Where Are the Peaceful Muslims?
Where are the peaceful Muslims? It's a question I've heard for decades, perhaps never more urgently than after the murder this month of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
The truth, as a matter of fact, is out there. With all the images of flame and bloodshed that are all-too-easy to find these weeks, I think it's important to direct you to some other images that are getting less attention.
For many Americans, Islam switched from an unfamiliar oddity to an unfamiliar threat in 1979. That's when Iran, under the leadership of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, took an embassy-full of Americans hostage.
From those first days of America described as the Great Satan through the attacks on 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all the way into the street demonstrations this past week and the death of an American ambassador, news about these terrible events has been easy to find over here. Not to mention images of bombings over the years of innocent civilians in Israel, Great Britain and Spain.
Ditto it's been easy to locate the link to Islam, since the organizations doing the attacking mostly claimed to be doing so in the name of their faith.
But by now, any time there's violence committed in the name of Allah, my e-box quickly fills with denunciations from the larger American Muslim organizations. This recent spate of events, apparently triggered in part by a nasty bit of anti-Muslim film put up on YouTube, was no different.
The Council on American-Islamic Relation, Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Muslim American Society -- Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (MAS-PACE), the Council of Muslim Organizations of the Greater Washington, D.C., Area (CMO), the Libyan Emergency Task Force, and Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center all issued their denunciations not long after Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed after an attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Have you seen these highlighted in newscasts? Me, either. But why should the news organizations give them much space? After all, American Muslims aren't responsible for violence in Libya.
So where are the peaceful Muslims out there in the world?
Those statements are also out there. For instance, this time there was Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti. He's a major religious figure in the nation that is the birthplace of Islam. He denounced attacks on diplomats and embassies as being un-Islamic.
Did that get much play in the US? Not that I saw. But let's face it: it's not easy for us to figure out who over there has enough authority and influence that we should pay attention. Imagine, on the other side, how your average Libyan or Egyptian figures out the relative level of importance of Franklin Graham or Pat Robertson.
So who should we pay attention to? Over and over, the people who live there talk about the "street." And guess what? A few times over the years, the "street" has spoken in ways that seem to be good news for those of us who despair of unrelenting warfare.
Gonna toot my own horn, for a second. On September 12, one day after the death of Ambassador Stevens, I posted this comment to my Facebook page:
"This may be a moment like when al Qaeda overplayed its hand in Iraq. So brutal, so violent that even Iraqis who didn't exactly love the US turned against 'em at least for a while..."
It's not like I matched Babe Ruth's called home run, but I can say I was on the record with what looks at the moment to have been a good prediction. I was referring to what was called Sahwa or The Awakening back in 2006. At that point, al Qaeda and its allies had become so brutal and murderous that it turned many Iraqis against them. (It's not the first time that Islamic terrorists made enemies of Muslims. After all, the vast majority of victims of al Qaeda and its ilk have been Muslims who weren't considered Muslim enough.)
Anyway, President Bush's surge hit at the same time that many Iraqis decided they'd had enough of the Islamic fringe. And the level of violence dropped dramatically.
What happened in Libya? Turns out that many, many Libyans give the U.S. some credit for the ouster of their brutal dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. And Ambassador Stevens was a reasonably popular guy.
First there were the public expressions of grief. These were Libyans caught by cameras, denouncing the stupid film but also saying they were sorry about the murder of Stevens.
And in the last few days there was this, as reported by the incredibly brave reporter for al Jazeera, Yasmine Ryan:
"The killings at the US consulate in Benghazi earlier this month have laid bare a cultural war between ultra-conservatives and the rest of the population that has been brewing in Libya ever since the early days of the rebellion that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
"On Friday, about 10,000 civilians, sick of what they view as the increasing impunity and lawlessness of militias, evicted Ansar al-Sharia, and several other similar armed groups that have rejected recent moves from authorities to integrate them into the nation's nascent security forces, from their compounds in central Benghazi.
"The military was in control of the sites at the time of writing.
"In interviews with Al Jazeera, dozens of people in Benghazi said that the killings of Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador, and three other US staff members during a protest over a video deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad on September 11 were carried out by individuals who are not representative of their country, or their religion."
That's the kind of influence and authority that even an American on the other side of the world can see and understand.
Not that this has ushered in a peaceful chorus of Kum By Y-allah in Libya. Not even close. Heck, even in Iraq, the fragile peace of the Awakening has shuddered and cracked, with al Qaeda's ilk returning to murder more Iraqis.
But in a region where most of what Americans see is news about hostility and violence, we need to notice that there are dramatic exceptions.
And yet, last week ten U.S Republican senators voted to cut off American aid to Libya, Egypt and Pakistan. The rest of the Senate -- including the other Republicans -- rolled its collective eyes and went home.
Nonetheless, those ten senators represent a constituency that could use some perspective.
We, the people of the United States, declared ourselves independent in 1776, didn't finish the war against Great Britain and sign a peace treaty until 1783, didn't draft a constitution until 1787 and were engaged in the bloodiest war ever fought by Americans exactly fourscore and seven years after that first declaration.
Libya, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, etc. -- they don't have 87 years to get their act together. The world is too small these days, too much destruction can be projected beyond any horizon. But shouldn't they get a grace period of fourscore and seven months? Weeks, even?
Saddam Hussein hasn't been dead six years. The Arab Spring hasn't celebrated its second anniversary. Hosni Mubarak stepped down in Egypt 18 months ago. Gaddafi hasn't been dead a year.
And their part of the world has been at war off and on for centuries, compared with the relatively short history of violence for our own nation.
Someone far wiser than me may have an answer to the ills that afflict that part of the world. My small point here is only to point out there's new evidence people of good will and common values are over there and willing to act on their beliefs. And yes, some of them are Muslims.