VOICES FROM THE SQUARE--Is it right to talk about friendship in a time of hatred? More specifically, is it right to consider Muslim affection for the West when, from London to Boston to Paris and now perhaps San Bernardino, Muslims appear to be saying we hate you?

In trying to make sense of these attacks, security analysts have looked at the social profiles of the terrorists in London, Madrid, Paris, and Boston. But there is no clear pattern to be discerned. There is no pattern of poverty, no pattern of being oppressed, no pattern of poor education, no pattern of training in terror camps.

But it’s clear to me, as a historian, that what the murderers have in common is a narrative. It is a story they share in which the West has always oppressed Muslims, in which the West is inherently and uniformly against Muslims, in which the West is the very opposite of Islam. I’ve traveled to the Muslim world every year for the last 25 years. In my travels and conversations with Muslims, I have heard that narrative a thousand times.

Fortunately, not every Muslim who recounts the legend that “the West is against us” or “the West is the opposite of us” regards violence as the answer. Many opt to simply ignore and exclude Western culture from their lives, even if they have to live in Las Vegas. But there are others who see the answer in a call to arms. Like most acts of political violence—from Nazism in the 1930s to Serbian nationalism in the 1990s—Islamist violence claims justification through stories of oppression. The violent paint themselves as the truly oppressed: They are not so much fighting as fighting back.

But it wasn’t always that way. In my research on the earliest Muslim encounters with the West, I discovered a journal written in Persian by a young student who, with five fellow Iranians, came to London in the early 1800s. The diary reveals that Muslims certainly have lived peaceably in the West in the past—they admired the London of Jane Austen, and moreover, were admired there in return. It wasn’t necessarily an easy moment to arrive in England—evangelical Christianity was on the rise at that time. But even as they faced challenges, their story offers a counter-narrative to the founding myth of Muslim (and non-Muslim) neo-cons that Islam and the West are irreconcilable. Finding Mirza Salih’s diary felt like unearthing a lost testament to coexistence.

Salih came to England with the others to learn the advanced sciences—engineering, medicine, and chemistry—that the country was known worldwide for developing. He wanted to bring the knowledge back to his home country. At the time, Iran was trying to defend itself from the Russians, who had invaded. Reaching London in the fall of 1815, Salih and his fellow students first struggled to make sense of the culture they saw around them. Women went unveiled and mixed freely with men; moreover, they received education and wrote books that men both read and admired.

But through their own curiosity and the good will of their hosts, the young Muslims came to understand, and then admire, this strange land where people did things differently. They overcame their alarm at this strangeness through a commitment to understanding. Rather than regarding the Christians as their enemies, the students saw them as people from whom they might learn, morally and politically, as well as scientifically. It was much harder to be a Muslim in England in 1815 than today: Compared to the hundreds of mosques in 2015, back then there was not a single mosque in the whole country. But the students still found a way to get along by focusing on what they had in common with the people they met. 

One of the most moving scenes in the diary occurred when the students made a kind of feminist pilgrimage to pay respect to the novelist and social reformer Hannah More (photo), the high-minded rival of Jane Austen. As the author of numerous books—some of them huge bestsellers—she appeared to them the epitome of the England that Salih called the vilayat-i azadi, or “land of freedom.” The students praised her learning and library; she gave them signed copies of her books, which they promised to print when they returned home.

On another occasion, they passionately discussed the parallels between Christianity and Islam with the Unitarian minister Lant Carpenter, whom they begged to found a Sunday School for the poor children of his parish. Far from being from narrow-minded promoters of their own faith alone, they saw the value of a Christian education and of Christian values more generally. England’s charity schools were one of the things that most impressed Salih. Through many such encounters, the young Muslims built a different narrative from the Crusades and colonial wars that are only a part of the encounter of Islam and the West.

The fact is that futures are built out of the past. Political and religious violence is based on stories about the past, stories that prompt “fighting back” as the proper response. The same process is true for political and religious compromise. And yet, for Muslims and the West, there are few narratives from which to build such a peaceable future.

This year we’ve been bombarded by stories about people who have been killed in the name of Islam. Even I have personal stories to share about the violence I have seen firsthand all across the Muslim world, from Morocco to Yemen and Afghanistan. But there are enough books about that. There also need to be books about the friendships that are the other half of the historical record. Salih and his friends are important because their story can reassure Westerners that Muslims are not inherently opposed to their way of life; and no less importantly, it can show Muslims how their learned forebears admired and respected Western norms. As a historian, all I can hope to do is show how such coexistence was, and still is, possible.

