Ipso scientia protestas est et timendi causa est nescire.
(Knowledge itself is power and Ignorance is the cause of fear. )
How true this statement is today in the post 911 era.
In the western world, we view ourselves as liberated, free, educated, and above all, civilised.
We celebrate the the fact that we have a state free of religion and the power of free speech. We congratulate ourselves on being the saviours of the less fortunate and protectors of the weak and prosecuted.
How true is this self-praising perception of ourselves and our society?
Are we truly armed with the understanding and the knowledge to evaluate our perceptions and actions in an objective fashion?
Or are we trapped by the propaganda perpetrated by the powers of our government?
Are we being educated by the influx of information from the media or is the ignorance simply spread further by the sensationalist ratings-grabbing nature of the business?
The current “war on terror” era shows the west in a new light, one that we do not wish to find ourselves in. We are a society that is run by confusion, ignorance and, above all, fear.
As a species, we like to simplify our world. In the west, where we pride our technological civilisation and the quantity and speed of information we deal with, we like to simplify concepts into basic units so as to deal with them with greater ease.
In the christian dominated west, we have defined a highly meaningless and binary definition for Muslims. They are either “moderate” or “fundamentalist”.
In a single swoop, we have removed all the history, culture, identities, struggles and complexities of an entire sub-set of the world’s population and placed them into one of two single dimensional boxes.
But what do these words mean? They are literary symbols portrayed upon what in reality is a diversely expressed, international religious community, but have now become a narrow political identity.
Symbols by themselves have no inherent meaning, and are by their very nature, a canvas for a subjective projection of cultural or personal translation.
In the 19th Century American definition of the fundamentalist (originally denoted to the Christian movements of the mid west), the word is meant to describe a movement to return to what is considered the defining or founding principles of the religion.
It especially came to refer to any religious enclave that intentionally resists identification with the larger religious group in which it originally arose, on the basis that fundamental principles upon which the larger religious group is supposedly founded have become corrupt or displaced by alternative principles hostile to its identity. This is evident in the many offshoots of Christianity, especially within the evangelical and baptist movements.
Yet, in the context utilised upon the Islamic faith, it has become synonymous with words that surround it like radical, militant, extremist and jihadist.
It has come to stand for evil. It is has come to stand for enemies of the western free world.
So, now, upon contemplation of any Muslim, they are immediately reduced into a single dimensional fiction of either a tolerable or intolerable Muslim. They are either with us or against us. We cannot accept, nor comprehend, that a Muslim may be complex with mixed thoughts, beliefs and ideas … that is to say, we cannot comprehend that they, like us, are human.
The media, against the original dictation of their craft, no longer report items with objectivity, representing both sides of the story. With all the talk of free speech and independent minds of the freedom of the west, they no longer perceive that they are victims of their own fear and ignorance, and by association, have become puppets in the propaganda machine of the war on terror.
While we report and study our own society and traditions with pedantic precision, we do not afford this same attention to detail to any outside our own, and especially not to the Muslim communities … even those who are our neighbours.
Thus, we find that the entire sub-set of civilisation, the Muslim world, reduced to the personification of a handful of cliches, framing any discourse on Islam with terms of terrorism, misogyny and totalitarianism. We do not reflect upon the spiritual, material or human aspirations or struggles of these people, for to do so may show them as human as you or I.
This is reflected by the fact that the Muslims only come into our attention when an article is deemed to be newsworthy, that is to say, when a bomb is detonated in a location that has an economic, political or cultural interest to ourselves (and not anywhere else). Else, the articles are written to show-off the evil nature of these people in “human interest” stories, highlighting the gross violation of human rights or the tale of harrowing misogyny.
In this light, we are invited to consider that such oppressive, criminal and antisocial behaviour and practices are an inherent function of Muslim existence. Thus, when any Muslim does something evil, it is because that is what Muslims are.
Consider the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. This has become a story inextricably linked to the Islamic faith. Yet, it is a practice that only a tiny minority of Muslims practice.
Female circumcision is today mainly practiced in Sub-Saharan African countries. It is common in a band that stretches from Senegal in West Africa to Somalia on the East coast, as well as from Egypt in the north to Tanzania in the south. It is also practiced by some groups in the Arabian peninsula, especially among a minority (20%) in Yemen.
Would it surprise you to know, now, that the majority of these countries are actually Christian? The practice is cultural, not religious, yet we demand that every woman who stands to talk about Islam must denounce the practice. Why do we not demand the same from every Christian women?
Similarly, the term suicide bomber has become synonymous with Islamic Fundamentalism.
Let us ignore the fact that the most prolific suicide bombers were the Tamil Tigers and the Kurdistan Workers Party of Europe. Let us ignore the fact of that Palestinian Christian Priests have praised it.
Honour killings are also another of these phenomena. We do not perceive these as an aspect of the low socioeconomic class, where feudalism and poor education are strife, but rather vilify it as a religious endeavour.
Hindu and Sikh families of India practice this atrocious act far more commonly than any other, but so too do Christian families of the middle east, and even Italian and Greek migrant communities did so.
Why do we not vilify those communities?
Why do we not condemn all of those acts?
In a world where we are raised to see everything in the light of black and white, where the complexities of the world around us is too complex for us to handle, it is easier to place a unanimous box around an entire section than to make an effort to understand the amalgamation of history, culture and religion that has defined a people.
It seems to me that the Bush led administration is propelled by the Christian Right, a group just as Fundamentalist as the term projected onto their Muslim counterparts. A view which is supported by the fact that Bush himself said after the 911 attacks “This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.”
This is what it feels like, that the entire war on terror is actually the tenth crusade. There seems to be a terrifying alliance of Judaeo-Christian fanatics, conjoined in their dreams of the recovery of the Holy Lands of the West Bank, Judaea and Samaria supporting the administration and perpetrating this continued effort.
Before I hear arguments of Christian goodness, let us not forget that the influence of these people has affected our society as well, but instead of collapsing the right-wing-fundamentalist Christians into a single mental construct like we have with Islam, we conclude instead that these are extremist groups, outside of our norm, because the reality is that we are too familiar with our own culture to essentialise it in the same way.
Consider the Pro-Life movement, which advocates stronger regulation or prohibition of abortion, in the belief that abortion constitutes murder – yet the more extreme of these groups have killed the doctors that have performed abortions. Is this not the same extremist fundamentalism we shroud with those of the Muslim faith?
Opposition to gay rights by groups such as the Focus on the Family, Family First and Traditional Values Coalition because they believe that homosexual behavior is a violation of Christian doctrine. They demand that this behaviour should be criminalized and that the basic rights that the rest of us enjoy should be removed. Police reports also show, that especially in the religious mid-west US, numerous “gay bashings” have been attributed to this fanatical viewpoint. TV Evangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell even attributed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to God’s wrath against “abortionists, pagans, feminists, gays and lesbians”.
The reality is that we in the west are just as fundamentalist, just as extremist, just as violent, and above all, just as evil.
It is easier to not perceive our world as a human creation. One that is controlled by a complex human behavioral matrix in which complex cultural, sociological and psychological factors, dictate our actions and those of our neighbours.
Perhaps one day we will realise, that just like us, these people are only too human, and that by making an effort to remove the veil of ignorance, by prying open the eyes of objectivity, that we can perceive the world in a new light, and thus find solutions to live in harmony.