"See how the Christians love each other!" This used to be the secular response to the fratricide between Catholics and Protestants, let alone the schisms within the Catholic Church and the vicious quarrels between different schools of Calvinism. (When the Baptists of Danbury, Conn., wrote to Thomas Jefferson, asking for his assurance against persecution and generating his famous "wall of separation" response, it was the Congregationalists of Connecticut of whose intolerance they were apprehensive.)
Within Islam, these lines of division are many times more acute. Ahmadi Muslims are considered impossibly heretical by most other followers of the Prophet, and Ismaili Muslims are looked upon askance in many quarters as well, but the rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites (which also conceals numerous poisonous rifts between different interpretations and leaderships in both camps) has become one of the most toxic phenomena in the world today. On Web sites that offer advice to the devout, Sunnis and Shiites ask their imams and ayatollahs whether it is permitted to take the life of a member of the other sect. On American campuses, Muslim student groups now shun one another on a confessional basis. Throughout the Arab and Persian media, moods of excommunication and denunciation are vocally expressed. Almost every day in Iraq, as has been well-reported, a mosque is blown up or a religious procession shredded by other Muslims. As is less well-reported, the same thing happens in Pakistan almost every week. And it is waiting to happen in other countries, too, as the Alawite sect that runs Syria (Alawism being a splinter of Shiism) gets ready for another confrontation with the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, and as Sunni minorities in Iran become restive at the increasingly sectarian character of the Shiite dictatorship...
...However, the self-generated Islamic civil war does have significance in the wider cultural struggle. All over the non-Muslim world, we hear incessant demands that those who believe in the literal truth of the Quran be granted "respect." We are supposed to watch what we say about Islam, lest by any chance we be considered "offensive." A fair number of authors and academics in the West now have to live under police protection or endure prosecution in the courts for not observing this taboo with sufficient care. A stupid term—Islamophobia—has been put into circulation to try and suggest that a foul prejudice lurks behind any misgivings about Islam's infallible "message."
Well, this idiotic masochism has to be dropped. There may have been a handful of ugly incidents, provoked by lumpen elements, after certain episodes of Muslim terrorism. But no true secularist or even Christian has been involved in anything like the torching of a mosque. (The last time that such a thing did happen on any scale—in Bosnia—the United States and Britain intervened militarily to put a stop to it. We also overthrew the Taliban, which was slaughtering the Hazara Shiite minority in Afghanistan.) But where are the denunciations from centers of Sunni and Shiite authority of the daily murder and torture of Islamic co-religionists? Of the regular desecration of holy sites and holy books? Of the paranoid insults thrown so carelessly and callously by one Muslim group at another? This mounting ghastliness is a bit more worthy of condemnation, surely, than a few Danish cartoons or a false rumor about a profaned copy of the Quran in Guantanamo. The civilized world—yes I do mean to say that—should find its own voice and state firmly to Muslim leaders and citizens that respect is something to be earned and not demanded with menace. A short way of phrasing this would be to say, "See how the Muslims respect each other!"
Thursday, February 22, 2007