Archive for Arab Spring

Brigitte Gabriel: Liberals and Muslims Doing “Exactly What Hitler Did”

Posted in Feature, Loon People with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2012 by loonwatch
Brigitte Gabriel

Right-wing Christianity’s favorite self-hating racist, Hanan Tudor, a.k.a Brigitte Gabriel has been making a killing through her anti-Islam organization “ACT! For America,” also better known as Hate! for America.

Not too long ago she was at the Cornerstone Church in Nashville, Tennessee, (yes, the same church that hosted European fascist Geert Wilders) participating in the “anti-Shariah Conference.” You can watch the video yourself here.

As you can see Gabriel is up to her usual gimmick, fear-mongering about the deadly and dire “Islamization of the USA,” which is supposedly happening right under the patriotic noses of: good, wholesome, real Americans! According to her the Muslims are being aided in this anti-American endeavor by the liberals who wish nothing more than to see America destroyed!

She says at the 6:00 minute mark about the “Liberal-Islamic axis of evil”:

They’re doing exactly what Hitler did. What did Hitler say, what did Hitler do? “Give me the children and I’ll change society in ten years.”

Really? The Hitler card? Isn’t that played out by now?

Cornerstone Church has a history of giving a platform to this sort of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim propaganda. I won’t be surprised if one of its congregants believes he/she has to take out the Muslims before they take over, or perhaps a la cultural-Christian-Templar-Knight-Terrorist Anders Breivik, take out the liberals who are facilitating the so-called “demise of the USA.”

*********************

While Brigitte Gabriel’s reputation has been severely discredited and she is unable to get the kind of access that she was accustomed to in the past she is still able to weasel her way at times into the mainstream.

Such was the case recently in an article written by Frida Ghatis for McClatchy Newspapers and which was picked up by the Miami Herald, Sacramento Bee and several other papers. Ghatis’ article was titled, Truly Revolutionary: Arabs Speaking Well of Israel.

The piece is pro-Israel propaganda through-and-through and while maintaining a veneer of objectivity it degrades the successes of the Arab Spring and revolves around the not-so-hidden thesis that a real revolution in the Arab world would be one in which Arabs “speak well of Israel.” No explanation is given of why many Arabs are anti-Israel (i.e. occupation, apartheid, discrimination, war crimes, the bombing of Arab countries, etc.).

Instead the focus is: will Arabs finally love Israel and say nice things about it. All pretense to objectivity is dropped when we come to this sentence:

Pro-Israel Arabs, Muslims, and former Muslims who use their real names are usually people living safely in the West, such as Lebanon’s Brigitte Gabriel, Somalia’s Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Egypt’s Tawfik Hamid, or Canada’s Irshad Manji.

We have covered all of the loons mentioned above by Ghatis. If Ghatis was willing to do a basic search on Gabriel she would realize that Gabriel doesn’t even consider herself an Arab! In fact, Gabriel believes Arabs have no soul!:

The difference, my friends, between Israel and the Arab world is the difference between civilization and barbarism. It’s the difference between good and evil [applause]…. this is what we’re witnessing in the Arabic world, They have no SOUL!, they are dead set on killing and destruction. And in the name of something they call “Allah” which is very different from the God we believe….[applause] because our God is the God of love.

One can see why Ghatis would be so enthusiastic about Gabriel, she really speaks so “well” of Israel.

Exclusive Loonwatch Interview with Reza Aslan

Posted in Anti-Loons, Feature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2011 by loonwatch

Recently we sat down with Muslim scholar and best selling author Reza Aslan for an in-depth interview on a wide range of issues. This is the first in what will hopefully be a longstanding series of interviews that are planned with high profile scholars and movers and shakers in pop culture.

We covered Reza’s days as a break dancer, conversion to Christianity and return to Islam, his thoughts on Islamophobia, Robert Spencer, the Arab Spring, reformation of Islam and the current saber-rattling with Iran.

It was a fascinating and hilarious interview and I think you will find we covered new ground, such as the breaking news that Reza is willing to finally reciprocate Robert Spencer’s man crush!

Loonwatch (LW): I heard you used to break dance?

Reza Aslan (RA): Yes, (laughter) I used to be a break dancer. My name used to be El Penguin, because I was so bow legged.

LW: Did you ever graduate to doing head spins and flares?

RA: I could do a really poor head spin but it was definitely not my forte with my footwork. I was in a (laugh) break dance troupe called Etron, which was Norte spelled backwards because we were on the north side of Fresno.

