Islamaphobia and Islamists


The devil is in the details. One last post before getting out of dodge.

I have written several articles about Islamaphobia in American, the Arab Spring, and Islam inside the Middle East. Sometimes earing the ire of the Far-Right for my views. But today I took some time to watch fellow FtB blogger Maryam Namazie give a speech in Copenhagen (The video can be found on her post entitled “Simplicity is killing us”).

She spoke about how some in the left have been hesitant to criticize Islam due to a perception that any such criticism is seen as racist, to which I have asserted that the far right’s claims of “Creeping Sharia” in America are racist. This deserves some explanation from myself.

First and foremost, Sharia is a bad thing. Any religious law imposed on any culture is in my opinion inherently immoral for both being based on bullshit “revealed truths” and inevitably being imposed on those with different faiths than the law. Not only is it detrimental to women’s rights, as Maryam points out, but everyone else’s rights as well. According to sharia law, the punishment for apostasy is death. And that is not good news.

In my life I have come across four “types” of Muslims. First, the ones that I love, Americanized Muslims who have kept only a shred of their tenants and heritage and have taken in American culture and secular values, I call them protestant Muslims. Second, are the American Muslims who congregate in their own social groups and communities, caught at a decision point between accepting the greater American culture or holding fast to their face. Thirdly are affluent Muslims who attended my college, they were the educated youth. Lastly, there are the people of Iraq, who are mired in their often brutal culture.

None of the generalizations I am about to make hold true to every member of each of my four groups but, these are the views of one outside observer. I look at the first group as a model for the power of secular institutions to moderate a violent faith so it may coexist in modern society. American government did and continues to moderate Christianity to a great extent, we often forget that the various denominations of Christianity did not get along that well around the birth of our nation. If you were a Quaker in a Baptist town and some sketchy shit went down (and there were no slaves to burn), the Quaker was likely in for an ass-kicking or worse.

Here also is what I view as my biggest objection to the far-right’s criticism, their apparent lack of belief in that very moderating power of our society. If America becomes on par with the United Kingdom in its treatment of Islamic law, then we have a problem. But that has not happened yet. If it does, if I learn that Muslim women have to abide by a sharia arbitrator with the complicit involvement of the American Government, then I would have to change my tune. But, and correct me if I am wrong, I don’t see that happen.

The second group, like the Muslims of Dearborn Michigan, highlights a different issue. One of my former co-workers was fast to repeatedly characterize the entire Muslim community of that town as anti-American terrorists, I think he was incorrect. Now undoubtedly in concentrated community of any faith, the hard liners and extremists will find that it is easier to thrive in those environments than in a secular one, but not exclusively so. As often as not, American Muslim extremist spawn from secular societies as much as cultural enclaves as a response to rabid perceived or real racism.

Yet several prominent Dearborn community leaders have dedicated their lives to enhancing the links to American institutions; one Muslim paper editor invited the CIA to advertise in his community so that his town could contribute to the fight against extremism by helping supply a vital resource, translators. But cultural enclaves have been established by almost every culture that has migrated to America. When you come to a strange new land, often immigrants seek out each other to establish some sort of community bond and often seek institutions of religion to replace the family and tribal groups that they left behind. This is nothing new in American society, an neither is the instances of a few bad apples attempting to subjugate and manipulate those enclaves for their own ends, in this case the establishment of Islamist principles.

The third group is the most mixed bag of the bunch, the young foreign students. Some were fervent believers in their faith but other were secular, often it depended more on geography than anything else in how they interpreted the primacy of sharia law. And that geography was representative of their politics.

Lastly, there are the people of Iraq. One of the more secular places in the Middle East, the insurgency has given the Islamists much more power, so much so that I fear for the Government’s ability to resist in the coming years. The more secular figures such as Al-Sistani have lost ground to the Sadirists. But here we see how culture affects religions. Islamists are a product of both culture and religion. From what I have experienced, even if you were to vanish religion from the region in the blink of an eye, the culture would still be Islamist. But if you are able to vanish the culture from the religion, if you are able to move the moral zeitgeist in a progressive direction, then the Islamists may be exorcised from Islam and Sharia will die with it.

