Lamar on Life

From a Christian living in a Gulf country. The Middle East, Arabic, understanding Muslims, outreach to Muslims are to be addressed. In addition, thoughts, reflections, and book reviews will be posted.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Roots of Rage - Part 3
What follows is recycled from something I wrote in the months after 9/11.

We have been following the news since September 11, and we see on CNN and BBC the real struggle of Western journalists to find an answer to the question, “Why do they hate us?” The answer usually given is that Muslims resent American policies around the world. And then the expert goes on to list these political grievances, starting with Israel. There is truth to this political and somewhat obvious answer, but it misses the point. It is as if a farmer is asking, “Why is a fox attacking my chickens?” No one in this politically correct age of coalition building can say, “Well, that’s the nature of foxes, especially when they are hungry and they can’t find easier food.” No, instead, they tell the rancher, “Actually, foxes are naturally vegetarians and they are only killing your chickens because you have treated them poorly.” Let me just clear up something for everyone. Foxes are not vegetarians.

Karl Marx is famous for his adage, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Opium, in addition to funding the Taliban government, makes you sleepy and uncaring about what is happening around you. Marx saw religion as a barrier to mobilizing the people to action. This has been true in the Islamic world too. Traditionally, there has been a strong element of fatalism in Islam. A man’s destiny is written and cannot be changed. However, Marx’s experience was not in the modern Muslim world. If his experience had been here, he may have instead said, “Religion is the amphetamine of the people.” In these times, religion is used to stir people up.

Leaders here in the Middle East, religious and otherwise, use religion as a way to unite the people under their leadership and to manipulate against 'outside threats'. (For example, notice the islamization of the previously secular Iraqi regime.) Some years ago, when the people of Iran voted on whether they wanted an Islamic government, the result was an overwhelming 'Yes'. They had no inkling of what they were voting for, but they knew it was something of their own and not a foreign import. Leaders in the Muslim world carefully control the content and presentation of information to the people -- from preschool to the grave -- so Islam means exactly what leaders say it means.

In addition, Islam divides the world into two groups, the "House of War" (unbelievers like us), and the "House of Peace" (the Islamic world). In the Muslim media they show virtually every conflict as a struggle between Islam and the rest of the world. Preachers commonly preach death and destruction to unbelievers and the ultimate world conquest of Islam. This tendency is more pervasive than we can describe. Little boys in school are given plastic kalishnikov rifles and they are taught to march around giving Islamic war cries, “God is great!” Even as we visit our friends here they tell the children, “If you don’t behave, the foreigner will give you an injection!” as if we are in the business of hurting people. Every world event is seen through these “us vs. them” glasses. If people start to divide themselves along any other lines -- economic, ethnic, linguistic, sectarian, ideological, etc.-- who knows what chaos would ensue? Unity, power, and stability come through rallying around the banner of Islam.

Why do they, Arabs and Muslims, hate the West, and America especially? There are many reasons. However, in my opinion, the reason that is usually given, i.e. the situation in Palestine, is not the main reason. Rather, Palestine vs. Israel has become a focus of deep feelings of hatred, resentment, and anger which are originate from within the Muslim world. Think of a tornado. Most observers focus their attention on the violent swirling vortex of a tornado but forget that its energy comes from a convergence of wide-spread slower-moving invisible but massive forces. What are those forces in the Muslim world that are spinning off tornados?

The root causes of anger and hatred are spiritual, social and psychological and they often stem from causes unrelated to political policy. Millions of young men resent their fathers. They resent they can’t find work and prosperity. They resent feeling inferior every time they see the space shuttle or something else the West can do. They resent women, Western and local, for being attractive and powerful but inaccessible. They resent the rich and powerful of their own lands who propagate unjust social systems. They resent having to keep their opinions to themselves and distrust everyone for fear of being arrested by the secret police. I believe that they also resent Islam, which promises so much, but delivers so little.