LW: Do you still break once in a while?

RA: Hell no. If I tried to break dance today I would definitely break something. Oh, I could still pop-block with the best of them but break dancing, no.

LW: We heard in the course of one of your interviews that you converted to Evangelical Christianity at one point in your life?

RA: Yes, when I was 15 years old…

LW: Were you practicing taqiyyah?

RA: Yes. (laughter) My entire life is just one big practice of taqiyyah. Like everything I do as a human being.

Actually, it was part of this group called Young Life, pretty famous nation-wide group. They go into High Schools and Junior High Schools and they evangelize. I went to this summer camp where you hear the Gospel message, and yeah when I was 15 years old, a sophomore, and so it was before my sophomore year of HS. Yeah, I found Jesus, he was awesome.

LW: How was that, what was that experience like when you were an Evangelical?

RA: It’s magical! The thing about Evangelical Christianity and why I think it is so appealing, particularly to young people is that I mean it is just such a brilliant and profoundly moving story. There is a reason why it is called the greatest story ever told, right? That God had this physical son, like His little baby boy you know that came down to earth and because you yourself are such an awful human being, because of all the terrible things you do, God decided to have His son tortured and murdered in order to save you from yourself and that if you don’t accept that story, not only are you spitting in God’s face but oh yeah you are also going to burn in hell for all eternity.

It’s an amazing story, that’s why it is so appealing. Now the important thing to understand is that is what it precisely is, a story. I am not by any means discounting it or criticizing it. All religion is story, all mythology is story but that is a particularly good one, and it’s a story, I think particularly for young people looking for easy answers to complicated questions can flock to, and the last 2000 years are testimony to that.

LW: That is quite profound. I was wondering, going from that to becoming an Islamic scholar and someone who regularly speaks on Islam, how did you return to Islam? Was it a going back to your roots?

RA: Well, after High School, like most people who are introduced to Evangelical Christianity when they’re kids then go to college you realize, “oh wow, a lot of the stuff that I was told by my youth leaders and my pastors was kind of nonsense actually” and so you begin to question those issues, question those ideas.

I went to a Catholic College, a Jesuit Catholic College and began studying the Bible and particularly the New Testament from a scholarly perspective and the more I kept studying the more I realized almost everything I was told about the Bible and about the New Testament and frankly about the Gospel story was false. More importantly the truth behind the Gospel story, the truth behind who Jesus was and what Jesus really said was far more interesting, far more profound and frankly far more appealing than the false notions of it that I was fed as a kid. So throughout my early years in college I decided to get a degree in Biblical Studies. I became fluent in Greek and became a young scholar about the origins of Christianity and the historical Jesus and then when I graduated I was heading off to Harvard to get a Masters degree in that topic when one of my undergraduate professors, one of my mentors, Katherine Bell sat me down and basically said, “Why aren’t you studying Islam?” and I said “what do you mean?”

She basically said something at the time that really changed my life, which was by the time I get my PhD in Bibilical Studies no one is going to care about Biblical Studies anymore, everyone is going to want to have scholars and experts on Islam. You know, this was in 1995 when she said this, she obviously was quite prescient in what she was talking about. She gave me a couple of books and obviously my family was nominally Muslim, well not really, culturally Muslim, just as most Christians are culturally Christian and I had grown up surrounded by Muslim culture, so I was somewhat familiar with it, but of course like most people of a particular religion I really knew nothing about the religion that I “called my own.”

I spent the summer before I went off to Harvard just reading some books about Islam, reading the Quran really for the first time as an adult and the more I started reading about it, the history, the theology, the Quranic studies, the more I was just kind of excited about it. I always talk about how I had an emotional conversion to Christianity but a rational conversion to Islam. Reading about the way Islam talks about the divine and the relationship between human beings and God and conceptions of the universe and ideas of the transcendent, these made a hell of a lot more sense to me cosmologically speaking than some old man in the sky impregnated a virgin and His son came out and died for us.

It’s just that the symbols of Islam suddenly broke through and made sense to me in a way that traditional Protestant Christianity never really did, and then when I entered Harvard the first day of class I had to get all new classes and change my advisers and tell everyone, “by the way I am not here to do what I told everyone I was going to do, instead I am going to study Islam.”

