Friday, April 25, 2008

Fitna: Thoughtful Muslim reacts to the challenges

Recently, my Muslim journalist friend Mustafa Akyol (Turkey) saw Fitna, which addresses the worldview of Islamic political extremists. The film is causing angst in the world's nanny states about possible outrage among dial-a-mobs, but I am glad to say that rioting has largely fizzled.

I really appreciated Mustafa's thoughtful comments in Turkish Daily News, of which I have excerpted a few. Arguing against legal action - or overreaction generally - to the film, he says,
The film actually does not lie or cheat. Such violent or angry Muslims do exist, and so do the belligerent passages in the Koran. What the film does is to cherry-pick them. There are also many messages of tolerance, compassion, and peace in the Koran. Using the same method of purposeful selection, one could also make a movie titled “Islamic Agape,” which would include the scenes of smiling Muslims and benevolent verses.

Moreover, one can use “Fitna”s selective method to propagate against most other religions – such as, say, Judaism. Actually if you focus on the radical groups among the Jewish settlers in Israel, you can find a very similar language of hatred, and even acts of terrorism such as the mosque massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron in 1994. It is also remarkable that such fringe Jewish fundamentalists, like the followers of the late radical Rabbi Meir David Kahane, use passages from the Hebrew Bible in order to justify, and even amplify, their fervor.

Actually certain parts of the Old Testament, and most notably the Book of Joshua, would overshadow any sura (chapter) of the Koran in terms of militancy. But the overwhelming majority of the world’s Jews know that the Book of Joshua, which tells the war of the Israelites against the pagan Canaanites, is a historical record which does not address today’s realities. Similarly, when they read Koran’s chapters about Prophet Muhammad’s war with pagan Arabs, most Muslims regard them as historical anecdotes. But a worrying number of Muslims, such as the ones that “Fitna” has captured, think differently.

Why are worrying numbers of Muslims listening to radicals?
What makes them believe in a scripture-driven militancy is the same thing that influences radical Jewish settlers: They are in a sociopolitical context which radicalizes them. They believe that their values, identities and very lives of their children are in danger – and they conclude they are fighting the same existential war that Joshua or Muhammad fought centuries ago.

Mustafa thinks that stabilization and modernization of Muslim societies will discredit Muslim radicals. Historically, these forces have usually worked that way. For example, Karl Marx was convinced that British workers would be the first to embrace his communism. In fact, they never did. Britain was both a stable enough country that dialogue was possible and a modern enough country that life was improving for most people anyway. So workers settled for unions and shorter working hours (and pubs, telly, and National Health, of course). Communism was forced on populations that couldn't really choose, in the aftermath of World War II - and thrown off almost worldwide in 1988.

People who think the world is in turmoil now are usually not old enough to remember the 1940s. (I don't remember, but I did grow up in the shadow of World War II, and heard the stories, far into the night, of people who did remember pretty clearly.)

As a traditional Catholic Christian, I identify with Mustafa's approach. For example, I often hear attacks, insults, and put-downs of the Catholic Church - which happens to be the oldest and possibly the largest voluntary association on Earth. So at any given time, detractors always find something to trash somewhere. On the off chance that they should come up short in the present, they can always look to the wealth of past misdeeds or prophesy our future doom. And so? So what exactly?

And while we are here: Dial-a-mob/rent-a-riot behaviour is NOT copyright to Middle Eastern Muslims. I ran into the same thing among the American Ivy League elite in May 2005, when the New York Times bungled a story I broke on my other blog, The Post-Darwinist, claiming that a film about to be shown at the Smithsonian was "anti-evolution." It wasn't; it did not even address the subject. But zillions of Darwinbots, as I called them, behaved exactly as if it had. It's a good thing that no one gives them sharp objects to play with.

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