Monday, May 11, 2015

How radical Islam could be an actual threat to Western civilization after all

The current fevered debate about free speech is probably the first one we’ve had in a long while. It is a given that it’s healthy to engage society in a public debate, what concerns me is the subject of that debate. It is too hot of a debate to the extent that the very two poles of this debate can’t even agree on the actual subject of the debate. For some it is about free speech, for others it’s about racism. And here I would like to share some ideas on the subject.

The first group involved in this debate are those who believe that it is a battle for free speech and for the soul of western civilization. They are convinced that Islamists are trying to steal our rights to criticize and offend religion anyway we desire. This group, though made primarily of right wing conservatives, does include a big number of non-mainstream liberals as well as many unpleasant southern Baptists, evangelicals, security hawks and other cuckoos. The second group is the main-stream liberal circle made of people who believe that they are defending a minority against a dangerous racism in a country with a scary racial heritage. They believe that it’s a battle for tolerance, multiculturalism and minority rights. This group is made mainly from liberals and they are joined by Muslims themselves. Looking from their perspective, the efforts to defend Islam are extremely reasonable and accepted if not necessary. It is defending a race against any stigmas or misconceptions that it’s genuinely a bad race in anyway. The U.S has a very negative experience with racism and it is important to take precautions in order to protect an ethnic minority. From this perspective we can as well see the logic of integrating the Muslim narrative into the struggle of the races of color and the third world against the industrialized white man. All of this would have been true if it was not for one major fact; Islam is not race nor is it an ethnicity.

Many think of Islam in racial and ethnic terms. This defective and ill conceived idea of what Islam is and what is the Muslim community is not, is evidence of a great egocentrism, known in other words as a restriction on perception caused by the simple fact that they can only see the world from their own American perspective. Islamists adopted this point of view in order to enforce Muslim sentiments of victimhood and to stifle any criticism against Islam. In our times Islam became the only religion and ideology in the world which enjoys to be immune, unapproachable and invincible to criticism. No fascist totalitarian ideology ever achieved this amount of immunity both in east and west; if you criticize Islam in the east you will be executed but if you criticize in the west you will be murdered then shamed in the media for being a racist.

The Muslim world, in the US and in Muslim lands, does not share most of the western race and religion definitions: for Muslims, Islam is not a race, not an nationality and not an ethnicity. For them Islam is a religion, a belief and a practice. Contrary to western ideas of race, Muslims do not consider that terms like: Jew, Christian, Yazidi..etc describe any national, racial or ethnic element, they see them as purely religious. A live example of the difference are the Yazidis. To the west, the Yazidis are an ancient middle eastern ethnic group, a piece of history that we need to conserve. For Muslim extremists, the Yazidis are pagans who need to either become Muslims or die. Which ISIS did be converting hundreds of Yazidis to Islam and welcoming them to the arms of the Caliphate. If Muslims themselves, do not consider themselves a race but rather devout ideologists, why aren’t we willing to do the same? Why do we label criticism to Muslim ideology or to Muslim faith to be racist? It is not true and it is not fair to other religions. Islam is offered and endorsed by Muslims themselves as a faith and a way of living, not a race, therefore, it is our right to criticize it the way we see fit. Charges of Islamophobia are there to protect Islam from criticism not Muslims. If Islam is allowed to claim that it is the solution and salvation of all the world why am I not able to examine it and criticize it?

Any religion claims to be beautiful, peaceful and above all perfect. Any criticism to religion is deemed to be straight forward heresy. Free speech is out there is order to protect that heresy, else what is the point?! The very reason we invented free speech is not that I can praise you all day and give every one of you a trophy. The reason we have laws to protect speech is that so I can criticize Muslims, Jews, Jesus, Communists, Socialists, Allah and anything I want to criticize. The reason we have freedom of speech is so I can say things which you don’t like without you being able to block me. The very definition of caricature is “a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.” What do you want cartoons of Muslims to have if not religion, beating women, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexual obsessions, extreme violence and terrorism?! Do you rather have it depict their outstanding falafel and delicious dates?! Wouldn’t a caricature about Catholics most likely depict Catholic priests as pedophiles? and they actually do.

