There’s a debate that’s been raging for some time now on the Muslim community, a lack of outcry about their fellow Muslims and those that are taking Islam to extreme, the Islamists. To me, the Islamists represent the obvious of what we are all grappling with here. Ask any educated, secular Iraqi, they’ll tell you the same.
But that’s really not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what I feel is an entirely misunderstood and underrepresented section of the Middle East. I’m talking about the educated 30 year old and under crowd. Largely westernized, if even through exposure to television (ugh), and getting more and more educated, this class knows and despises what extremism has brought to their lives. They also know, thanks in part to the Internet, what else is out there in the world.
Anyhow, here’s what I had to say, with some additions since, in a recent debate on this which had started with some discussion by Europeans and Americans on a board stating we should “just outlaw Islam”:
First of all, you can’t, nor should you, outlaw a religion. Again, there are laws to protect a religion from overstepping its bounds, at least here. This goes to the entire argument of: your individual rights end where they start affecting someone else’s. Also, as I’ve said a million times before, society has more effect on people than governments do, and the Middle East is a prime example of that. Even with the most stringent governments, and religious expectations, trust me, there’s plenty of “bending the rules”. People here seem to think that nobody in these places drinks alcohol, has physical relationships with the opposite sex, breaks fast during Ramadan, etc. I am here to tell you that is simply NOT true, not anymore than “no Catholics use “artificial” birth control”! It’s still hidden, yes, but not so hidden that I haven’t seen it for myself. There was the young 20’s couple working at the hotel sneaking in the back for kisses, coming out disheveled and smiling. There have been so many drivers that have confessed to me that they hate Ramadan, they give up their cigarettes for the first few days, then start sneaking them. I could go on…
Second, having been in a couple of Muslim countries quite a bit this year (Jordan and Iraq), Muslim is used in this group somewhat in the same way as, oh, say Catholic is. What I mean is that though x % of the population is technically Muslim (i e raised that way, or their parents, grandparents still go to Mosque, practice it) they do not embrace it without questions, or without taking the parts that they like and leaving other parts. Sounds familiar, huh? There is a large group of Middle Eastern intellectuals, especially in our generation, and more so in the 20 something one, that are totally disenfranchised with religion in general, and Islam in particular. There are, truly, separate sects of this religion. I mean, it's kind of like trying to compare Opus Dei with your Sunday Catholic, with your Eastern Orthodox Catholic. (I was using Catholic because most people on the board were familiar with it.)
I'll expand on what I feel some of the problems are later that are allowing this to flourish. But I can tell you, honestly, that in places like Jordan I see a fairly stable society, where in some areas, people are dressed and acting as western as can be, and in others they are devout Muslims. And for the most part, they accept the differences and live in a sort of harmony. (Don’t get me wrong, Jordan has it’s issues…(anti-Semitism anyone?)…when at the same time they do a booming tourist business from people crossing to Israel near the Dead Sea.)
Now, if you are strictly speaking about the Muslim communities not issuing harsh statements about terrorism, well, that'd be in many cases because a) they are terrorized, b) they don't even consider those people as part of their religion or c) yes, some secretly support it. Now, here’s where I agree with you, it’s the a’s, b’s, AND c’s that are the problem. Because when the a’s don’t speak up for fear, they don’t realize how large their number is, and they give more power to the c’s. When the b’s don’t bother to speak up because of indifference, they too give more power to the c’s.
The c’s are power hungry, cowardly people that cling for various reasons to their support of extreme Islamists. For some it’s fear of loss of power and a comfortable existence. For some it’s a way of being protected, the years of Sadaam are still in their heads and they strategically choose to belong to one “alliance” or another. For these, as they can’t be in the green zone for protection, then they are taking what they see as the next best thing, cozying up to the terrorists for protection. And yes, for some it is a true ideological choice.
More discussion forthcoming....