Friday, Aug. 06, 2004 | 7:36 a.m.



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Still More Coolness

Fumbling Through the Issue

I was reading an article this morning at Common Dreams that was protesting an op-ed piece in the New York Times. According to the author, Abhinav Aima, the NYT piece said that fundamentalist Islamic terrorists are suffering from a mistaken translation in the Koran, thinking that they will be "welcomed by 72 virgins in heaven," when in fact, they have confused the Arabic word for virgin with the Aramaic word for white grapes. Aima argues that this is just another case of ignorance about the Muslim people and goes on to give several good examples of this sort of ignorance in our contemporary society. Stereotypes are exposed. Finally, the argument is made that most journalists ignore several reasons for the making of a terrorist. Reasons like years of Israeli occupation and the removal of their sovereignty as a people. Reasons like the violent regimes supported by the US and the militants funded by the US (like Osama bin Laden) when their cause enriches our access to their natural resources. And I was with Aima wholeheartedly until I read this: "As many Muslims, radicals and otherwise, have told me: End their suffering and the violence shall also end."

I immediately thought about our Native American tribes, who also lost their homelands and were forced into land the US government didn't want (at the time) called "reservations." They are allowed a kind of sovereignty on reservation land, but it's not worth much, considering most of the reservation land is strategically placed in such a way as to keep the richest of the natural resources for the US government. While the suffering of these tribes may be different than that of the Muslim people, it is suffering, nonetheless. While someone stepping in to give a handout might have seemed like the best solution, it wasn't until the tribes themselves found a way to pull themselves out of poverty (primarily, casinos) that their conditions started to improve.

What bothers me about the Common Dreams piece is the insistence that someone else "end their suffering." If two words had been added -- "help them" as in, "Help them end their suffering" -- I would have finished the piece with a completely different taste in my mouth. The absence of those two words suggests that the Muslim people should have no part in their own rebuilding, the very thing other articles on this site criticize the US for doing in Iraq. While I understand that, as with the Native American tribes, the Muslim people were pushed out of their homes, and that they continue to be manipulated, to suggest that someone else should be responsible for fixing their problems seems to be perpetuating the stereotypes of helpless, illiterate Muslims who need someone else to sort things out for them. I am sure this was not the intention of the author, but I found the reading jarring.

I can appreciate the insult offered in the NYT op-ed article. I can even appreciate the tart bitterness of Aima's response. I just wish the victim language in that one sentence was missing -- the language of "fix me, because I'm too broken to fix myself." It seems like the ultimate taking away of authority from the Muslim people, who I am sure are capable of working out their own solutions given the proper support. The author goes on to say "the answer for that [ending their suffering] does not fit into a sound bite or a tidy Op-ed piece. Or an invasion disguised as a liberation." I agree completely.

Both the issues and the solutions are complex and I'm only just beginning to educate myself about the problems in the Middle East. The main thing I run into is bias, either on one side or the other. So I read what I can and try to filter out as much radical stuff as I can. Whatever the solution, I think most people, probably the author and the Muslim people included, would agree that the Muslim people must be involved in finding the solution. And whatever the solution is, it must involve both sides putting an end to using violence to get their way and and an agreement from other countries to stop manipulating grievances to their own benefit.

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