I continue to find myself both sickened and deeply saddened by the murders of the U. S. Ambassador to Libya and at least three others of our diplomatic corps. Nothing is simple. We all know that. So before moving on to what I believe to be the bigger issue, we should take a few moments to realize a basic fact of life about the “Arab Spring.”
The people of Libya, Egypt, and other countries have lived all their lives under dictatorships. Under those dictatorships, the government controlled what people said and didn’t say. So the idea of free speech, where “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” is an idea truly foreign to large numbers of people in the Arab world (and non-Arab world for that matter). Additionally, most Western countries had but no longer have blasphemy laws. Most Muslim countries still do. Government takes on the role of “defender of the faith.”
Thus when a pastor decides to burn the Qur’an in the U.S., or some hate-filled wannabe filmmakers create an anti-Muslim diatribe, it can be hard for many in the Muslim world not to blame the U.S. government for not stopping them. A world where free speech is sacred is not the world that they experience. This is certainly one important reason why many people in the street can’t separate the actions of a few with the policy of the U.S. government.
And now the success of Pamela Geller is likely to be misunderstood by many in the Muslim world. In the name of free speech, this virulent anti-Islamist has today won a court order allowing her to place ads in buses in New York City.
And what does Ms. Geller want to say to the people of New York City? “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” ~ What garbage!
One could just as easily put up an ad saying, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Palestinians. Defeat Zionism.” ~ And that statement would be equally garbage!
But my point is that most people fail to understand that this huge and ever-increasing pile of rot has virtually nothing to do with religion. This is about politics, folks. Religion is but a wafer-thin veneer. When, as example, the leader of Hamas calls for demonstrations against the U.S. because of that hugely offensive anti-Muslim film, it’s not because of the film – it’s because he believes he can use the people in the street to score political points. The leader of Hamas knows that pumping up a people’s intolerance of others is a great way to mobilize them for a political end – just like Pamela Geller does.
The politics of intolerance is the manipulation of a group into an “us” against “them” frame of mind. And whether the “us” is Islam and the “them” is the U.S., or the “us” is Israeli Jews and the “them” are the Palestinians, I submit that it is a huge mistake to think of this in terms of religion. It’s politics. It’s all politics. Neither Ahmadinejad, nor Hamas, nor the Taliban are speaking for Islam – they are speaking for their own quest for power. Netanyahu isn’t speaking for Jews, he’s speaking for power.
What all these people have in common is a firm grasp of the politics of intolerance. And before any of us throw stones, politicians in the United States are past masters of it. Right now, the politics of intolerance in the U.S. is aimed most vocally against Muslims and Hispanics. But it certainly isn’t limited to them.
The politics of intolerance is, in truth, a time “honored” tradition. From the beginning, one of the best ways to attain and to cling to power is to divide and sub-divide people into self-righteous groups of “us” and “them”. Why are you suffering? It’s because of “them”. How can I win an election; win a war, win more power? – get you to fixate on “them” and how only I can protect you.
This brings us back to a true tragedy. In our grief, we want to know why four people who had dedicated themselves not only to representing the United States but truly to the liberation of the Libyan people were murdered. This cannot be answered by consulting the Qur’an, or pondering Islam. I believe, to the extent in can be answered, it can only be answered in terms of politics. Al Qaeda and Hamas are no more representative of Islam than Terry Jones and Timothy McVeigh are of Christianity, or Pamela Geller and Benjamin Netanyahu are of Judaism. These people use religion for political gain. They are practitioners of the politics of intolerance. I believe that Jesus, Muhammad and Hillel would strongly disavow them.
Crusades in the name of bigotry are unchristian. Jihads in the name of bigotry are unmuslim. Zionism in the name of bigotry is unjewish.
We do ourselves no favors when we allow ourselves to fall victim to the politics of intolerance. And we would do ourselves a huge favor if we would both name politics of intolerance and censure any who partake of it – at home and abroad.