Before this deployment to Iraq, I and my fellow officers were giving over 40 hours of post-grad level education on Islam in Iraq and something that a Baghdad woman said to me stuck.

“Islam in in the middle ages and has yet to experience its protestant reformation. In a world that continues to provide us with weapons to murder each other with increasing efficacy, Islam needs that reformation soon.”

So the right needs to be careful of how it engages this issue, you can no more solve the problem of Islamists by destroying Islam any more than an atheist can solve the problem of Christian extremists by destroying Christianity.

The battle must be waged primarily by our culture and not our arms. In painting all Muslims with a wide brush that implies that they are all terrorists, you do more to create extremists than you extinguish, when a moderate Muslim encounters hate at every corner, he or she can be driven to dark places.

As much as we combat Islamism in politics and through war, we need to hasten the assimilation of Muslim Americans into the melting pot of our society. For that is the ultimate victory as our cultures clash in the wake of globalization, not to destroy to Islamist factions, but to make them irreverent and have them wither on the vine.

Secular societies that stand up for every person’s inherent human rights are better societies. And by bringing more under its fold rather than shunning whole ethnicities for the actions of a few actors inside our state and the actions of cultures half a world away, we will win.

Comments

  1. danielrudolph says

    My understanding is the UK is the same as the US: Sharia can be used for private arbitration. The UK just has a more formalized system for it. It’s still strictly voluntary and can’t make decisions contrary to public policy.

  2. anthonyallen says

    The battle must be waged primarily by our culture and not our arms. In painting all Muslims with a wide brush that implies that they are all terrorists, you do more to create extremists than you extinguish, when a moderate Muslim encounters hate at every corner, he or she can be driven to dark places.

    This.

    Education is key. Teach them how to think for themselves. Even if they do still choose to follow God, or Allah, or Vishnu, or whoever, at least it will be an informed decision, and they will come out of the experience with better moral compass.

  3. Dunc says

    if I learn that Muslim women have to abide by a sharia arbitrator

    Nobody has to abide by arbitration, sharia or otherwise. Arbitration only occurs when both parties to the dispute agree to it.

      • Dunc says

        If you’re going to coerce somebody, why coerce them to accept binging arbitration rather than simply to accept whatever solution you had in mind anyway? Most civil disputes are resolved privately, without any intervention from the courts or any form of arbitration. Formal dispute resolution only happens when the parties cannot reach agreement and are willing to go to court over it. Arbitration is simply an alternative to a court hearing in that case.

        • says

          Arbitration enforces the idea that society is behind the decisions, not that just the husband is being a dick. Watch Myram’s linked video, in the first 20 minutes she gives some shocking statistics about the studies done on courts in the UK. This is linked to education, is some incidents, the women are told that arbitration comes with the rules of law.

  4. Cullen says

    Nice article as usual, but with one caveat – I’ve lived in the UK for years and the whole shari’a thing is ridiculously overblown. To start with, there is no single set of shari’a laws in the Koran or the hadiths, it’s all subject to interpretation, and each country with ‘shari’a law’ has a code of laws, based on the hadiths and the Koran, as interpreted by mullahs.

    The only ‘special’ protection Muslims get in this country is the same as everybody else, and is part of a general Political Correctness that drives me nuts (along with health and safety BS – don’t get me started). But the same protections around free expression and not inciting violence or hatred with speech apply to everyone, regardless of faith. It’s no First Amendment, but it’s not that bad either.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest role in the Church of England, said that in cases where there is no conflicting UK secular law (in which case UK law clearly wins) then there is no reason why faithful Muslims can’t use shari’a to determine personal matters such as property distribution after a divorce. He stated very strongly that shari’a used in this fashion would in no way trump national law, and that it was voluntary anyways – you could elect to have a local neighborhood shari’a court decide your divorce, or you could let a local magistrate.

    Queue loud indignation from the Right in this country, claiming shari’a courts would be beheading infidels in Brick Lane and chopping off the hands of thieves in Leeds. Stupid little tempest in a teacup, formed of their own fears and bearing no resemblance to the truth.

    So just be careful about saying the UK has a problem with Islam. My adopted country is far more tolerant and accepting of all religions, or even no religions, than the US is.

