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Why “Islamic terrorism” is more insulting that we realize

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Body by FisherCross-cultural communication is tough. I’m told that when GM first began selling cars in Europe, the then-omnipresent “Body by Fisher” seal in the door sill was mistranslated to read “Corpse by Fisher.” I doubt it helped GM get what it was after.

Juan Cole, U of Michigan’s brilliant Middle East scholar, wrote a valuable Salon article offering cross-cultural insight into the difference between Islamic and Muslim.

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Juan Cole“Islamic” has to do with the religion founded by the prophet Mohammed. We speak of Islamic ethics … or Islamic art, as things that derive from the religion. “Muslim,” on the contrary, describes the believer. It would be perfectly all right to talk about Muslim terrorists, but calling them Islamic terrorists or Islamic fascists implies that the religion of Islam is somehow essentially connected to those extremist movements.
Giuliani complained that during their debates, Democratic rivals “never mentioned the word ‘Islamic terrorist,’
But people are not “Islamic,” they are Muslim. And one most certainly does insult Muslims by tying their religion to movements such as terrorism or fascism. Muslims perceive a double standard in this regard: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols would never be called “Christian terrorists” even though they were in close contact with the Christian Identity Movement.
Muslims point out that persons of Christian heritage invented fascism, not Muslims
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Get it? Islamic means from the religion. Muslim describes a person.

I’m not too bothered by calling Timothy McVeigh a “Christian terrorist,” given that Christian can describe either the faith or a person. But I would be troubled if McVeigh were labeled a “Biblical terrorist;” that would suggest that terrorism would derive from following Jesus. And I’d want to oppose that idea everywhere it arose.

So it may be, a bit, with Islamic and Muslim.

Now, the argument could be made that it’s a free country and people can say whatever they want. AhmadinejadThat’s true, but it isn’t the point. If we want to seriously communicate with people of languages or faiths other than our own, we have some homework to do. Or we’ll find ourselves saying things we didn’t intend. Our communication won’t work very well. We won’t get what we’re after (indeed, this is part of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s problem: he has not understood what his words mean in western culture; journalists and politicians have failed to work hard at accurately translating the intent behind his words, opting for the simpler route of calling him crazy. Corpse by Fisher).

What do we want, then, from interaction with others? Those of us who see a part of our faith as becoming peace-makers, what do we want from communication?

Can we afford the shallowness of understanding only our own views, or talking in only our own way?  Will it get us what we’re after?

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Written by Monte

February 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm

The myths about terrorism

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no terrorismHow big a threat is terrorism? What really reduces it?

Excellent insights from John Feffer at Foreign Policy in Focus, reprinted in Asia Times Online of July 13 as The core misconceptions in the “war on terror”, suggest the sound-byte slogans we’ve heard are critically flawed. I excerpt here, but encourage you to read them in context, via the link.

If only everyone knew!

Misconception: Terrorism is the major threat to US and global interests … Al-Qaeda is a relatively recent phenomenon. Its concerns were originally quite specific – to compel the United States to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia. It was on the verge of extinction after the collapse of its patron, the Taliban, in Afghanistan in 2001. If approached with the appropriate legal mechanisms – and with the discriminate force associated with law enforcement undertaken with due respect for human rights [8] – al-Qaeda will once again retreat into obscurity…. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

July 17, 2007 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Terrorism

Guess what is “terrorism’s indispensable ally?”

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I’m not attracted by most libertarian views. But foreign policy comments of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul are more hopeful than almost everything I’ve heard from candidates of either party.

Most offer: A) a lot more of the same, B) more of the same, C) less of the same, D) a lot less of the same.

I want E) none of the above.

