Harmony with Islam

I just read some awful diatribe about how the West and Islam can never co-exist peacefully. Horsefeathers, I say. They can coexist just fine. We just have to do our due diligence in telling the difference between immigrant assimilation issues, geopolitically-fueled crimes, intolerant views held by a minority, and actual clashes of civilization.

I want to look first at the notion of Muslims somehow being less tolerant of other faiths than those other faiths are of Islam. In Spain in 1492, the rulers there began a set of policies that would eject Muslims and Jews from Spain. Hardly a symbol of Western tolerance – and it was Muslim nations, such as the Ottoman Empire, that welcomed in the Jewish population. The Jewish track record in the West pretty much stinks, really, what with ghettos and the whole Holocaust thing. Christian denominations within Western nations didn’t fare so well, either. Protestants, Reformed, and Catholics alike committed massacres of the pacifist Anabaptists during the religious upheavals of the 16th and 17th Centuries. My own ancestors fled the United States in the 1840s and again in the 1890s because of religious persecution. They were Christian, but the USA seemed determined to deny them a right to practice their faith as they saw fit to do so.

And lest this become some argument for atheism, let me level the intellectual cannons at that lot. Atheism in the West is simply intolerant of all faiths and, like the religions they criticize, will cannibalize its own dissenters if they don’t hold fast to a consensus view. Atheism in the West is not a movement that liberates people from group-think: it rather introduces a new paradigm for rejecting others based upon a set of beliefs. They’re no better than any other group that uses a supposed proof to justify persecution of anyone that does not agree with said proof.

No, the true salvation from religious intolerance is to practice a mature faith that realizes each person is free to make choices, even choices that disappoint us. We must practice a mature faith that allows for others to find their own ways. We must practice a mature faith that seeks to find out what common ground we have with others, and not to discover fighting grounds.

I, a Christian, walked through a mosque and a Hindu mandir with a Muslim and a Hindu at my side through both experiences. I felt the faith being expressed in both locations. I have visited the places of worship of other Christian denominations and have been moved by their expressions of faith. Though I may not worship in the same way, do I not seek the same peace that they all seek? In our devotions, we are taught the need to love others and to strive to bless their lives through our deeds. The same is taught in the Quran, though it may deny Jesus’ divinity. The same is taught in the Bhagavad-Gita, thought it may not have arisen out of the Southwest Asian monotheistic traditions. There is much more in our faiths that is alike than that which is different.

History shows that man can be cruel, but history also shows that man can be compassionate. It all depends upon our choices.

So, wherefore the existence of these conflicts? How to explain the terrorism and the lack of integration of Muslims into European societies?

Let me start with the matter of integration: integration does not happen in segregated environments. When people are free to move in and out and among society freely, families integrate over the course of roughly three generations. Put another way, allow for 75 years to integrate a wave of immigration. Looking at blacks in the USA, they were not really allowed to begin to integrate until around 1950, which puts us now in the third generation of their internal immigration experience. While not many people are shocked by interracial marriages in 2015, such things were forbidden in 1961, when JFK refused to allow Sammy Davis, Jr. to appear at his inauguration on account of his being married to a white woman.

Muslims in Europe have a difficult time integrating because of how they’ve largely been confined to ethnic neighborhoods and in the ways that they’ve faced legislation designed to keep them from participating fully in their host society. When Algeria became independent from France, for example, France then terminated the veterans’ benefits and pensions for all Algerians that had served in the French army during WW2, even if those Algerians lived in France and were French citizens. If Muslims have a hard time of integrating in Europe, look to the racism of the powerful before condemning the clannishness of the weak.

But even eliminating those racist laws will not be an immediate panacea. The three-generation process begins at that point. If the USA is any guide, there will be upheavals, riots, assassinations, murders, rapes, and anguished national questions all along the way. Our answer to those questions need not be a “final” answer, as the Germans reached for in the 1940s. It can be the more difficult answer of tolerance and decency.

So, on to terrorism. Here, I would also point a finger at the men in charge of the powerful nations. In the 1950s through the 1980s, NATO nations and nearby neutral European nations had “stay-behind” programs. These were under the umbrella of Operation GLADIO, and these groups were built up to offer partisan resistance to Soviet forces, in the event of a Warsaw Pact overrunning of Western Europe. These groups were made up largely of men that feared Communists most – many former Nazis and fascists either joined or were recruited for GLADIO teams. Once formed, groups like the CIA saw them as assets that could be used to help steer public opinion away from leftist political movements. The GLADIO groups would commit acts of terrorism and the state would then quickly blame Communists for them, causing public outcry – and a shift in electoral preferences. Anti-terror laws in those nations never focused on the actual perpetrators of the terror, but on supposed enemies of the state. While the USSR had its KGB and rather frank matter of dealing with its dissidents, the NATO nations preferred to frame their dissidents or have them die while in police custody.