LW: Wow, fascinating, you don’t hear today, discussion about Islam and rationality often…

RA: There is no more rational religion than Islam. Islam is founded upon reason and rationality, very much like Judaism. You have to understand that Islam and Judaism are legalistic religions, Christianity is a creedal religion. Christianity is all about belief, right? In fact, if you are a Catholic that creedal formulation is a complex formula, “I believe in God the Father maker of heaven and earth, I believe in Jesus His only begotten son, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Apostolic Church, etc. etc.”

In Judaism and Islam there is no creedal statement as such. In Islam the creedal statement is as simplistic as it possibly can get. “There is no god but God, Muhammad is God’s messenger,” that’s the sum in total of creed when it comes to Islam, as a result both Islam and Judaism developed as highly legalistic religions. In legalistic religions the people who usually control the interpretation are scholars. In a creedal religion the people who control interpretation are preachers, priests and pastors, you see what I mean?

In other words, and by no means am I saying priests aren’t intelligent, of course they are, and often times they go through enormous amounts of religious training, but their job is to shepherd a flock, not to deal with the very high rational concepts of legal theory that is born from a religion founded on orthopraxy, correct practice instead of orthodoxy, correct belief.

It’s just another wide spread misperception in the United States about Islam, that Islam is a religion that cannot reconcile reason and faith.

The only real global religion which has dealt with that problem really is Christianity. I mean if you are talking about Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and all the way to Paul Tillick and Reinhold Niebuhr, these are the great Christian theologians that for thousands of years have been struggling to reconcile faith and reason. That hasn’t really been that strong of an argument in Judaism and Islam, the argument has been about the different “rational answers” that are possible to the various questions, theological questions that Islam and Judaism bring up, but the question is not should reason even play a role.

LW: It seemed the Pope didn’t help that case with the Regensburg Address. What was he after with that? When Pope Benedict made that speech, he used Islam as a counter example to Christian rationality.

RA: Yeah, that’s the thing. Of course the Pope was advancing an old Papal argument against Islam that goes back to the Crusades, but again what the Pope is talking about is it took Christianity 1600-1700 years to reconcile  reason and faith and so therefore Islam needs to do the same, without recognizing that during those 1700 years in which reason and faith were divorced in Christianity, they were married very well in both Islam and Judaism.

LW: This might be a good time to segway to the Anti-Muslim Catholic polemicist Robert Spencer, one of the premiere Islamophobes today. He is funded by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which in turn is funded by right-wing foundations, you’ve probably read about this in the Fear Inc. report already. We’ve been tracking him and what he says about you…

RA: Oh yeah he is in love with me.

LW: (laugh)He calls you all sorts of names, calling you a “metrosexual,” “boy Reza Aslan,” “Bright Young Muslim Thing,” “little boy Reza,” “pathetic little Islamic Supremacist Reza,” “pseudo-Moderate,” etc. What is behind all this name calling, he seems to have a crush on you?

RA: I do think he has a crush on me. As a lot of people know, this guy is someone who poses as some sort of pseudo-scholar because he has a one year Masters degree from a school in North Carolina and because of that a lot of people let him get away with the asinine things that he says. I think I was probably the first person to utterly embarrass and shame him on national television and since that time he has taken all the internal feelings of inadequacies that I am sure he has, poured it all out on me and I am perfectly happy with that. The fact of the matter is that if Robert Spencer thinks you are wrong then you got to be right.

I am pleased as punch, every word that Robert Spencer writes about me puts a gigantic smile on my face. You know he used to actually email me his columns as though I actually care, you know, to read the drivel that he writes. We reply to him just making fun of him.

In fact, I’m going to say right now, and you can publish this, I’m kind of in love with Robert Spencer.

(laughs)

There’s something about that giant beer gut and the furry face, there’s this kind of walrus quality to him, that, I don’t know how to say this, that just turns me on, and I think I am pretty sure, that he feels the same about me.

LW: He definitely has a man crush on you.

RA: He definitely has a man crush on me and I guess what I am trying to say is that for the first time I am ready to publicly admit those feelings are reciprocated.

LW: (laughs)This is breaking news.

RA: And I know Robert Spencer reads Loonwatch and I just want him to know: “Robert, I think we may have something here. Robert I think there is a possibility for the two of us to have a future together, this could really be a beautiful love story.” And, if he is willing to finally admit to his true feelings for me, I am in the position now where I can reciprocate those feelings.

LW: Amazing, maybe he will finally admit what he has been feeling all this time.

RA: I think he is ready to admit it. But only if his mom lets him…and by his mom I mean Pamela Geller…

(laughs)

LW: Who in this relationship, between him and Geller, who holds more sway?

