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Department of History University of Vermont firstname.lastname@example.org My two pennies regarding Duane Ellison's remarks... Ellison says: >>When I listen to Taliban spokesmen, when I listed to translations of the tapes offered by >>Osma bin Ladan, I don't hear this issue raised. What I do hear is >>something else - a conflict of values; hence a conflict of cultures; a conflict >>between those who have adjusted to the dynamics of modern life replete >with >>the institutional changes (for better or worse) and those who cling to >the >>values and institutions of the past. >> >>... >> >>To bring up the issue of reason, and ask whether it is being ignored or >>distorted under present circumstances is to to misread the mind set of >>those on the other side of the table. For reason to prevail there must be >>reasonable people on both sides of the table. Those who allow reason to >>guide their actions are more willing to compromise than those who are >>guided by their values, their beliefs or their religion. >> >>Sorry, if those on the other side of the table believe they are acting in >>accordance with the dictates of God, there isn't much room for reason or >>compromise. Since September 11, we have been talking about Islam, Muslims and the way their minds work. And since September 11 many of us are telling to their students or whoever willing to listen that Islam is a peaceful religion, that the God of Islam is compassionate and merciful, and that Muslims are generally non-violent, law-abiding individuals. To tell you the truth, these words trouble me because they cater the same kind of rationality that blames Islam and its God for what happened on September 11. They are as simplistic and generalizing as those statements which claim that Islam is essentially a violent religion and that Muslims are disruptive. I believe that Islam is neither inherently peaceful nor violent. Anybody who makes either of these claims is either ignorant about the history of Islam or is being dishonest. The main sources of Islam, that is, the Qur'an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad are not straightforward texts, to say the least. They are open to different and contradictory interpretations and that is why it would be wrong to attribute a specific character to Islam, or to define it in one or two sentences, without paying any attention to the political and historical contexts in which it has existed. Take the example of Islamic "fundamentalism" (a misnomer, but I will use it for the sake of the argument)… Many people that we find commenting on the media networks do not seem to be aware that before the nineteenth century there was no such thing as Islamic fundamentalism in the way we define it today. The phenomena that we call Islamic fundamentalism is a recent development and it finds its roots in the Western colonialism of the Muslim world, and in the modernization process that the Muslim societies have been experiencing since then. We have to remember that organizations like Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt emerged not during the time of Prophet Muhammad, but in the 20th century, and became popular among those elements who were disenfranchised, first by the Western colonial administration and then by their own oppressive governments. The supporters of the Muslim brotherhood were and still are among the poorest and most desolate members of the Egyptian society. And, we can say the same thing for many other Islamic radicals in the Middle East. Anybody, who knows even a little bit about the conditions in which the Palestinians live in West Bank and Gaza today, would understand the fact that it is hopelessness, more than religious indoctrination, which leads a 15 or 16 year old kid to explode himself along with tens of others. My point is, militancy and terror that originate in the Middle East is not a product of "fundamentalist" or xenophobic interpretations of Islam, but, rather, find a voice in these interpretations. This violence is not inherently Islamic in origin, but springs from the injustices committed in the Middle East during the twentieth century. In this sense it is a modern phenomenon: Malise Ruthven empahsizes in a web article that "the Islam of Muhammad Atta seems to be far from promoting received theological certainties, or reflecting the principles of what scholars of religion call 'cumulative tradition.' It is a brand new discourse that draws on selected elements of this tradition but also incorporated, without acknowledgement, many "western" ideas - from the revolutionary puritanism of Robespierre to the "propaganda by the deed" advocated by the Baader-Meinhof gang" ("Cultural Scizophrenia" in http://www.opendemocracy.com). That is why the atrocities of September 11 should be viewed essentially as political acts of violence, regardless of the Islamic language of their perpetrators. This understanding of the incidents of September 11 does not necessarily justify them. These attacks were horrible, despicable acts of violence against civilians, and that is why they should be condemned. But trying to understand the political factors behind these attacks can keep us away from an "us versus them" kind of rationale, or from explaining these incidents with reference to an orientalist "clash of civilizations" paradigm.