Sunday, March 26, 2006

If the mountain will not come to Mohammed,

Mohammed will go tell it on the mountain

Earlier this afternoon one of my roommates and I watched a show on the History Channel about the history of Islam. They dedicated at least a half hour to telling us what jihad means (hint: it doesn't mean killing infidels) and discussing the correctness of Osama Bin Laden's interpretations of Koranic verse (hint: he's wrong).

That's all well and good, but whenever I see something like this on TV or read it in the papers, I must admit there's a part of me that gets a little irked. Why? Well, let me explain.

A bunch of guys somewhere over in the middle east agree that Islam means submission and the Koran teaches that it's imperative to kill or conquer people who think differently than they do. Then they start acting on this idea and blowing people and things (and themselves) to kingdom come. As a reaction to this, other guys get on the TV and the radio, and in the newspaper, saying that Islam means peace and the Koran teaches us tolerance and not killing. Fine. Good. All right.

But why is it that they are always saying this to the victims? We're not the ones that need to hear this. Tell it to the folks back in the middle east who disagree with this non-violent interpretation. Convince them. They're the ones who need to be persuaded that Islam means peace and jihad means an inner struggle against the desire to sin. Not me. I'm not the one blowing people up.

Some people of a different political persuasion would disagree with me on this point. American soldiers are over in the middle east killing people, including some very innocent people. Americans do need to be convinced that Islam means peace, they would argue, because if they are not, they will keep fighting wars with Muslims.

Well, I would of course take issue with the implicit moral equivalency between terrorists and soldiers. But there is nothing new in this comparison, and nothing to be gained from my taking issue, so let us move on.

Let us presume, for the sake of argument, that the reason the United States has fought two wars with Muslim states in recent years is that Americans believe Islam is violent and threatening, and that convincing them of Islam's pacific nature would prevent further wars. Let us then ask why Americans believe this. Is it because their leaders teach them this? Well, George W. Bush makes a point of saying "Islam means peace" whenever the subject comes up.

So why do Americans believe that Muslims are commanded to conquer and subdue the infidels? Because some (indeterminate but non-trivial) number of Muslims believe this, and some (smaller but still significant) number act on this belief. Actions speak louder than words. If Americans think of Islam as a threat, it is because some Muslims act threatening.

As long as there are people shouting "Allahu akbar!" as they detonate themselves on public transportation, some Americans will persist in believing that Islam is not a religion of peace. No number of talking heads saying otherwise will be sufficient. On the other hand, in a world where terrorists do not claim that they are fulfilling Allah's will by killing infidels, I think it would take very little effort to persuade Americans that Muslims are peaceful, which would mean we wouldn't be doing all this regime-changing.

So, again, we come to the same conclusion. The guys on TV who are telling me about the true meaning of Islam and the correct interpretation of the Koran are preaching to the wrong guy.

Go tell it to Osama.


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