I think — and I speak as a British person — when I saw the towers fall on September 11, one of the many, many thoughts that went through my head was, “We helped to do this.” The way we split up these states, created these nation-states that ISIS is pulling asunder, showed absolutely no regard for the people concerned. Nationalism was completely alien to the region; they had no understanding of it. The borders were cobbled together with astonishing insouciance and self-interest on the part of the British.
Plus, a major cause of unrest and alienation has always been humiliation. Islam was, before the colonial period, the great world power, rather like the United States today. It was reduced overnight to a dependent bloc and treated by the colonialists with frank disdain. That humiliation has rankled, and it would rankle, I think, here in the States. Supposing in a few decades you are demoted by China, it may not be so pretty here.
Every fundamentalist movement that I’ve studied, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation.
A friend posted the above article on Facebook a few days ago. When the violence in Paris hit the headlines, having just read this interview definitely coloured my reaction to the events.
I agree with Armstrong. At this point I am frustrated with secular-minded moral superiority that ignores its own vast privilege and reduces everything to a conflict between “evil religion” and rational good sense.
The other typical liberal response, to distance religion from the issue by dismissing these perpetrators of violence as mindless criminals (and not “true” Muslims), is understandably defensive but, as such, it seems stuck on the same red herring question of whether Islam is a problem.
Religion is in some ways just a vehicle for articulating and expressing what matters most to people. Arguably, strident atheism does the same thing. Some ‘vehicles’ do seem to have a more aggressive character than others – bland statements about all religions favouring peace don’t really wash with me. (This is not to say, of course, that acts of violence such as those in France this week are condoned by Islam; just that I think ‘twisting’ a religion to find support for things like that is probably easier with some religions than others.) But to focus on critiquing a religion is to distract everyone from the wider picture of the injustices and power imbalances Muslims around the world are upset about. I’m afraid the moral indefensibility of murdering 17 people does not let us off the hook from looking at our part in those issues.
To quote a brilliant article by Ghassan Hage, in relation to the crowds marching the streets of Paris today:
So oblivious [are they] of the reality in which the Muslim other exists today that they even make a point of valiantly declaring that, unlike the Muslim people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine who are being murdered at varieties of speeds with varieties of techniques by the thousands, they, the ones attacked by three armed militants are heroically looking the murderers in the eyes and telling it to them straight: they are ‘not afraid’.