Friday, December 12, 2008

why can't we talk about this?

So this morning I received one of those pass this along to ten people in the next two minutes or you will never meet the man of your dreams/you will fall down a stairwell or possibly an escalator sometime in the next 5 weeks/you will develop a terrible flesh eating virus before you are forty five, forwards. You know the kind? Well normally I glance and usually delete because they're usually pretty harmless. I don't pass them along which means 567 horrible things are probably awaiting me in my future, but alas, life is short. But the one I got this morning I couldn't ignore. Believe me, I tried. I tried to go about my morning routine and drink my coffee and pass it off as just a silly email, but I couldn't. I started stewing and then I started fuming and before I knew it, I was full blown raging. This is in large part due to the fact that I am an extremely stubborn person (a trait that I fully own up to and am on occasion very proud of). But it was also in large part due to the nature of the email. Here's the most offensive part:

The following verse is from the Koran, (the Islamic Bible)
Koran ( 9:11 ) - For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced; for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah;
And there was peace.
(Note t he verse number!) Hmmmmmmm?!

Yeah, if you are sitting in stunned/confused silence right now, add in a few crickets and that was my reaction. I had studied Islam and Iraq in school and I was pretty sure there was nothing in the Koran about fearsome eagles, but that was the least of my issues (even though after just a brief bit of research I verified that no, this is not in the Koran nor is there even anything close to it). The fact that whoever wrote this forward actively believed that US involvement in Iraq was a holy mission that would "cleanse" the land of Allah was the thing I couldn't wrap my head around. At first it just boggled my mind that anyone could think in such over-simplified terms, but then it started to really disturb me, and me, being me, well I had to respond. Here's what I wrote back (and I felt a little bad because the person who sent this to me is one of my best friends in the world and I didn't want to sound like I was ranting at her because she is an open minded and intelligent person, but again, me being me, well I couldn't just let it go, even if it was a silly forward-because well, hate and propaganda, even in their silliest, smallest incarnations, can still plant a seed in someone's mind or fuel prejudice; they still have power)

So here, without any further ado, was my reply:

"Hmm, I'm all for supporting our soldiers, but after five years, countless reports (many of them by US generals who served over there) over how many things have gone wrong on our end in Iraq, our president admitting that there was an intellgence failure, not to mention the massive human casualties (i.e. civilian-i.e. men, women and children, a good number of them who have been killed by private contractors like Blackwater hired by our government and paid for with our tax dollars) -I just think it's a little wrong to simplify things to the point where it's the mighty Eagle trampling over the people of Iraq. There's a lot more nuance in this situation is all I'm saying, and I object to something that writes it off as good fighting evil, because it not only simplifies and belittles the very complex mission our soldiers have right now, but it simplifies and belittles the death of so many innocents.

And one HUGE clarification-anyone who read this forward and thought it was in any way accurate-please google Koran verse 911-and you'll see how much has been written about this "hoax"-other people's words-not mine, that was invented to support the US war mission in Iraq. And if that still doesn't convince you-go to any reputable online version of the Koran (like this one from the University of Michigan; ) and please type in the word fearsome eagle or just plain eagle in the search section. Yup, it doesn't appear anywhere in the Koran. Still not convinced, keep looking at various translations (like this one from the University of Southern California;, and you will find that this "verse" is completely untrue. So in summary-whether or not you support the war in Iraq or not, we should all be able to agree that this forward is complete and total propaganda. And you should be insulted that the person who originally wrote this email just assumed that no one who read it would investigage its veracity.

Oh and if anyone is curious, what Chapter 9, verse 11 of the Koran, actually does say. Here are three different translations given by USC:

YUSUFALI: But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and practise regular charity,- they are your brethren in Faith: (thus) do We explain the Signs in detail, for those who understand.
PICKTHAL: But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then are they your brethren in religion. We detail Our revelations for a people who have knowledge.
SHAKIR: But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, they are your brethren in faith; and We make the communications clear for a people who know.

Hmm- no mention I can see of fearsome eagles or wrath or trembling in despair.

Sorry to get all intense about this-but I have a really big problem when people oversimplify something as massive and complex and intricate as the Iraq war. And I get even more upset when people attempt to use religion to justify war. If you want to justify the war in Iraq, fine. I fully admit that not everone shares my viewpoints that the war was mishandled and that we went into it under false pretenses. But to try and justify it by saying that it is a mission from God-that I can't understand. We as Americans talk all the time about Muslim fundamentalism-how these terrorists kill because they think it is God's will. We talk about how terrifying and incomprehensible that is. And I'm not saying that the war in Iraq is tantamount to terrorism, but we're using the same basic principle that God should dictate foreign policy. And you know, God has dictated foreign policy in the past and continues to in modern day. How did those Crusades go? Look at India-Pakistan right now-how deeply that conflict is fueled by religion. How about Iran? How about the Sudan where an attempt by the government in the North to put into place religious law resulted in a devastating, years long civil war. Why is it so easy for so many Americans to criticize and look down on these places, while still clinging to the idea that everything America does is okay becase we are on God's side. Do we honestly want to be that kind of nation, one where religion and government have no distinction?