(Nile Green is professor of history at UCLA and founding director of the UCLA Program on Central Asia. He is the author of The Love of Strangers: What Six Muslim Students Learned in Jane Austen’s London and has written numerous books on the history of Islam. This piece originated at Zocalo Public Square … connecting people and ideas.)

-cw

 



CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

BATTLE FOR THE NET--Just when you thought the issue of net neutrality had been resolved, it has found a way to resurface -- only this time, without the public consideration that went with the original outcry. Rulings by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) protecting access to the Internet without censorship by cable television companies were enacted after more than a year of public hearings and input. 

But cable television companies, led by Comcast, have now managed to put special wording and financial disincentives into a required budgeting bill granting the implementation and protection of the FCC’s authority. The fact that these companies could get consideration attached to such unrelated legislation should be a worry to the public. These special legislative additions have been put forward by elected officials who are paid substantial “campaign contributions” and have fundamentally become employees of the cable television industry. 

The underhanded behavior that cable television companies are willing to use shows that they want to be immune from existing government regulations – measures that have been put into place to protect the general public. The vulgarity lies in the willingness to put the safety and well-being of the entire United States budgeting process at risk for special interests. 

As one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the United States, the cable television industry has shown its willingness to utilize the Congress of the United States in attempting to subvert the authority of a governmental regulatory agencies that are supposed to protect the public from the power of special interests. 

The ability of the cable television net neutrality issue to affect the entire budget of the United States of America is clearly a violation of any good faith effort to allow for public knowledge and input. The fact that these companies can compromise the integrity of the U.S Congress is not something to be taken lightly. The entire future of net neutrality, which was thoroughly discussed for years by the general public and the FCC, is now at risk. 

Simply look and see who is supporting this addition to the U.S. budget and compare that to how much money they have received from Comcast and other cable television companies. It’s no surprise to see a direct correlation between the receipt of such funds and the promotion of potential doomsday legislation that could serve to shut down the entire United States government. 

This information has not been made available nor has it been widely reported by the general media, which cable television controls. During the time that net neutrality was before the FCC there was substantial media coverage. But now, special interest benefits and broad detailed legislation has been hidden within unrelated legislation -- an attempt to block the general public from knowing about changes to an issue they thought was resolved. It is only through net neutrality that I was able to become aware of this attempt to subvert the government by holding it hostage during the budget negotiations. 

A vote is set for December 11 on legislation hidden in the budgeting process that does not relate to the budget. Yet the public is kept in the dark. You should let federal elected officials know your concerns about this secret attempt to kill net neutrality

Net neutrality is necessary in order for all of us to understand how legislation is passed for the benefit of wealthy financial special interest groups that dominate access to media. It ensures an independent analysis. The continuing control of all major media outlets by six corporations is a travesty, subverting freedoms that are guaranteed under the Constitution. 

How many other sweet perks has Congress inserted in the budget for the benefit of their friends and political contributors? This can only be determined by an independent evaluation of how the Congress behaves; it’s clear that existing mass media outlets are no longer truly independent of government. 

These giant corporations rely on the government for their very existence and financial future benefits, especially in matters such as net neutrality – and, in turn, those who serve in government are too often controlled by those who are supposed be regulated.

(Clinton Galloway is the author of the fascinating book “Anatomy of a Hustle: Cable Comes to South Central LA.” This is another installment in an ongoing CityWatch series on power, influence and corruption in government … Corruption Watch. Galloway is a CityWatch contributor and can be reached here.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

SPORTS POLITICS--On Monday, former University of Southern California head football coach Steve Sarkisian sued his one-time employer on the grounds that his mid-season firing in October constituted a breach of contract and discrimination. 

Breach of contract is simple enough to understand. But discrimination? That's because, according to Sarkisian, he was fired as a result of his alcoholism. As the Associated Press reports:

Sarkisian claims he should have been allowed to seek treatment for his alcoholism disability while keeping his job. The lawsuit describes Sarkisian’s descent into alcohol dependency in steady detail, citing the extraordinary stress of the USC job combined with his wife’s decision to file for divorce earlier this year.

