[No. 44. 7: Revised and Expanded]
Recently, my cousin sent to me a link to a website that had been sent to her by a friend who, in recommending it’s veracity, must certainly be counted among the Obama- hating-Islamaphobes who seem to be exerting so much influence upon American foreign-policy since 9/11. Millions and millions of words have been written on this subject, almost all of them wiser than what you could find on that website. Nevertheless, it is a complex and perplexing subject. I do not personally know many Muslims, but of those that I do I have met one that I know who with little prompting would gladly slit my throat. I also know one who, in return, would slit my assailant’s throat. Throwing out those two standard deviations, that leaves a lot of Muslims inside the bell curve. So I dug out my old piece of the “Muzzies” – – it’s not a term I mean as a slur in any sense, actually it’s kind of soft, like fuzzy, or huggy. But it also conveys then idea of something buzzing about, like a nuisance, a conceptual and geopolitical irritant that won’t give us any peace. At least that’s the way we Americans see it and, since the emergence of ISIS, Boko Haram, and other versions of Muslim extremism (check for news of today’s edition) we are back talking about more “boots on the ground” to presumably keep our Constitution from being replaced by sharia law, our women from having to wear burqas, and Burger King from having to sell falafel. And let’s not forget the oil, and that war is really good business. Oh, by the way, you might begin seeing the word dhimmitude being bandied about if you frequent Fox News or those Islamophobe websites. Enough preamble.
When it comes to religions I always try to be ecumenical—I have contempt for them all, though probably not equally. I find myself being more contemptuous of some, and a little more forgiving of others. But all religions are about believing in things that cannot be sensed or known, so they all deserve to snickered at for their epistemological silliness.
But it cannot be left at that, because religions are not just about believing in the unknowable, they are also about people extrapolating from those spiritual beliefs and screwing up the secular world. And that takes me from passive contempt to rather nasty crusading mode.
I feel differently about taking on the delusions and dogmas of Christian denominations. I was “brought up” (indoctrinated) Roman Catholic. That sort of gives me license to bitch because I have paid enough dues to that organization. So they are sort like “family,” make that “dysfunctional family.”
“The Chosen Ones,” the Jews, are indeed a special case because they choose to be with themselves. The non-evangelism of the Jews is perhaps their greatest blessing (after bagels and pastrami on rye with Russian dressing). One can almost forgive those side curls and silly hats of the Hasids (nobody is going to want to convert if you have to wear those outfits). But I am straying from the faith of the moment—those pesky followers of the Prophet.
It should be said that, in addition to sharing Semitic origins, the Muslims suffer from a similar ethno-religious conflation as do the Jews. Most, but not all, Jews are also of the Judaic faith; and most, but not all, Arabs are Muslims. But Muslims have made it more complicated; many Persians, Indonesians, Malaysians, Pakistanis and other are also Muslims. These days, one finds people using Arab and Muslim interchangeably. This conflation is one of the things that makes how one feels about Muslims rather tricky. We’ve gone from Arab terrorist, to Muslim terrorist, to Islamo-Fascist terrorist. And so, because the extremists are the ones who get the most attention, we tend to associate Islam with terrorism.
This bothers a lot of moderate Muslims, but it also bothers non-Muslims that there does not seem to be a Muslim-Moderate movement of any audibility, visibility or consequence. We hear of moderate Muslims deploring terrorism, but maybe they are terrorized into not doing much about it. Then again, maybe there are only four moderate Muslims. Iraq should be proof enough that there is more Muslim on Muslim violence than any other kind. Other faiths have their counterparts in this regard, but the Muslims seem like a special case.
The reason that this seems to be the context in which we view Muslims owes something to their bad sense of timing. They come into our political consciousness when the West needs a new bête noire, a new rationale for pumping up those defense appropriations, a new basis for American right-wing politicians to operate the politics of fear. The damn Russians went and declared peace on us, and the Chinese decided to conquer us by owning us. For many in the West (and this doubtless included George Bush) their first consciousness of Islam comes from contemporary events.
There was, of course, that great age of Arab/Muslim culture, when medicine, architecture, poetry and scientific instruments like the astrolabe, were products of a civilization at the time when Europeans were living like barbarians in their “Dark Age.” From the 8th through the 12th centuries, when the people, sometimes called the “Moors,” occupied much of Spain, then called Andalusia, there was considerable harmony among Muslims, Christians and Jews, as long as the area remained under the hegemony of the Muslims. Not that there weren’t wars, even among the Muslims. There were plenty, but there was unprecedented religious tolerance as well, especially in cities like Toledo, Seville and Cordoba. The arts flourished, especially architecture, and the Arabesque style produced magnificent Alhambra. The Great Mosque of Cordoba, and the magnificent gardens and fountains are also major contributions. Arab doctors were the leaders in medicine. The Arabs even invented the zero in mathematics, so they have a strong case for claiming that they helped invent the computer. After all, what is a computer but just a language built of zeros and ones, right? Muslims could claim that they are owed a royalty—50%–for their half of every operating system or application ever created. That’s zillions of dollars! I think that the Christians better get at it and claim that they invented the 1; unless the Jews already have beat them to it. But I digress again.
These days it is not uncommon to hear people (those who know of this history) say “what happened?” Like Arabist Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (2009). How did this great civilization implode into 19 terrorists on airplanes, Osama, and the Taliban? Well, a lot of history, and not all of it fair to the Muslims, has happened. After the Spanish Reconquista, when Ferdinand and Isabella chucked them out of Spain in 1492, things seemed to go downhill for the Muslims in Western Europe. If you don’t think that Christians were the meanies at this time, just Google Spanish Inquisition. A lot of the exiles ended up over in the Ottoman Empire, centered in Istanbul since 1453, but that empire, though rather long, derived and built upon a lot of the Persian and Roman civilizations. But there, too, there was some tolerance for the “people of the Book,” and the Ottomans can be credited with bringing coffee to Europe thanks to their failed siege of Vienna. That empire came to an end in 1922  and the West, primarily the British, played Monopoly with the entire Middle East. The Muslim states of the Middle East have felt aggrieved, threatened and disappointed since and, with wretched governments and autocratic leaders, they have fallen back on their faith with a zealotry and paranoia. All their other social institutions are weak, and subordinate to Islam. They are very much part of the West’s Frankenstein’s monster.
