Muslims realize that moderate forces in Islam are alive. But to non-Muslims, that does not seem believable, except a small minority that is highly educated about the Middle East, usually for academic purposes. The majority, by far, and no matter what their intentions are, seems to be unaware of the moderates in Islam and how much effort they are exercising to battle the vocal tide of ignorance and extremism among their coreligionists.
My last posting was about an agnostic Jewish writer/journalist talking about the Quran in a genuine, kind, and in my opinion accurate, way – a rarity in these days. The video triggered a series of comments back and forth between me and Michael W. My comments on Michael's comments tend to get long, and this post started as one of those comments.
- Michael said: "A lot of reactionary commentators have sprung up since 9/11. I'm sure most of them have never read a word from the Quran before 9/11. "
The reactionary response after September 11 is evident. But for many commentators, September 11 just made it easier to express the hate they had for Arabs and Muslims. Such hateful sentiments became more accepted in the Muslim-bashing culture that prevailed since then, usually under the guise of patriotism and the defense of 'Judeo-Christian' civilization etc. The hate has always been there, but expressing it just became more popular and usually meant more business, book sales, talk show interviews, even think-tank appointments, etc.
Most of the commentators have not read much of the Quran before September 11. But they have not read much since then either, except the 5 or 6 word-quotations from selected verses. That material is not just out of context, it is simply wrong because in most cases it is not even the complete sentences, leaving behind phrases that qualify, constrain, and sometimes reverse the meaning of the 'amputated' quote they use. This is done intentionally to mislead the reader. The context is usually totally evident within 2-3 lines before and after the selected text. Ill-intent is obvious, but it resonates with current angry sentiments, the sentiments that sees evil in anything Islamic.
Another major factor that is undeniable is the 'Israel factor'. Israeli propaganda machinery had a feast with what happened in September 11. The vast majority of the hateful anti-Arab and anti-Muslim newspapers, websites, so-called think tanks, politicians and pseudo-academics are openly in bed with the pro-Israel groups - be those Christian, Jewish and secular. The political utility of September 11 to Israel has been very well used by the Israeli hasbara in the US and to some extent in Europe. That machinery is deeply intertwined with American institutions. The American Enterprise Institute ( and its collection of ex-Muslims and so-called 'Muslim modernizers'), the Clarion fund and it series of malicious docu-propaganda movies, and even main stream media outlets like Fox, Wall Street Journal and Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, are just a few obvious examples.
So, the question would be: "Why Arabs and Muslim thinkers are not reaching to the West?"
That is a complicated question, but a major reason is that Arabs and Muslims are still "local people" for the most. They are "local" in the sense that what they do in their homelands (Middle East, Indian subcontinent, etc) is primarily targeting their local audience. They do not care much about translating their work, or reaching out to the more powerful West. So the portrayal of their intellectual products in the West and in the international media is subject to what Westerners and Western Media SELECTS to portray.
Your statement that there is "an appearance of not much debate" is worded VERY accurately. It is just "an appearance". For those who make the effort to find out what really is happening in the Arab and Muslim worlds, they end up finding the truth. The debate over there is more prevalent and intense that most of us want to believe in the West.
Arab and Muslim thinkers and debaters know that their real 'intellectual battle' is where they live , i.e., in the Islamic world, and they do not have the means, the connections, networking skill or the money to engage the Western powers of the worlds and their public to enlighten them. I can testify that the amount of Arabic books, papers, article and blogs that are being published and circulated with revolutionary thoughts on Islamic history, religious thought, interpretation of the Quran, critiques of early Islamic States and political Islam is beyond what I personally can keep up with.
NONE of that is ever going to make it to the world stage; because it is not useful for the kind of fake public debate (or lack of debate) we are having in the US for example, about political/radical Islam, terrorism, American foreign policy, Israeli Palestinian conflict or the 'inevitable' clash of civilizations.
And with organizations like MEMRI (and I assume you know, or can find out, about MEMRI and who founded it), only the 'useful selected parts' of what goes on in the Arab media will be accessible to our media pundits (or clowns as I like to call them) from the comfort of their armchairs.
The pressure is intense to keep the appearance of Arabs and Muslims in such a way to make it easy to maintain our current foreign and military Policy from being changed. un-American or simply labeled as 'self-hating Muslim-lovers'. We can recall people who lost careers and jobs for not toeing the 'Islam is scary' line.
- "The basic culture of how things are run, the Arab autocrats, prevents alternatives to fundamentalist interpretations from joining the market place of ideas.", Michael wrote.
You are absolutely correct again, and these autocrats are the one we are supporting against their own people, because they are useful collaborators in maintaining things the way we want it. They are OUR useful idiots. And then we wonder why their oppressed people (secular and religious) do not like us!
- "In Israel, when rabbis say racist things, the Israeli media goes full throttle, and the PM and President denounce the rabbis. But even this raises the concern of many (in Israel and abroad, especially among Jews) about the state of Israeli society. "
I agree with you on the media coverage part (and, by the way, that also happens in the Arab and Muslim world but we do not read it in English). Unfortunately, the bottom line does not change: the occupation, the racism, the land confiscation, the funding of Jewish extremists, the land grab, the settlements, the loyalty oath, the ever strengthening calls not to rent or deal with Arabs, the spewing of hate, the inequality in the justice system against Arabs, the minimal and sometimes no consequences for injuring or killing Palestinians, the glorification of fanatics and terrorists like Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein and Igal Amir and the likes; all that still goes on unabated. I am not going to provide examples because you and anyone that followed Israeli Media and even British media (and sites like MondoWeiss, Tikun Olams and others) know they are littered with examples.
The ever increasing political clout in Israel of the clowns of the Jewish Religious extreme, and the Russian Israeli supremacists and Nazi-like ideologue, as well as the near death of the Israeli Left and liberal movements should be worrying to Israelis and Jews with level heads, and it is. But their worries are not slowing the process, and soon the moderate democratic Jews will be crushed by their own extremists as much as those Jewish extremist are crushing the unlucky Arabs and Palestinians under their control.
And the ever increasing clout in the US and Western Europe of Messianic Christians, Zionist Christians, and Neoconservatives and Ultra right-wing politicians should be equally scary to us in the West as well. Unfortunately the majority seems not to care and many actually do not mind it at all. It seems to them patriotic and - deluded as it may be - the fulfillment of 'manifest destiny' dreams, and as a step towards establishing what they see as the rule of the exceptional empire.
Our media can say what it wants here, but the ongoing practices are not changing. This is what seems like a design flaw in democracy and free societies for which there is no solution.
To conclude this 'comment on a comment' is lengthy. But I think the issue at hand is not simple. In the past, liberal and progressive forces could develop gradually over decades in relative protection of distant places, and frequently they even got help from other world forces and super powers infrequently love for freedom and progress, or – more often than not – just to spite another superpower.
That 'freedom to evolve' is NOT the case anymore. Liberal and progressive Arabs and Muslims, religious or secular, are facing almost insurmountable odds. With only one superpower that has full monopoly over banking, media, the Internet, communication lines and that is colluding with the local dictators, religious and secular, because it is suits its domestic, foreign and economic policies. How could anyone evolve in such climate unless they totally submit to the one and only superpower? And that would treason to their own causes, and a lethal blow to their 'local' credibility.
How can a new liberal or progressive culture ever emerge in that environment?Khaled