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Brian Kennedy’s Paranoia

by Amb. (ret.) William A. Rugh

Brian T. Kennedy of the Claremont Institute gave a speech on January 7 that was published in Hillsdale College’s Imprimis under the title “It’s Never Just the Economy Stupid”. His speech was reviewed recently in this journal. See: His comments on Muslims were quite misleading, so they deserve a response.

First, Kennedy quotes verses from the Koran that he finds objectionable such as the injunction to fight unbelievers. He fails to mention that the Bible has similar passages, and that does not mean we should condemn all Christians. Timothy McVeigh perpetrated deadly act of terrorism on American soil before 9/11, but nobody condemned all Christians as a result. In fact there are plenty of fanatic and bigoted Christians who use invective against non-Christians without really understanding “the other.” A few months ago, when Pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn the Koran, the press gave him a lot of coverage that amplified his views. But then reporters interviewed him and found he had never even read the Koran and never met a Muslim but had simply made up his mind they were evil.

Second, Kennedy cites polls of Muslim Americans to show that many of them consider themselves Muslims first. He forgets that many American Christians consider themselves Christians first. Notwithstanding their piety, the overwhelming majority of American Muslims are completely loyal to the United States, serve in the army and pay their taxes just like the rest of us.

Third, Kennedy quotes a 2007 poll of that found 8% of American Muslims believe suicide bombing can sometimes be justified in defense of Islam. Kennedy fails to explore the issue further. He should have noted that the Koran explicitly condemns suicide as a sin. He could have explored the actual motivations for suicide terrorism, which University of Professor Robert Pape and his team at the University of Chicago have analyzed carefully. Pape’s books “Dying to Win” and “Cutting the Fuse” are based on detailed studies of all Muslim and non-Muslim suicide bombers. They found that in virtually all cases, suicide bombing was motivated not by Islam or any religion but by political opposition to foreign occupation. Probably most of the 8% of American Muslims Kennedy cites have simply empathized with co-religionists in countries where they were living under occupation.

Actual suicide bombers who are Muslim are usually not in fact very well versed in Islamic scripture. Motivated by political reasons, they are encouraged to commit terrorist acts by fanatics who mislead them by feeding them selected verses from the Koran to indoctrinate them; deliberately omitting the fact that the Koran says suicide is a sin.

The United States has occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, and we like to think we helped the people in those countries by doing so, but many Afghanis and Iraqis who have attacked us there have done so because they resent our presence, not because Muslims hate non-Muslims.

Fourth, Kennedy ignores the fact that the actual number of Muslims who are irredeemably and violently anti-American is tiny. There are many people in the world who do not like American foreign policies for various reasons, but who nevertheless like most everything else about America, including its political freedoms, rule of law, strong educational system, advanced science and technology, and our culture. They like Americans as people. They just don’t like specific policies, such as for example our strong support for Israel, our invasion of Iraq, what we did in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and so forth. These critics of our policies are found in all countries and they have every different religious affiliation imaginable. These critics are not motivated by religion although some of them happen to be Muslim. When we look at the world we should not conflate political differences of opinion with religious differences.

President George W. Bush stoked the fires of islamophobia in the way he reacted to 9/11. He probably did so inadvertently; because he said a few times he was not against Islam but only fighting terrorism. But the way he conducted that “war” was to focus on Muslims – launching a war against two Muslim states, Iraq and Afghanistan, and threatening a third, Iran – so that Muslims around the world and in America believed he was anti-Islam. His security measures after 9/11 focused on Muslims, profiling people from Muslim countries who wanted to visit the US. Many of my Muslim friends were so convinced that the Bush administration was hostile to them that they stopped coming to the US to visit, even though they had studied here.

There is a widespread misunderstanding in the US that most or all conflicts in the Middle East are religiously motivated, and that Muslims are violent and fanatic. That is simply untrue. The Arab-Israeli conflict for example is basically a conflict of two national groups over land, and the Arabs strongly resent and oppose the Israeli occupation of what had for centuries been Arab territory. There are millions of Arab Christians, and they oppose Israeli occupation of Palestine as much as the Muslims do, so Islam does not motivate them.

As a Foreign Service Officer I had nine different assignments in Muslim countries over a 25-year period and in my experience Muslims are by no means naturally violent or anti-American. Look at the recent dramatic developments in the Arab world that have led to public uprisings and even the downfall of dictatorial rulers. Islam is almost completely absent as an issue in the protests in all of these Muslim countries. The protestors there are motivated to protest the lack of freedom of speech and assembly, the lack of government transparency, the brutal government treatment of dissent, and so forth. Moreover, the protestors, most of whom are Muslim, have been behaving in a relatively peaceful and usually very dignified manner, even sometimes in the face of provocations by their governments. If Muslims were by nature violent, wouldn’t we have seen violent protests instead of peaceful ones everywhere?

Simple ignorance is behind much of the Islamophobia, but politics plays a role too. A recent Time poll found that 24% of Americans think that Barack Obama is a Muslim, which he is not. Probably some who don’t like his policies are willing to believe he is a Muslim because that now has negative connotations.

Since 9/11 many Muslim-Americans have been victims of personal discrimination. Many of them have worked with law enforcement authorities to help identify and deal with the very few Muslim fanatics who might be a threat. They are acting as loyal Americans and they know that a few bad characters can spoil the reputation of the rest of the group. They wonder why Americans don’t understand that generalized criticism of Muslims is incorrect and grossly unfair.

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