ANOTHER WEEK, another Muslim country burns in rage over months-old Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in an unflattering light. On Friday it was Libya, and earlier in the week it was my father’s homeland, Pakistan, where violent protests were scattered across the nation. Some Muslims have decided that burning cities in defense of a prophet’s teachings, which none of them seem willing to practice, is preferable to participating in rational debate about the myths and realities of a religion whose worst enemies are increasingly its own adherents.
This week’s events should compel those of us who claim Islam as our system of philosophical guidance to ask hard questions of ourselves in order to revive the religion’s essential foundation: justice, peaceful and tolerant coexistence, compassion, the search for knowledge and unwavering faith in the unity of God.
I am an American by birth and a Muslim by faith. For many of my American friends, I am a voice of reason in a sea of Islamist darkness, while many Muslims have called me an “Uncle Tom” for ingratiating myself with the vested interests they seek to destroy through their violence. Mostly, though, I try not to ignore the harsh realities the followers of my religion are often unwilling to face.
The first truth is that most Muslim ideologues are hypocrites. What has Osama bin Laden done for the victims of the 2004 tsunami or the shattered families who lost everything in the Pakistani earthquake last year? He did not build one school, offer one loaf of bread or pay for one vaccination. And yet he, not the devout Muslim doctors from California and Iowa who repair broken limbs and lives in the snowy peaks of Kashmir, speaks the loudest for what Muslims allegedly stand for. He has succeeded in presenting himself as the defender of Islam’s poor, and the Western media has taken his jihadist message all the way to the bank.
The hypocrisy only starts there. Muslims and Arabs have done pitifully little to help improve the capacity of the Palestinian people to be good neighbors to their Israeli brethren. Take the money spent by any Middle Eastern royal family at a London hotel or Geneva resort during one month and you could build enough schools and medical clinics to take care of 1,000 Palestinian children for a year. Yet rather than educate and feed Palestinian and Muslim children so they may learn to settle differences through dialogue and debate, instead of by throwing rocks and wearing bombs, the Muslim “haves” put on a few telethons to raise paltry sums for the “have nots” to alleviate the guilt over their palatial gilded cages.
The second truth -- one that the West needs to come to grips with -- is that there is no such human persona as a “moderate Muslim.” You either believe in the oneness of God or you don’t. You either believe in the teachings of his prophet or you don’t. You either learn those teachings and apply them to the circumstances of life in the country you have chosen to live in, or you shouldn’t live there.
Haters of Islam use the simplicity and elegance of its black-and-white rigor for devious political advantage by classifying the Koran’s religious edicts as the cult-like behavior of fanatics. The West would win a lot of hearts and minds if it only showed Islam as it really is -- telling the story, for example, that the prophet Muhammad was one of the great commodity traders of all time because he based his dealings on uniquely Muslim values, or that the reason he had multiple wives was not for the sake of sex but to give proper homes to the children of women made widows during a time of war. The cartoon imbroglio offered Western media an opportunity to portray the prophet in his many dignified dimensions, not just the distorted ones; sadly, there were few takers.
But to look at angry Islam’s reaction on television each night forces the question of what might be possible if all the lost energy of thousands of rioting Muslims went into the villages of Aceh to rebuild lost homes or into Kashmir to construct schools.
In fact, the most glaring truth is that Islam’s mobsters fear the West has it right: that we have perfected the very system Islam’s holy scriptures urged them to learn and practice. And having failed in their mission to lead their masses, they seek any excuse to demonize those of us in the West and to try to bring us down. They know they are losing the ideological struggle for hearts and minds, for life in all its different dimensions, and so they prepare themselves, and us, for Armageddon by starting fires everywhere in a display of Islamic unity intended to galvanize the masses they cannot feed, clothe, educate or house.
This is not Islam. And the faster its truest believers stand up and demonstrate its values and principles by actions, not words, the sooner a great religion will return to its rightful role as guide for nearly a quarter of humanity.