The dead cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo did not just offend Muhammed, they also made cartoons of almost all holy figures of all religions. Could it be that we are not condemning them from drawing the pope because no Catholics, yet, have carried AK47s to kill those who insult the Holy See? I certainly do believe so. Not all of those against offensive cartoons are doing it for the sheer love of Muslims. Many of them are doing it out of fear and intimidation which means one thing; terrorists have succeeded. Many are afraid because the threat is real and violence comes with it is real and we have a good count of dead bodies to prove it, yet we have people who accuse cartoonists of “brining it on themselves.” How do we expect to convince others with our values when we are the first to abandon them?! Cowardness does not set a good example. There is a shameful record of western incidents where people, intimidated by religious fascism, decided to side with the devil. This record stretches from calls in the UK to turn in Salman Rushdi to Iran, the white house request to take down a video from youtube and even to condemnations of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. Those shameful and coward acts serve nothing but the morale of fascist totalitarian Muslims. Giving up our values of liberty and freedom is not an acceptable solution and it is not up to our political institutions or media outlets to decide.

Yes, this is a battle for free speech and it’s not just individual terrorists shooting journalists. It is no secret that Islam as a religion and a culture is aggressively hostile to free speech. Almost all of Muslim countries do criminalize criticism of religion. There are 13 countries in the world where you can get death penalty for apostasy, all of them are Muslim majority countries. The Organization of Islamic Co-operation, a 57-member bloc of countries, has often proposed a UN resolution criminalizing the defamation of religion. The OIC has previously pushed blasphemy legislation that would be agreed by legally binding treaty or international convention. That legislation would have made it illegal for you and me to criticize Islam even in non-Muslim countries. In March 2012 the UNHRC passed a resolution titled “Combating defamation of religions” which is basically a blasphemy law with 20 members voting in favor; 17 members voting against; 8 abstaining; the Muslim world is trying to internationally criminalize any criticism of religion even in our own non-Muslim western homes. Even those whom we label “Moderate Muslims” are attacking our way of life, though not with bombs, with every intention to destroy it.

The CNN has blurred images of cartoons so not to provoke Muslim hostility. The white house officially requested from google to remove a Muhammad parody video content. Several people are publically are asking to ban anti-Muslim cartoons and anti-Islamic activists from entering the U.S. Fear and intimidation are taking over our most reputable academic institutions and the threat of violence is successfully blocking free inquiry. Radical Islam is actually threatening western civilization to uproot its core values.

My words are not intended to get you paranoid, I’m actually confident in our ability to resist this invasion coming from the middle ages through the time machine called religion. But I want to make it clear that your and my values are indeed under attack and there are those among us who are more than willing to concede in exchange of political gains. We need to hold to those values even stronger. Even if we do find some of the cartoons distasteful and actually not funny at all, we need to remember that the cartoonist is in real danger of being slain because of his work. We all need to remember that “I’m offended” is not a valid argument against free speech. The point of free speech is to let you be offended. If we can’t stand by our values when they are under attack of barbarity, then how much value do these so called values actually carry?

That the World May Not End

My article in the LA Jewish Journal:

