The Scatterbrained Syncretist








Thursday , May 1, 2003

Russ from BC, Canada wrote:

I don't know who you are or what you do but I read your post about Muslims etc. from Jan 10,2003.
I am an artist in Boston. I created a website to place my work before an audience. I'm not part of any group or organization, and I don't have any credentials or expertise...just a private citizen.

In 1999, I started an email group with some of my close friends as a way of keeping in touch and discussing various subjects. I used to post interesting news links to  the group, but after September 11, I decided to make those stories available to the public on a weblog (which you may find interesting).

Last year, I began to write a story about the interactions in our group. While The Scatterbrained Syncretist started out as a story about fun and games, it has become a discussion about the world situation and the war. My story is a little like a game you can wander around inside...something to play rather than follow like a conventional tale. I link to footnotes to offer readers alternate pathways through the text. The January 10, 2003 article you read was actually a footnote in that story which repeated part of an exchange between myself and a good friend who is Muslim. My friend complained about some of the insulting things that are written about Muslims and, although I agreed with him about the insults, I tried to show him that non Muslims have good reasons to be critical of both radical Islamists and some of the traditional practices of Islam.
This describes these people to a T. I've been trying to understand why the Iraqis are acting so stupid and seem to be trying their best to destroy what could be a great thing for them. It almost makes me think that maybe Saddam knew how to handle these people.
Saddam was able to control Iraq for decades. It is likely that the Muslim respect for authority contributed to his ability to maintain a police state in the same way that Confucius' philosophy contributed to Japanese fascism and Chinese totalitarianism in the middle of the twentieth century. The Japanese have been able (after they were defeated) to soften their traditional culture and adapt it to the modern world. We hope the Iraqis follow that path too...but it will be a hard path with advances and disappointments...and will require great patience if we are to succeed.
They are upset about civilian casualties and I don't blame them but if the US was to walk out tomorrow can you imagine how they would slaughter each other...
I am upset about civilian casualties too. War is terrible. But, I also know that it is a great achievement that the figures were so low. We are able to be much more humane than our ancestors were just 60 years ago.

The Iraqi people have been under the boot of a brutal tyrant for a long time. Most of the population has lived their entire lives under Saddam and have no experience of  a civil society. In order to function as a democracy, a community must internalize values like compromise, respect for law and property and pluralism (acceptance of minorities). It took centuries for Westerners to embrace these values and I would expect it will take a generation for the Iraqis to incorporate them into their society. You can't just have elections and call the result democracy. Remember, Mugabe Castro Saddam had elections too. Right now, all Iraqis know is plunder and force...and you are right to say that if the US military left Iraq today (as some people demand) there would be anarchy.
The "Martyr's" are the ones that get me. These are not brave people. They are stupid DEAD people who listened to some fanatical idiot who, by the way, is still alive and well.
They are cowards. They are frightened of this world and seek the "safety" of the next world. You don't have to be brave to run and hide. And they are fools. They obey hypocrites who love this world too much to risk their own lives. And they are hypocrites themselves. The "martyrs" try to justify their terrorism by claiming they are defending their people...but suicide bombing defends nobody. They say that they are fighting for Palestinian independence (or whatever) but if they really desired a Palestinian state they would take action to create one rather than prevent one. They say that they are fighting for Islam but Islam sometimes condemns  homicide.
These people need to see that they should not mix religion and politics.
If they wish to progress, they will have to separate the two. It took centuries of tragic history for the West to learn that lesson. How can we show them the value of a secular state? The West was Christian and Christianity was founded as a religion that was separate from the state...Islam, on the other hand, has always combined both religion and for Muslims to adopt the idea of secular government, they must modernize some basic Islamic concepts. Reactionary fundamentalists resist this as they resist all change. For Islam to thrive in the modern world, moderate, liberal Muslims will have to take charge...and that won't be easy.
The Iraqis have a great opportunity to form their destiny but it seems like a lot of them would sooner chant gibberish and shake their fist in the air than to actually grab ahold of their lives. Why can't they all pitch in to help the US instead of spewing religious stupidity?
Some will pitch in...maybe many will. But others will lose their positions of power and privilege when things improve...and they will fight to keep the advantages they is human nature. We all talk a lot about justice and morality, but our actions reveal our real interests...and it isn't always as uplifting as we pretend.
What good has their beloved religion done them? They repress themselves. The Iraqis could have lives that everyone would envy but I fear their religion is going to cause so many problems that this could turn into a VERY ugly mess.

Islam has gotten them this far...and if they want to get somewhere better, they'll have to make Islam better...a long and painful task. The cancer of violent extremism is already a very ugly mess and it may get worse before it gets better. But, we are now confronting our problems and that is a step toward finding solutions. We must continue to try different approaches and learn what works...and use that knowledge. With patience, effort, imagination, courage (and a little luck) we can clean up some of today's mess and bequeath more interesting problems to the next generation.