As Daniel McGraw reported for Pacific Standard last week, alcoholism actually falls under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and therefore isn't in itself ground for termination. As McGraw wrote:

That means a company cannot deal out punishments and work rules that single out alcoholics for worse discipline than their non-alcoholic co-workers for the same action, even if the transgression involves alcohol. That's not to say the ADA permits alcohol use as an excuse for poor job performance—employers can certainly fire anyone who shows up to work drunk. Rather, employers can't deny employment because of alcoholism, or set up job standards for alcoholics that are not equal to the other non-alcoholic employees.

This is a point of contention in the lawsuit: USC alleges that Sarkisian showed up drunk to a booster event and a pre-season game, and Sarkisian denies having done so. (He says he was only drinking out of work.) Technically, "California law required USC to make the reasonable accommodation of giving Steve Sarkisian time off to get help for his disability and then return to the job," the suit says. In other words, the school couldn’t just fire him for being an alcoholic; it had to give Sarkisian a chance at rehabilitation.  

Now, USC maintains Sarkisian was fired not for his drinking, but for his dishonesty. Again, from the Associated Press:

"[T]he record will show that Mr. Sarkisian repeatedly denied to university officials that he had a problem with alcohol, never asked for time off to get help, and resisted university efforts to provide him with help. The university made clear in writing that further incidents would result in termination, as it did. We are profoundly disappointed in how Mr. Sarkisian has mischaracterized the facts and we intend to defend these claims vigorously."

And lying, as McGraw points out in his piece, opens up a whole new can of worms:

That's because in an employment discrimination case, it is sometimes easier for the employer to claim that it was the employee's dishonesty—and nothing else—that led to him being reprimanded. As an example: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes discrimination against persons with criminal records in the U.S. illegal. But employers can still legally fire you, if you lied about, say, your criminal background by not properly listing convictions on a job application.

We'll see how this lawsuit goes, but, either way, we hope Sarkisian has been getting the proper treatment.

(Max Ufberg is an associate editor at Pacific Standard …  Previously, he covered technology and culture for Wired.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

GELFAND’S WORLD--The big earthquake may not come for a hundred years, or it could happen in 2017. The immediate physical effects of a major rupture along the San Andreas Fault are predictable and probably inevitable -- immediate loss of water, electricity, gas, and sewer lines -- but how we respond does not have to be predictably ineffective. There is an optimistic scenario, if only we can consider the realities and prepare for them. The necessary preparation is going to require the participation of thousands of civilian volunteers. It is this latter, civilian element that is somewhat revolutionary. 

In order to get from our current state of blissful ignorance to that of an informed, trained force of volunteers that can function in a disciplined way during an emergency, it is going to take a new organization that will have the trust and cooperation of city agencies. To put it another way, the civilian volunteer force that can be created will need to be able to work with the fire department and the police in the case of emergency, and these departments will need to do their best to oversee the efforts of the volunteers. 

There is a need for one central organization that will be that point of connection between the city agencies and civilians. That  job will be the function (and obligation) of the newly created Emergency Preparedness Alliance. Right now, it's a gleam in the eye of a few dozen longtime participants of the LA neighborhood councils and their like-minded colleagues. It is destined to grow rapidly into a sizable citywide force if we can get our message across. It will add to and supplement some already-existing groups such as those with CERT training and the amateur radio groups aligned with the fire department. 

This column is the second in a series intended to inform you about this plan and how you can participate. 

The background: As many of you know, the city of Los Angeles recently brought in earthquake expert Lucy Jones to consider our vulnerabilities and to advise us as to how we might take precautions. Over the past year, she has been making the rounds of civic groups and neighborhood council alliances, explaining what a major earthquake ("the big one") would do. The earth movement of such a quake would be likely to result in the loss of our running water, electricity, and gas for a substantial length of time. 

How widespread the shutoffs will be, and how long it will take to repair things remains unknown, but a decent sense of preparedness requires that we think about outages that are essentially citywide, and that we contemplate weeks-long intervals prior to recovery of services. We have as examples the Northridge Earthquake of 1994 and Hurricane Katrina, just to mention two. The Northridge quake resulted in loss of natural gas for an extended period. Most electricity was functional within a few days, but there was a part of the city still without electricity after nearly a week. Some people relocated to relatives' houses or lived in mobile homes for weeks and months. 

The Northridge quake involved about 9000 injured people. In a more widespread disaster such as a major San Andreas Fault rupture, southern California might suffer more like 50,000 injured and more than a thousand dead.  

