Saturday, January 20, 2007

Does Fear of Islam Stalk the Land?

Within the last few months, three friends, all of whom I have known for other thirty years and are intelligent and bright, have expressed their belief that “Islam” or “radical Islam” is the greatest or second greatest threat to civilization.

A thumbnail sketch of each:

1. My former political science professor in the 60's, now conducting leadership workshops. Definitely a liberal . Of the three, this person appears to have narrowed his concern of Islam down to: 1) a secondary threat after climate change, and 2) “radical Islam.” Yet he sent me a list consisting of 21 acts of violence perpetrated by Muslims in comparison to those perpetrated by Jews. Here’s a sampling:
Muslims have crashed more planes into buildings than Jews have.
Muslims have taken many more hostages than Jews have.
Muslims have hung more charred dead American bodies from bridges than Jews have.

2. A former high school classmate of mine, class of 1958. He was one of the brightest students; brilliant, really, and went on to a successful career with a large corporation and is now retired and enjoying a life of leisure. Definitely a conservative.

He recently sent me an e-mail titled: “Will the Next Attack Get Our Attention?” with a link to an article by that name in the The American Thinker, which is not all that unreasonable. Yet my friend ended his e-mail with this comment in response to the article: “This struck me as an extraordinarily 'right on' message -- lambasting both political parties for feckless finger-pointing. The real enemy is Islam.”

3. A colleague, a lawyer who was involved in environmental issues with me in the 70’s. Leans toward libertarianism. His e-mailed comment in response to a newspaper article I sent him about the impeachment forum I organized and moderated last week was the capper: “On the other hand, if the aim is impeachment over Iraq, then obviously someone doesn't understand radical Islam.”

Now I’m wondering how many of my friends, colleagues, and even those with whom I am politically involved, harbor a deep-seated fear that their way of life is threatened by “Islam.”


John in Cincinnati said...

I think, Gail, that your friends are using the kinds of fruit basket logic we often use in our everyday lives: when we find both an apple and and orange in our basket, they are obviously related.

That's inaccurate of course, and worse when we attribute causation of one by the other.

That said, I think fear has overtaken much of the land, and because fear kicks in our fight-flight survival response, we quite naturally seek some "it" or "them" to fight or flee. Currently, "radical Islam" -- unfortunately conflated with Islam in general -- is "it."

I probably wouldn't go as far as Chomsky, but if we're talking numbers let's consider things such as which country in the world possesses the greatest number of weapons of mass destruction?

Have to run now, but let's begin teaching by example, differentiating "terrorism" from "terrorists," and realizing that being associated with something on the order of half a million civilian deaths in Iraq is not the road to safety and peace.

Ann said...

Gail, I agree with John, and of course, with your post. We are a most fearful nation, with the most weapons to ensure our safety, and to ensure the retention of the enormous wealth that we do not want to share.

The whole logic of being safe is nebulous, at best, and so frightening that we dearly love to point a shaking finger--saying, that, that is our enemy. By putting a face on our fear, we feel as if we are in control. Silly us. Divisiveness is the enemy to our peace, within and without. When we separate the Earth into politically drawn borders, and create vast disparities of rich and poor, we automatically create an "us" and the "other."

When will we look into the eyes of others, at the human quality in each individual, and know we are related through our humanness? When we respect the other life forms that share our planet, then we will find peace.

sixblueten said...


What I don't understand, is how some of us are surprised/appalled at the fear of which you speak. This fear, rooted in xenophobia at heart, is built into our genetic structure, our very survival circuitry. The French? They still fear the Turks, for christ's sake, and oppose Turkey's entry into the EU! Ludicrous? Yes, but very real and very human. Anyone who believes that there is a "dawning of the Age of Aquarius" and humans are making great spiritual strides hasn't emerged from his/her Marin County bubble of unreality in decades. We are the same savage beasts that we were 10,000 years ago. Not similar, but EXACTLY THE SAME. Planetwide spiritual evolution is a myth believed by those ignorant of the real reason we're here on this planet - to fuck, have babies, and die. Along with this simple program comes the prerogative to hoard and fight - behaviors exhibited from Darfur to Iraq to high school football games. No, we're never going to lose our fear of the "others". All we can do is try to limit the response to this fear.

So happy you have a blog!!!

sixblueten said...

Damn this google account. This is Tod, Gail!

Ralph said...


Does this "fear of Islam" remind one of the lead up to the rise of blame for Germany's ills onto the jews in the 1930"s? We humans seem to always have a way of placing blame on "those others", whomever they might be.


Peter said...

Its very dishreatening to learn that intelligent citizens have fallen away from a systemic or holistic view of their role as citizens of a world. While globalization of labor has become an accepted if grudging and damnable fact, positive globalization - world citizenship and brotherhood - has been crushed in spirit in the US by years of self-centered economic thinking and political fear of the Other.

If anyone thought for more than a few minutes about Islam's larger context, its clear WE came along and started all this. WE are the enemy occupying their lands with bases and soldiers to steal resources to enrich big business. (We just saw Syriana last night, so this is fresh). It is obvious that rather than Islam, the US is the power in the world to be feared. The US has the full weight of a trillion-dollar military, the US tax base, and CIA - all of which have been thrown against the Middle East for decades, in league with the business goals of Big Oil, against the people of neraly every Middle East nation. And of course, there's the religiously dogmatic support of Israel, which has become a neoconservative nightmare of blowback.

Yes, they happen to be Islamist, and generally poor. Yes, they use the weapons they have - so did the US colonies in 1776 use the weapons and tricks of their time against imperial foes. What do we expect? Are we all so blind as to not see the results of a century of US-British colonial domination over an entire continent of people to take their resources?

It is talk like this from so-called bright people that has eroded my sense of solidarity to the (historically recent) concept of "nation." We really need to think beyond the false patriotism of US and them.

Alexandra Appel said...

Gail, On 9/11 I was living and working for a consulting firm in Fairfax County, VA. There is a large Muslim community in Fairfax; for a week or so following the attack, we joined together, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists - you get the idea - for nightly candle light vigils and prayer. It was extraordinary. Women, men and children - we held hands, cried, and vowed to live with peace, love and trust. I will never forget it, I doubt if the other human beings who stood with me will either.
Kenneth Patchen, the great American poet, wrote: Hating Hitler we become Hitler. I agree with Patchen, John, Ann and all those who stood witness with me in the aftermath of 9/11. The only thing to fear is fear itself – gee, I wonder who said that?