August 29, 2006
Bigotry and Ignorance of Islam
by Charley Reese
Charley Reese has
been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to
politics. From 1969-71, he worked as a campaign staffer for
gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He
was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando
Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column three
times a week for King Features, which is carried on Antiwar.com. Reese
served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner.Charley
Reese's thrice weekly column is distributed by King Features Syndicate.
President George Bush's ignorance of the Middle East and its people is
well-known. So also is his habit of parroting words and sentences given
to him by other people. He hit a new low when he referred to "Islamic
No two more opposite concepts are to be found. Fascism glorifies the
nation-state; Islam is transnational. Fascism demands slavish devotion
to a national leader; Muslims are far too independent-minded to be
slavish followers of anybody. Virtually all the people Saddam Hussein
murdered were people trying to overthrow him. Fascism is militaristic.
Islam is not.
Mr. Bush, who has dubbed himself the "war president," has made a
pathetic and absurd effort to picture himself as Winston Churchill
facing off against evil. He is no Churchill. Most of the enemies he
imagines, he has created himself.
The West faces no threat from Islam. Islam is one of the fastest-growing
religions in the world, but it really is a religion of peace. More
importantly, it is a religion that concentrates on individual salvation.
There is no Muslim pope, no College of Cardinals, no bishops, no
priesthood. Any five Muslims anywhere in the world can start their own
mosque. Imams are teachers and, like Protestant preachers or Jewish
rabbis, can be fired by their congregation. The Shi'ite version is
slightly more organized.
A fatwa is a statement issued by an imam, usually explanatory. It is
similar to statements issued by the pope, with this important
difference: No Muslim is bound by any fatwa. Muslims are free to pay
attention to it or to ignore it.
Islam, like Christianity, is a universal religion that ignores
nationality, race or color. To become a Muslim, one must profess belief
in one God, acknowledge Muhammad as his prophet, recognize the Quran as
the word of God, pray five times a day, provide for the poor and, if
possible, make a trip to Mecca once in your lifetime. The God Muslims
worship is the same God Christians and Jews worship.
To dispose of some of the slanderous misstatements being floated about,
Islam forbids forced conversions. People would do well to read some
history rather than rely on ignorant and malicious radio and TV
talk-show hosts. The oldest Christian communities in the world are all
in Muslim countries. There have always been Christian and Jewish
communities in the Muslim world. Muslims are commanded to treat
Christians and Jews as they would treat themselves. They revere Jesus as
a prophet and highly respect the Virgin Mary. The disputes you see in
the modern Middle East are not religious; they are all about secular
matters, principally Israeli occupation of Arab lands.
The Arabs see Israel as the last European colonialist state imposed on
them by the European powers. That's true, in fact.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are concerned only with ending Israeli
occupation of Palestine. Hezbollah is concerned with ending Israeli
occupation of Lebanon. Al-Qaeda wants to overthrow the Persian Gulf
governments and is at war with us because we are the principal backers
and supporters of those governments. Al-Qaeda alone is most un-Islamic
and has been so labeled by a majority of Muslims. It is a small group.
If you wish to understand Islam, turn off your TV and go to the library.
Introduce yourself to some of America's 6 million Muslims. You'll find
them to be very decent and patriotic people. There are some fanatics
among Muslims, just as there are among Jews and Christians. Most of the
New England states were originally populated by people fleeing Puritan
rule in Massachusetts.
The way to combat the fanatics is to extend the hand of friendship to
ordinary Muslims and to protest the slander and libel of Muslims and
Islam, just as you should protest the slander and libel of Jews and
other groups. Bigotry should have no place in our public dialogue,
regardless of the target.
It's obvious that President Bush will never understand the world into
which he was born, but most Americans have more open minds except, of
course, those who prefer to click their heels and salute when their
Fuehrer of choice speaks.
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