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Stop Freaking Out About Islam. Stop it.

February 22, 2011

It makes you look bad. It makes us all look bad. Cut that out.

I say this not directly referring to Turkey-watching today, but the general consternation that gets thrown out towards Islam. The new hotness is the case of Said Musa, an Afghan man who converted to Christianity and is now having a difficult time in prison on his way towards a death sentence. It is a tragedy, all blasphemy laws are. It is, however, no reason to say this:

Ever since 2003, when the thrust of the War On Terror stopped being the defeat of America’s enemies and decisively shifted to nation-building, we have insisted — against history, law, language, and logic — that Islamic culture is perfectly compatible with and hospitable to Western-style democracy. It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.

It reminds me of these guys I knew in my university days. Every conversation you’d have, every party they invited themselves to, they would turn the talk to being about them.

  • “Hey, I’m taking this cool class on religious historiography and…”
  • “Yeah, I mean, I did Birthright, that was really rad.”

This is literally the same thing as…

  • “Hey, human rights are a serious issue in Afghanistan…”
  • “Yeah, I mean, do you see how they treat their Christians?”

This is also very prevalent in Turkey, of course. And it obscures truer narratives of what’s going on.

There have been 3 notable murders of Christians that can be called politically/religiously motivated in Turkey in the past few years. The three missionaries in Malatya are the most notable. A year before, in 2006, Andrea Santoro, a Catholic priest, was murdered by a teenager. This past summer, Bishop Luigi Padovese was killed by his driver. All tragedies, for certain. All completely unrelated (unless, of course, it is all part of the elaborate Kafes plot. Of course).

Is there a pattern of violence in Turkey? Certainly. Just Sunday the Hurriyenglish wrote about the rising murder rate of women in Turkey. Especially in the more rural parts of the country, a lack of education, a lack of upward mobility, and various other factors. The trick is to lower incidences of murder, not the incidences of murder of people who pray to the same God as you.

While I understand the need to hook viewers into a story, it can go awry if not done correctly. To go back to Afghanistan (back when a law legalizing rape was considered in Afghanistan’s National Assembly), Joshua Foust wrote something that struck a chord with me:

…this petty outrage seems born of layers of misunderstanding of what contemporary Afghanistan actually is—the law, for example, is directed primarily at Shiites (think of the 15 year old Hazara girl who was raped and had her baby forcibly aborted by her mother and brother), and is not materially different than the normal experience of rural women anyway. The crime here is not that a law is being passed to normalize a routine practice; it is that this was a routine practice and we chose not to care about it in the first place.

If you care about human rights in Afghanistan, it’s more then protesting a law and your mascot. Care about Said Musa? Care about the Hazara, too. Care about Christians in Turkey? Care about Alevis, too. There is plenty of consternation to go around Turkey, from the government to the military to the educational system.

And that’s just the start. Once the narrative is established that “1 bad dude who’s Muslim = Muslims are bad dudes” then we’ve reached the Event Horizon of conflationary statistics. Freedom of Press issues? Sharia! It’s lazy, and it allows one to slack off of the real issues (judiciary reform, gun control, or whatnot) in favor of a catchall scapegoat.

Do people do bad stuff in the name of Allah. Of course. No religion has the monopoly on assholes. But if you argue that Islam is evil and incompatible with the West (and especially if you mix up the Shahadah and the phrase Allahu Akbar, Mr. McCarthy) then you find yourself boxed into a corner right quickly. Islam, especially Sunni Islam, is not hierarchical, and is open to interpretation. Thus you get the following from Imam Daayiee Abdullah of the United States as he defends gay marriage in Islam:

Since Islamic legal precedence does not allow same sexes to wed, Muslim societies make it a legal impossibility within Islam [but] by not allowing same-sex couples to wed, there is a direct attack on the Koran’s message that each person has a mate who is their ‘comfort and their cloak’.

Why, it’s almost like Muslims living in different countries take their cues from their home culture when deciding how to practice their religion, leading to a variety of thought and differences of opinion. Weird.

Fearmongering isn’t investigative journalism. I’ve written a bunch on Islam here already, and it’s very different in Turkey than Egypt or Iraq or Tajikistan or whatever, and I’m not going to try a unifying theme. And at some point I’ll probably tire of defending somebody else’s religion, but not quite yet.

Talking about “bearded ninjas in jihadimobiles” does not advance the dialogue, it turns up the volume on the monologue. Threatening my life through the sock-puppet of Qaradawi doesn’t either, but I digress. Just because there’s a large number of Turks who look like American Civil War generals doesn’t mean this country is going to fall apart at the seams. It certainly doesn’t mean I should watch my back. Islam may be the zeitgeist, but it is not the political and legal culture.

Panicking about Islam just makes the work of those genuinely curious of how Turkey can improve itself harder. I’m not saying “Trust the AKP” but I am curious what attractive alternatives exist. I’m not saying the Malatya murders aren’t tragic, I’m saying that every murder is tragic. The country is faced with many difficult issues, and it will continue to be faced by similar issues for a while. But Islam isn’t the root of ’em. So let us all calm down and find ways to solve the little problems until they add up.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2011 8:58 am

    “There have been 3 notable murders of Christians that can be called politically/religiously motivated in Turkey in the past few years”

    You’re not counting Hrant Dink’s assassination as having religious/political motivation? Blimey.

    • Asher permalink
      February 23, 2011 12:58 pm

      I didn’t count Hrant Dink because I didn’t want to conflate “Armenians and Turks” which is more of a nationalism thing with “Christians and Muslims” which is more of a religious thing.

      I’m willing to bet the people who write showing their “deep concern” over Muslims aren’t the type that count Armenians as Christians except when politically expedient, anyways.

      • February 23, 2011 3:27 pm

        True so. But a murdered Christian he most certainly was.

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