    And be careful out there in the sandbox, too. Your writing is good, and I’d like to read more of it. (now I sound like a spam bot :).

    • sailor1031 says

      “there is no reason why faithful Muslims can’t use shari’a to determine personal matters such as property distribution after a divorce. He stated very strongly that shari’a used in this fashion would in no way trump national law”

      But this is teh very issue Walter mentions above. When it comes to what a woman can receive in a divorce settlement UK divorce law and sharia may differ considerably, resulting in a woman being basically gypped out of a fair settlement UNLESS she is brave enough, aware enough and able enough to refuse a sharia settlement and find a lawyer.

  5. Bodach says

    Great article; thanks.

    Back in the olden times, in a wetter place in SE Asia, all I heard from the NCO’s and officers was that we were fighting for god and freedom against Worldwide Communism, dominoes, etc. The main thrust was to not consider our enemy as people. There was a lot of dehumanizing of the enemy (I won’t list the euphemism here). The thinking seemed to be that it was easier to kill them if you didn’t relate to them.
    I’d like to think that your appreciation of the situation marks an improvement in officer training, but somehow I doubt it.

    Stay safe out there.

  6. fastlane says

    [Y]ou can no more solve the problem of Islamists by destroying Islam any more than an atheist can solve the problem of Christian extremists by destroying Christianity.

    Well Pinky, there’s go my plan for world domination. Back to the drawing board.

  7. laurentweppe says

    I’ve lived in the UK for years and the whole shari’a thing is ridiculously overblown […] The only ‘special’ protection Muslims get in this country is the same as everybody else […] Queue loud indignation from the Right in this country, claiming shari’a courts would be beheading infidels in Brick Lane and chopping off the hands of thieves in Leeds

    And let’s not forget Holland: their legal system does not even allow the kind of arbitration found in Britain or the US, yet for years people have been claiming that Holland had been taken over by Sharia courts which happened to be entirely fictional.

    ***

    So the right needs to be careful of how it engages this issue, you can no more solve the problem of Islamists by destroying Islam any more than an atheist can solve the problem of Christian extremists by destroying Christianity.

    Let’s not be naive and pretend to believe that islamophobes want to “solve” any problem: telling them that “you cannot solve the problem of Islamists by destroying Islam” is like telling an antisemite that he “cannot solve the problem of jewish extremism by destroying Judaism”. For islamophobes, “Islam” is just a coded word used to describe the ethnic groups they hate: if anything, they are against the increase of secular Muslims, since it’s in their interest that the ethnic groups they want to either subjugate or destroy remain perceived as incompatible with the rest of society. In fact, in a coutry like France where less than 20% of the Muslim population goes to the mosque, local wingnuts have spend the last decade claiming that religious practice had increased among Muslims: presenting Muslims as congenitally incompatible with a secular society is so vital to the islamophobes that they will not hesitate one second before spewing lies on the Global-cooling level.

  8. Francisco Bacopa says

    The only creping Sharia I care about is Christian Sharia, cause that’s not just optional arbitration, that’s gonna be the law of the land. Gotta give my props to Mississippi for defeating Prop 26.

    That the UK sometimes allows Sharia based arbitration is not my problem. I think the UK should not allow this, simply because I do not think the government of a secular state should ever honor religious law, but Muslims in the UK still have the option to go to regular family court or whatever they call it in the UK.

    None of this is likely to become an issue in the US, but Christianist laws are a threat in the US and they will be passed by state governments to move us closer to the Republic of Gilead. Mississippi held the line, but less sweeping meddlesome laws have been passed in PA and UT, and some less severe meddling here in Texas too.

    Christians are the primary threat here in the US. We do not need to worry much about Muslims.

    Hey, by “getting the hell out of Dodge” do you mean you are coming home?

  9. John McCormick says

    I think this is a good post. I know people who believe in Allah from the first three of your groups, and none of them are anything like the stereotypes that racist bigots put out. I am a British citizen (formerly Catholic), and during the horrific violence being perpetrated by the Catholic and Protestant wingnuts in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” I don’t remember anyone campaigning to outlaw Christian religious law, or denouncing Christianity as a religion of hate and violence.

