I am flattered you chose me as the recipient of your eloquent A Letter from a Fearfully Concerned Muslim to an American-Jewish Friend. In many ways I don’t feel worthy, not the least of which is that I am not particularly religious. Though not anti-religious like Christopher Hitchens, I have been close to a village atheist for decades, beginning when I went to see Inherit the Wind on the night of my Bar Mitzvah.
At this point, call me a skeptical agnostic who has reached an age where he desperately wishes he could have faith and believe in an afterlife (or, failing that, the resurrection of the dead referred to by some Orthodox Jews). So far, alas, it has not happened.
Nonetheless, I acknowledge that my values and writings have been immensely influenced by the American Jewish tradition. Also, I completely agree with the concerns you express in your letter. We are living at a critical moment when the death of Western civilization appears imminent.
So I will do my best to comment and expand upon your thoughts. I hope you don’t mind, but in the process I intend to ask some uncomfortable questions I have always wanted to address to a moderate Muslim. I have hitherto been too polite to do this directly, but here we are.
First, regarding Georgi Arbatov, I concur the old Central Committee member was correct and put the finger on recent history’s greatest unintended consequence: The fall of the Soviet Union allowed the “useful idiots” of the West free rein for their reactionary narcissistic impulses. It is sad but true: responsible freedom in the West appears to have depended on having a communist enemy.
And I don’t think it’s surprising a Russian should have seen us more clearly than we do ourselves. The narcissism that infects our culture, and that has grown substantially since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has blinded us. It has particularly blinded our media who helped ensure the election of Barack Obama — a phenomenon you describe so well in your letter and an election based largely on self-congratulation and misdirection. A (Democratic) party that relies on racism for its power — with endless African-American and Hispanic-American caucuses oppressing the very people they purport to represent by exaggerating and exacerbating their exclusion — accuses the other party of being the racists. What a world.
Further, those same media bien-pensants, not to mention self-described liberal and progressive politicians, and even our own military, refuse to identify our enemy to the extent that they are loathe to use even the meaningless term War on Terror, let alone the obvious War on Radical Islam or War on Islamism. How can you win a war, or save a civilization, when you don’t acknowledge what or whom you are fighting?
Which leads me to the uncomfortable part of my letter.
Salim, I read through the many comments, pro and con, to your initial letter. The many positive comments justifiably lauded you for your courage, but a number of the negative ones attacked you for essentially “passing the buck” and blaming the weak West for the evils of Islam. I think they were being unfair or they misread you. You didn’t intend that at all. The topic of your letter was the West, not Islam.
But the question remains — what about Islam? I know there are moderate Muslims, many of them wonderful people that I have met, like you and Dr. Zuhdi Jasser. I assume there are hundreds of thousands more. The man on the street in Muslim countries has been perfectly civil, sometimes even delightful, to me when I have met him in my travels.
But is there a moderate Islam? I have to confess that I have my doubts. Islam feels very different to me from other religions I have encountered — from Christianity (which, at least doctrinally, “renders unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”), Hinduism, Buddhism, Bahai, etc. None of them attacked me as a Jew or sought to put me in a position of dhimmitude. (I know this was wildly different in even the recent past, but I have been privileged in my lifetime.)
Islam appears to me less as a religion than as a system of world domination, dividing, as it does, the Dar al-Harb and the Dar al-Islam. And unlike that other, now relatively defunct, system of world domination, communism, it offers its adherents an afterlife. That makes Islam potentially more alluring and less destructible, ultimately more dangerous. Marx’s promised “withering away of the state” isn’t much compared to an eternity of virgins.
Islam also seems to me a system designed and built for the suppression of women. As I recall, Salim, we sat together at a banquet in Los Angeles a few years ago when Salman Rushdie was the keynote speaker. The author gave an extensive rundown of the history of Mohammed’s attack on the mother cults, which seemed to lead, almost inexorably, to the reprehensible misogynistic dictums of Sharia law we all know today.
What do we do with all this? Can Islam really be reformed? Unlike the Bible, a series of tales told by various parties, the Koran is supposedly the verbatim dictation of Allah to Mohammed and not subject to revision, self-contradictory though it may be.
Granted that the West is weak and corrupt, but how do you, how do we, fight this? I quite understand the reactions of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Wafa Sultan who simply washed their hands of the whole thing and became atheists. But few human beings have their courage, especially when, as recently reported by Pew, some 85% of Egyptians still believe an apostate from Islam must be killed. And this is Egypt, land of the most recent great reform.
Well, enough. I’ve already thrown too much in your lap for one letter. Some friend I am.
I promise you, though, I do mean well. I want to believe in moderate Islam. But from where I sit, I see it all going the other way, from Turkey to Yemen and back. If it only were just the West’s fault…
All the best,