RA: Are you kidding me! I’m surprised that in pictures of the two of them that she is not holding a leash.

(laughs)

LW: He is enthralled by her, always defending her loony comments, such as her advocating the nuking of Tehran, Mekka and Medina.

RA: Of course Pamela Geller is known  most for her rationality.

(laughs)

It’s not a surprise to hear those comments. No look…

LW: How does she get away with it?

RA: What do you mean!? This is how the world works, the more insane you are the more attention you get, exhibit A: Herman Cain…this is how it works, but in all honesty I do just want to say I make fun of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer because they are clowns and you are supposed to laugh at clowns.

This idea that these are people who deserve engagement (laughs)…Spencer’s fans email me all the time and say “you’re afraid to debate Robert Spencer.” No, I don’t debate Robert Spencer for the same reason I don’t debate a four year old child because this is not about a conversation. You cannot have a rational conversation with a clown and the fact of the matter is that the reason Robert Spencer is constantly begging people like myself to debate him is because he knows that appearing on the same platform legitimizes his view.

You are not going to have a debate about the African American experience in the United States with the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (laughs), that person does not belong in that debate. To have him there by definition legitimates his position.

So Spencer, Geller, Emerson, these guys belong in the gutter where they are. That’s where they are, that’s where they belong. They get a lot of attention because Fox News keeps inviting them and good for them. Fox News has become the go to Islamophobic network for these kinds of guys, and that’s great, and they are going to keep preaching to the same choir that watches Fox. Good for them but the notion that these guys somehow belong in the mainstream, that they belong  on a dais debating socio-religious matters with an actual scholar is absurd.

LW: As you know we have been trying to debate Spencer, and as you say he tries to get you guys so he can legitimate his views. However, he has been avoiding our entreaties to debate, why do you think that is.

RA: I’ll tell you why because you’ll make fun of him. You know, I call this the Colbert Principle. People always ask me how do I respond to these anti-Muslim clowns like Geller and Spencer and my answer is I don’t respond to them, I make fun of them. It’s the Colbert Principle, if you respond to the inanities that come out of Robert Spencer’s mouth by definition you are saying that it’s worth a response and it’s not, what it is, is worth making fun of, and in this case I would really like to thank Geller and Spencer for being so easy to make fun of. It’s really effortless.

Robert Spencer and Julius Streicher

LW:   Recently we posted a piece comparing quotes Spencer has made about Islam and Muslims to those by a precursor to the Nazi era, Julius Streicher’s quotes about Jews and Judaism. It’s interesting because if you just change “Jew” to “Muslim” or “Judaism” to “Islam” they are identical. Yet Spencer in one of his posting calls you the modern day “Fritz Kuhn,”  the leader of the American Nazi party. Would you consider this unintended projection on his part?

RA: One thing we shouldn’t forget about these guys is that they have been accused by organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish organizations of being anti-Semitic. It’s not only that they hate Muslims, they like to pretend that they are supporters of Israel, etc. but the statements they have made about Jewish politicians, look at what they have said about Elena Kagan.

Alicia Rosenberg, the Atlantic writer who just wrote a piece on All American Muslim was called a dhimmi Jew by Pamela Geller, I mean these guys are anti-Semites. Again that’s not me, that’s the Southern Poverty Law Center calling them anti-Semites, that’s the anti-Defamation League calling them anti-Semites. I think their words speak for themselves.

LW: I don’t want to spend too much time on Spencer but one thing I did want to bring up is Spencer’s frequent attempts to link you to the “Mullahs” of Iran. He casts aspersions on really what seems to be a great organization that you are a board member of named, NIAC, National Iranian American Council.

RA: It’s a council actually that is trying to keep Iran and the United States from engaging in a global war, so of course they are obviously agents of the Iranian Republic. You know, come on, don’t we all know this.

Yes, I am also ready to admit that my parents brought me here at 7 years old as a sleeper agent and I am going to be activated any moment now, my code word is Cello Kabob, if I hear Cello Kabob then I am immediately activated and then my training as an agent for the Islamic Republic kicks in, so be careful.

LW: (laughs) He links to this group called the Pro-democracy Movement of Iran, I don’t know if you have ever heard of this group, PDMI, we went to their website and it’s a ridiculous website. It has articles on there supporting the Mujahideen-e Khalq.

