Thursday, March 09, 2006

Bigotry toward Muslims and Anti-Arab Racism Grow in US

Dubai and the Quran
Juan Cole
Professor of History at the University of Michigan
Thursday, March 09, 2006

The constant drumbeat of hatred toward Muslims and Arabs on the American Right, on television and radio and in the press, has gradually had its effect. This according to a Washington Post poll. Even in the year after September 11, a majority of Americans respected Islam and Muslims, but powerful forces in US society are determined to change that, and are gradually succeeding. As they win, Bin Laden also wins, since his whole enterprise was to "sharpen the contradictions" and provoke a clash of civilizations.

Some 25% of Americans now say they personally are prejudiced against Muslims. And 33% think that Islam as a religion helps incite violence against non-Muslims, up from 14% after September 11.

The Bush administration policy is to continually insinuate that the Muslim world is the new Soviet Union and full of sinister forces that require the US to go to war against them. But at the same time, America has warm relations with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, etc., etc. When Saudi Arabia's then crown prince (now king) Abdullah came to the US, Bush brought him to the Crawford ranch, held hands with him and kissed him on each cheek.

This two-faced policy and self-contradictory rhetoric has contributed to growing hatred and bigotry toward Muslims in the US, which is no less worrisome than the hatred Jews faced in Europe in the 1920s. It is dangerous because of what it can become.

The subtext of bigotry and racism is what has blindsided the Bush administration with regard to the port deal for a company based in Dubai. Dubai is like the Fifth Avenue of the Middle East-- the place with the pricey shopping and the tall skyscrapers and the extravagant fashions. Dubai businessmen are no more likely to take over US ports and allow them to come to harm than US businessmen are. They want the deal in order to make money. Bush knows this very well. But since he has spent so much time fulminating against shadowy and sinister forces over there somewhere, he has spooked the American public and members of his own party.

The Big Lie eventually catches up with you.

The hatemongers are well known. Rupert Murdoch's Fox Cable News, Rush Limbaugh's radio program and its many clones, telebimbos like Ann Coulter, Evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham, Congressmen like Tom Tancredo, and a slew of far rightwing Zionists who would vote for Netanyahu (or Kach) if they lived in Israel-- Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes, Michael Rubin, David Horowitz, etc., etc. And finally, there are many Muslims who have an interest in whipping up anti-Islamic feeling. Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress helped maneuver the US into a war against Iraq with lies about a Saddam-al-Qaeda connection and illusory WMD. The dissident Islamic Marxist group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is now placing equally false stories about Iran in the Western press and retailing them to Congress and the Pentagon.

The hatemongers think that the American public is sort of like a big stupid dog, and you can fairly easily "sic" it on whoever you like. Just tell them that X people are intrinsically evil and that the US needs to go to war to protect itself from them. Then they turn around and blame those of us who don't want our country reduced to footsoldiers in someone else's greedy crusade for being "unpatriotic."

All human beings are the same. They all have the same emotions. All laugh when happy and weep when sad. There are no broad civilizations that produce radically different behavior in human beings. All are capable of violence. (Christians killed tens of millions in the course of the 20th century, far, far more than did Muslims). Few commit much violence except in war. You can walk around any place in Cairo at 1 am perfectly safely, but cannot do that everywhere safely in many major US cities, including the nation's capital, Washington, DC. Even the idea of Islam as a cultural world or civilization opposed to the Christian West is a false construct. Eastern Mediterranean honor cultures (Greece, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Syria) have more in common with each other across the Christian-Muslim divide than either has in common with Britain or the US. And, Muslim states don't make their alliances by religion. Egypt was allied with the Soviet Union in the 1960s, then switched to the US in the 1970s and until the present. Four of the five non-NATO allies of the US are Muslim countries. Turkey is even a full NATO ally and fought along side the US in the Korean War.

Dangerous falsehoods are being promulgated to the American public. The Quran does not preach violence against Christians.

Quran 5:82 says (Arberry): "Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabeaans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness--their wage waits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow."

In other words, the Quran promises Christians and Jews along with Muslims that if they have faith and works, they need have no fear in the afterlife. It is not saying that non-Muslims go to hell-- quite the opposite.

When speaking of the 7th-century situation in the Muslim city-state of Medina, which was at war with pagan Mecca, the Quran notes that the polytheists and Arabian Jewish tribes were opposed to Islam, but then goes on to say:

5:82. " . . . and you will find the nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say: 'We are Christians.' That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud."

So the Quran not only does not urge Muslims to commit violence against Christians, it calls them "nearest in love" to the Muslims! The reason given is their piety, their ability to produce holy persons dedicated to God, and their lack of overweening pride.

The tendency when reading the Quran is to read a word like "kafir" (infidel) as referring to all non-Muslims. But it is clear from a close study of the way the Quran uses the word that it refers to those who actively oppose and persecute Muslims. The word literally meant "ingrate" in ancient Arabic. So the polytheists ("mushrikun") who tried to wipe out Islam were the main referents of the word "infidel." Christians, as we see above, were mostly in a completely different category. The Christian Ethiopian monarch gave refuge to the Muslims at one point when things got hot in Mecca. The Quran does at one point speak of the "infidels" among the Jews and Christians (2:105: "those who committed kufr/infidelity from among the people of the Book.") But this verse only proves that it did not think they were all infidels, and it is probably referring to specific Jewish and Christian groups who joined with the Meccans in trying to wipe out the early Muslim community. (The Quran calls Jews and Christians "people of the book" because they have a monotheistic scripture).

People often also ask me about this verse:

[5:51] O you who believe, do not take Jews and Christians as friends; these are friends of one another. Those among you who ally themselves with these belong with them.

This is actually not a good translation of the original, which has a very specific context. In the Arabia of Muhammad's time, it was possible for an individual to become an honorary member or "client" of a powerful tribe. But of course, if you did that you would be subordinating yourself politically to that tribe. The word used in Arabic here does not mean "friend." It means "political patron" (wali). What the Quran is trying to do is to discourage stray Muslims from subordinating themselves to Christian or Jewish tribes that might in turn ally with pagan Mecca, or in any case might have interests at odds with those of the general Muslim community.

So the verse actually says:

[5:51] O you who believe, do not take Jews and Christians as tribal patrons; these are tribal patrons of one another. Those among you who become clients of these belong with them.

Since the Quran considers Christians nearest in love to Muslims, it obviously does not have an objection to friendship between the two. But apparently now it is some Christians who have that hateful attitude, of no friendship with "infidels."


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