Don Davis

On Fear: The Islam Edition, Or, Do You Know My Friend Wa'el?

Filed By Don Davis | September 23, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Egypt, election 2010, Islam, Islamophobia, politics, Racism, Wa'el Nawara

We last got together about ten days ago, when I put up a story that hoped to explain to the Islamic world that, Qur'an burning aside, we don't really hate either them, or our own Constitution.

605islam.gifI pointed out that, just like everywhere else, about 20% of our population are idiots, that this means about 60,000,000 of us might, at any time, be inclined to burst into fits of random stupidity, such as the desire to burn Qur'ans to make some sort of statement, and that the same First Amendment that protects the freedom of stupid speech also protects the rights of Islamic folks to freely build mosques...and finally, that this apparent "paradox of freedom" is exactly why the US is the kind of country that many Islamic folks the world over wish they lived in as well.

I then went off to enjoy my Godson's wedding, and I ignored the posting until the next Monday.

On the two dozen sites where it could be found, this was apparently considered to be a fairly innocuous message...with one giant exception, which is what we'll be talking about today.

Long story short, some portion of this country's population has some bizarre ideas about Islamic folks...but maybe if they knew my friend Wa'el, they might see things a bit differently.

This world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those that feel

--Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, in a letter, August, 1776

So all of this took place at Newsvine...and if you're not familiar with how things work there, users may "seed" a story that they find of interest, so that it may attract the interest of others. What happens is that the user reposts a shortened version of the original story, along with a link back to the source.

My original posting on the site had fewer than ten comments, but by Monday Newsvine user btco's seeded version of my story had about 300 comments; today there are more than 625.

Those who were not liking the story basically came down to one of a few categories of responders; here's one example...

...I live a few minutes from Dearbornistan in Michigan and I can tell you that, as a place with a great deal of Muslims, they barely speak out against the Islamofacists that kill. There is outrage; however, but that outrage is aimed at America instead of the Islamofacists that should be the target of the aforementioned outrage. In fact, Dearborn has seen Muslims verbally attack Christians and forbid them for handing out Christian pamphlets, their 1st amendment right to do so, as this goes against the @!$%#ed up Sharia Law. Until Dearbornistan demands that they will abide willingly with the constitution and ignore the racist and misogynic crap that is Sharia law, then Dearbornistan Muslims side with the enemy and that enemy is Islam.

...and here's another:

Christianity underwent reformation and was tamed by enlightenment period (during which, BTW, was harshly criticized).

Islam is in its original forms, claws and all.

And people like you, who for some dubious reason think it should be allowed to be what it is are doing great disservice for Muslims whose minds are set for the reforms and who want to live like normal, 21 century people, but are forced to "submit" to medieval dogma.

The idea that all Islamic folks worship a Moon God, that neither democracy nor any other religion can co-exist alongside Islam, that after beating them, all Islamic men send their four wives out to distribute "terror tomatoes" among the infidel population, and that, for adherents of Islam, both the Bible and the Constitution are immoral and corrupt all seems to be accepted wisdom for a bunch of the commenters (except for the "terror tomato" part, which I made up myself); it all seems to come from an apparently long-circulating email that was posted in the comments over and over that purports to prove that Muslims can't be good Americans.

So is all this true?

Well...let's start with the question of whether Islamic people can co-exist with democracy...and to help answer that question, let me introduce you to my friend Wa'el.

Wa'el Nawara has been trying to advance the interests of democracy in Egyptian politics for many years now, in the form of his work for the El-Ghad Party, in the face of an Egyptian Government that has been ruled, since the end of King Farouk's reign, by just one political party, the (secular) NDP. The founder of El-Ghad, Ayman Nour, was imprisoned and tortured for basically getting 8% of the vote in a 2005 Presidential election against the current President, Hosni Mubarak.

To prevent this from happening again, it is also alleged that the Egyptian Government helped to orchestrate a temporarily successful "takeover" of the party from within. (This is not uncommon; the Egyptians security apparatus has acted against numerous parties, including the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood.)

