Attacking the Defenders

Stephanie Fail

This article was written in response to Stephen Seaward’s recent opinion piece published April 21st, 2008 titled “Defending the Attackers of the Defenders of the Faith”. I was unaware that there exists a specific “level of discourse one would hope to find at a university” and I beg Seaward’s pardon for not keeping his personal levels of humor and form in mind before thinking candidly on paper. I happen to be of the camp who believe a debate is more valuable when people quit censoring themselves. If people just bare their knuckles, say exactly what they mean to say and wage mental battle over the table as opposed to under there would be a lot more clarity to the issues at plate and a lot less dry-humored smugness fogging up the absorption of alternative points of view. The more radical the response, the more likely it will instigate further discussion. I have never been one to run after the moving target of political correctness and I certainly do not intend to start now.

I felt that the Healy article was yet another stale misconception of Islam and that four negative and circumstantially based situations culled from over the last twenty years that made it into American media which she presented were not enough to support an argument that the hijab is a “symbol of the acme of foolishness”. This is what motivated me into writing a response in which my intention was to highlight the open-mindedness that exists within Islam while illuminating some of the failures of our own “secular society” to meet our very own standards.

The circumstances which I highlighted that were perpetrated by the U.S.- a country founded upon the separation of church and state, and the U.N.’s interaction with Rwanda were definitely not offered because those powers were “godless” but because in fact they, in my opinion, had a god of their own- a golden calf, the endless expansion of the economy. I believe that if Western democracies are going to put themselves in the position of moral compass for the modern world they need to first make sure their own adherence to social justice is up to par. This means not perpetrating the mistreatment of those at an economic disadvantage to their own people.

From what I understand, the article did not offend Healy and I am appreciative of Seaward taking the initiative of responding to the “dare” of my controversial tone in the “Secularist Squid” article. This latest evolving example of debate has surfaced over the last few months within the Mass Media’s opinion section. This is the 7th piece being written regarding a single yet ever-broadening topic: the subject of Islam and its relationship with the “Secular West”. This so called “Clash of Civilizations” is a polarizing issue that merits the attention of not only our world leaders but ourselves as conscious citizens of an international community such as UMB.

I feel that putting the blame for the War on Terror entirely in the hands of Islam is outrageously narrow-minded and ignorant of our actions and those of our allied interests in the Middle East. Like Healy, I too value a society composed of sharp and critical minds, but I feel that organized religion isn’t necessarily opposed to that.

The very first Islamic city of Medina was in fact heterodox and there were polytheists, Jews, Christians, and Muslims equally represented and respected in its constitution. The religion of Islam inspired a brilliant civilization- the Ottoman Empire

that encouraged open-mindedness, enterprise, literacy and scientific progress. Their advances in many of the sciences pollinated many great minds of Europe’s Renaissance, including DaVinci (who even wrote from right to left, like in Arabic). During the Muslim rule of Spain, Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived and worked in peace with one another and it was there that many of the Hellenic texts that those Aristotle-worshipping professors studied from were preserved while the rest of Europe wandered in darkness. Anthropology, free trade, medicine, mathematics, bookmaking and more were blooming in 10th century Cordoba, not self-righteousness or ignorance. With a library of over 400,000 books, the largest of its time, Cordoba was anything but running from intellectual progress. For if they were so sure that their views were the only ones to be respected, why did the Muslims not destroy books written by “unbelievers”?

The hijab does not have to be seen by those who are against all organized religion as a symbol of “the acme of foolishness”. From an anthropological perspective, it’s just another manifestation of the differences in how men and women are perceived and dress. The majority of men in this country do not wear skirts, so does that mean females wearing them are automatically playing into patriarchal hands? Islamic societies are not as different from ours as a sensationalizing media would like us to believe. At their core, people want nothing more from life than the freedom to determine their own lives without suffering, an uncorrupt government, and peace. How people choose to dress should not distract us from these human ideals that connect us.

Now, with the idea of secularism in the West being aligned against Islam, one could argue against religious oppression in Islamist states. Yet one critical of these states must be sure to separate Islam itself from these states. Islam is not like Christianity, in which the Pope is seen as their king, or a televangelist as their ultimate moral compass. There are several large and influential schools within Islam of scholars who devote their study to Islamic law- the stricter schools such as the puritanical Hanbari that is enforced as the state religion in Saudi Arabia alongside Sufi esoteric schools who feel that the real Jihad is against one’s ego. My point is that within Islam, there is broad diversity between opinions. For most Muslims, there is no authority between themselves and their interpretation of the Koran. Thus, the actions of a particular ruler who follows Islam should not be seen as representative of the entire religion. In the words of the Islamic tradition itself: “The ink of a scholar is mightier than the blood of a martyr”. By considering the opinions of Osama Bin Laden as representative of the state of mind of Islam is just like saying the child molestation swept under the robes of the Catholic Church is representative of Catholics. Saying that the vicious treatment of dissent in Iran is representative of the ideal Islamic state is just like saying that because the U.S. and it’s Christian Evangelists support Israel, all Americans support the steamrolling of the Middle East to make way for Christ and Zion.

The U.S. was founded on the ideal of the separation of Church and State for this very reason- so that the spiritual beliefs of one group do not hijack the interests of government for their own benefit. Whether the spiritual belief is “Mo Money” or “Make a parking space for the Anti-Christ and the Messiah”, neither of these interests should take priority of the peace and prosperity of our nation’s people.