Thursday, May 19, 2005

JEFF JACOBY OF THE BOSTON GLOBE says he knows why Islam is disrespected. It's because Muslims are savages who resort to murder and mayhem over the mishandling of a book.

IT WAS front-page news this week when Newsweek retracted a report claiming that a US interrogator in Guantanamo had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. Everywhere it was noted that Newsweek's story had sparked widespread Muslim rioting, in which at least 17 people were killed. But there was no mention of deadly protests triggered in recent years by comparable acts of desecration against other religions.

No one recalled, for example, that American Catholics lashed out in violent rampages in 1989, after photographer Andres Serrano's ''Piss Christ" -- a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine -- was included in an exhibition subsidized by the National Endowment for the Arts. Or that they rioted in 1992 when singer Sinead O'Connor, appearing on ''Saturday Night Live," ripped up a photograph of Pope John Paul II.

There was no reminder that Jewish communities erupted in lethal violence in 2000, after Arabs demolished Joseph's Tomb, torching the ancient shrine and murdering a young rabbi who tried to save a Torah. And nobody noted that Buddhists went on a killing spree in 2001 in response to the destruction of two priceless, 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha by the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Of course, there was a good reason all these bloody protests went unremembered in the coverage of the Newsweek affair: They never occurred.

Christians, Jews, and Buddhists don't lash out in homicidal rage when their religion is insulted. They don't call for holy war and riot in the streets. It would be unthinkable for a mainstream priest, rabbi, or lama to demand that a blasphemer be slain. But when Reuters reported what Mohammad Hanif, the imam of a Muslim seminary in Pakistan, said about the alleged Koran-flushers -- ''They should be hung. They should be killed in public so that no one can dare to insult Islam and its sacred symbols" -- was any reader surprised?

The Muslim riots should have been met by outrage and condemnation. From every part of the civilized world should have come denunciations of those who would react to the supposed destruction of a book with brutal threats and the slaughter of 17 innocent people. But the chorus of condemnation was directed not at the killers and the fanatics who incited them, but at Newsweek.

When I first read this, I didn't want to blog about it. I've read so many of these shallow, unthinking analyses of Muslim rage against the United States. How many times can you correct these people's idiotic analogies before you say, screw it?

But then I saw Riverbend's post about conditions in Baghdad, where she lives, in the last two weeks; and the violence that Iraqis have to put up with every day (as the direct result of a U.S. invasion that was facilitated by the Bush administration's deliberate lies). I imagine that trying to make a dent in the thinking processes of someone like Jeff Jacoby would be a bit like trying to walk through cement, but still, it's too bad he probably will never read this:

We've been watching the protests about the Newsweek article with interest. I'm not surprised at the turnout at these protests- the thousands of Muslims angry at the desecration of the Quran. What did surprise me was the collective shock that seems to have struck the Islamic world like a slap in the face. How is this shocking? It's terrible and disturbing in the extreme- but how is it shocking? After what happened in Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons how is this astonishing? American jailers in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown little respect for human life and dignity- why should they be expected to respect a holy book?
Now Newsweek have retracted the story- obviously under pressure from the White House. Is it true? Probably. We've seen enough blatant disregard and disrespect for Islam in Iraq the last two years to make this story sound very plausible. On a daily basis, mosques are raided, clerics are dragged away with bags over their heads. Several months ago the world witnessed the execution of an unarmed Iraqi prisoner inside a mosque. Is this latest so very surprising?

Detainees coming back after weeks or months in prison talk of being forced to eat pork, not being allowed to pray, being exposed to dogs, having Islam insulted and generally being treated like animals trapped in a small cage. At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. That's not to say that all troops disrespect Islam- some of them seem to genuinely want to understand our beliefs. It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy.

By doing such things, this war is taken to another level- it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists- it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secular Muslims are being forced to take sides.

I want to say to people like Jacoby: "Hel-LO! Eat any brain food lately?" Let's spell it out for Jeff:

  • Andres Serrano is Catholic. An estranged Catholic, apparently, but still a Catholic. He is the same religion as the people who objected to his photograph of a crucifix immersed in urine. He is also from the same country as the people who objected to his photograph. The people protesting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, Indonesia, and elsewhere are Muslims objecting to disrespectful treatment of their holy text by Christians who come from the United States. And the particular Americans who were alleged to have flushed a Koran down the toilet were soldiers representing a government that is at war with two Islamic countries and in strained relations with several others. Plus, said government has done real harm to the inhabitants of the two Islamic countries it is at war with. In other words, still spelling it out for Jeff, the Muslims protesting and rioting in response to the Koran desecration reports were angry about the entire foreign policy of another nation in regard to the Muslim world -- not just one incident stemming from one person.
  • Sinead O'Connor is Catholic, the same religion as the people who objected to her ripping up a picture of the Pope on SNL. You may refer to the above paragraph, because all the points there also apply to Sinead O'Connor's case; with the one exception that Sinead O'Connor is Irish, not American; and that is not a meaningful distinction because Ireland's holy text is the same as the holy text Catholics in the United States use and because American Catholics have no larger reason to be enraged with the United States or with U.S. foreign policy. Ireland has not invaded the United States, occupied it, or killed tens of thousands of its people. There is no historical subtext in which the Irish government has done real harm to the American people and no history of Irish military authorities torturing Americans or using the sexual and religious sensibilities of Americans to humiliate them.
  • The analogy to the destruction of Joseph's Tomb at least has the merit of comparing the violent Muslim protests about Koran desecration to another desecration that occurred in the context of a larger religious and political conflict. But Jacoby is wrong: There was lethal violence in response to the Oct. 7, 2000, destruction of Joseph's Tomb. The very next day, a mob of some 1,000 Israeli Jews "attacked Arab homes in Nazareth. The attackers allegedly targeted Arab citizens due to their anger over the Hizballah kidnaping of three IDF soldiers and the attack on Joseph's Tomb in the West Bank in early October 2000. Police reportedly arrived at the scene late, did not take action beyond inserting themselves between the two groups, and fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas at the Arab citizens. Two Israeli Arabs were killed in the incident and approximately 50 others were injured."
  • And again, with Jacoby's bit about Buddhists not rioting after the Taliban destroyed two 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha, there is no reasonable analogy either in scale or kind. Muslims and Buddhists have no recent history of being in conflict. The Taliban government of Afghanistan did not invade or occupy any Buddhist country. There is no larger context of resentment and anger felt by Buddhists toward the Taliban that would have made Buddhists explode over one specific incident of their religious icons being dissed. Jacoby would have a stronger argument here if he compared Muslim protests against the U.S. military's disrespect for Islam to Tibetan protests against the suppression of their religious traditions by China. I suspect that he would not want to make that comparison because it would imply an equivalence between the United States in relation to Muslim countries and China in relation to Tibet.

Via Memeorandum.

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