Shortly after Wa'el and I became acquainted (I had been researching a series of stories about Egyptian politics when we were introduced) he was inside the offices of his own Party, which were burned by a mob that was allegedly associated with Egyptian State Security (an event that was recorded, live, by people across the street). Afterwards Wa'el, along with many of the 30 other people who were in the building, were arrested and detained guessed it...suspicion of arson.

It's not just Wa'el, or the other members of his Party...nor the other members of other Parties, either.

If you were to take the time, you'd find out there's a Center for Democracy in Lebanon, you'd discover that Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and even Saudi Arabia have all held recent local elections, and you'd find out there's even a debate in the UAE as to whether adopting democratic reforms might be appropriate.

Outside the Gulf, India's current President is their third Muslim President, Indonesia, which is 80% Muslim, elects their Presidents (even as they struggle with sectarian violence)...and all of that tells me that anyone who thinks Islam and democracy are incompatible should do some more reading.

Can Islam accept the presence of other religions?

One answer can be found in what is today's Spain, but what used to be AndalucĂ­a (or Al-Andalus, if you prefer Arabic), where Moors ruled for centuries over Jews with far more compassion and respect than they ever received under Christian dominion; another, in today's Egypt, where Christian Copts and Muslims have lived together for thousands of years, even as tensions have increased recently between the two groups.

Does Wa'el beat his four wives?

Not as far as I can tell--and if his one wife ever found out he had three other wives...I'm guessing that wouldn't go so well for Wa'el.

Is the Bible corrupt to those who follow Islam?

Those who follow "mainstream" Islam believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don't believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that He was crucified. Is that corruption? I don't know, and I guess you'll have to decide that one for yourself.

Now we need to be fair here, and acknowledge that one branch of Islam does indeed represent much of what my most conservative friends are afraid of: Wahhabi Ikhban. Here's what the Library of Congress has to say about the sect:

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was concerned with the way the people of Najd engaged in practices he considered polytheistic, such as praying to saints; making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques; venerating trees, caves, and stones; and using votive and sacrificial offerings. He was also concerned by what he viewed as a laxity in adhering to Islamic law and in performing religious devotions, such as indifference to the plight of widows and orphans, adultery, lack of attention to obligatory prayers, and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women.

When Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab began to preach against these breaches of Islamic laws, he characterized customary practices as jahiliya, the same term used to describe the ignorance of Arabians before the Prophet. Initially, his preaching encountered opposition, but he eventually came under the protection of a local chieftain named Muhammad ibn Saud, with whom he formed an alliance. The endurance of the Wahhabi movement's influence may be attributed to the close association between the founder of the movement and the politically powerful Al Saud in southern Najd (see The Saud Family and Wahhabi Islam, 1500-1818 , ch. 1).

This association between the Al Saud and the Al ash Shaykh, as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and his descendants came to be known, effectively converted political loyalty into a religious obligation. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. The whole purpose of the Muslim community is to become the living embodiment of God's laws, and it is the responsibility of the legitimate ruler to ensure that people know God's laws and live in conformity to them.

So what have we learned today?

Well, we learned that there is a community of Americans out there who are profoundly afraid of Islam, or anything connected with it, and the odds are that they know very little about the religion, other than what they've seen and copied and pasted, over and over, in a particularly ignorant email.

My friend Wa'el, on the other hand, lives a life that disproves those myths: in addition to being the target of a mob, he's been jailed, along with many of his friends and associates, for trying to create a more democratic Egypt, he has just the one wife, who lives as an equal in their house, and his own country, Egypt, is one of numerous Islamic countries that have other religions well-established within their borders.

We also learned that numerous countries with Islamic populations are countries with varying degrees of representative democracy...and that the world's largest democracy just inaugurated their third Muslim President.

Now the question that we're addressing today is whether Muslims can be good Americans--and the fact is that Wa'el and his family would make great Americans...even though they're not...and if I can point to Muslims who would make great Americans and live halfway around the much you wanna bet we can find tens of thousands more in the heart of Dearbornistan?

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After getting this crazy Teabagger anti-Muslim e-mail from my dad yesterday, I finally lost it on him over it. I just don't see why so many people feel it's okay to smash on Islam all time but would get all bent out of shape if they were sent the same exact e-mail with Christianity substituted for Islam. After all, it's not like Christianity has a totally non-violent past either.

