Jewish World Review May 20, 2005 / 11 Iyar,
Caution: Muslims easily inflamed
In the wake of mass rioting and death in Afghanistan and other
Islamic nations ignited by a fallacious Newsweek story, furious
finger-pointing has ensued. The White House, the departments of State and
Defense, and most conservative radio talk show hosts are blaming Newsweek
for carelessness and irresponsibility. Newsweek, while apologizing for the
error, protests that the story was vetted by a Defense Department official
who objected to other aspects of the piece but remained silent on the Koran
flushing part. Others are suggesting that the Bush administration prepared
the ground for this rumor by engaging in routine degradation of Muslim
detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Absent from this blame exchange is any recognition that many
Muslims can be incited to violence by anything or nothing. It's as if they
live poised for outrage. In 2002, the Miss World Pageant had to high-tail it
out of Nigeria after rioting took more than 200 lives. Angry Muslims
rampaged through the streets after a young fashion writer penned an article
wondering how Muhammad would have reacted to the pageant, and suggesting
that the Prophet (who had 14 wives) might have chosen a wife from among the
assembled beauties. The offices of the newspaper were firebombed. A few
weeks later, after many deaths, the Islamists remained unsatisfied. The
deputy governor of a northern Nigerian province issued a "fatwa" declaring
it the duty of religious Muslims to track down the 21-year-old author of the
story and kill her.
Recall that Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death
while bicycling to work in Amsterdam last year. His offense? Producing a
movie that exposed Muslim mistreatment of women.
Salman Rushdie remains a marked man for writing a book Muslims
detest. Norwegian/Swedish Pentecostal preacher Runar Sogaard received death
threats last month not anonymous ones, but direct threats from an
organized Islamic group, for using highly insulting language about Muhammad.
Sogaard was impolite to be sure. But since when is the proper punishment for
impertinence death? Isioma Daniel, the Nigerian journalist whose musings
sparked the Nigerian riot, remains under 24-hour-a-day guard.
Easily aroused to fury, Muslim fanatics are correspondingly
difficult to court. Nowhere has there been acknowledgment on the part of
Muslim leaders that the United States has again and again put its servicemen
in harm's way in order to rescue or aid Muslims. We did so in Kuwait, Bosnia
and Kosovo. We poured out our hearts and opened our wallets when Indonesia
was struck by a tsunami. It isn't just that they've failed to say thank you.
No, the U.S. is unrelentingly accused of making war on Islam. President Bush
visits mosques, holds Ramadan services at the White House and declares (too
optimistically?) that Islam is a religion of peace. And yet the U.S. is
distrusted and reviled in many parts of the Muslim world.
In the course of our wide-ranging war on terror, Americans have
certainly committed some acts that are needlessly inflammatory to Muslim
sensibilities. Abu Ghraib is exhibit A. But Abu Ghraib is also the
exception, not the norm. Detainees at Guantanamo receive religiously
appropriate food, prayer mats and time for daily worship. The U.S. even
provides Muslim chaplains. The underlying truth is this: We are at pains
not to fight a religious war. The trouble is, our
enemies are fighting a religious war, and there is
nothing we can do about it. Al Qaeda's strongest suit is the sympathy it can
tap among some of the world's 1 billion Muslims for a jihad against the
unbelievers. Our strongest suits are freedom and the reality that we are the
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