Muslims not U.S. enemy

Americans must not turn on each other as they look for justice

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

Shock, sorrow and -- naturally, necessarily -- anger. Tuesday's horrific events put us Americans in jeopardy in more ways than one.

We stand united and ready to fight our enemies, but we remain unsure of exactly who they are. Some people are venting their rage against Muslims, and that is a ghastly mistake.

The reports are coming in about gunshots through mosque windows, about vandalism of shops, about harassment.

Most people in our nation have an abysmal ignorance about Islam. Here in Alaska there are probably more Buddhists or Wiccans than Muslims. To many Americans, Muslims seem alien, violent and wrong. Those perceptions are based on an utter lack of perspective.

I have never been to the Middle East. I have never been close friends with a Muslim (they seem hard to find around here). But I did take a semester course in college about the history of Islam. Sad to say, that makes me an "expert" on things Islamic relative to 99 percent of my countrymen.

We read a translation based on the Koran, which is a marvelous book full of poetry, spirituality and peace. It always addresses God as "the Merciful, the Compassionate."

Mohammed, the founder of the faith, lived in what is now Saudi Arabia around 600 A.D. He began his career as a merchant, and his first wife was a widowed businesswoman who was actually his boss. He did not remarry until after she died.

He based Islam on Judaism, Christianity and revelations from the Archangel Gabriel. The Koran, which he dictated, includes passages about Moses and Jesus, whom he considered prophets.

Islam itself is not monolithic. It has two main branches, the Sunni and Shiite, that often have been at odds over the centuries. People interpret the faith myriad ways.

Most Muslims are not Arabs or even from the Middle East, Indonesia being the world's largest Muslim nation. Many people in the Middle East are not Muslims, but belong to other groups such as Christians and Baha'is.

In some ways the Islamic world has developed attitudes similar to those found in Christianity when it was the same age: the Middle Ages. At its best, this manifests as a form of chivalry and a code of honor. At its worst, it manifests as a rigid dogmatism, that exposes people to exploitation by demagogues.

One problem has been a twisting of the doctrine of holy war -- "jihad" -- which holds that warriors who die in defense of the faith go straight to paradise. Political leaders have perverted the interpretation of "defense of the faith" to convince the devout and desperate to serve as cannon fodder of various sorts.

This feeds into the cycles of violence that have poisoned the Arab-Israeli conflict, Afghanistan's civil unrest and other unstable situations in that part of the world.

But these problems are part of human nature, not a trait of Islam.

Over the centuries, crimes have been committed in the name of Christianity, too. Back in the Middle Ages, supposed Christians had the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades, which invaded Arab lands and butchered civilians, ostensibly to save their souls and purify the faith.

The contemporary violence from the Middle East may have different roots but does not, in the final result, differ from that in Yugoslavia, Ireland, Africa and Latin America.

But it does differ from the way we do business in the United States.

One of the many wonderful things about our nation is something abstract: the rule of law. It is our duty, in the name of justice, to identify the guilty parties, not to lash out in blind pain against some "group" that seems to have some connection to the situation.

When people divide the world into "us" and "them" and seek retribution against others because of their ancestry, faith or economic system they feed that cycle of violence.

On one of the many radio call-in shows about the matter, a caller named Mohammed talked of how his Muslim friends shared the grief of all Americans but carried the additional burden of fear of persecution.

"This has nothing to do with Islam," he pleaded.

Muslims are one of the fastest-growing groups in America. Most of them come here not to infiltrate and subvert, but because they want to escape the cycles of violence and raise their children in the land of peace and opportunity.

The enemies who struck the United States were not Muslims, but fanatic psychopaths who use a travesty of religion as their excuse. These people do not represent the Middle East any more than Adolf Hitler represented Europe.

We must not punish the innocent. We must not let the terrorists slip between our fingers while the wretched of Afghanistan or any other land suffer more than they already have. We must extirpate the roots of this evil, not thrash around in the brush of international military entanglements.

If we attack our neighbors, within or without our borders, because of their faith or ethnicity, we are no better than those who kill defenseless, unsuspecting Americans in the name of some perverted "cause." If we stoop to their level, they will have defeated us in the worst way.

Shana Loshbaugh is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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