This sounds pretty dismal, but our service professionals -- the fire department, the LAPD, and the city agencies -- have been doing their best to be prepared. They will react properly if and when they have to. They will be coordinated from a single emergency response center that is designed to ride out a major quake and will continue to function, even in the absence of externally supplied water and electricity. 

But there are only so many police and firemen, not to mention trucks and ambulances. For the most of us, it will be the scenario I've characterized as You're On Your Own, aka YOYO, at least for a crucial 3 or 4 days. You won't have a lot of help from the uniformed agencies, because they will be tied up dealing with areas of dense population and mass casualties. 

For most suburbanites, you'll have to ride out the immediate aftermath on your own. 

But this does not have to mean that it's only your immediate family and you. With a little preparedness, your immediate family and your close neighbors will be able to combine resources, help each other, and deal with small issues. The most likely way that this will happen is that you and your neighbors are taught in advance to work together. You can organize as areas of perhaps 4 blocks. 

What's more important, these local organizations will be a part of a network of like organizations, each tied into a regional and citywide response network. Think of it as your block being able to communicate directly with the three surrounding blocks, and those 4 blocks tied into a network that includes the entire city. 

Why is this kind of structure so important? 

Imagine that somebody has a serious but survivable injury such as a broken leg. In addition, imagine that power lines are down in the street, making vehicular travel impossible, and that your regular telephone lines and cell phone towers are out of operation. What can you do to help that injured neighbor? 

Here's what. Your four block grouping will have a designated radio person who will be able to communicate to the authorities that your area has a particular type and severity of injury. The message will be passed up through the proper channels, and this will allow the fire department or other agency to send help as it becomes available. 

It will be important that the medical authorities hear about serious injuries all over the city as soon as possible, so they can make the best use of their resources. This is a way to save the lives of people who would otherwise perish for lack of transportation and care. 

How are we doing so far in forming this alliance? 

As I mentioned in a previous column, we held the first meeting at the city's emergency response center. The keynote address was given by a recognized expert on the El Nino phenomenon. The bottom line is that we can expect lots of rain this year, probably on the order of 30 inches, and this will stress our immediate responders as streets, intersections, and storm drains are flooded. We can expect that the rapid water rescue teams will be needed. We can also expect that mudslides will occur in some of the burnt out areas. 

The coming rainy season will be an exercise for the emergency response structure that the city already has in place, and it will be a chance for our volunteers to do a little on-the-job learning. Luckily, it won't be anything like what we might expect from a major earthquake. For one thing, the heavy rains and their aftermath are the sort of thing that the uniformed services are equipped to handle. 

In this sense, the coming El Nino year is a chance for the new volunteer group to see how the larger system operates without being required to be out in the field tending to casualties. 

There were about 75 participants at the first meeting of the new Alliance. We agreed to meet again on the morning of December 19. Anyone who is particularly interested in attending should contact the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment for more information. 

By the way, we have been putting together a citywide group of about 4000 volunteer participants over the past dozen years. They are the board members and stakeholders in the city's neighborhood council system. We should expect many of them to become part of this effort.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)  

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

BIKING … THE VIEW FROM HERE--Good news for anyone who believes in the future of cities and humanity; bad news for the Neanderthals on the LA City Council who grunt nostalgically for the bad old days of traffic jams, road rage, sprawl, and blood on the streets. (And anyone who believes that road rage is a new phenomenon need only watch the 1950s Disney cartoon, Motor Mania,” written at the height of the Car God Cult’s worldwide jihad.) 

Yes, somehow Congress managed to vote on and actually pass a transportation bill, known as the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” acronymed down to, of course, the FAST Act. But it’s not so obsessed with speed as those among LA’s city council members who would kill any number of constituents as long as putting the pedal to the metal is still possible between pile-ups. 

As Next City reports, the act includes language “allowing local governments to use alternative road and street design manuals” (such as the NACTO guide) “in designing federally assisted construction and repair projects.” This amounts to official permission to build Complete Streets with Federal cash. 

The FAST Act also contains support for transit, Amtrak, and transit-oriented development. Though the bill has flaws, spelled out in the latter half of the Next City article, overall it represents a genuine step towards healthier, wealthier cities. 

