish devotion to a national leader; Muslims are far too independent-minded to be slavish followers of anybody. Virtually all the people Saddam Hussein murdered were people trying to overthrow him. Fascism is militaristic. Islam is not.
Mr. Bush, who has dubbed himself the “war president,” has made a pathetic and absurd effort to picture himself as Winston Churchill facing off against evil. He is no Churchill. Most of the enemies he imagines, he has created himself.
The West faces no threat from Islam. Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, but it really is a religion of peace. More importantly, it is a religion that concentrates on individual salvation. There is no Muslim pope, no College of Cardinals, no bishops, no priesthood. Any five Muslims anywhere in the world can start their own mosque. Imams are teachers and, like Protestant preachers or Jewish rabbis, can be fired by their congregation. The Shi’ite version is slightly more organized.
A fatwa is a statement issued by an imam, usually explanatory. It is similar to statements issued by the pope, with this important difference: No Muslim is bound by any fatwa. Muslims are free to pay attention to it or to ignore it.
Islam, like Christianity, is a universal religion that ignores nationality, race or color. To become a Muslim, one must profess belief in one God, acknowledge Muhammad as his prophet, recognize the Quran as the word of God, pray five times a day, provide for the poor and, if possible, make a trip to Mecca once in your lifetime. The God Muslims worship is the same God Christians and Jews worship.
To dispose of some of the slanderous misstatements being floated about, Islam forbids forced conversions. People would do well to read some history rather than rely on ignorant and malicious radio and TV talk-show hosts. The oldest Christian communities in the world are all in Muslim countries. There have always been Christian and Jewish communities in the Muslim world. Muslims are commanded to treat Christians and Jews as they would treat themselves. They revere Jesus as a prophet and highly respect the Virgin Mary. The disputes you see in the modern Middle East are not religious; they are all about secular matters, principally Israeli occupation of Arab lands.
The Arabs see Israel as the last European colonialist state imposed on them by the European powers. That’s true, in fact.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are concerned only with ending Israeli occupation of Palestine. Hezbollah is concerned with ending Israeli occupation of Lebanon. Al-Qaeda wants to overthrow the Persian Gulf governments and is at war with us because we are the principal backers and supporters of those governments. Al-Qaeda alone is most un-Islamic and has been so labeled by a majority of Muslims. It is a small group.
If you wish to understand Islam, turn off your TV and go to the library. Introduce yourself to some of America’s 6 million Muslims. You’ll find them to be very decent and patriotic people. There are some fanatics among Muslims, just as there are among Jews and Christians. Most of the New England states were originally populated by people fleeing Puritan rule in Massachusetts.
The way to combat the fanatics is to extend the hand of friendship to ordinary Muslims and to protest the slander and libel of Muslims and Islam, just as you should protest the slander and libel of Jews and other groups. Bigotry should have no place in our public dialogue, regardless of the target.
It’s obvious that President Bush will never understand the world into which he was born, but most Americans have more open minds except, of course, those who prefer to click their heels and salute when their Fuehrer of choice speaks.