It is said that he first casualty of War is Truth. It might be that the first casualty of Terror is Tolerance. And probably nothing is more necessary for reasonably peaceful coexistence of different religions than Tolerance. Even without Terror, tolerance of another man’s religion seems to have been a large order for most of human history. Sometimes the debates are over the purely imaginary dimensions of religions—whether your god is called, Allah, Yaweh, Jesus, Shiva, or R2-D2—of the imaginary characteristics of this or that particular deity.
But, alas, the silliness only begins there. Religious authorities are not content to leave it at that. No, they need sin and sacraments, circumcisions and infibulations, sacrifice, do’s and don’ts, halal and haraam. They need rules and regulations, relics, prayer shawls and rugs, churches, synagogues and mosques, their holy books, and a host of dogmatic and liturgical gadgets, gizmos and gimmicks that bring the authority, the putative holier than thou, their power, sex and money. And the Muslims, in these times, have some of the worst religious authority.
The danger is when someone so believes in their religion that their present life is entirely governed by their concern for their imaginary afterlife, when the achievement of that end governs—and justifies—all their actions. Such is person is not necessarily, but certainly potentially—given whatever slight or threat, real or imagined—for whom the slitting of throats, ethnic cleansing, purges, crusades and jihads are, in the defense of their faith and the holy cause of their afterlife, right and just. They have become, as I have written elsewhere, theopathic.  All, perhaps any, have this potency, and the Muslims happen to be, in these times, the worst of a bad lot.
No small part of this occurrence is that the Muslims, albeit always in varying degrees and in different countries, are the least secularized of the main faiths. While all faiths have their conservative and elements, Islam appears to have remained predominantly conservative owing to its origins in the Arabian Desert. In consequence, it is a faith that has retained elements of its place and culture of origin that help to explain much of its current predicament. First, Islam is a fusion of a religion and a lifestyle. There is little if any distinction between the religious and secular elements of Muslim society. One Need only look at the “five pillars” of Islam, especially the requirement to pray in the direction of Mecca five times each day.  Islam blurs into daily life of its adherents also in the requirements of men to wear beards or of women to be veiled or even fully covered. Second, Islam retains much of the elements (again, in varying degrees) of tribalism, with its paternalism and clannishness. Third, it is a faith that places half of its members—females—in a subordinate (that might be too mild in some cases) position. The most extreme is the Taliban predilection for blowing up girls’ schools.
Let’s take a look at one curious practice that explains the attitude towards women in Muslim culture.
Well known these days is the Muslim version of heaven that supposedly is a place of rivers of wine where men who achieve it by martyrdom will enjoy the pleasures of “seventy-two” virgins. Female virginity is not a hang up exclusive to Islam; other faiths and cultures are what my be called “hymen-challenged.” But it is illustrative of how, even when religion and culture are almost synonymous, as they are in Islam, religious practice is more an expression of culture and circumstance than it is of divine revelation. Take a little “law” in Islam called mutaa, or “temporary marriage” that allows couples in Shiite communities to have religiously permitted sexual relations for a limited period of time, without any commitments. No mullahs needed; the woman says: “I marry myself to you for [a specific period of time] and for [a specified dowry]” and the man responds: “I accept,” and they can go at it for an hour, or a year, before ending or renewing it. Although a Muslim woman is allowed only marry a Muslim man, a Muslim man may do a mutaa with a Muslim, Christian, or Jewish woman, as long as she is a divorcée or a widow (and presumably looks like fun). However, recently, some communities have allowed the practice to spread to virgins or girls who have never married before, if the permission of her guardian (father or paternal grandfather) is obtained. But call it what they will it is religiously sanctioned fornication and religious hypocrisy.
So, what happens to a woman who does the mutaa (or the lambada for that matter) with one of her co-religionists. Being “de-flowered,” she is eligible neither for wifie-ness on earth, nor even heavenly virgin for martyrs in the afterlife. Mutaa seems like a bad deal for Muslim women. Unless. Unless she can get hold of a product developed in Japan and sold by a Chinese company called Gigimo, that promises to give women back their “maidenhood” for a mere $29.90. The clever, insertable packet of faux blood is designed to rupture under . . . um . . . pressure and stain bridal sheets with sanguinary evidence of female chastity. And before anyone raises a protest over such deceitfulness, the Gigimo gadget is not only a cheap alternative to hymen reconstruction surgery, but might also be a real lifesaver in societies where girls who are not “intact” can be dispatched by their own families in “honor killings.” No wonder Egypt is tying to ban the sale of the product. Betcha they don’t ban those “male enhancement” potions.
OK, you can see what too much thinking about the Muzzies can do to me. Believe me, I can come up with equally goofy religious shit on Catholics, Protestants, Hindus and Jews, and don’t even mention the Mormons with their golden tablets and polygamy (Translation: the religious sanction of old men porking teen-age girls).
So I will close with Jim’s Social Science Law No 1 (I am a fully-degreed social scientist I might remind you). It’s this: There is greater variation within races, ethnic groups, nationalities, genders and religions than there is between them. Keep that in mind and you won’t go bat-shit crazy thinking about the Muzzies.
© 2007, 2014, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 10.30.2014)