The countries and people of Islam - barbarians or not?

The recent events concerning the tragic disaster on September 11 and its aftermath -

something that could be called the Afghan War or at least the Afghan Expedition, led many

people to conduct an at least superficial study of the Muslim ways and culture. In most cases,

the study was based on watching documentaries shown in CNN and other western news

stations, sometimes it involved reading articles in "Time" or similar magazines. Few people

actually tried to study the situations of the people in Islam in more detail, and most of them

probably got discouraged by uniform representation of the Muslims in newspapers and TV

alike - as primitive barbarians, or in the most positive cases - enlightened barbarians. This

attitude towards Islam has manifested itself in various publications, but the one that is

probably the most known (and arguably the most influencial) is "The anger and the pride" by

Oriana Fallaci.

The known Italian publicist, who has not written a single work in ten years, makes her

great comeback with this extremely passionate and very well written article. In this article,

she directly blames Islam and the Muslim culture for the atrocities commited by the terrorists

on September 11. What's more, she raises a huge barrier between the Euro-American culture

and the Middle East culture, treating the people living there as inferior and primitive. She

outlines the achievements of European philosophy, arts and science and compares them to

the, in her opinion, vastly inferior achievements in corresponding areas in the Middle East.

She shows some really drastic examples to uphold her view, and throughout the entire article

she seems to convey her hatred towards Islam on to the reader. Now, this kind of attitude is

justifiable. It is, however, very sad. It is very easy to outline extremism in any culture and

show it as a general view of that culture. It is also quite simple for a skilled writer to

deprecate another culture's achievements while glorifying her own culture's ones. The tone

of the article is also understandable, since many people react to drastic events in a drastic

manner. But one thing is certainly not justifiable - the call for crusade. What Oriana Fallaci

effectively does is call on a crusade against the muslims - after admitting herself in the article

that the crusades and the Inquisition was a mistake on part of the Catholic Church that

shouldn't happen again. The way I see it, Fallaci's article does not differ in any way from

Osama Bin Laden's speeches on European and American culture as "the great devil", except

that perhaps Fallaci, being a publicist, uses more sophisticated examples and arguments.

If I am to objectively judge the facts that Fallaci presents in her article, I cannot admit

that, in some areas, she is right. Women indeed are opressed in some islamic countries, other

religions are not tolerated and terrorism is present everywhere as a way of solving problems.

But if you look at Europe, you could find the same problems there. Can you tell me, for

example, how do the terrorist acts commited by Jihad and Hamas differ from these done by

IRA or ETA? The similarities exist even on the religious ground - members of IRA are also

religious zealots that fight a fight between Catholics and Protestants - the same way Jihad

Hamas fights against "heretics". And all of this is done in the name of the Christian religion -

which Oriana Fallaci regards as so much superior to Islam.

To make things clear - I do not consider myself anticlerical. In fact, I am a Catholic -

at least I try to be one. But what I really don't like is religious zealousness, and I just can't

bear people who say, to quote Carlin: "My God has a bigger dick than yours". Because there

is no more sense in that type of behavior than there is in Carlin's "reinterpretation" of it. You

just can't simply say one religion is better than another just by judging a small fraction of its

believers. If you analyzed the Polish "orthodox" Catholics, mainly the ones associated with

"Radio Maryja", you could make an assumption that Catholics are a bunch of untolerant,

primitive people that see nothing but their church and the priest that preaches in it every

Sunday. It is easy to imagine a muslim publicist writing an article similar to the one written

by Oriana Fallaci, only directed against Christianity and the European culture. It is easy to

write a one-sided essay. It is much more difficult to write a balanced essay, but one that

nevertheless encompasses your view on a subject. This is why I believe Oriana Fallaci has

failed - for an article of a self-proclaimed enlightened person, this one is surely too

imbalanced and biased.

Does that mean I agree to the rule of non-engagement, ie. a country's internal affairs

are its own matter and other nations should not intervene in any way? Of course not. That's

what brought Hitler to power - the passiveness of European political leaders, who were too

afraid to be accused of meddling in another country's affairs to take any radical steps to

overthrow the tyran. But intervention only goes so far. You cannot, under absolutely any

circumstances, dictate someone their way of life. If you have a society whose laws are based

on The Koran, you have absolutely no right to tell them it that is wrong, that their ways are

barbarian and they should change. Of course, in an ideal world, countries shouldn't be

theocracies at all, but let's face it - we do not live in an ideal world.

