Eltahawy and Manji
The July 7 London bombings did it for me. Perhaps it was because my parents moved us from Cairo to the British capital when I was 7 years old, and so London was my childhood “home.” Or maybe it was because our route to work and school every morning crisscrossed those same Underground stations that were targeted.
I know the feeling. As, of course, do countless other people – literally millions of them. They live there, they once lived there, they visited there, they have friends and relatives there. Many, many millions of people know the feeling.
I’m sure it was also those dog-eared statements that our clerics and religious leaders read out telling us that Islam means peace — it actually means submission — and asking us to please forget everything they had ever said before July 6, because as of July 7 they truly believe violence is bad. Their backpedaling is so furious you can smell the skid marks.
Yes, I’ve been noticing that ‘Islam means peace’ bromide lately, and wondering at it. I certainly was under the impression that it meant submission. I thought maybe it meant both, or that the two words are the same thing in Arabic – so it’s good to see that correction. (Of course, it may be that in the minds of clerics, sumbission in fact is peace. Reminds one of that old bitter remark of Tacitus’: they make a wilderness and call it peace. Submission is peace, in a sense, as is being dead. Give up, give in, empty yourself, empty your mind, become an obedient blank – and that’s peace. In a way. But if that’s peace, give me turmoil.)
I was against the invasion of Iraq and would not have voted for George Bush if I were a U.S. citizen, but I’m done with the “George Bush made me do it” excuse. We must accept responsibility for this mess if we are ever to find a way out. And for those non-Muslims who accept the George Bush excuse, I have a question: Do you think Muslims are incapable of accepting responsibility? It is at least in some way bigoted to think that Muslims can only react violently.
It’s also in some way bigoted – or condescending – to apply special standards to Muslims. If the bombers were anti-abortionists or Nazis, would the same people be talking the same nonsense about rage and alienation in the same tone? Give me a break.
I believe thursday’s bombings in London, combined with the first wave of explosions two weeks ago, are changing something for the better. Never before have I heard Muslims so sincerely denounce terrorism committed in our name as I did on my visit to Britain a few days ago. We’re finally waking up. Except on one front: the possible role of religion itself in these crimes…To blow yourself up, you need conviction. Secular society doesn’t compete well on this score…Which is why I don’t understand how moderate Muslim leaders can reject, flat-out, the notion that religion may also play a part in these bombings. What makes them so sure that Islam is an innocent bystander?
And not only moderate Muslim leaders. For some understandable reasons, plenty of non-Muslims also don’t want to admit that religion may play a part in the bombings.
What makes them sound so sure is literalism. That’s the trouble with Islam today. We Muslims, including moderates living here in the West, are routinely raised to believe that the Koran is the final and therefore perfect manifesto of God’s will, untouched and immutable. This is a supremacy complex. It’s dangerous because it inhibits moderates from asking hard questions about what happens when faith becomes dogma. To avoid the discomfort, we sanitize. And so it was, one week after the first wave of bombings. A high-profile gathering of 22 clerics and scholars at the London Cultural Center produced a statement, later echoed by a meeting of 500 Muslim leaders. It contained this line: “The Koran clearly declares that killing an innocent person [is] tantamount to killing all mankind.” I wish. In fact, the full verse reads, “Whoever kills a human being, except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be regarded as having killed all humankind.” Militant Muslims easily deploy the clause beginning with “except” to justify their rampages.
Interesting clause for clerics and scholars to leave out, isn’t it. Interesting game to play. Produce a statement saying ‘the Bible/the Torah clearly states [something with a key phrase that profoundly alters the meaning omitted].’ Not good. Not honest.
How about joining with the moderates of Judaism and Christianity in confessing some “sins of Scripture,” as Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has said of the Bible? Anything less leaves me with another question: Why is it that in diverse societies, those who oppose diversity of thought often feel more comfortable getting vocal than those who embrace it?
Interesting paradox, isn’t it.