RA: Exactly, which is all you need to  know. These “pro democracy sites” are run by neo-conservatives, by people with a very clear agenda, the same agenda that they had for Iraq, so the very fact that they support a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of a number of American citizens as well as Iranian citizens, Iranian non-combatants. An organization that has repeatedly been cited for torturing its own members, for brainwashing its own members, for taking children and turning them into armed militants, but the idea that these pro-democracy movements in the United States are supporting the MEK is really the only thing you need to know about these organizations.

LW: All of this exposes a deep hypocrisy when they are badgering Muslim organizations on the flimsiest of guilt by association smears. Regularly calling Muslim Advocates, CAIR, ISNA “Hamas-linked,” this is their favorite trope.

RA: But again this is what I’ve been trying to say, this is just an indication of why these groups do not deserve a response because when they say NIAC is a Hezbollah supporting group, you can’t respond to idiocy, you can’t respond to those kinds of moronic statements, because again that sort of bigotry does not reside in the mind, that bigotry resides somewhere more visceral. It’s much more, it’s something that exists in the gut, in the chest and that kind of feeling can not be deflected by logic, by reason. It’s immune to reason.

LW: Staying on the topic of Iran, there has been a lot of discussion about Iran in the media. Of course not too long ago we had the case of the alleged car dealer mastermind terrorist. One day it was news and the next day it wasn’t, you said about it, “It’s sloppy. It’s uncharacteristic,” … “It really does not serve Iran’s interest in any legitimate way.”

Do you think all this activity regarding Iran is just a preliminary way to pave the way for war with Iran, much in the same way as was done with Iraq?

RA: No. We are not going to war with Iran. Nobody is going to war with Iran, neither the United States or Israel. I can tell you for a fact that Israel is not going to war with Iran because Israel keeps talking about it. If anybody who has studied Israeli politics at all can tell you anything is if Israel talks about bombing Iran then that means it has no intentions of doing it. When the Israelis want you dead you just die, OK.

No one sends an invitation first, no one issues a press release and this is exactly what is going on and I love it, it’s like the media is a monkey that sees something shiny in the corner. There was this great piece that I circulated not too long ago in which it was just a collection of headlines from major newspapers and magazines: the Atlantic, Harpers, New York Times, Los Angeles Times.

A collection of headlines describing imminent war, the imminent bombing of Iranian nuclear sites by Israel and or the United States, the collection was from the last fifteen years, so again, all we have to remember is the cover of Atlantic last month, Jeffrey Goldberg’s article that Israel is six months from bombing Iran. This is every few months, people start to raise this specter that Israel is going to bomb Iran. Israel, America these aren’t stupid countries. They know better than you and I the repercussions of such a conflict. I can show you half a dozen quotes from Ehud Barak himself, the defense minister of Israel stating in no uncertain terms the idiocy of such a campaign. So the idea that he has all of a sudden changed his mind and is planning to bomb Iran is ridiculous, I think this is just what Israel does every few months to ratchet up the pressure on the United States to be more aggressive and robust in trying to counter Iran’s nuclear program.

LW: Well  that really puts it in perspective. So you think it is only saber rattling and positioning within the region.

RA: That’s all it is and that’s all it’s ever been for the last 20 years.

LW: Interesting. OK, to pick your theological brain for a second, Joel Rosenberg wrote this article for Fox News about why Iran’s leaders believe the end of days has come, and this is a regular idea thrown out there by Islamophobes; that we have to fear a dangerous off shoot of Shia’ Eschatology. Is there any truth to this idea?

RA: No. It’s as true as George Bush thinking that Jesus made him president so to bring about the Messiah’s return, people were saying that as well. It doesn’t mean that George Bush didn’t believe that Jesus made him president, it’s not that George Bush didn’t believe the Messiah would return some day, but the notion that, that belief predicated his foreign policy is nuts and the same thing with Iran.

Mahdi

It’s just part of this fear-mongering that has been going on for a very long time and again predicated on this idea that Iran is this irrational actor, that if they manage to get a nuclear weapon, the first thing they would do is commit suicide with it. Of course, don’t you know it! That’s all they want, so that all 75 million Iranians could be nuked off the face of the earth as soon as possible.

Again, the stupidity of that statement speaks for itself. Iran is an oppressive, autocratic, blood-thirsty government that tortures and murders its own citizens, that supports terror organizations around the world because it feels as though it benefits from doing so, but it is not stupid. What your readers should understand more than anything else about the Iranian government is that they care more about their own survival than they care about anything else. So again, these kinds of statements are not the kind made by foreign policy experts, these are not statements by experts in the region, these are statements by the amateurs who read an article one day about the fact that the Shia believe in a Messiah and then continued to regurgitate the same nonsense over and over again and in any case it doesn’t matter because these people have no effect whatsoever on what our government does.

