04 October 2012

Fundamentalism is the Enemy of Peace and Freedom

Well, Pam Geller has finally gained the attention she so very much desires with the billboards posted by New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, marketing fear of Islamic jihad and the dehumanization of all Muslims.

One billboard redefines Islamophobia as “Islamorealism” using an anonymous number of alleged “deadly Islamic attacks,” while others advocate support of the “civilized man” in the war against the “savage.” They are disturbing on multiple levels, beginning with the idea that any and all speech, even when it is overtly propagandistic, deeply offensive, and highly inflammatory, is sacred.

As a non-Muslim who supports the rights of the Palestinians to personhood and statehood, I find the existence of the billboards to be far more disconcerting than the ridiculous YouTube video [Innocence of Muslims] because Pam Geller actually took her case to court and won the right to post her inflammatory messages after the MTA had refused them.

In the United States, a sophisticated society that is founded on freedom of thought and expression, is there not room to consider the context of certain speech, rather than acquiescing to unbending maxims and either/or dichotomies in an ever-more complex world of human interactions? That is what fundamentalism is all about, and it is fundamentalism that is at the root of all war and conflict, from the Drug War to the Afghanistan War to the War on the Middle Class and the Culture Wars.

The Civilized Man vs. the Savage

“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel / Defeat Jihad,” urges the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Yet Israel’s medieval siege on Gaza and the West Bank is far from the act of the “civilized man.” Attacking unarmed people on boats that are trying to bring vital supplies such as medicine, books, and building materials is not the act of the “civilized man.” Imprisoning anyone who is deemed to be suspicious without any rights or due process and preventing Palestinians the freedom of movement, even to attend a college, get medical attention, or visit family outside of their open-air prison, are not the actions of the “civilized man.” Neither is refusing to find the purposeful bulldozing-over of a peace activist wearing a bright-orange safety vest a terrible wrong. The state of Israel regularly defies United Nations Security Council resolutions as well as international peace treaties and agreements, from non-proliferation to allowing settlers to steal land to agitating for a preemptive war with Iran. There is nothing “civilized” about Israel’s obstinate militancy or their inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people, no matter what the rationality may be.

Obviously, uncivilized acts are committed on the part of Muslim “Jihadists,” as well. The Al-Qaeda network and the Taliban are dangerous groups, to be sure, and there are others who take the Quran’s prescription for jihad as a call to arms against nonbelievers. But no [recognized] Islamic nation in the modern world, as a matter of state policy, actually engages in aggressive jihad against nonbelievers to the extent that Israel has, in effect, been doing. And the painting of all Muslims as inhuman, savage, fundamentalist militants by Israelis and supporters of an extremist agenda to eliminate the competition for land they believe to be rightfully theirs is, well, simply barbaric. It is the opposite of being “civilized,” in every sense of the word.

Obfuscation vs. Actuality

Pam Geller and her allies in what the Center for American Progress has identified as the Islamophobia Network in America (PDF) who commit the sin of gross generalization of all believers in the Islamic faith as being violent militants are aided and abetted in their endeavor by the state of Israel, which sponsors the slander and misrepresentation of much of the realities of the Middle East by manipulating the message.

In an article that I wrote just before the Egyptian elections, I expressed great concern about how this manipulation is perpetrated to spread fear of the Muslim Brotherhood and sharia law:
[E]ven publications that are generally somewhat more left-leaning (they are actually more centrist because of the far-right tilt of the United States), such as the Washington Post  and the New York Times, spread the vile anti-Arab propaganda that comes out of a little-known organization called, innocuously, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), whose current slogan is “Bridging the Language Gap Between the Middle East and the West.” Unfortunately, their “translations” are regularly and usually unquestioningly quoted by major international news outlets.

MERMI’s board of directors and advisers has included such folks as Ehud Barak, John Bolton, Elliott Abrams, Paul Bremer, Islamophobia Network “expert” Steve Emerson, real estate titan and “Israel lobby” media operative Mort Zuckerman, and Gen. Michael V. Hayden. And according to Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s counterintelligence unit, the folks at MEMRI are “selective and act as propagandists for their political point of view, which is the extreme-right of Likud. They simply don't present the whole picture.” With this, any glimmer of civility in the words and actions of hard-line Israelis and their ardent supporters dims another F-stop toward obscurity.

There are several key misinterpretations and mischaracterizations that are fueling the wave of fear and loathing called Islamophobia across the United States, just in time to plant doubt in the minds of some who may harbor distrust for a black man with a foreign-sounding name and a connection with Islam through his youthful family experiences. One such misrepresentation is the meaning of jihad, an Arabic word that means “struggling in the way of God.” While I have seen this fact denied by the willfully ignorant, scholars of the Quran define the “Greater Struggle” (al-Jihad al-Akbar) as being the inner struggle with one’s ego and the “Lesser Struggle” (al-Jihad al-Asghar) as that “against those disbelievers who aggress against Muslims.” Note that the lesser of the two struggles is carefully stated to be against aggressors.

The primacy of the inner struggle is expressed by H. R. H. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan in his book Love in the Holy Quran thusly:

Hence the third attribute of those who love God—‘struggling in the way of God’—implies, first and foremost, a constant struggle for self-improvement and constant battle against the ego with all one’s strength. Moreover, whilst the struggle against the disbelievers takes place only at certain times and in certain circumstances, the struggle for self-improvement is limitless and does not end until death, never ceasing or being interrupted for a single moment in life.

So yes, there is language in the Quran that suggests that adherents should engage in some kind of struggle against nonbelievers, but certainly no more than can be found in the Bible. In fact, it is exactly the same language: nonbelievers are the enemy of God’s love, and it is the duty of the pious to engage in Holy War against this evil. Although those who call themselves “militant Christians” or “spiritual warriors” often insist that they are not advocating violence, their harsh language, violent imagery, and militaristic behavior unequivocally point toward a different conclusion. And some are openly militarily preparing for the prophetic Holy War that they are so diligently working to self-fulfill, such as those at the Church at Kaweah, with which Steve Klein, who was involved in the making of the disgraceful YouTube video, is connected.

Fundamentalism vs. Freedom

Fundamentalism is the enemy of peace and freedom. It is blind to any logic or ideas that run counter to itself, and the painful cognitive dissonance that the fundamentalist faces when it is forced away from the security of its small-minded, hugely restrictive reality is what drives such tragic and uselessly violent actions as those of Anders Breivik in Norway and the shooter at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Taking a fundamentalist stance on freedom of speech is also the enemy of peace and freedom in the larger sense. Because human beings are social creatures who are dependent on their connections with other individuals for their very survival, no matter how hard anyone might try to isolate themselves, our freedoms cannot be limitless. If interaction and the sharing of information and ideas were not the keys to the success of the human race, as Eduardo Galeano points out, the human animal would have long ago perished in the wild, with neither tails with which to climb to safety nor claws with which to defend themselves nor powerful legs with which to run nor keen eyes and ears with which to hunt and avoid being hunted. We have raised ourselves to the top of the food chain because we communicate and cooperate as societies – which entails limiting our personal freedoms to some degree. And as our societies have become more and more complex and diversified – an inevitability that we need to embrace rather than resist – limits to our freedoms need to be realigned and redefined accordingly. To do otherwise is to let the fundamentalist idea that all speech, no matter how harmful to our society or others, should be allowed to blind us to the realities of the world we are living in.

Edited on 16 January 2015 for better clarity and to identify the concept about the survival of the human race as originating from Eduardo Galeano.

Edited on 25 September 2015 with several bracketed notes and links to information about past events for better comprehension of the issues.

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