Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Myth of the Muslim Tide

Recently a number of women in Pakistan were shot and killed by gunmen who are part of the Taliban movement. Their crime? They were doctors and volunteers involved in innoculating children against polio. You read that correctly. They were helping children who might otherwise have contracted a crippling disease.

I have to admit to you that my anger boils when I hear about these situations and my mind goes to "Muslims!" The terrible extremism of Islamicists leads me toward the irrational and unChristian condemnation of all Muslims, including those in our midst, rather than focussing on the the perpetrators of these acts. And I figure I am a tolerant and even welcoming guy, having reached out to Muslim congregations in several communities in which I have lived.

I have found it really helpful to read Doug Saunders' book The Myth of the Muslim Tide. Saunders lived in an area of London, Great Britain that was "taken over" by Muslims. Except that he didn't see it that way. He decided to do his research about the wave of immigrants and it is fascinating. Saunders is not religious at all, and has no opinions about Islam as a religion. He is deeply concerned about Islamic extremism and views it as a real threat.

Still, he wanted to explore whether our concerns and fears are grounded. He discovered that in most Western countries Muslims quickly adapt to the cultural norms, usually within a couple of generations. The size of families decreases, children avail themselves of education, attitudes toward women change. While there are extreme religious leaders, in the majority of cases tolerance and compassion are expressed values within Muslim congregations.

Saunders discovered that much of the overheated rhetoric of anti-Islamic writers is just that. Rarely is the fear-mongering supported by statistics or sociological studies. Claims that Europe will be more than half Muslim in twenty five or thirty years is not supported in any way by population growth projections. It will be more like six to eight percent, depending on the country. He points out that much of the concern over "breeding like rabbits" and threats to values is eerily like a similar movement in America in the 1950's. Then it was directed toward Roman Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Europe.

Am I still shocked by attitudes toward women in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries? Yup. But I realize that many of the worst atrocities are committed by those whose hatred of the West is motivated by ideology rather than religious tenets, even though they claim to be devoutly Muslim.

Do any of you struggle with the dark side of responding to these extreme acts? Have any of you read Saunders' book?


roger said...

It's hard to separate fanaticism and terrorism with religion, when the terrorists claim to be committing their evil acts because of their religion. Obviously they are completely misguided, to say the least, but when we hear that repeatedly you start believing there's some truth to that.

I am reminded by my own post 9/11 situation, in which I was catching a domestic flight just two or three weeks after that horrible day.

Every passenger was eying up other passengers, and sure enough there was someone of middle eastern decent on our flight.

Wouldn't you know it....he was in front of me when we were boarding the flight. He was travelling alone, and stopped before stepping in, muttering something seemingly arabic(including the word "allah").

He refused to enter, and when I asked him if he was nervous, he stated he was waiting for a friend(I thought it was odd that his friend wouldn't be with him right now).

My seat was in the back row, and I was watching for him to enter. He was the last passenger, and he had nobody accompanying him. Guess where he sat? In the front row, closest to the flight deck! Keep in mind, this was before they had the reinforced cockpit doors.

Long story short(or maybe that's too late!), I had a conversation with the captain, as I felt I had to do something. This passenger lied, mentioned allah, the location of his seat....and yes, I was racially profiling.

The captain promised to have a word with said passenger before takeoff. He didn't. It was only a one hour flight, and I can tell you that I had my eyes on him the entire time(the passenger, not the captain!). I thought the captain could have asked him why he said he was travelling with someone when he clearly was not.

This is definitely my longest comment on your blog, David, but I have never forgotten this incident.

I'll never know if this gentleman had any evil plans for that flight. Someone told me that with my whispering to the captain at the front of the cabin, just feet from this passenger, it may have deterred him from anything he had planned. I'm not so sure.

For me, I have to battle the temptation to lump everyone in the same category. Obviously the vast, vast majority of muslims are not terrorists.

I do consider myself pretty accepting, having friends from various nationalities and religions. I spent a year working in a part of London that had a high percentage of muslims.

But every time I hear of horrific incidents like the ones you mentioned, I have to get back to that internal debate again.

IanD said...

Roger : WOW.

willowjakmom said...

"Roger: Wow!" is right, Ian.

I have always been, and still am- very ignorant about religion in all its forms. So I do not tend to jump to conclusions about any religious group, Muslim or other. I would like to say that I don't racially profile, but that I would be a lie. It is particularly (and ashamedly) apparentl that I do this, when I fly as well, although I will (hyprocritically) be the first to get angry or defensive if I hear someone else make derogatory or racist statements.

From hearing Roger's story, I am torn between being grateful that there are Rogers on my flights, who are keeping watch. I would like to believe that there is a Roger on every one of my flights, but that they are keeping watch, or are on the look-out for the "bad guys" and not necessarily just Middle Eastern men. My presumption is that Roger, you likely went by your gut feeling and it sounds like it was based on some valid reasons to speak up. I think that too often, especially as Canadians, we can be too polite to draw that kind of attention to ourselves, even if it's for our own safety.

It is definitely an internal debate and one that I hope never causes me to have to act on. I'm content to just beat myself up over it from the safety of my own home.