Friday, September 22, 2006

On religions of peace

Okay, so I'll admit that "Admit that we're a religion of peace or we will fuck your shit right up!" is probably not the best PR tool the Muslim faith could have pulled out this week. But I also have to admit that there were probably wiser ways for the Pope to, speaking as the God-appointed head of the Catholic Church on earth, invite Muslims to a dialogue on religious violence than by quoting a 14th-century emperor calling them "evil and inhuman." And a non-apology apology like "Y'all, I'm sorry y'all are so pissed off, but that wasn't even me. That was somebody else" is hardly the diplomatic statement that'll smooth it all out.

Out of about 1.4 billion Muslims throughout the world, about 20 percent are from Arab countries, and probably 10 to 15 percent live in particularly embattled areas of the Middle East. Of those 15 percent (on the high end) of embattled Muslims, several thousands are radical fundamentalists committing horrific crimes for a variety of reasons (and the rest are wishing they could feel safer going to the grocery store). Even assuming that 100 million Muslims are actively looking for someone to dismember in the name of Allah, that means that there are 1.3 billion of them sitting around shaking their heads and saying, "Dude, y'all need to cut that out. Y'all are making us look awful."

One-point-three billion Muslims who have never had the urge to blow anyone else up. But somehow, Islam is an "evil and inhuman" religion of violence. I know it's a cliche to point out all of the violence that has been perpetrated in the name of Christianity throughout history, but it's true: in every group of people with fervent beliefs, there will be people who go crazy and screw things up for everyone else. That doesn't mean that religion is bad; that just means that one subsection of violent fundamentalist adherents does not a "religion of violence" make.

I've been thinking about Jordan lately. It's been home to, participated in, or been screwed over by the Iraqi Revolution, the Six Days War, the Black-September-y conflict in the late 60s/early 70s with the fedeyeen, the Arab-Israeli War, and a bunch more conflicts I can't even remember. It's got no real natural resources, a population beginning to grow larger than the country can support, and accusations of corruption in the monarchy. It's majority Muslim.

It's also 47th in the entire world for literacy, one of the few safe tourist spots left in the Middle East, and a country where women can drive, work, head households, and wear or not wear a hijab as they choose and where the queen goes around in sleeveless tops without getting stoned to death. It tends toward pro-Western foreign relations and has been a significant mediator in conflicts between Israel and Palestine. And this is with 60 percent of the population made up of Palestinian Arabs; 92 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim.

When we compare Arab Muslims to Western Christians and declare the former evil and violent, we're making the wrong comparison. It's apples and toasters. The difference between Iraq and, say, Spain is that they're totally freaking different countries in just about every way. The difference between Iraq and Jordan is - what? The people? The government? Sunnis vs. Shias? Oil vs. no oil? One country is a growing leader in women's rights in the Middle East; the other is a growing leader in people getting blown up at the grocery store. What is it about that 15 percent that make them violent, casting such horrible aspersions on the religion as a whole?

Radical. Violent. Fundamentalism.

There's your puzzle. There's your "religion of violence." One of these things is not like the other, but the difference ain't Allah. And if we're going to make the Middle East (and the rest of the world) safe for peace-loving Muslims (and the rest of us), we're going to have to solve that puzzle, because "evil religion of violence" and "pave them into a parking lot" isn't making things any better.

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