As the USSR dissolved, the narrative in the West shifted from a question of whether or not it could avoid a clash of civilization with Russia and instead replaced Russia with a notional form of Islam that suited the narrative. The tolerant Islam as practiced by most Muslims around the world had to be discarded in favor of characterizing it as some sort of evil empire that hated the West. “For its freedoms,” ironically. Radicals that happened to be Muslim fit the bill nicely. Why no radical Buddhists or Hindus? Such radicals exist, but because they’re not in areas of geopolitical importance, the West had no need to rile them up.

Note that, when radical Muslims were busy destroying Russian or Russian-backed forces, they were 100% Official Friends of the West. When Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was blowing up T-72s in and around Kabul, the West praised him as a freedom-loving Mujaheddin. When the deal to build a US-backed pipeline across Afghanistan fell through, he became a dirty rotten terrorist. The plans to kick him and his Taliban out of power in Afghanistan were already underway in 2001 when the events of 11 September happened.

The same can be said for Chechens that want to rip into Russia. Those guys constitute a “moderate opposition group” to Assad in Syria, even though they’re foreign fighters that are there to acquire experience, equipment, and allies. They’re going to go home to roost in Russia, so the CIA has had no problem providing them with arms, along with the Turks and Saudis. That the Boston Marathon bombers were Chechen has been largely glossed over in the US media, the more to focus on their being aspects of evil Islam. Were we to make the Chechen connection, it would be much harder to use those forces to overthrow Assad in Syria.

Which brings me back to the GLADIO story: the USA and its allies are arming and training the radicals in Syria. Saudi Arabia is full of organizations that exist to radicalize people. We’ve known about the Saudi radicalization since the 1990s, and the Syrian operation is the latest in a string of operations that saw the USA and its allies arm extremely violent groups in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen. When violence from those groups arrives in Western nations, how much of that is orchestrated by the state, in order to keep driving the public demand for more limitations on its freedom in the name of national security – which measures serve only to perpetuate the power of those at the top, not to protect the people from the thugs that kill indiscriminately.

“Clash of civilization” is merely a line of propaganda that suits the needs of the powerful. Should China arise to threaten the West, then I would expect a resurrection of “Yellow Peril” propaganda and a sudden realization that Muslims really are our friends, as evidenced by all those freedom-loving Muslims out in Western China, struggling mightily against the dictatorship there…

By the way, between the invasion of Tibet and Nixon’s visit to China, the USA did sponsor radical Buddhists as they committed acts of terror against the Chinese authorities. The USA did so through the CIA and the brother of the Dalai Lama. When Nixon wanted better relations with China, the aid drops to the Tibetan terrorists suddenly stopped. We now see Buddhists popularly as a bunch of vegetarian pacifists, even though there are some Buddhists that would kill their own mothers if it would get them gain in the world. If it ever suits our needs to target Buddhists as a threat to justify authoritarian legislation in the West, the Buddhists will be targeted, make no mistake.

So, in conclusion, people in general want to live in harmony, even if we have different ways of believing. It is our curse to have leaders that use the radicals that will murder to get gain in order to further their own illicit gain. Those radicals have had different ethnic backgrounds and political views, but they are united by their love of murder, making them – and their political masters – the true common enemy of the West.

2 thoughts on “Harmony with Islam

  1. Carolyn

    Dear Dean,

    I read your latest essay arguing for religious tolerance, and like you, believe that religions can peaceably co-exist, and often do. I respectfully disagree, however, with your description of atheism, which you described as “…simply intolerant of all faiths and, like the religions they criticize, will cannibalize its own dissenters if they don’t hold fast to a consensus view. Atheism in the West is not a movement that liberates people from group-think: it rather introduces a new paradigm for rejecting others based upon a set of beliefs. They’re no better than any other group that uses a supposed proof to justify persecution of anyone that does not agree with said proof.”

    Perhaps you have not had the chance to “walk with an atheist” as you did with a Muslim and a Hindu.

