Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What is a "terrorist?"

Which one of these is not a murderer? (Answer below)
Recently, I became embroiled in a conversation on the subject of President Obama's interview on Al-Arabiya (a Saudi-owned television network whose primary audience is the Arabic world). Some of the conservative participants in the conversation were outraged that Obama would extend a rhetorical olive branch to the Muslim world. Here's a quote:
In this interview, [Obama] refused to link [M]uslims with terrorism. Well, in the country he lived in as a young boy, Indonesia alone, there are 19 million Muslims who support violent jihad. Barack Obama believes (and says) the “problem” is only with a few rogue Al-Qaeda terrorists. HA! What a load of crap.
The “Religion of Peace” is one of the most violent on earth. It is against their very tenants of faith to be tolerant of any others. It has recruited thousands and thousands as suicide bombers and terrorists. --You can read the whole thing here.

Well, despite the shaky grammar and clumsy articulation, the writer's intention here seems fairly obvious: Obama is in secret sympathy with Muslims. And Muslims are terrorists.

So, what is a "terrorist," then?

Is a "terrorist" a person who commits wanton murder on random victims? If so, is Erik Ayala, the young man who, on January 24, opened fire on a crowd of teenagers outside a Portland nightclub, killing two and wounding seven, a "terrorist?" Or was he a mere murderer?

Or is a "terrorist" motivated by racial or religious hatred? What about Daniel Cowart from Tennessee and Paul Schlesselman from Arkansas? These were the two neo-Nazi skinheads who, back in October, hatched a plot (on Facebook, no less) to go on a cross-country rampage, killing 88 black people (the number is somehow significant to Nazis), culminating in a blaze-of-glory attempt on candidate Barack Obama's life? Are they "terrorists" or just racists?

Or is a "terrorist" motivated by political ideology? What about the men responsible for the deadliest attack ever in the United States before 911? When they plotted and carried out a 1995 truck bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, were Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two home-grown American boys, "terrorists?"

If we look at each of these cases, there is little to distinguish them from the attacks perpetrated by suicide bombers in Palestine or Iraq or anywhere else. The murders are random. In the latter two cases, they were politically motivated and planned out in advance. So, what's the difference?

The answer, of course, is that none of the perpetrators in the cases I've mentioned are Muslims. And now, we get to the heart of the matter: conservatives that are gnashing their teeth over President Obama's conciliatory tone are, in fact, nothing more than ignorant racists. It is not murder or lawlessness that they detest. It is Muslims.

Apart from this being offensive to me personally, as the spouse of a devout Muslim, I find it shockingly and depressingly ignorant. One wonders if any of these conservative ranters has ever actually known a Muslim.

I know many. I have stayed at their houses, visited their countries, and, of course, married a Muslim woman. I can state with certainty that I have never met a Muslim that would support suicide bombings.

I don't believe that the majority of conservatives hold the same views as the wing nut that I quoted above. But I believe that the faction represented by this person had become dominant within the conservative movement. Well, after two consecutive beatings at the national polls, there is going to be a shake-up and that faction is likely to get demoted.

The sentiments expressed by the writer I quoted above will persist for a while in the public debate. But without the neo-conservatives fomenting their irrational fears, those voices will fade. They are already being isolated and discredited. Soon, those holding such views will be exiled to political obscurity, there to rage like wild-eyed hermits.

Rant on, madmen! But when you pause for breath, take a look around. You're likely to find that no one is listening.

Answer: Hassan Qazwini is not a murderer. He is the top Imam in the US. He expounds on the commonality of the world's religions. (The others are, from left to right, Erik Ayala, Timothy Mcveigh, and Terry Nichols.)


Ridwan said...

Excellent post Dade.

I too am sickened by the bigoted ignorance.

Close to two out of every six people in the world is a Muslim.

Yet most Americans are absolutely ignorant about Islam and Muslims.

Obama is no Muslim. The bigots should stop sweating about his loyalties.

I so wish Obama would stop referring to the "Islamic World" or "Muslim World".

There is no such thing. The West is not conveniently disconnected from Muslims or Islam.

There is just one world and we all live in it no matter where the hell we are or what we believe in.

To root the notion that Islam is different than the West (whatever that signifies now) is to ignore how Islam and Muslims have influenced the so called 'West'.

Try counting without using Arab numerals. Or disconnect Averoes from Platonic thought or the European Enlightenment and its influence on liberal thought.

When Obama sells his nonsense about an "Islamic World" he advances an artificial seperation where none exists.

There are Muslim countries with other religions in them and there non-Muslim countries with Muslims in them.

No-one in their right mind speaks of the Christian world, or the Hindu world.

Muslims can't just be constructed or positioned to be the 'Other' and the West empowered to be the norm.

This is tired politics and speaks historically to the manner that the 'West' racialized Africans/Blacks, or more closely, Orientalized the so called Middle East.

In the US the history of Islam is as old as slavery. Some would say older ... there is a small literature that describes interaction between Indigenous folk and Muslims before Columbu.

Islam is no foreign invasion or threat to Americans or any other people. No more than Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, or Atheism are.

I am a Muslim and I was not on those planes in spirit or in any other way on 9/11.

This is true for the vast majority of Muslims who abhor killing innocent people in the name of struggle.

The Qur'an does not permit making war on civilians.

At the same time, I am a Muslim who abhors what the US is doing to Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Gaza.

In these terms, and from my vantage point, Obama's 'West' is at war with Muslims ... not the other way around.

Peace brother,

Heather Ann said...

Amen to you both! Obama is walking a tightrope which I do hope will become a true bridge between two important and influential world views. I grew up with Muslim neighbors who really were as close as family. I am all too often shocked at the misinformation about Islam that is believed as truth among my Northwest friends and family. I believe their conservatism stems from fear. They are afraid of the unknown, because the unknown has been described as fearsome. I pray that Obama will have the wisdom and ability to tear down the walls of ignorance and build bridges of truth and respect!