It’s not as though the state department is sitting around wondering what Frank Gaffney thinks about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

LW: One of the topics that you hit upon in your work in No God but God and in speeches and lectures is that Islam is in a reformation period. Seeing the events in the Arab Spring, and the changes sweeping the region how do you see that idea of reform playing a part in these protests, if any?

RA: The reformation of Islam is not something that is new or unique, it has been going on for over one hundred years, and again you have to remember reformation is an actual, technical term. It doesn’t mean reform, what it means is the inevitable conflict that arises in all religious institutions over who has the right to define faith, is it the individuals, or is it the institution itself.

That conflict is ever present, it exists in all religious traditions, but in times of societal stress, in times of social ruptures that conflict jumps to the surface as it did with Temple Judaism in first century Palestine that ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the construction of Rabbinic Judaism. As it did in the fifteenth and sixteenth century in Europe, in which the conflicts over the Pope’s authority to define Christianity ultimately fractured Christianity into competing sects and schisms based on sola scriptura; that individuals should define what scripture means for themselves, not have the Pope tell them what it means, and it’s been going on in Islam since really the end of the 19th century as a result of the colonial experience in the Middle East and the rapid rise of literacy and education.

So this idea that the Islamic reformation being something new or unique is really borne out of a misunderstanding of what that even means, and so the relationship to what is happening with the so called Arab Spring and the phenomenon that I am talking about and writing about is very clear.

These are kids, these are young people who because of their education, because of their literacy, because of their access to new ideas, new sources of information are no longer interested in the answers given to them about religion and society, whether its by religious institutions, the clerics, the Mullahs or even political organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the National Islamic Front.

Nor are they interested in their governmental institutions at all. What you saw on the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria is not an Islamic Awakening by any means, these people are not calling for Islam, on the contrary the traditional Islamic authorities have been totally left behind by these protests, they didn’t have anything to do in starting them, they didn’t have anything do in perpetuating them and they have nothing to do with defining them so this generation of young people is the inevitable result of a century long process whereby individuals in the Muslim world have begun to decide for themselves without the mediation of any institutional authority, whether religious or governmental, what it means to be Muslim in the modern world, what the answers to Islam are as a result of the rapid changes that are taking place in their society.  I’ve been saying it’s going to happen for over a decade and so those people who were saying the Arab Spring came as a surprise or it wasn’t going to happen weren’t paying attention.

LW: You wrote in Tablet and Pen “The United States has displaced the old colonial powers to become, for better or worse, a dominant and unavoidable presence in the lives of the people of the Middle East. The consequences of American involvement in the region will be felt for many years to come.” How do you think America and our government in particular has reacted to this, do they know what they are doing over there?

RA: No, of course not. The American public? Of course not. I think the American public recognizes that we have had a fairly destructive presence and influence in the Middle East and in the pursuit of our national security and economic interests we’ve made a lot of enemies in that region. So i think most young people know that now, it’s kind of part of the national narrative, whether those young people know how embroiled we still are in the region, and how we still are making disastrous choices not just for the peace and stability of the Middle East, but when it comes to our own safety and security I think for the most part young people are more interested in Snookie’s panties than they are in what is going on in Yemen or Syria.

(laughs)

LW: You debated one of the New Atheists, Sam Harris. Is Sam Harris a smart guy? What were your thoughts about him?

RA: There is no doubt Sam Harris is a smart guy, he has a PhD in neuro-science. You can be a smart guy and be ignorant about particular topics and issues. The problem with Sam Harris is that he tends to write about the things he is ignorant about, (laughs) I think Sam Harris should stick to writing about neuro-science, I think his last book was great. When Sam Harris writes about neuro-science, in other words his expertise, I think it’s great, I love reading his work. When he talks about religion, a topic he knows nothing about, that he’s never studied as an academic discipline, that he’s done no field research in whatsoever, and in which he frankly is unqualified to opine about, that’s the problem. I don’t write about nero-Science because I’m not a neuro-scientist.

LW: On a random note you compared Osama Bin Laden to Freddie Mercury, (laughs) can you expand on that?