    PS Keep safe, and come home safe with all your mates.

  10. rork says

    We in MI have the most outstanding Muslims in the U.S., and perhaps anywhere, and very often have occasion to be incredibly proud to be called their fellow citizens. We have Christian Lebanese and many others I am happy to say the same of. Please ignore our current legislators when judging us – it’s gonna get good again.

    I take a small and very anthropological exception to the idea that religious law is immoral. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s hard to make laws that are good, coherent, and enforceable. In many cultures common sense rules for living more or less need to be encoded in the religion. That is, it’s not the religion making the law, it is just the means of legitimizing it where other mechanisms do not exist. Old testament law is like that to a large degree. For Papua New Guinea genius gardeners, killing certain A-stratum trees when they appear as weeds in your slash and burn garden is forbidden. The experienced and smartest know it is a dumb idea ecologically speaking, but like many other hard-won not-so-obvious ideas, it is encoded in the religion just to be sure.
    (I don’t want to argue against the counter that the religion will get manipulated for other ends, especially once well organized.)

    • says

      Maybe x-mas? Should make the wedding, but I need to check to see if them-who-shall-not-be-named are on your guest list. I am after all a vindictive asshole and wouldn’t want to spoil the big day.
      It all kinda depends on when we get out stuff boxxed here.
      Though as soon as I get on leave, we are soooooo getting shitfaced on 6th street. I has plenty of reasons and could used being good and hammered for a lone while.

  11. says

    Yup, good post. My nit to pick is that al Sistani can’t be called even “more” secular. Beyond some pronouncements that were baseline democratic requirements, like one person one vote (which he knew would guarantee Shia domininace of politics), he has stayed out of secular life. And the pronouncements were religiously based.

    Rather, Sadr is more secular because he has a militia, he isn’t much of religious scholar (although has been studying in Iran) and has fully participated in electoral politics.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    … four “types” of Muslims. First… Second… Thirdly … Lastly, there are the people of Iraq…

    My understanding has been that there are sharp differences within Iraqi Islam: on one dimension, between Shi’ite and Sunni; on another, between modernized and traditional (plus, of course, tribal and political divisions).

    Do those distinctions disappear when seen through an occupier’s combat goggle lenses?

    • says

      Not really, the different denominations within Islam matter on both a strategic and tactical level. Different groups got different levels of support from their reprehensive blocks in the political sphere. One of the sad effects of the civil war that occurred while Iraq was occupied was that many neighborhoods that were intermixed in religious denomination (a moderating effect in respect to extremism) became either Shiite or Sunni, with the lesser represented sect being either murdered or run out.
      But when you’re looking at a bad guy through combat goggles (I preferred combat shades myself), all auspices of politics, religion, or any other high-minded principle disappear and it only becomes “that asshole emplacing an IED” or “those douchebags that just launched a dozen rockets at us”. Only when it is over, and you have to go to the village and explain to grieving parents that Johnny Jihad was kinda a dick and decided to pick a fight with an American patrol do those issues sink back in. It sounds a bit cold, but when your buddies are going home in body bags (on both sides) humans tend to get rather savage because after all, we are just but apes. At least our side does a bit of good work in trying to mitigate collateral damage (inb4 examples of units dicking that up; they get punished plus I am only speaking towards actions that I was directly involved in/oversaw)
      The army in general put a lot of focus into ethnic and religious divisions within the human terrain (read Iraqi population) towards the end of the war.
      In my article it was just easier to lump them together as Muslims, the same way other bloggers lump Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus together. It goes unsaid that there are divisions below that grouping and that those divisions play a significant role, but my post was more in line with addressing the concerns of the Right in how they address adherents of the prophet (the sometimes merciful, the bear-suit wearing, the photophobic). A post addressing the differences between the sects, the role of the black turban, the 12th imam, the Kurds, and the Coptic Christians is another issue entirely and in the context of modern Iraq, bloody fucking depressing.

Trackbacks

  1. blah blah blah, I hate this idea, the writer sux, please click my blog so that you can see that I am sooo much cooler then this asshole.

    no I will not pimp your blog for you, yes my grammer sux, and as you imply I am certainly not a real army officer since I don’t march in lock step with your thoughts

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