Let's talk

DAVID WARREN

Cultural differences are real, even within Islam, even across the Atlantic Ocean, and even on either side of the longest North American border. They are even discussed differently. But one way or another, they need to be discussed.

Among the hundreds of journalistic tags and clich's I would like to see discouraged, is the term "moderate Muslim." Not banned and penalized, mind; only flagged and discouraged by our omniscient editors. It is, like most of the others on my private list, a term that does not bear thinking about.

Note, for starters, the implication it carries: of what an "extreme Muslim" might be. The expression, in its usual context, precludes the possibility that a person might take Islam so seriously that he becomes a saint. The assumption is rather that the Muslim "extremist" is necessarily a terrorist, whether in fact or in waiting. Surely I am not the only person to notice that this is unflattering to Islam.

Readers may have to take on faith that there have been many Muslim saints and mystics, a proportion of whom resemble Christian ones. Which is not to say they outnumber the "Jihadis"; numbers are meaningless in questions like this. But the curious might consult, for instance, a translated classic such as the Tadhkirat al-Auliya (Memorial of the Saints) by the 13th-century Persian Sufi, Farid al-Din Attar (he of the Conference of the Birds), available at least in the abridged translation of the great Orientalist, A.J. Arberry.

Or consult the scholar Martin Ling's study of the early 20th-century Sufi saint, Ahmad al-Alawi, from the Maghreb. Or consider this one aphorism alone: "The furthest of all men from their Lord are those who go most beyond measure in affirming His Incomparability." The fact he is stressing the immanence of God, in complement to the transcendence, casts a most welcome light on Islamic teaching.

There are many kinds of Muslims, as many kinds of Christians, but the expression "moderate" allows only one kind. I have met, personally, many kinds of Muslims. And as my Spitfire-pilot father taught me, "I have met many kinds of Germans, they are not all Nazis."

Yet, before gentle reader leaps to the conclusion I am going liberal on him, let me insist that fear of Muslims in "Muslim garb" in airports and airplanes – the sort of thing the black liberal Juan Williams mentioned on the Fox network, that got him canned from his job at National Public Radio – is perfectly reasonable.

Indeed Tarek Fatah, of the Canadian Muslim Congress, was among the first to defend Williams, and mention that he, too, is scared by people like that. He is quoted on the website Daily Caller: "A number of suicide bombers ... have attacked [while] wearing the burka. This is the truth, we should be speaking the truth rather than what people expect us to say."

A very hard truth is that while there are many ways to be a Muslim, the dominant proselytizing force in the West today, fuelled by oil money, is that of the Arabian Wahabi sect. It offers an ideological, puritanical, violent and intimidating version of Islam; and when it insists that Muslims "dress their part," and make themselves as visible as possible, it is not advancing a mystical cause.

We have to be able to say that.

Again, I wish journalists would think, and do their homework.

As Juan Williams went on to say, on Bill O'Reilly's TV show, we also have to discuss how to assure the basic rights of Muslims as citizens in Western countries.

For several days this week, on the BBC website, a story at or near the top of the international "most viewed" list quoted the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, declaring, "Multiculturalism has utterly failed."

Again, I wish journalists would think, and do their homework. For the truth is, Merkel said exactly the same things, in about the same words, when she was leader of the opposition a few years ago; and so did Gerhard Schroeder, the Social Democrat chancellor at the time. So the excitement here is not what politicians say, but when the media listen.

In fact, Germany tightened immigration laws a few years ago, under Schroeder. The same thing has happened, fairly quietly, right across Europe. In the Netherlands and Scandinavia, it has been happening more noisily, but herein we find a great secret of European politics: that their elites tend to do things by consensus, discreetly, in the spirit of "loose lips sink ships."

Here in North America, and especially on the other side of our border, we are, by tradition, more open about things, and sometimes our elites take instruction from the people more directly. The paradox is that the sort of things the Tea Party has been demanding, Stateside – checks on immigration, and much else – are more likely to be delivered in Europe.

Cultural differences are real, even within Islam, even across the Atlantic Ocean, and even on either side of the longest North American border. They are even discussed differently. But one way or another, they need to be discussed.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

David Warren. "Let's talk." Ottawa Citizen (October 23, 2010).

This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.

THE AUTHOR

David Warren, once editor of the Idler Magazine, is widely travelled – especially in the Middle and Far East. He has been writing for the Ottawa Citizen since 1996. His commentaries on international affairs appear Wednesdays & Saturdays; on Sundays he writes a general essay on the editorial page. Read more from David Warren at David Warren Online.

Copyright © 2010 Ottawa Citizen




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