RA: Yes, I did, the point I was making was that what made Bin Laden attractive to young people was his personal charisma not his intellectualism or writings on Islam. Again Bin Laden was an engineer. He cannot talk intelligently about Islamic Law, or Philosophy and for the most part he doesn’t do that, what he has, and everyone knows this, even his biggest enemies know this about him, he had this intense magnetic appeal, this charisma that drew people to him.

People like Peter Bergen and Fawaz Gerges, who have met Bin Laden, who have spoken to his followers, who have spoken to people who were on their way to commit suicide on his behalf but were caught, what they find is the same thing, that Sheikh Bin Laden is this mystical being. People talk about dreams in which Sheikh Bin Laden comes to them and tells them to pick up a gun and join the fight, it’s that intense mystical quality that has transformed Bin Laden even after his death into a pop culture phenomenon like Freddie Mercury or the other person I compared him to was Che Guevara. Like Freddi Mercury or Che Guevara who have entered the pop culture zeitgeist in a way that goes beyond their particular talents or their particular ideas.

LW: There is a quote In your book No God but God, you wrote that in 2005…

RA: That’s when it was published…

LW: I found this quote in which you write:
“Simply put, Islam in the United States has become otherized. It has become a receptacle into which can be tossed all the angst and apprehension people feel about the faltering economy, about the new and unfamiliar political order, about the shifting cultural, racial, and religious landscapes that have fundamentally altered the world. Across Europe and North America, whatever is fearful, whatever is foreign, whatever is alien and unsafe is being tagged with the label ‘Islam.’”


RA: That is from the new introduction from the updated version that just was released in 2011…

LW: This is of course still the case today. Are you encouraged that Muslims are breaking through this concept of being “otherized” or their religion being “otherized”?

RA: This is not the first time in America’s history that a religious minority has been otherized and told they are the internal enemy, that they are not American. Every single word that is being said about Muslims today by these radical anti-Muslim zealots was said by anti-Semites in the 1920′s and 30′s about Judaism, by anti-Catholic activists in the 19th century by the Know Nothings and preachers like Lyman Beecher. This is not a new thing, this is what we do in this country, we so often define ourselves, what it means to be American which is of course a malleable and slippery identity by defining ourselves in opposition to somebody else whether: Catholics, Jews, Japanese or Germans and now it is just Muslims.

There should be no question in anyones mind, anyone who has bothered to study  for even a few minutes should know that in a generation from now we are going to look on the anti-Muslim zealots of today, these clowns like Pamlea Geller, Robert Spencer, Frank Gaffney and Steven Emerson with the same exact shame, disdain, mockery and derision that we look back at the anti-Jewish and anti-Catholicism of our past. That’s guaranteed. These guys have always been there, they have always been around, they have always been on the fringes and on the margins and you know in a generation from now when Muslims become as much a part of the American religious fabric, as much as Jews and Catholics have become, I am sure these guys will show up again and start picking on some other religious or cultural minority. This is an issue that they have themselves. They have a psychic problem, bigotry is a psychic problem and it’s part of the human condition, and you know lets not kid ourselves, it’s always going to be around, it’s just that it’s target is going to change.

LW: I think this is good place to wrap up, we have a lot to unpack here. Thank you for your time!

RA: Awesome. Thank you, it’s been my pleasure.

Burning the myths about Islam

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2011 by loonwatch

What Pastor Terry Jones did was uncalled for, and what the people in Afghanistan did was uncalled for, but in no way can we equate one’s reaction as more barbaric as the other. Terry Jones is living in his little heaven up in Gainseville, Fla. compared to how the people in Afghanistan are living: facing a war, oppression, deep poverty, etc.

Burning the myths about Islam

The ‘Arab Spring’ shows that the Quran burning riot in Afghanistan had little to do with Islam itself.

by: Anas Altikriti, from AlJazeera

“]The complete apathy of the ‘Arab spring’ in regards to the burning of a Quran reveals how anger-fuelled riots are borne from suppression of freedom, not the allegedly violent qualities of Islam [REUTERS

The recent violent protests in Afghanistan – a reaction to the burning of the Quran by a small church in the United States last month – recalled an inescapable reality.

Extremists on all sides – whether in free, democratic America, or in corrupt, occupied Afghanistan – create havoc and chaos, demonstrating the danger brought about by a deadly cocktail of ignorance and idiocy. Ultimately, they cause the deaths of innocent people.

Some cite the difference between the two acts: one saw the burning of a book, while the other claimed human lives.

