Perverting Islam for politics

Our normal inclination in understanding and explaining events such as the war in Lebanon is to focus on immediate causes.

Seeking perspective or distance to place events in context is an acquired discipline. The effort needed to view things and events in perspective is a ceaseless struggle against one’s own inclinations driven by emotions of familial, nationalist or tribal attachments that undermine universal values.

Since 9/11—discounting the prior long history of conflicts in the Middle East—debate has raged in the West on the causes of Muslim terrorism. As terrorist atrocities have mounted, this debate has become increasingly acrimonious with respect to fixing blame or responsibility for its spread and its mounting casualties.

Focusing the immediate cause of these political firestorms might be a necessary recourse for diplomacy—to put the fires out momentarily and give some sort of negotiated truce a chance to work. It does not, however, lend itself to understanding why such firestorms keep repeating, and what needs to occur for them to end.

Anyone familiar with the Middle East’s history must know the current war triggered by Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah against Israel is part of a long scenario reaching back to the founding of the Jewish state in 1947. In fact, it goes even further back to the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, announcing the British government’s support for the establishment of a Jewish home in what was then called Palestine.

The defining aspect of this history is Arab-Muslim refusal to recognize Jewish rights in Palestine. Apologists for recent Arab-Muslim history continue to mount endless arguments over the immediate causes of firestorms like this latest one—Nasrallah’s war as a proxy of his Iranian paymasters—in a fraudulent effort to fix blame on Jews, Zionism, or some Israeli version of apartheid and the U.S. as Israel’s staunch defender.

The wars against Israel—whether mounted from the left by pan-Arab nationalists such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and his acolytes, or directed from the right by Islamists such as Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers—are motivated by a single purpose. We have heard this goal articulated repeatedly in recent times by Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the Iranian president: Eliminating the Jewish state.

Consequently, Israel has been forced into wars since its founding in 1947 for survival. When we focus only on immediate causes of current conflicts, this context is missing.

But it seems to me there is also an insidious psychology pervasive in the thinking and politics of perhaps a majority of Arabs and Muslims. Their anti-Israeli attitude is saturated with anti-Semitism—partly borrowed from Europe and partly reflecting a strain of anti-Jewish bigotry in their own history. Instead of purging themselves of this bigotry and reconciling with Jews and Israel, they have perverted Islam into an anti-Jewish faith.

In the mixing of politics and faith lies the ruin of both. The history of perverting Islam for political purposes goes back to its earliest years, and it has continued into our times when Islam has been practically emptied by Islamists of its universal values and made into an instrument of their vicious politics.

Muhammad, the prophet and founder of Islam, reputedly said: “Islam began as a stranger and will become once more a stranger.” Although I am a Muslim, for me and many others, Islam in the Middle East has for the longest while—certainly during my life time—been a stranger.

Those Arabs and Muslims who have perverted their faith and pursued politics of cultivated hatred towards people of other faiths have made their own lives and history miserable. Moreover, as victims of their own bigotry, they remain blind to their own faults.

In these circumstances, unless there is a change of heart among Arabs and Muslims as the Koran instructs, peace in the Middle East will remain elusive—and firestorms will rage every now and then.

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