How will the simmering resentment of the Islamic world emerge? Will it explode into riots, revolution and tribal warfare? Will people go on murderous rampages killing their families and neighbors? No, not if Muslim leaders can prevent these outbursts. Instead, leaders in the Islamic world have become skilled at channelling this anger and resentment away from the real problems of the people. They seek local solidarity under their own leadership and they seek to remove blame from themselves and put it on the “enemy.” Every economic, social, and religious problem can be blamed on this enemy. If there is no enemy, they invent one. But of course they don’t invent a new enemy. It’s always a reinvention of the same one, the “Christian” world. And in their minds, America is the ringleader, the crusader.

You may have noticed that one of the Al-Qaida recruiting videos showed armed Mujahideen bursting into a building and shooting a figure in the building. The symbol marking the target was not a bull's-eye but a white Christian cross. This is not accidental and it symbolizes what Al-Qaida has stated openly about their aims and motivations. It’s not “the West” or America that they seek to destroy, it is Christianity itself.

The spiritual reality is that Islam is designed by Satan to be a huge prison system. The guards are the faithful who seek to extend the walls of Islam to encircle every nation and to prevent escapees. The invitation to come in is extended to all with talk of peace, but the keys for leaving Islam are denied to everyone who enters.
So, do Muslim extremists want to turn America and Europe into Islamic states? Yes, in the long run. In the meantime, their goal is to ignite a jihad against the West as a means of unifying Islam. In the short run they want Islamic revolution in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other already Islamic states. They also have countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Philippines in their sights. These countries have Islamic minorities that can take over power, if not in the country as a whole, then at least in the Muslim areas. Then all religious and personal freedoms will be severely limited. Christians will come under further attack, and forced conversions will be instituted.

A truly Christian perspective on the news of the day should instruct us and bring us to prayer to do our battle. The Islamic world is a spiritual “stronghold.” In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church he writes,
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
. . . You are looking only on the surface of things.”

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Roots of Rage - Part 2

In my years of experience with Muslims, I have found some Muslims who supposedly hate "the West." However, what a person imagines in their mind to be "the West" is invariably different from what the West actually is. It is impossible to hate the reality of something so abstract and large. That is, for example, people are not able to look at the lives of 300 million individual American citizens, and learn all about each one, their attitudes and actions, their social interaction, their community values, etc. and then after a consideration of their faults and general lack of virtue form a general hatred of the country. (The same would go for Danish society or whatever the flavor of the month is.) Even when hating individuals, we humans are only able to hate the mental image, the abstract construction, that we ourselves have formed and attached to the object of our hatred.

I have often heard this from Muslims, "We don't hate America, it's your government." Or, I have often been subjected to a 10-minute denunciation of America, which is followed by a request for help in obtaining a visa to go there. Muslims are very conflicted in their feelings about the West, but they always know they are supposed to feel negative toward the West because the West represents the opposite of their own society. Therefore, if a Muslim professes a fondness for the West, what it means to them is that that person is professing hatred for his own society. That's why I never trust opinion polls taken in the Arab world because Arabs usually keep several contradictory opinions handy, one for being polite, one for secret thoughts, and one of them is just for anyone that asks.

The concept of the West is prominent in the minds of the Rest, especially in the minds of Muslims and Arabs . The Muslim world's self identity is largely formed by looking in the mirror of the West and saying to itself, "We don't know what we are anymore, but we know we are not that." (Actually, that's what a Canadian friend told me about Canadian identity and America, but I think it's more true for Muslims.)

To complicate things further, when a Muslim looks at the West, he doesn't see what you think he sees. A (Newsweek?) reporter embedded with American troops rolling into Baghdad wrote about the somewhat vague ideas Iraqis had of what a free Iraq might mean for them. He tells of seeing a jubilant Iraqi man on the side of the road shouting in excited broken English to the liberators/invaders, "Yeah! Democracy! Sexy! Whiskey!" Such is the image of the West that is both hated and lusted after.

And the same is true for their image of Christianity, which Muslims usually suppose holds a similar role in the West as Islam does in their society. When satellite dishes where new in these parts, I asked a man, "Do you get any Christian programs on that?" He replied, "Oh, yes! I like to watch them -- Baywatch and (professional) wresting especially -- I watch all the Christian programs."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Roots of Rage - Part 1

My father-in-law sent me a book called, Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the Roots of Global Rage, by Meic Pearse. I ended up liking the book, but it wasn't at all what I expected. On the cover is a picture of shouting demonstrating Palestinians. On the back in large bold print, "WHY DO THEY HATE US SO MUCH?" But I will tell you now that this is the worst case of "bait and switch" that I have ever seen in marketing a book, Christian or otherwise.

