Monday, February 7, 2011

Why are we afraid of Muslims?

The American government has been visibly hesitant to support the uprisings in Arab countries. After complaining for many years about the absence of democracy in that part of the world, when the opportunity presented itself to support democratic movements, our government could only talk about nonviolence and stability. All they could say was “Now be nice.”

Many people have wondered about that. Many different considerations are at play here, but one of them clearly is the role played in the popular uprising by an organization called “the Muslim Brotherhood.” Once an organization describes itself as Muslim or Islamist, warning lights go on and sirens scream in the brains of American officials. Were the terrorists of 9/11 not Muslims and acting -- they thought -- in defense of Islam? Is the authoritarian government in Iran not run by Muslim clerics? 

Let’s think about that.

It is important to notice that the authoritarian government in Egypt is not Islamic. On the contrary, the Muslim Brotherhood long persecuted by the Mubarak government, has joined the revolution. The kings of Saudi Arabia are authoritarian rulers, but not because they are Muslims. The same applied to the president of Tunisia who was recently forced to flee by a Democratic uprising. The same is still true of Mohamed Quaddafi of Lybia, of the King of Jordan or the dictator ruling Syria.

On the other hand, Turkey has had an Islamist government for several years now. That government has respected democratic processes and rights as much as any other democratic government.

In Israel a small but vociferous group of Orthodox Jews regularly attacks Palestinians in Hebron and elsewhere. Some Orthodox Jews are fanatics, they are racists, and they persecute Palestinians. No one would therefore shudder every time Israel and Israel’s interests are mentioned or are said to play a role in decisions made in Washington. 

Because some Muslims are fanatics, all of them have come under suspicion. Why don’t we apply the same rules to Jews? Why don’t we apply the same rule to Christians? After all there are enough fanatic Christians. A few months ago, three American Christians, violently opposed to male homosexuality, gave talks in Uganda. They made such a big impression that the Ugandan government was considering making homosexual acts a capital crime. Only international pressure prevented that.

No one in their right mind would condemn all Christians as wild eyed fanatics as a result of that foray of fanatical anti-gay activists into Uganda. Few people believed that all Israelis are as violent and as racist as some of the Orthodox settlers in Hebron. Why should the fanaticism of some Muslims make all others suspect?

Why indeed.