Sunday, October 25, 2009

Clash of civilizations?

The American right has been demonizing Islam for years. But there is an element of truth in their rants. The latest came from the New York Times' newish conservative columnist Ross Douthat. Here's my response:

Normally as a centrist Democrat and a devout--so to speak--empiricist, I oppose nearly everything Douthat says.

But I've traveled a fair amount in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia, and I've witnessed the truth of what he says here.

Muslims say "Islam" means submission, and that that means "submission to Allah." And in my wife's and my travels the many Muslims we've encountered personally have lived up to that modest ideal.

But this religion's theological establishment is another matter. Every Mosque in Indonesia--even when it's in majority-Christian or majority-Hindu regions--blares out its calls to prayer and other exhortations hourly from early in the morning to late at night, and does so using PA systems Metallica could use for stadium concerts. The Hindus and Christians subjected to this racket grind their teeth, and they've told us so in no uncertain terms.

An additional irony is that not one Indonesian out of a thousand can understand what's being hollered out through those giant loudspeakers. It's not only in Arabic, a language virtually unrelated to Bahasa Indonesia, but it's an archaic Arabic few Arabs understand either. The interpretation is left up to the local imams, many trained and financed by the rigid fundamentalist Wahhabi sect of Islam, paid for with our petrodollars funneled through Saudi Arabia.

And it's having effect. More and more Indonesian Muslims are being moved rightward, with women taking the veil, so to speak, and even small children being forced to wear stifling, swaddling garments in the hot, humid tropical climate of Indonesia.

We just got back from Bali, and one thing that struck us was a new mosque built on a hillock overlooking a revered Hindu temple set by a lake in Bali's mountains. The symbolism was obvious and inescapable--the mosque was next to the temple grounds and it hung over the Hindu temple complex. The large botanical gardens nearby, where Balinese in love like to go and, if they're daring, even hold hands, is dominated by the calls to prayer blaring out from the adjacent mosque. And Bali is at least 90% Hindu--though Javanase Muslims are pouring across the channel, buying land, building Mosques, and Islamifying more and more of the island. Bali's Hindu majority is complaining to the authorities in Jakarta urgently--to no avail so far.
And this is just a microcosm of the way Islamic officialdom imposes its "new world order" everywhere it can.

Sure, Christians have church bells, and I've heard plenty. But they aren't a fraction of the acoustic dominance the mosques establish wherever they can get away with it.

America hasn't had much problems with Islam within our country because we've gotten the most educated Muslim immigrants, and they're a majority almost nowhere here in communities, except possibly for Detroit--where I hear the Mosque PA systems are doing their very loud thing now.

Islam has plenty of moderates--probably a large majority of their religious community. But they don't control the mosques, by and large, and many don't dare speak up, since Islamists control the moderates through threats, intimidation, and, across the Arab world...murder. Not to mention places like the Netherlands and Denmark and England and Spain, which have all witnessed these things as well. The Islamists stridently insist--very much like Christian fundamentalists--that only they are true Muslims, and you have to knuckle under to their 7th century worldview if you want to be a good Muslim.

And the intimidation has worked, and not just in the mideast and Indonesia. When the Danish cartoons came out, only one large American newspaper dared publish them (the Philadelphia Inquirer). Every other one, including the New York Times, chickened out. And the cartoons were incredibly mild by Western standards.

I don't want to see us pitting ourselves against Islam per se--but we have to stop submitting to it in ways large and small. Visit Bali--a wonderful place to visit, by the way--and you'll see what I mean.

We have to somehow start supporting Muslim moderates. Of course if and when we do the Islamists will call anyone who agrees with us Western stooges. So it will be a very, very tough propaganda war. And of course Bush did so much during his reign to make this job as difficult as possible.

It will take the most astute statesmanship to change the minds of Muslims, a majority of whom, even the moderates, believe the West is out to get them.

But we can't just sit there, silenced by our own liberal convictions (and even American right wingers are liberals by Islamist stndards). They're playing for keeps, and it's time we acknowledge that.

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