A recent MEMRI report establishes beyond all doubt that the Arab media are infested with rampant Islamophobia – at least by western standards of political correctness… But, speaking seriously, the lengthy report is absolutely worth reading in full. It consists of an introductory summary followed by excerpts (with commentary) of relevant articles authored by three Palestinian writers (two of them living in Britain), three Saudis, two Moroccans, one Jordanian and one Egyptian.
Much of what these columnists write would not be considered fit to print by highbrow western media outlets. Consider this quote from an article in the London daily Al-Hayat, published on July 17, 2016 in the wake of the devastating terror attack in Nice a few days earlier. The Palestinian writer and academic Khaled Al-Hroub writes:
“Is terrorism attributed to religion related to the religion itself? The answer is yes, because the religion – any religion – is nothing but [a sum of all] explanations and interpretations of sacred texts by clerics... Religious interpretations that can easily be understood to mean that martyrdom means a cheap suicide [inside] a café or club frequented by ‘infidels’ are very common in our religious, educational, and mosque culture, and must be dealt with... What view [can] we develop regarding non-Muslims if every week we hear thousands of preachers call on Allah to ‘not leave a trace of them’? Every day, our sons [and presumably daughters, too? PMB] read texts and books in schools that establish nothing but a patronizing and disrespectful view regarding non-Muslims.”
What I find most remarkable in this passage is that Hroub doesn’t try to diminish the problem, but emphasizes that there are “every week … thousands of preachers” who promote bigotry and hatred as piety. To be sure, relevant material documented by MEMRI would seem to indicate that “thousands of preachers” may still be a somewhat conservative estimate for the entire Muslim world. Reading this MEMRI report I was reminded that about a year ago that, I discovered that even though the Al-Aqsa mosque is usually considered as Islam’s “third-holiest” place, nobody (i.e. no Muslim) seems to be offended that there are apparently fairly regular rants by “preachers” – including perhaps self-appointed ones – who spout the vilest bigotry and hatred imaginable. As I noted in a related post, there seems to be something like a Muslim version of Speakers’ Corner inside the Al-Aqsa mosque, where anyone – meaning, of course, any man – who feels like delivering a hate-filled rant against the Jews and the West can do so freely at Islam’s “third holiest” site. Men and young boys mull around, some stop to listen; but the reaction of the audience shows clearly that no one considers it unusual to come to this supposedly very sacred place of worship and hear sermons demonizing non-Muslims and exalting Islam as destined for the bloody – and divinely ordained – subjugation of the non-Muslim world. And of course, western media have no interest whatsoever in covering any of this, even though such coverage could arguably contribute greatly to a better understanding of one of the media’s favorite topics: Israel and the hostility the Jewish state faces from the Palestinians and the wider Arab and Muslim world.
But in a sense, none of this is really news: whatever a low-ranking or self-appointed preacher at the Al-Aqsa mosque’s Speakers’ Corner may say, similarly hate-filled sermons and teachings have also been given by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential Muslim clerics with an audience of many millions of Muslims worldwide. As Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out in a 2011 Atlantic article with the fitting title “Sheikh Qaradawi Seeks Total War,” an analysis of Qaradawi’s “Fatwas on Palestine” by Mark Gardner and Dave Rich shows “that this putatively moderate Islamic cleric argues clearly and consistently that hatred of Israel and Jews is Islamically sanctioned, and that the destruction of Israel is mandated by God.”
Qaradawi has described the notorious hadith quoted in the Hamas Charter (i.e. “The last day will not come unless you fight Jews. A Jew will hide himself behind stones and trees and stones and trees will say, ‘O servant of Allah – or O Muslim - there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him’”) as “one of the miracles of our Prophet,” and he has calmly explained:
“[W]e believe that the battle between us and the Jews is coming ... Such a battle is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians, or between Jews or anybody else. It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews.”
In the meantime, it has apparently dawned on some Arab-Muslim commentators that Qaradawi’s widely accepted militancy on all things to do with Jews is backfiring:
“Sheikh Al Qaradawi permitted the use of suicide bombing as a defensive tactic against Israel […] Practically speaking, though, the fatwa has had far wider consequences. It has been used by extension to justify suicide bombing against fellow Muslims. Of course, Al Qaeda and other extremists have no shortage of fatwas to vindicate their practices. But the danger of fatwas issued by otherwise moderate clerics is that they normalise suicide bombings, regardless of the circumstances.”
So even for Muslims it seems to be true that “[the] hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.”
Which brings me back to the MEMRI report that cites a Saudi (!) writer who thinks that terror groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) do have quite a bit to do with Islam:
“Today, it is more urgent than ever to renew the [Islamic] religious discourse in form, content, and goals... since Muslims have become confused, as many issues that were once considered uncontroversial principles are now banned in accordance to the norms set by the modern world, such as slavery for prisoners of war, offensive jihad, and so on.”
Among the “many issues that were once considered uncontroversial principles” is arguably also the Jew-hatred reflected in the notorious hadith that is quoted in the Hamas Charter, and that Qaradawi wants to uphold so faithfully. The problem is that this is a saying attributed to Muhammad himself, and given that Islam’s founder fought local Jewish tribes, it is perhaps all too easy to imagine that he projected his own troubles with the Jews to the end of history. This touches on what is arguably the fundamental problem of Islam: that it is a religion founded by a person whom Muslims revere as the most perfect man who ever lived – giving Muhammad in fact a Jesus-like status (minus the idea that he was God’s son) – but who was also a warlord who founded a rapidly expanding and immensely successful empire.
I expect that some of the related problems are addressed in Shadi Hamid’s new book on “Islamic Exceptionalism” – a book I’ve bought but not yet read; though on the basis of what I’ve read about it, I’m doubtful that I will agree with Hamid that “‘Islamic exceptionalism’is neither good nor bad. It just is.” I’m afraid that at least for our time, I can see plenty of evidence to support the conclusion that “Islamic exceptionalism” is pretty bad.
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