Stonewall Janet | September 23, 2010 10:34 PM

The anti-Islam fervor seems to be a replay of the 1950's "Red scare" with the same illogical panic and personal damage. "We" have learned nothing from history.

it also reminds me of the gay marriage fervor of '04, '06, '08, and the kinds of tactics used by california's rop 8 and maine's question 1.

sorry...meant to say "prop 8 and question 1 proponents".

The upsurge in the form of racism known as Islamophobia coincided with the US efforts to gain control over oil and other resources in South Asia.

In Europe it has a more openly fascist connection as Islamophobia has largely replaced anti-Semitism and the racism de jour of the right.

In the EU and the US most of the left has adopted positions of support for Palestinians, for boycotts of the zionist colony and against US interventions, invasions and occupations to steal oil and other resources. Although the Bushes, the Clintons and Obama occasionally speak out against Islamophobic racism their unyielding support of zionist apartheid and ethnic cleansing and their own racist and genocidal actions make liars of them.


All three abrahamic cult clusters are centers of anti-GLBT bigotry but its purest idiocy to ascribe bigotry to everyone in countries infested by priests, imams or rabbis. Anti-GLBT christers, islamists and judaists are distinguished not by what they want to do to us but by what they can get away with doing to us.

i really love this comment, and i find a lot i it with which i wholeheartedly agree...but the timing of islamophobia in the us and the timing of the us grabbing at middle eastern oil resources seems to be slightly off: my take on the thing was that the us/aramco partnership was a product of the post-wwII environment, but "abab-aphobia", which is how i really think we implement our islamophobia, seems to have really begun as a byproduct of the 1973 oil embargo and all that came from that...which is a long way of saying that we had a good quarter-century of oil-snatching without much discord, and since then we've had another 40 years of discord while oil-snatching.

I agree Don that Islamophobia has a long history but I was talking about the period when it began to surge.

That was after the Gulf War, after decades years of zionist 'cowboy and indian' propaganda and particularly after the mass murders on 9-11.

I agree that Islamophobia is not the best term to describe this form of racism. The zionists always divert the discussion with the idiocy "But, But, But... islam is not a race" while many of them have no qualms about ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.

i actually think a lot of this is not so much islamophobia, for some, but a ginned-up hatred of arabs.

i suspect those folks don't actually understand that they are upset with arabs and persians, or that islam exists outside of those races and that region; that makes me suspect that, to them, islam means the middle east.

remember the "ayatollah = assahola" t-shirts of 1979?

the first gulf war created it's own anti-sadaam anti-arab imagery, which had to be carefully tamped down for the benefit of the multinational alliance.

as for zionism: just please lighten up already, my zionist friends. build a really cool zionist disneyland or something, split the cost with palestinian leaders (let's give them aid, if we have to) passes for everyone, equally... and take a decade or so off, and then let's revisit the situation and see if we can't work things out.

I agree with you about the term Islamophobia. It's not based on a fear of islam. The problem is racist hatred against Arabs, Turks, Persians, Pakistanis, Azeri's, Turkmen, Chechens, and muslims in general. It's fed by US wars, invasions and occupations to get hegemonic control of recourses, particularly oil.

Whatever you call it, it's the excuse for everything from mass murder in Palestine and Afghanistan to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina to genocide by Clinton and Bush in Iran.

I have the same sort of objection to the term homophobia - bigots are not afraid of GLBT folks, they hate us and scapegoat us. Sometimes LGBT folks buckle to the tremendous pressure of the bigots and develop deep feelings of self doubt and even self loathing. I think that fear of being GLBT is the real definition of homophobia.

As for zionists, especially zionist colonists, I'm not likely to lighten up as long they practice or support apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Be real, Don. Palestinian children, who are murdered and maimed on a regular basis in Gaza and in the occupied territories are hardly likely to attend a playground frequented by their murderers.

the disneyland thing is actually a variation of a joke by my friend james inman, who suggests a hot oil strip club might do the trick.