    I am an atheist. Walk with me for awhile.

    Like your mom, I was raised Lutheran, Missouri-Synod, and many within LC-MS believe that its doctrine was and is the only way to believe. To hear some tell it, even other brands of Lutheranism: the Wisconsin-Synod, LCA, ELCA, were all sadly benighted and lost. Catholics? Mormons? Oh, my. You can probably imagine what my upbringing said about those faiths. They sure wouldn’t end up in heaven with us LC-MS believers.

    But as I grew older, I began questioning more, and doubting what I had been taught. Why does God allow bad things—really bad things—to happen to others? 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust was part of God’s Plan? God couldn’t come up with anything better than that? Children starving? God can’t intervene? God won’t? Why not? We can’t question God’s wisdom? Why not?

    I was surrounded by friends and family members who knew they were saved, that God loved them, that everything works according to God’s Plan, who had faith. I didn’t feel free to express my doubts. We’re Lutherans! God loves us! We’ve got the answers! Right?

    Well, no. I was full of doubts and questions and eventually have arrived at the conclusion that if there were a god, then that god is at best indifferent. At worst, god may even be malevolent, since god doesn’t seem to do much in the way of stepping in and stopping evil in its tracks. After a disaster, victims sometimes “thank God” for saving their lives. If god really cared about them and “answered their prayers,” why didn’t god step in just a minute or two earlier and prevent the disaster in the first place, or move the event to an uninhabited area where it would do less damage? I came to the conclusion (sadly, based on what I see around me) that if such a being exists, it does not care about humankind or the earth in any way that is obvious or meaningful or even benign. I also came to the conclusion that even if such a god exists, it is not a being that I care to worship.

    I cannot speak for “all” atheists, but speaking for myself, and contrary to what you may have read or been told, I would never demand that you share my disbelief or want you or others others who still adhere to faith and an organized religion to be persecuted for your beliefs, precisely because I do not want to be persecuted for my beliefs (or my lack thereof). In large part, I simply want to be left alone. [What the First Amendment was intended to do, but that’s a discussion for another day.]

    I recognize that others take much comfort in their respective religions. Many people’s lives (including many friends and family members whom I dearly love) are loving, generous, and caring, based on the tenets of their faiths. That’s all well and good, and frankly, I still think forgiveness and grace and kindness are amazing things. I respect others’ rights to believe what they want, particularly when they try to live lives based on kindness and charity (e.g., Dalai Lama, Pope Francis). I have a profound envy for people who have faith, because they are able to suspend their disbelief and embrace teachings that seemingly provide them with answers on how to live and get along with one another. Some of my friends have never questioned the faiths in which they were raised. I can see that their religions provide them with hope and comfort. Good for them! But, I can no longer not do it myself.

    I do disagree when people judge others or demand that their religious beliefs be the only ones that are accorded respect. I am appalled by those who would terrorize others (e.g., Daesh, the folks who brought us the Crusades and pogroms) and who would have us believe their particular beliefs trump everyone else’s. They’re bullies, whether or not they ascribe their behavior to a religion.

    Religion, morality, ethics—these are very personal and private things, and no one else’s business. Which brings me to my main point: I want to stand up for the right to not believe in anything, including god or any other religion, and to be safe and secure (and not persecuted) because I choose not to belong to any religion. I certainly do not condone persecution of others based on their religious beliefs. But I also don’t think adherence to a religion is the only way to understand how to treat others. The Golden Rule is just that: treat others as you would like to be treated. It’s also a good way to decide what the right thing to do may be. The best question to ask is often, “What can I do here to make the situation better?”

    Your comment that atheists “cannibalize…dissenters if they don’t hold fast to the consensus view.” I cannot say that I actually know any other, um, “practicing” atheists. They certainly don’t advertise or get together for worship sessions. What would that consist of anyway?

    Finally, I just want to speak up in support of being tolerant of those who have tried religion and decided that it’s not for them, as I have , and no longer believe there is a god. I hope that you can find it in your heart to give people like me the benefit of the doubt (pardon me, no pun intended here, nor slurs against agnostics): that we are just trying to live peaceably with one another, that no one has all the answers, and that all should be tolerated, even those who have a hard time making that “leap of faith” anymore.

    Please don’t hate us atheists. Speaking again for myself, I’m just trying to make it through the day, and don’t want to foist my views on anyone else, nor have anyone else foist their beliefs on me.