He appeared with former CIA operative and author of Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer. Reason is, I believe, the web’s biggest libertarian voice. Here’s Scheuer:

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Scheuer didn’t endorse Paul, but he came pretty close: “There are now 10 Republican candidates in the field and there are eight Democrats. Seventeen of them are not at all worried about Osama bin Laden and what he represents. Dr. Paul, on the other hand, has hit on the only indispensable ally that bin Laden and their allies have, and that’s U.S. foreign policy.”
Paul repeated (with more detail, obviously) some of his debate lines, while Scheuer tried to knock down the “they hate us for our freedom” dogma. “Ayatollah Khomenai tried for a decade to instigate a jihad against the United States on the basis of our degeneracy and our debauchery, our movies, our women in the workplace. It didn’t work. No one blew themselves up because of R-rated movies. Al Qaeda and its like have gone to school on the abject failure of the Ayatollah. They have focused on U.S. foreign policy and they’ve found it to be a glue of unity, a glue of cohesion across the Islamic world.”

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Here’s another quote from Scheuer’s book:

“The fundamental flaw in our thinking about Bin Laden is that “Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than what we do.” Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands. It’s American foreign policy that enrages Osama and al-Qaeda, not American culture and society.

Ya think? Might it be that billions of dollars and thousands of lives could be saved—and terrorism threats actually reduced—if we would just get the hell out of other peoples’ back yards?

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Written by Monte

May 24, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Oppose terrorism? Yes, with an even hand.

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“… from this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
– President George W. Bush, September, 2001.

Rainbow Warrior—–
Under cover of darkness, three terrorists eased their rubber raft into the waters of Auckland harbor. Operation Satanic‘s front line approached their prey: the 418-ton Rainbow Warrior. Two of the three silently dove beneath the unsuspecting crew, fixing mines to the hull.

At 11:45 P.M., Rainbow Warrier burst apart. It sank in four minutes. Of the crew of 12, one drowned below-decks (where he was trying to rescue photographic equipment when the second mine exploded); most of the others leaped or were blown into the sea.

Here’s a strange tale: Operation Satanic (no kidding!) was an official action of the … Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

May 10, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Immigration, Terrorism

American Muslims and terrorism

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Michael W. Hobson, at Seedlings, asked why American Muslims fail to raise a huge outcry against jihadism. I responded something like this:

It’s a really good question, and sometimes mystifying. But I wonder if such Muslim reticence is more reasonable than it seems. Consider:American Muslims rally against terrorism

Muslims worldwide appear to be asking the West three big questions:

1. Why are so many American troops so close to Islam’s holiest places?

2. Given Israel’s appropriation of territory that modern Palestinians’ grandfathers and grandmothers once cultivated, why does the U.S. government so unqualifiedly and unilaterally arm and encourage Israel?

3. When millions of Muslims long to embrace freedom, and love the idea of free enterprise, why does the U.S. government prop up oppressive regimes that prevent the surge into modernity that they have long sought? (Jordan, Saudi Arabia – and, not that long ago, Saddam’s Iraq and the Taliban’s Afghanistan)

Terrorists answer those questions by assuming the worst about America’s motives. Meanwhile, the U.S. gov’t (USG), busy defending current policies, shrugs off such questions as insignificant. Bill Maher’s line becomes true: “The reason they hate us is that we don’t know why they hate us.”

So the Muslim in America is caught between a rock and a hard place. He or she not only despises terrorism, but finds it heretical. But he or she looks at US policy, and wants to say, “Man! What did you expect?”

Perhaps it seems that America asks American Muslims to go on record against Islamism without a serious American government commitment to facing and removing the motives for terrorism that American and British policies have thrust upon the Middle East for a hundred years. “Why bother?” American Muslims might reason. What good would it do?

Sure, they oppose terrorism – but they also oppose the poverty, tragedy, and fear rampant in the Middle East that are held in place – at least in part – by western foreign policy. And it’s pretty hard for Muslims to side with the USG on terrorism without appearing to join the USG in shrugging off the legitimate questions of their middle eastern brethren.

So, America looks at American Muslims and says, “Why don’t you shout louder against terrorism? You must not be serious!” And perhaps American Muslims look at the deliberate hegemony of neo-conservative foreign policy and say, “When will you stop throwing bait to terrorists? You must not be serious!”
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Written by Monte

September 27, 2006 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Iraq, Terrorism