It's not supporting our soldiers to stand from afar, refuse to investigate, and say that the war in Iraq is a holy mission. You can believe that God is with our soldiers, you can believe that He is watching over them, but I have a really big problem if you say that God sent them there. Because unless God is GW Bush (and I don't think even his biggest supporter loves him that much) then no, God did not start the war in Iraq. I'm not an expert on Iraq or this war by any means. But I've tried to look deeper, I've read and I've studied (we spent a huge chunk of time on Iraq in my Middle East politics class), because I want to understand more. And if you really want to support our troops, if you really want to do something more meaningful than an email forward containing blatant and offensive lies, then please just make that same effort. You can't fight along side them. But you can fight misinformation and try to understand the world they are fighting in.

And then, after I replied, because my friends are opinionated and strong-there was a teensy bit of friction, not much, but some. And that got me thinking even more, about the title of this blog post.


Whew, sorry, I know the all-caps makes me sound like a ranting, raving crazy lady. But seriously? What went wrong? What happened to our discourse where you bring something up like Iraq or any of the myriad issues present in the Middle East or just Islam in general, bring anything like this up outside of a classroom (or even in some classrooms depending on the mood of the room), and people get very upset and very unwilling to listen. People get called things like unpatriotic. And I'm not talking about just this forward anymore because luckily I don't have the kind of friends who would call me unpatriotic for responding honestly to an e-mail forward. But there have been times when I've tried to have rational discussions about Islam, where all I attempt to do is suggest that as a religion, Islam is not made up of just a bunch of Christian and Western hating vitriol-and people get really offended. It's like there's this raw nerve around certain topics. And I get it. The raw nerve has a name and it's 9/11. The terrorists who carried out those attacks happened to be a part of an Islamic extremist network-and no one has or ever will forget that association. And again, I get it. I get how drastically that changed people's perceptions of Islam and of parts of the Middle East for the worse. And if you've read my post on 9/11 you know I would never suggest that we forget and move on. But what we have to do is stop letting this rawness in our hearts prevent us from listening, prevent us from even trying to understand a world and a religion different from our own. We can't write off Islam because of the actions of one group. We can't write off the Middle East because of the actions of certain governments. There's just so much complexity and nuance in everything in this world, particularly the current political environments in so many Middle Eastern nations, that simplicity doesn't work. Good and evil, black and white, those things are easy, and when innocent people die, we as humans crave them. We cling to them, because the alternative makes it hard to sleep at night, that every single person in this world has the capacity inside of them for both tremendous good and terrible evil. But when you get right down to it, those things, good and evil, black and white, well as easy as it would be if they did exist, they just don't. This isn't me being a hippie, thinking that there is no evil in this world, but I can sure as hell tell you that people don't just fall into two categories-good and evil. People don't. Religions don't. Nations don't. It's just not that simple.

So can we please stop treating these things like they are that simple. Can we please talk about them? I want to be able to talk openly and honestly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without being called a terrorist sympathizer if I even suggest that the Palestinians aren't necessarily the bad guys. I grew up being taught basically until college that there were good guys and bad guys in that conflict, that Israel was the victim and Palestinians were blood thirsty criminals who would never stop until all Israelis were killed. But my God, no matter what your politics, just look a little bit further into that situation and you'll see how vastly more complex it is than that. Do you want to know what happens when you deny a group like Palestinians nuance and complexity, when you call them villains, when you refuse to even question whether or not they have legitimacy to their cause (and I'm saying cause, not necessarily all of their methods-and that's the part that sucks, that I have to put in this little disclaimer because I actively anticipate someone reading this and calling me a terrorist sympathizer). What happens is that the second you cast people in these rolls, good and bad, well then you are actively participating in the halting of progress, in coming closer to a solution, to peace. Because we will never arrive at peace if both sides refuse to understand each other.

And the first step to understanding is to be able to talk about this. Talking doesn't mean agreeing, it doesn't mean conceding. Hold onto your preconceived notions all you want, but at least talk about it. We need to be able to talk about these things. Islam, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Palestine; these places, these things-they seem so scary when you refuse to call them by name, when you leave them in a dark place in your mind that never sees the light of day. And sure, parts of all of those things are genuinely scary, just like parts of America are scary (I mean have you ever been to West Virginia-JOKING! kind of). But the second we start to talk about all this, without yelling or calling names, the second we as a nation allow ourselves to dig a little deeper, to search for the complexity and the nuance, well I firmly believe that we're going to be a lot less scared. We cling to simplicity because we think we need it to survive in this world. But the truth is simplicity only holds us back, from ourselves, from each other, from an understanding that the world we live in is never black and white. Besides what hope or beauty is there in black and white? I much prefer the real, multi-colored, multi-faceted, much more challenging truth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I am muslim.
--I have been wondering about american christians--It is said that "born again" and evangelical christians believe that a war in the middle east will create some circumstance that will bring back Jesus ----or something of that sort?
There was also that part about Hilter--the (hate) doctrines of Martin Luther contributed to a mindset that could carry out acts against the Jews.
Once Jews were no longer considered the enemy---it was the "communists" then came Islam and the muslims and now the U.S. is trying once again to make the Russians the bad guys.
Maybe Americans are simply addicted to fear?
The evangelical church---which seems to be very popular among americans is all about going to hell.....

I hope I am wrong about all this.

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