    Thanks for listening.

  2. deanwebb Post author

    These comments really touched a nerve, and not just with you, as my Facebook comments show. Some further explanation and belated apology would therefore be in order.

    There are many flavors of atheism. Most atheists are in the “soft” category. That is, they either don’t want to bother with God or they don’t want to believe in God or something of that sort. And while they may invite others to join them in their position, they allow for the fact that others will believe in what they will believe in and will live and let live. Such tolerance is laudable and is a quality that I would want to see shared among all humans, regardless of faith or lack thereof.

    When I spoke of a “mature faith”, I was also thinking of my atheist and agnostic friends. I know, I know… it can rankle people of no or uncertain faith to be considered as having a faith, but that was my shorthand notation for a tolerance that comes from being secure enough in one’s views to not see a need to force a change in the views of others. I should have worded that better, and, yes, that is my apology. You, my friends and family members, all deserve better.

    But there is also a “hard” atheism, and that is the one that frequently informs publicly-aired atheist views in regards to religion. Among the intellectual leaders of atheism as an anti-religious movement, there is an intolerant orthodoxy that does, in fact, turn on its own divergent thinkers as viciously as it turns on those who think that religion does have a place in society. When I said, “Atheism in the West”, that is what I was referring to. These attacks on religion aren’t some bugaboos from right-wing moralist house organs: these are discussed in Slate or NPR.

    Watching the intellectual leaders of atheism in the West from outside, I am struck at how much their conduct towards others is defined by their positions in academia, complete with the sort of hidebound hostility to new ideas that undermine one’s carefully prepared academic legacy. When pre-Clovis civilizations were first proposed in American archaeology, they were met with a resistance and vitriol that smacked of an intellectual Spanish Inquisition, complete with ruined careers and outright rejection of dates assigned to artifacts when such dates collided with the Clovis positions. It was not reasoned science accepting new data to reform hypotheses: it was desperate men, clinging to their tenure by denying the evidence. Likewise, when these academics assume the mantles of spokesmen for atheism, they use the same tools of academic infighting to secure their positions.

    Question if one of these men is a womanizer or worse, and they will be quick to gloss over any of their actions and then perform character assassinations on their accusers when the uncomfortable facts begin to pile up. Offer a diverging argument from their stated positions? Be ready for the same treatment. I’ve read articles on how, when a hard atheist spokesman softens his view, he faces the excoriation of his harder brethren. This, to me, is not tolerance.

    So why does it matter? Why would I risk stepping on the toes of the many civil atheists that are in my family and among my friends in order to get in a jab at an academic minority that is entirely unlike the atheists that I know and love? It is because those atheists have a voice, and they have the ear of policy makers. It is because they are the ones that are informing public discourse and who push for policies of intolerance. I have to speak against intolerance, regardless of its source.

    When I read speeches or hear lectures by these atheist spokesmen, I become uneasy when I hear language along the lines of Robespierre or Stalin. These are guys that don’t want to just let the West gradually give up religion. These are guys that are actively at war with religion. They want to shut it down, board it up, and then dynamite the churches. It’s the Taliban with ties and tenure – and a decidedly different, if equally intolerant, position vis a vis the existence of God. It’s that group that offers up the argument that doing away with religion gets rid of the evils it visits on mankind.

    My response, and I wanted to put this forward in an essay on religious tolerance, is that this publicly-espoused view is wrong. Abolishing religion does not abolish greed, predation, or lusts for power. It merely abolishes an excuse for sociopaths. When political parties were socially abolished in the Confederacy, politicians opposed incumbents not on party differences, but on military matters. The CSA was in the process of becoming a military dictatorship as the war progressed. Deny an opportunist one means of gaining power, and he will find another means. Abolishing religion does nothing to abolish the ideas and urges that corrupt religion.

    If a person wants to not believe in a God, but allows me to believe in my concept of God, he is as welcome in my life as anyone else. We may politely ask each other once or twice to consider another view, and then politely drop the subject. At no point do we seek conversion by the sword or death to the believer or unbeliever, as the case may be. But when I hear arguments to dissolve religions – and such arguments do come up in the search for answers to defeat terrorism – I have to take a firm position to oppose such. I have seen the churches in France that became Shrines of Reason and the holes in the ground in Russia where churches once stood. I want none of that. The solution to religious intolerance is not in the active pursuit of eliminating religion, but in the noble pursuit of elevating tolerance in the public debate.

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