What can we do, then? Well, of course, there are certain cases in which other

countries may interfere with another country's politics. One of such cases is aggressive

behavior - one that threatens the safety of that country's neighbors for no apparent reason. If a

country suddenly states that it wants free trade through another country's sea ports or it will

attack it, this is no more than robbery on a country-wide basis. There is simply no difference

between this situation and a man sticking a gun to someone's head on the street and saying:

"Hand me your money over or I will kill you". This situation is obvious and it should cause

immediate international response. Thus, the American operation in Afghanistan to overthrow

the Taliban is, for me, absolutely justified - if a mass murderer hides in a private flat, the

police are free to break the door and even use explosives in order to get in.

Other situations are less obvious. A change of government, for example, even a coup

d'etat, is absolutely no reason for an international intervention (unless the country has access

to nuclear weapons, in case the attack is more of a preemptive strike). However, in my

opinion, harassment of national groups is. This may be controversial, especially to people in

Poland, who remember USSR's excuse for invading Poland on 17.IX.1939 - that the Polish

government no longer exists and the Red Army is entering Poland only to provide safe cover

for endangered Belarussian and Ukrainian citizens. But I believe it is justified, but only if

strict international supervision is present. By "strict international supervision" I mean an

organization no lesser than NATO or UN.

How is this related to the main problem - the situation of islamic countries? Because

there is no islamic superpower, and even Pakistan, who is the closest to meet the definition

because it has nuclear weapons, is loosely allied with USA, there is no way Islam can defend

against Uncle Sam saying what is right and what isn't. Unfortunately, Americans have

something which one could call a "national illness" - they think that their being a superpower

grants them the right to tell others what to do without studying their customs first. And, if

they don't understand another country's customs, they try to enforce their own instead. What

comes from that behavior can often be distastrous. Such was for example the American land

intervention in Kosovo, where Americans, sternly believing that all Serbians are mass-

murderers and all Kosovans are valiant warriors, allowed the Kosovans to practically take

over the matters in Kosovo. The result was disastrous - many Serbians were killed, thousands

were driven out their houses, all their possesions destroyed or plundered.

There is a very clear example of this kind of attitude during the Afghan Expedition - it

is the case of Al-Jazeera, the "CNN of the Arab world". The Arabs trust Al-Jazeera much

more than they trust any of their home televisions, and more than they trust any western ones.

Thus, they consider it the most reliable source of information on the war and on the

motivations of both sides. Al-Jazeera reporters are trained by CNN, as they are leftovers of a

CNN agency in the Arab Emirates. They try to be as objective as they can, and to convey

information from both sides and not just one. Therefore, they show interviews with Osama

Bin Laden as well as with American officials. The Americans, offended that they are shown

together with the arch-terrorist, demanded that Al-Jazeera stopped showing Bin Laden, and

even resorted to sending a formal diplomatic note to the Arab Emirates' government to stop

the broadcast of pro-taliban broadcasts by Al-Jazeera. While the Americans' concern towards

the negative influence Bin Laden exerts over Arabs, this act was nothing less and nothing

more but censorship. Only if one has access to both sides' statements can he make up his own

mind, and what the Americans are trying to do is effectively block Arabs from hearing the

other side out.

This kind of American attitude is dangerous, because others feel authorized to do the

same thing and to tell others how to behave. An example of this is Oriana Fallaci, who, living

in the States, has been greatly influenced by this attitude. Therefore, she thinks that she has

the right to call muslims barbarians because they have not succumbed to the will of almighty

USA. Cultural uniformity is usually a bad thing, and that's what the American government is

trying to establish. While Americans claim to accept diversity, they accept it only if it is

confined within the boundaries established by them. So, islam is o.k. as long as it is

politically correct, etc.

Of course, as I said before, the CNN documentaries are true. Weapons are freely sold

in Afghanistan, women are discriminated there, people are killed there for crimes they didn't

commit. Those atrocities are a fact, no one denies that. But this is no reason for

generalization. You can easily make a documentary about relative easiness of buying

weapons, as well as you could show many cases of the discrimination of Blacks - pardon,

Afroamericans - in the USA. So, before you think that the people somewhere are barbarians

because of one documentary you saw, think again. Those people could very well be thinking

the same think about you (and often they do, because of spoken propaganda). They are not

barbarians. They are human beings, more or less like you are. If they are illiterate, it is

because of their government, not because of their culture. They are not barbarians just

because they are governed by people who tend to hide behide a paravan with "Islam" written

on it and kill people from behind it. The Talibans may be barbarians, but the people they rule

over are not. They are just plain, ordinary people, and they are tired. Tired of ongoing wars,

tribal quarrels and terrorists making training camps on their home ground. So please, if you

read Fallaci's article and start to think that she is right, think again.

Piotr Wilkin 4a

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