Thursday, June 30, 2005

30 Days With Islam

I caught the new "30 Days" program that put a white Christian with a Muslim family for 30 days and had him attend Mosque, learn some about Islam, learn about prayer and customs.

Most of the program was the simple things that some of us already know, such as the concept that Islam is an "Abrahamic" religion, or traces its roots back to Abraham. Then it simply explained that Judaism believes in one God, but that the Messiah had not come yet. Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. Islam believes that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, the founder of their religion, were "spiritual sons of God" or prophets, but not the Messiah (if you've read here before, you know that Islam's name for the "savior" is the Mahdi; the name which Sadr took for his army of the Mahdi).

They explained simple things like prayer (including the "women in the back so men don't look at their rears while they're supposed to be praying; my one thought on that is, why don't these folks think that men's rears in women's faces are any more or less tempting to look at when they are at prayer?), haalal food and butchering. They took the time to review the whole "jihad as a personal struggle to submit yourself unto God" as opposed to "holy war".

That's nice. It's probably true for a large part of the Muslim population. It's too bad that you can't just buy that explanation straight out for everyone that is a Muslim. If you could, then we wouldn't have jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan or coming from Saudi Arabia or Sudan or Nigeria. So, one must wonder which is the true jihad or maybe, one must just accept that there are two kinds of jihad and the only way you can tell the difference is if the guy is not strapping a bomb on himself but is simply refusing alcohol, praying and meditating?

This is one area that the program really didn't address well enough for me. As a matter of fact, it was a fairly shallow review of the subject of Islam. Maybe something you'd show your fourth grade class to get the basics out there.

There were two parts of the program that I did find most interesting and had they focused on the subjects more, I might have appreciated the program better.

The host and the guest (our intrepid Christian white male), had a discussion about whether the host believed there were any terrorists sleeper cells among the 250k Muslims in Dearborne, Michigan. The host declared sincerely that he felt the government was rounding up Muslims and declaring them "terrorists" just to make them look good. The hosts wife said that this problem was because Muslims did not step forward and try to mingle with mainstream America and was not vocal enough in condemning the acts of terrorism. Her husband responded that he felt he had nothing to apologize for, these men did not represent him.

Some thoughts on this subject. First, I don't believe that the government arbitrarily rounds up Muslims and declares them "terrorists". I do believe that their were Middle Eastern people, particular Arab Muslims that were associated with groups known to have relationships with certain charities and organizations that made them "persons of interest". I believe this happened a lot directly after 9/11. While I understand the erstwhile hosts concerns, I can't find myself as sympathetic on that issue. As far as today's arrests are concerned, I don't believe that it is the same method or reason and that the federal agencies are more careful about making cases and developing evidence before making arrests.

On the other hand, I believe I understand why this gentleman would feel this way. The first issue must be how difficult it is to accept that someone is claiming your ideology, your religion as their reason du jour for killing people, particularly when you must live among your own large group of people who do not follow that concept. On the other hand, I wonder if this guy was being purposefully disingenuous on the subject?

I was thinking this because of a comment he made later about, "we need to ask ourselves why 19 men would do such a thing. No one just kills themselves and 3000 people for no reason." Which leads me to believe that he has heard the discontent in his nieghborhood or among his fellows, possibly even believed it himself to some small degree. These comments always seem to smack of some sort of sympathy, even if the person, as he did, follows it up with "I condemn these acts, my friends and all of Islam condemns these acts."

From my perspective, I wonder why it is the victim must always establish themselves as completely blameless and pure in order for an heinous act perpetrated against them to be condemned without caveat?

But, his wife was interesting in that she said to him that Muslims should be concerned about making their voices heard condemning these acts. A further bit of discussion between all three (it was slightly heated) from the Haque's (Hawk) point of view, these men were simply fringe elements. Not just fringe elements of Islam, but fringe of humanity because their acts were inhuman. I can tell you that she came across very sincere. Of course, so did her husband.

In many respects, I agree that that they are "fringe", if I or others didn't really believe that we would be at war with a whole lot of other people. Unfortunately, this "fringe" element or "cult" as Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia once referred to them has gained an increasing number of followers and they come from Saudi Arabia largely where a rather larger number of religious and educational institutes appear to have a rather larger number of "cutl" figures running around. I'm not sure how else one could explain a couple thousand Saudis wondering in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan for "Jihad".

Watching this program has made me think about that both the Muslim community and the non Muslim community were both victims on September 11. We share a bond of betrayal in many respects. The betrayal I aluded to yesterday which is the betrayal of hospitality and what Bill Whittle once called "sanctuary". We might not all have the same culture, but we do have some similar views on what is acceptable behavior from your guests when you open your home to them. Maybe the feeling is worse among the main part of the Muslim community because it was like inviting your brother into your home that you share with these other room mates and your brother destroys the home and kills a couple of your room mates.

