RSS feed for entries


Bridging the West-Muslim Divide

There is a big divide, important people say. Muslims are furious about the treatment of Palestinians, about discrimination, humiliation, and marginalisation. To demonstrate how to treat people right, they blow them up. The West is furious about people being blown up. To demonstrate how to treat people right, they blow up mosques. And people, but always only as a regrettable side-effect. It’s not terrorism when the West does it. Remember that, or nothing will make any sense.

The West has some other issues that get less press. Oil, for instance. This is not about oil. Do not think about oil. Think about the clash of civilizations. (Are you thinking about it? Good.)

And then there’s human rights. The idea of having to live with the restrictions, uptightness, and all-around neuroticism that most Muslim societies seem to consider normal horrifies the vast majority of Westerners. But since they don’t, themselves, have to live with it, not much is said. It would be intolerant, or meddlesome, or it’s an internal affair. Sort of like wife-beating used to be something between a man and a woman. However, just because almost nobody talks about it, doesn’t stop it from being a source of hostility. Too often, it’s over-generalized hostility, as things that aren’t voiced usually are.

There’s a common thread there. The anger is about occupation, humiliation, poverty, violence, and abuse. These are not religious issues. They aren’t even cultural issues.

They are issues of justice. Nobody, whether Western, Muslim, or Western and Muslim, wants to be poor, hurt, or humiliated. A world united behind impoverishing and abusing people would be worse than our current one, not better. It is not unity anyone wants. It is justice, at least for themselves.

Let me go through a few examples, just to make my meaning clear.

  • Palestine. The Jews, having been atrociously treated by the Europeans, decided they needed a Jewish state. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to have a benign government without the separation of religion and state, but I’m also a strong believer in consenting adults doing whatever they damn well please. So I’ll blink the separation issue for a moment, and grant the concept of a Jewish state. They wanted that state in the Promised Land. The only problem was, the land had been promised to some other people as well (perhaps proving not only that God exists, but also that he wouldn’t pass his real estate license). So Palestinian people got turfed out to make way for Jewish people. No matter how you look at it, that is an injustice. The consequences of that injustice will continue to resonate until it either stops (which means the Palestinians can live in peace in their own country, whether that’s a non-religious state or a separate, viable Palestine) or everybody is dead.
  • It doesn’t stop because the US is too busy supporting Israel, right or wrong. So we’re currently headed toward the second alternative while we waste time talking about bridging a non-existent divide. There is no divide. Nobody wants to be booted out of their country or have to pass checkpoints to reach a hospital. There’s only a lot of people who’d rather do what’s easy (for themselves) than what’s right. There’s a lot of people who’d rather use poor refugees as irritants against their enemies, or ignore the crimes of their client state. In other words, there’s only a lot of people who’d rather have (other) people die than do what it takes to right a wrong. No divide there either, unfortunately.
  • Lack of respect for Muslim traditions. Some traditions should not be respected. Cannibalism. Slavery. Female genital mutilation. Only the first is not well-known from at least some Middle Eastern lands. None of them have anything to do with Islam, but the appalling treatment of people in majority Muslim societies puts the religion in a bad light. So why aren’t the clerics making sure these things stop? Instead, some come out with statements favoring wife-beating and rape. There are psychopaths everywhere. But the right-thinking clerics should be ostracizing the crazies, not meeting them with, at most, embarrassed silence.
  • Many of these so-called traditions have to do with depriving women of basic human rights, such as freedom of movement, and even the basic ability to choose one’s own clothing. But they’re not limited to that. There are also ludicrous pronouncements about music and shorts, things that call to mind some of the excesses of Southern Baptists. When Muslims stop demanding respect for travesties of human rights, both serious and silly ones, and start demanding respect for traditions that deserve it, like the Middle Eastern concept of hospitality, at least they’ll have justice on their side.
  • Globalization. That’s what it’s called. In actual fact, it gives corporations new ways to make money, new ways to avoid environmental laws, and new ways to avoid labor laws. Even in the US itself, that supposed bastion of globalization, when consumers tried to buy medicines from other countries where they were cheaper, the corporations soon put a stop to that. Globalization for me but not for thee. Nobody wants to be a cash cow for the wealthy. There’s no divide. There’s just rich people, Western and non-Western, who’d rather make money off less-rich people. Nothing new there, not even the diversionary tactic of riling up the poor with religion instead.
  • State-sponsored terrorism, aka war. Killing people because it suits your purposes is bad enough, but I want to focus on the demonization that is necessary to allow it to happen. There is, we are told, some kind of “clash of civilizations.” On one side there are the blond, blue-eyed heroes, and on the other a bunch of cheating, thieving, no-good Semites.

     Wait, that’s the old script. Those were Jewish Semites. This time, it’s totally different. On one side are fine, upstanding followers of Western, Christian values, and on the other are a bunch of cheating, thieving, terrorist Arab Semites. Totally different.

  • Every single cleric who is allowed to call him- or herself a Christian ought to be condemning this. Instead, there are a few fundamentalist Christian preachers who not only condone it, they promote it. By giving criminal heads of state religious cover, a few clerics make the religion seem like nothing but a bandage for an oozing wound.
  • Small-scale terrorism, aka terrorism. Targeting civilians because you can’t get at soldiers is Bad. Not Honorable. Thoroughly despicable. Every single cleric who is allowed to call himself a Muslim ought to be condemning this. By giving criminals religious cover, a few clerics make the religion seem like nothing but a bandage for an oozing wound.

Not one of these issues is anything people disagree about. The only disagreement is how much it matters when they hurt other people. Trying to find “agreement” on that is either despicable (“Okay, I won’t discuss human rights for women if you’ll stop harping on human rights for Palestinians.”) or irrelevant (“We can agree that both Christianity and Islam are great religions”).

By pretending that the problem is some kind of cultural divide instead of injustice, it’s possible to pretend that the only thing needed for a solution is a bit of talk and understanding. Interestingly enough, nobody is ever quite agreed on what to talk about first. Is it respect for religion? Or tradition? Or market forces? Or not committing acts of war without a license? Pretty soon, we’re talking about talking, and that’s even easier than not solving the problem by talking about it.