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post reports on How Cyclists Are Causing Cities Worldwide To Rethink Bike Safety.  In an interview with Fredrik Gertten , director of the film “Bikes vs. Cars”, HuffPost examines what Gertten learned during his explorations of urban cycling in Los Angeles, São Paulo, and Copenhagen, as well as other cities. 

As Gertten observes, “It’s not about left or right. It’s not even about having money or not having money. People make the choice: I don’t want to sit in the car. It’s boring, I lose my time, I get fat, I feel unhappy, I feel trapped. On a bike I feel free, I’m more flexible.

“About eight bikes equal a car in space. It’s amazing to see here now in San Francisco, with a traffic light, with 10, 15 bikes waiting for a green light. If that had been 15 cars, that would be a very long line.”

[…]

“If you can make that little equation in your brain, you will start to love bicycles, even if you will never go on a bike. Even if you will be in a car for the rest of your life.” 

Let us hope we won’t be, and that soon we’ll live in an LA that makes more room for human culture than for motorized isolation chambers in our public spaces.

 

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are centered on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.)  Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015 

TENETS OF TERRORISM-News anchors scratch their heads. How could they have done this? How could a happily married young couple, with a good income, a six-month-old baby, and no apparent history of “radicalization,” execute this military-style massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino? Gosh, how to understand these people? 

Actually, I think it’s not so difficult to grasp. One just has to examine the question seriously and not begin with the assumption that such massacres are incomprehensible—the products of minds so alien to our own that comprehending itself isn’t possible.

It seems to me that the basic components of ISIL-type ideology are quite obvious and can be distilled as follows. 

1.There is a God, a Creator of the Cosmos, who has communicated His will to humankind through written texts transcribed by inspired men that set down His law.

This is a concept common to monotheistic religions, including Judaism and Christianity as well as  Islam. It does not automatically lead to terrorism, of course, even when it’s unthinkingly embraced by  people incapable of rational doubt or nuanced thinking. (Such people are well represented among this  country’s Christians, and in the documented world history of Judaism and Christianity we find many  instances of wholesale slaughter of communities by believers supposedly directed by the Almighty Himself.) 

But if God-belief doesn’t automatically lead to terrorism, it’s obviously one premise of Islamist jihadi terrorism. So this is the starting point of any analysis of that phenomenon. 

2. Islam, based upon the Holy Qur’an, transmitted to humankind through the Prophet Muhammad and embraced by the global Ummah (Muslim community), is at war with the West. 

The many conflicts, pitting western parties against Muslim ones, constitute this worldwide war. The western-backed Israelis occupy Arab land and abuse and butcher Palestinians. (In the Gaza War of 2014 the Israelis killed over 2000 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them civilians.) Western countries with the U.S. at their head support brutal dictatorships in the Muslim world, including monarchies and republics, all of which oppress the Muslim citizenry. The U.S. and allies routinely invade Muslim countries, killing hundreds of thousands and defiling these lands with their infidel presence. Meanwhile western popular culture invades Muslim nations, corrupting the youth with its immorality. 

This is not (as the jihadis see it) a conflict recently hatched. It harks back to the Crusades, and the bloody Christian occupation of Jerusalem in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; the struggle for Spain, culminating in the expulsion of Muslims in 1492; the European colonization of North Africa beginning in the early nineteenth century, and brutal suppression of Muslim resistance; the division of former Ottoman lands in the Arab Middle East by the French and English colonialists after World War I, and the brutal suppression of resistance, especially in Iraq; and the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. Is it not obvious—the anti-west jihadi thinks—that we are at war, and have been for hundreds of years? 

3. It is incumbent on all Muslims to defend the Ummah when it is under attack. 

The Qur’an says: “Fight in God’s cause against those who fight you… Kill them whenever you encounter them…” (2:190-91). If you understand that the Muslim world is in fact at war, you must as a pious believer take your stand. 

4. Terrorism is justified, indeed required, by God (Allah)

(A reminder: “Allah” is merely the Arab word for God, related to the Hebrew “Elohim.”) The passage cited above also cautions the Muslim:  “…but do not overstep the limits. God does not love those who overstep the limits.” And the Qur’an recognizes Jews and Christians as fellow believers in God, and specifies that there should be “no compulsion in religion” (2:256 ). But it also (like most scriptures) contains contradictions and passages that appear to justify all kinds of violent response to “those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land” (5:33). 

This verse specifies that these forces at war against Allah “should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned…” Verse 8:57 calls upon the Muslim warrior to “deal with [the enemy] so as to strike fear in those who are behind them, that happily they remember.” 