This is of course true, but what exactly did the mastermind of this foolish and hate-filled act expect, other than a reaction somewhere on the Muslim side?

His bark worse than his bite

Pastor Terry Jones, of the formerly obscure Dove World Outreach Church in Florida – a parish of no more than a few dozen weekly followers – has been enjoying fame and possibly even fortune since calling for a ‘Burn the Quran’ day last September.

He was dissuaded from carrying out his act following a worldwide outcry from Christians and denunciation from American political, religious and community leaders.

But it seems that Jones had an itch that simply had to be scratched, and in March, he and some of his comrades burnt a copy of the Quran.

Strangely though, whilst last year’s threat resulted in outrage throughout the Muslim world and mass protests in most Arab countries, the act itself – once carried out – brought almost no reaction from the streets of those same countries, apart from the ones in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of thousands hit the streets of Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Sanaa and many other Arab cities last summer denouncing Jones, burning effigies and flags and calling for a global campaign to ‘protect the Quran’.

I recall receiving hundreds of emails and texts messages expressing outrage, and calling for immediate action in protest against this heinous act.

Yet now that Jones has actually carried out his threat, not one single demonstration was held, no mass protest was called for, no texts or email messages criss-crossed the ether, and no days of anger were organised.

Recapturing a people’s dignity

One would have expected such protests to come easily to the masses already camping on the streets of Cairo, Tunis, Damascus, Sanaa and Benghazi. Logistically, the scene was set; all would have been ready for such action, but nothing of the sort came to light.

There is no suggestion that those masses revere the Quran any less, or that they see the act carried out by Jones as any less repugnant. So why the apparent inaction? Because the ‘Arab spring’ has elevated minds as well as aspirations, a trend absent still in the contexts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries where corruption is still riding a wave.

One cannot say for sure whether it was the upheavals in the region that had the Arab nations looking elsewhere to exert their collective energies, but it is without a shadow of a doubt that the absence of ‘anti-Terry Jones’ protests was not due to a lack of energy or of ability.

For several years, those studying the Arab world through the mobility and narrative of the masses have emphasised that the number one priority for the Arab people (and Muslims by extension) is the pursuit of freedom and the recapture of their long-lost dignity.

Manifestations of religious, ideological, and cultural extremist behaviour were essentially a reaction to stagnant political climates imposed by despotic regimes, lack of human rights and absence of any hope in a better future.

Thus those people – who considered it their ultimate objective a few months ago to demonstrate anger and outrage for the threat to burn the Quran – today were in no doubt whatsoever that today their priority was to remove those regimes that have ruled them so inhumanely for so long.

Defying political models

Therein lies an important message for those Westerners who make a living from counter-terrorism and eradicating extremism: Supporting despotic regimes and dictators for short-term political and economic gains begets extremism that takes shape in a religious, social, political, ideological or cultural format.

The claim that removing or compromising regimes, such as that of Mubarak, Ben Ali, Saleh, Gaddafi or Assad will inevitably bring an extremist element to government is baseless, as demonstrated by events unfolding before us.

In all of the examples of the nations that revolted against their tyrants, rather than witnessing violence, the world saw protesters insisting on peaceful means despite them being confronted hired thugs and armed security forces.

Those same nations exemplified the meaning of national unity in practise rather than words. Muslims and Christians protected each other, came to each other’s aid and guarded each others’ holy places of worship against the threat of arson and vandalism by elements who had an interest in anarchy and division breaking out.

As soon as the opportunity emerged, those who had lived their lives merely dreaming of living under a democracy someday turned out to be brilliant democrats in practise.

What remains to be seen is whether the West will adapt to the new terrain and change its ways too.

The mood for change

Travelling the region extensively and conversing with people from all walks of life, one cannot miss the the new air of confidence about the Arab citizen.

Whether in Egypt where the revolution is in full swing and some significant fruits have been borne, or in other countries where no mass protests have been reported, there is no doubt that the mood is one for change and transformation.

Conversations in the Arab street are much more bold, brazen and uncaring about who might be eavesdropping. It’s simply a matter of time, but change is certainly now a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

Once free, the Arab and Muslim nations will not resort to violence, extremism and isolationist practises, as some would like the world to think.

Once free, those nations will see the act of Terry Jones as the petty and foolish gesture that it undoubtedly was, and will realise that it brings more damage upon him and his reputation than upon the object of his deranged hatred.

Anas Altikriti is president and founder of the Cordoba Foundation.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.