It is a book that is badly in need of a different title, but first it should have had a theme. The work was an adaptation of a series of lectures the author gave which he never intended to be the core of a book. So I imagine when an editor suggested, "Why don't we have a title that will make people think of the current conflict between the Muslim world and the West?" The author must have said, "Why not?"

However, if they followed truth in labeling laws, the book should have been called something like, "Why Western Societies are in Deep Doo Doo." But admittedly, that title is not going to sell many copies. Over 90% (my quite subjective estimate) of the book talks about Western society, which, in it's current form, is gravely ill and is infecting the rest of the world with it's barbaric disease. (In a subsequent post I may give more details on the his diagnosis, symptoms, and prognosis of the West's illness, which is actually the most interesting and beneficial aspect of the book.)

But to be fair (if that is possible at this point), perhaps the author really thought this work may give people a better idea about the differences between our modern/postmodern western world view and eastern/traditional societies, which must be the cause of this hatred. After all, it must be something more than propaganda and miscommunication that is at the root of the rage. So, he set out to describe the object of the hatred (the West) and to show that it is based on the haters' (the Rest) quite rational fears of what Western cultural imperialism is foisting upon them.

And now I come to my point for your consideration. Can we understand the phenomenon of hatred by looking at the object of the hatred? Can we understand why some people hate cheerleaders, or homosexuals, or certain Presidents, or 'uppity negroes', or women, or mimes or anyone at all, by focussing on them -- those who are the objects of the hatred? Jesus makes it clear that things like hatred come "out of the abundance of the heart." And "the evil man out of his evil treasure brings out evil things." I know that it is natural for humans to repay evil with evil, but that evil is not something tossed back and forth by the two sides like a hot potato. No, hatred is an act of projectile vomiting that comes from within the hater and is often directed at anyone standing nearby who is a visible representation of blame. (Sorry for such a graphic image.)

Hatred can not be understood as a rational response to mistreatment. It is an emotional expression of a spiritual condition. Furthermore, any theory of hatred which is based on understanding the object of hatred is backwards and fatally flawed. A book should be written to answer the question, "Why is the West the Target of the Hatred of the Rest?" But that's not the question this book answers, and that title wouldn't sell many copies either.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I just read The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. It's an Afghani story and as they would say,"wah-wah" (wow!) And to Mr. Khaled I say, "tashakor" (thanks). It is the story of a boy who becomes weighted down with shame and tries to find redemption. It's also a story of heros. I won't give away the ending, even though the author insists that Afghanis always tell you the ending of the story first so you will know whether you want to start the journey or not. He writes, "If someone were to ask me today whether the story ... ends with happiness, I wouldn't know what to say." I wouldn't know what to say either; however, I will say that I actually burst into tears on the last page, and I didn't even know why.

Although this is not a Christian book, it is the kind of book that I wish Christians would write. Sin and redemption, the power of forgiveness and love over evil. I know I now have images in my mind that help me see the cross in a brighter light.

I read the first half of the book thinking that it was non-fiction, but I noticed there were things in it that were just too coincidental to be actual. Then I turned to the back and saw a note on the author that this was his first novel. At first I was disappointed that the story wasn't true. But then realized I wasn't looking deep enough to see what was the Truth in the story.

Recently, a man said to me (I thought with a hint of pride in his voice) "I don't read novels; it's not a good use of my time. I read the Bible or theology books mostly." I thought at the time, that there's a man who may have a hard time hearing the voice of Jesus. If you think about the stories Jesus told, 90% of them seem to be fiction. Maybe He did also give a lot of theological, historical, or social commentary as well, but the New Covenant was inaugurated with parables and stories so that those with ears to hear could hear and believe. After reading this book by a Muslim I think my hearing may have improved a bit.