Because the enemy in this case has overwhelming military power, the jihadis must wage asymmetric warfare, using the “weapons of the weak.” Bin Laden and other radical Islamists find in the Qur’an moral justification for attacks on civilians to strike such fear. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri argued in a book published in 1995, entitled “The Rule for Suicide-Martyr Operations,” that the killing of non-combatants in the defense of Islam is not immoral. Osama bin Laden told al-Jazeera in October 2001 that, while it was true that “the Prophet [in hadith] forbade the killing of women and children…this forbidding of killing children and innocents is not set in stone…if the disbelievers were to kill our children and women, then we should not feel ashamed to do the same to them, mainly to deter them from trying to kill our children and women again.” 

This validation of random killing is a major break from traditional modern Muslim teaching, and the essence of what the U.S. media and law enforcement have taken to calling “radicalization.” 

Much like their counterparts in other religious traditions, Muslim clerics overwhelmingly reject any justification for attacks on civilians. U.S. Muslims in particular resist the rationalization of such attacks. (A 2011 Gallop poll showed that while in the U.S. 58% of Christians, 52% of Jews, and 43% of non-religious thought it “sometimes justified” for “the military to target and kill civilians” only 21% of Muslims agreed.) But this is the doctrinal point of departure for what is usually called “Islamic terrorism.” 

(One must note in passing that this comfort level with mass slaughter of innocents found in some Muslim texts is hardly unique to Islam. It is similarly revealed in Old Testament passages that long predate the inception of Islam, and indeed helped shape Muslim thinking. For example, the prophet Samuel, speaking on behalf of God (Yahweh) in the Bible advocates the genocide of a fellow Semitic people, the Amalekites. He tells King Saul to “attack the Amalekites…Do not spare them; put to death women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” [1 Samuel 15:3].

Such words resonate in the brains of Jewish terrorists like Baruch Goldstein, an a U.S.-born Israeli physician who killed 29 Muslims including seven children, and wounded 125 in Hebron in 1994; and also in the brains of Christian terrorists like self-described “100% Christian” Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 innocents including 55 teenagers in Norway in 2011 to protest multiculturalism and tolerance of Islam.) 

5. Just as there is unquestionably a Creator God, who communicates to us through the Holy Qur’an and the hadith (sayings of Mohammad), so there is surely a life of the soul after death, and the rebirth of martyrs in Paradise. 

So there is both broad license for the believer to break with conventional morality—liberated from its norms, to do the unthinkable, shocking the world through the massive bloody infliction of indiscriminate suffering—and mental assurance that (following the act of spectacular terror) the holy warrior-terrorists if killed in the mission will be reborn in “Gardens of Bliss.” There they will “sit on couches of well-woven cloth,” offered viands and drinks by “everlasting youths who will go round among them” while “beautiful [female] companions like hidden pearls” attend them too (56:12-24). 

6. By sowing terror among the enemies of Allah, killing their children, shocking the enemy by such measures as mentioned in Qur’an 5:33, the jihadis hasten the day of a general showdown between Islam and the west and the re-establishment of the Caliphate of the seventh century. 

(ISIL draws upon a particular tradition of apocalyptic prophecy and preaches that jihadi acts of violence from the battlefields of Iraq to Yemen to Libya and beyond as well as lone-wolf terrorist actions in western nations all contribute to the realization of this glorious end.) Thus the sacrifice of one’s life has profound, enduring meaning for all generations to come. One plays one’s heroic role in that which was foretold, shooting down innocents knowing they are not really innocent in God’s eyes and that one’s own actions enjoy divine approval. 

ISIL propaganda refers to the “grey zone,” meaning the global Muslim population standing between the enemy (the “crusader nations”) and the Islamic State jihadis—Muslims who must ultimate join the cause of the caliphate or stand with those who increasingly monitor, mistrust and vilify them. 

Millions of Muslims inhabit this zone, potentially joining it, like the San Berrnardino couple. 

* * *

This ideology is ultimately a product of—often rational—indignation at the state of the world, paired with the destructive potential of religious delusion. There’s no question but that it’s a hideous worldview and should sicken any clear-minded person. But in its validation of random slaughter, it not only draws upon a rich tradition in monotheistic religion but the history of modern imperialism. 

