Thanks for your extending our conversation in cyberspace. I welcome your questions, and expect more to follow.
I believe it is more than right for you to pose them, since I wrote you as a Muslim. In these times, Muslims do have a lot to answer for — and non-Muslims do have reason to be skeptical.
But I am a student of history, much more so than theology, and I trust you will grant me the following observation. We live not merely in the specificity of our time but in the stream of time. Were I to place myself at any point in time between the 4th century and the global European wars of the last century, it would not be inappropriate for me to ask why violence was so deeply embedded in Christians, if not Christianity itself. Would not Muslims, among other non-Christians, justifiably be cautious, if not fearful, of those who wore the cross?
And then, I check myself, seeing how silly I am to pose a question about the religion and its followers who bear the sign of the cross to someone who is a Jew or, as you indicate, a “skeptical agnostic” whose values and writings “have been deeply influenced by the American Jewish tradition.” Yet the purpose of asking the question as I did (and as someone of Jewish background, you are far more sensitive and aware of Christian violence than I could be) is not to indulge in polemics but to underscore a truism — we are creatures of history even as we make history.
Let me proceed then with the first few paragraphs of your reply to my letter.
You note you are flattered that I wrote you, but indicate you were not the right person to receive my letter since you are not “particularly religious.” But I did not write to you because you are religious, nor did I write a letter to engage in a “religious” discussion, whatever that might mean. My letter was prompted by a concern about the state of American politics, and what it meant to someone of my background who also happens to be a Muslim, since that is what my name indicates. And I took you to be someone Jewish without meaning to impute anything about your depth of faith or lack of it.
We met, as you recalled, at the banquet hosted by the American Jewish Congress in Los Angeles in September 2006. I was there in the company of Salman Rushdie, Wafa Sultan, Nonie Darwish and Tashbih Sayyed to receive the AJC Stephen S. Wise “Profiles in Courage” award. I was surprised to receive this invitation as much as I was surprised that my writings in the public media, for whatever they are worth, were read and considered to merit some recognition.
We shared a table and you told me a little about yourself. Since then I have followed your work at PJM. Your views about the drift of American politics of late prompted me to reconnect and share my similar concerns, which in turn derive from my deepest reflections over the nature of politics and society in the contemporary Muslim world. When a pre-modern culture implodes, and the new one that will eventually replace it is still waiting to be born, I can only describe the result as a convulsion of historic proportions.
I was born in Calcutta (Kolkata), India. I am younger than the generation Salman Rushdie spoke of as India’s “midnight’s children.” But my youth was bracketed by the great partition of India in 1947, which made such a mark on my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, and my direct experience of the calamitous break up of Pakistan in 1971. I was among those fortunate to escape from what can only be described as a genocide in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Though I came to Canada nearly four decades ago, I very clearly remember the evil that men do.