Mr. Haque said a couple of times that he condemns these acts, but does not think he should have to apologize for them. I wondered after that if it wasn't he himself who felt the guilt, right or wrong, and if he wasn't trying to convince himself?

Well, I'm not sure what other non-Muslim Americans feel about Muslims, but I never expected an apology. What I was hoping of course was that they would immediately begin to look around and see if there were any people in their midst that might be a threat and to help out in that regard.

I understand, also, in some respects the desire to draw back into the comfort of their own groups and not begin fishing for suspects among themselves. This is how cultures, tribes and even religions have survived over the centuries and decades. Pull in tight against the outsider and save the group first before you start looking internally. I also think if I was in their shoes, it would be hard to accept that there would be more within this group of people, the people that you have found refuge with this whole time in a place where you are the foreign and they are your connection to home and your comfort, that any more would betray them.

I think the second issue of the program I felt was interesting was the question of discrimination. The white Christian guy who took on the job of spending time with the family, grew a beard, wore a cap and a long shirt, not exactly a thobe or dishdash, and basically took on, as close as he could, the appearance of being a Muslim. What was interesting was that he was blond and green eyed. As he attempted to speak to people on the street, he received some very interesting responses.

Before I go on, while I understand there is some question about whether there was a preconceived ending for this program, during the program, this gentleman did present some sincere issues with praying in the mosque and did not participate exactly. He was concerned that he did not understand the prayers and their meanings and that he would be betraying his own beliefs and possibly country if he uttered the prayers without knowing what they said. He sought out information about what the prayers were and he did express issues with saying that Mohammed was God's only messenger as he clearly believed that Jesus was the messenger. So, whatever the other aspects of the suspected outcomes were, I felt that this was a truthful representation of the situation since I would feel the same concern.

At some point, he had discussions about discrimination and threats with some members of CAIR and with a local city council man. The first conversation was about the call to prayer which these gentlemen wanted to have broadcast over a loud speaker outside of the mosque. This caused some issues with the local populace who proceeded to send emails to the councilman. One aspect of this I thought was a little over blown was the characterization of the emails as "threats". While I'm sure that there have been threats because you can't know the extent of everyone's intent or behavior, the emails they were showing did not contain "threats" or were not really "threatening" as threatening an action so much as complaints. They showed two in particular. One was generally respectful but still opposed the call. The other did not contain rough language but was obviously more stringent in its plaints, noting that "this was a Christian neighborhood" and the people "did not all worship their God" and they felt they should not do it. I can't quote the email exactly, but I would say that even I, as a Christian, felt the email could be easily classified as bigotry.

An important note that was made, but not elaborated on, was that the actual "threatening" emails were being investigated by the FBI. Something that is appropriate as it is a threat against an American citizen and they all deserve protection under the law.

Back to the response to the "pretend" Muslim and discrimination, he took a petition from CAIR asking people to stand against racial and ethnic profiling of Muslims and went around asking obviously white, non-Muslim people (and one Asian gentleman) if they would sign the petition. Most of them just said, "no thanks". I believe that the show was attempting to show this as discrimination, but the sane part of me who has been involved in petitions and had petitions shoved at me, knows that people aren't necessarily judging the petition or showing prejudice towards Muslims so much as not wanting to be bothered by a political activist as they go into a restaurant.

On the other hand, when some people were asked directly what a terrorist looks like and there were direct answers that said, "dark, middle eastern". Our erstwhile pariticipant asked a Korean gentleman directly who were terrorists. He replied, "Muslims from the Middle East". Our participant then said to the Korean man, "Well, what about Oklahoma or the Atlanta Olympics?". The Korean man replied, "But that is who the terrorists are now." Meaning of course, Muslims from the Middle East. One couldn't exactly refute that point.

Except, that I will slightly. My own views on racial profiling is that it has inherent problems. For instance, Chechnyan's are largely white and speak Russian. Nigerians are largely black and speak a multitude of languages: English, French, and multiple languages from different tribal and ethnic groups. Of course, one might remember Padilla is Hispanic and Richard Reid was mullato.

Then of course, we have Walker Lindh and a few other caucasians from the US and Australia and France and Britain, etc, etc, etc.

It seems that once you profile, you may become lazy in looking at other potential threats.

So, all in all I felt the program was a little lame with only two even relatively interesting parts and they were only interesting because I had thoughts on the subject and wanted to expand on it. Otherwise, it never really dwelled on it enough to make a real impact.

I would be interested in someone making a much broader film encompassing a lot more discussion on the issues of import these days.


Larry said...


Very good posts (as usual). I ran across a preview of '30 Days' by DEBBIE SCHLUSSEL who, by closer access, was a little less kind in her analysis of the program.

BTW- I give you a standing ovation for "When Should We Abandon Freedom"

Kat said...

Thanks Larry. I thought the 30 days show was just weak and aimed at people who have no idea about the complexity of Islam or the Muslim community in the US.

Glad you liked the "speech the President should have given". Or somebody. Might have to go out and start giving my own speeches here pretty soon.