Didn’t U.S. General Curtis LeMay boast in 1945 that the U.S. would “bomb Japan back to the Stone Age” for the grave sin of attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941—bombed after the U.S. had shut off Japan’s oil supply and frozen its bank assets—and killing 2400 troops? 

Didn’t this Ohio Methodist boast that the U.S. would “scorch and boil and bake to death…every man, woman and child” in Tokyo, a city that ought to be “burned down—wiped right off the map—to shorten the war”? And didn’t U.S. firebombing on the night of March 9, 1945 alone indeed incinerate 100,000 Japanese men, women and children? And didn’t this atrocity via “conventional” war lead to the indiscriminate annihilation of the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki five months later? 

Didn’t U.S. forces in the Philippines (1899-1901), Korea (1950-53), and Vietnam (1964-75) kill millions of women and children? Weren’t the troops accompanied throughout by Christian (and a few Jewish) chaplains who assured them that they had God on their side as they did so? 

It’s no more difficult to understand the mindset of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik than to understand the mentality of Gen. LeMay. The self-righteous, butt-headed expectation that God is on your side. The antinomian assumption that the normal laws and human feelings don’t apply to you because your mission is special and elite. The confidence that you will never suffer for the suffering you inflict. 

The sad fact is that the suicide bomber, or the “suicide by cop” figure, tends to die quickly without suffering. His or her brain dies, sensation ends. The “martyr” does not wake up on the “couch of well-woven cloth” in a blissful garden surrounded by the bounty of Paradise—or in some Inferno somewhere subject to eternal torture—but disappears unpunished, ultimately prey to worms. Death brings no punishment but silence. 

No one can say to the departed fanatic: “See, now that you’re dead and nowhere, that your religion-based worldview was a stupid dead-end?” He’s dead. She’s dead. It’s done. 

But you can say, to the daily jabbering brain-dead cable-news anchor: This crazy religion-based worldview that puzzles you is not really something so foreign and obscure. It’s something easily comprehensible to Americans on the basis of their own history (which includes the annihilation of native peoples, and the institution of slavery justified by citations of the Bible). It’s understandable in their own current context of ongoing bigotry, resentment and fear. 

You don’t need, feigning perplexity, to ask how people can be so vicious. You have a huge backload of unexplored if not meticulously avoided news stories that help explain the jihadis’ rage. 

Last Friday Staff Sgt. Dwight L. Smith, Jr. (28), an Army veteran of the Afghan and Iraq wars, was convicted of raping and murdering a 65-year-old woman in Delaware as she walked her dog on December 19, 2011. On leave from Fort Drum, New York, he just wanted to kill somebody that day.

After the killing, Smith wrote to his father, “I’m going to be honest with you dad. I have killed a lot of men and women and children. Some that didn’t even do anything for me to kill them. Also some that begged for mercy. I have a problem. I could kill someone, go to sleep and forget that it ever happened. 

“I think I got addicted to killing people,” he explained. “It got normal for me to be that way. I never wanted to be this way. I just took my job way too serious.” It appears he was never brought to trial for any of these self-admitted killings during his deployments. One must wonder how many people he “radicalized” by killing their loved ones. 

How could Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik have cold-bloodedly murdered 14 innocent people at a holiday party Dec. 2? In all probability, it’s because they believed the points listed above, and came to agree with bin Laden that “if the disbelievers were to kill our children and women, then we should not feel ashamed to do the same to them.” 

Shouldn’t we note the obvious—that Islamist “radicalization” has soared since the destruction of Iraq in 2003, and has been fed by the disastrous western interventions in Libya and Syria, executed by Sgt. Smiths who take their jobs too seriously and get addicted to killing people? And by drone strikes on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen? 

The anti-Assad, pro-U.S. “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” reported that on May1 of this year U.S. airstrikes killed 52 civilians near Aleppo in Syria. Is this likely to weaken ISIL, the ostensible target, or validate the Islamist charge that the west is at war with Islam and induce more to join the jihad? 

Isn’t it obvious that the news anchor really needs to ask, not why some Muslim can “become radicalized” and kill innocent civilians in western cities—as though this were some sort of inscrutable moral riddle—but why U.S. leaders can sleep soundly as their death machines rain down “shock and awe” on Muslim peoples in wars based on lies guaranteed to spawn simmering time bombs like Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik?

 

(Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan.  He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu.  This piece was first posted on CounterPunch.org.)   Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

 

 

 

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