Friday, March 6, 2015

Why Sisi is bad for everybody

Since he overthrew the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and took power in Egypt, Sisi unarguably became the most celebrated Arab leader in western media. His latest calls for Islamic reform, war on ISIS and Hamas have earned him comparisons to Winston Churchill and Anwar Sadat. For many Arabs like me it is not surprising. The west seems to be deemed to celebrate and support real bad Arabs like Sadat and Sisi.
The west is desperate to convince itself it does have Muslim friends regardless of the reality and here where Sisi enters the picture with his military uniform and anti-Islamist determination. Sisi has been a major setback for Islamists in Egypt and in the world. He singlehandedly, and against the will of the mighty White House in its residents, overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood from the presidency of the birthplace of modern militant Islamic ideology. He has been leading a persistent campaign against Islamists in his country, declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, calling for a reform in Islam and even extending his campaign abroad by the airstrikes on ISIS in Libya, destroying the terror tunnels in the Sinai and declaring Hamas a terrorist organization. In other words, he has every reason to be considered by many as the savior on the white horse emerging from the midst of hell. All of this will not deter me from trying to convince you otherwise; Sisi is bad for Egypt, bad for Israel, bad for the region, bad for me and bad for you.

Let me first make a little confession. I have a personal bias against Sisi for I was detained, interrogated and physically abused by his Military Intelligence in 2010 when he was the director of Egyptian Military Intelligence. The time I spent in his detention is the worst time and the worst memories of my entire life. Nevertheless, I promise that I will disregard all me personal biases and be objective as much as I can.

Let me start of by talking about Sisi and Islamism. Sisi is not a moderate person. He has religious fascinations not less than his Muslim Brotherhood opponents. A 2013 leaked audio recording exposed that Sisi believe he is a divine intervention from Allah as he tells how he dreamed with himself wielding a sword with the phrase “No God but Allah” engraved on it. Sisi more than often include moral religious preaching in his speeches in the most simplistic demagogic ways. Shortly after his statements about the “reform in Islam” his security forces and his courts system launched a campaign to hunt down, apprehend, publically humiliate and imprison atheists and homosexuals. Bear in mind there are no laws in Egypt criminalizing atheism or homosexuality and Sisi moral policemen and judges are totally improvising crimes like “disturbing the social norms.” How can a regime which does not believe nor respect the rule of law create a state that respects law?

While it is true Sisi is repressing Islamists, it is crucial to mention that political oppression is at its peak even for liberal secularists. Sisi did shutdown the most influential anti-Islamist political satire TV show in the Arab world Al Bernameg, something the Brotherhood itself did not dare to do. The amount of political detainees and prisoners, deaths resulted from torture and demonstrators killed rose drastically than that of Mubarak pre-revolution Egypt. Mass arrests and impunity for abuse by security forces are two main features of Sisi’s Egypt. Here are some quotes from the Human Rights Watch report of 2015:

“More than 41,000 people were arrested or faced criminal charges between July 2013 and May 2014… In 2014 a criminal court judge handed down the death penalty to more than 1,200 people. Egypt’s 2014 constitution permits military trials for civilians, and on October 27, 2014, al-Sisi issued a decree expanding military court jurisdiction to cover crimes that occur on any public, state-owned, or “vital” property.. At least 90 people died in local police stations and security directorates in the governorates of Cairo and Giza alone in 2014.. That number represented a 38 percent increase from the year before.. Authorities detained dozens of people for such offences as possessing flyers with anti-military slogans.. Authorities arrested more than 95 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people between July 2013 and December 2014. On December 7, police raided a Cairo bathhouse and arrested at least 25 men whom they accused of “practicing debauchery.””

How can a man like Sisi whose hands stained with the blood of torturing political activists, journalists, atheists and gays be the hope of the west to counter Islamic terrorism?! A man whose police forces murder people daily and believes he is a divine intervention from Allah?! How can he build a modern state which offers the people some hope and alternative to an Islamic state?! Islamic terrorism is a cult of death, those who do not respect life nor believe in life cannot defeat a cult of death. Sisi is just another totalitarian, authoritarian military dictator who is bankrupt ideologically and politically. Sisi is destroying any foundation of a modern secular society and eventually will leave no room but for medieval ideologies like ISIS. No victory can be achieved from fighting evil with another evil. Those who do not believe in freedom and in human dignity can’t convince the millions of Muslims they are ruling to do the opposite.

The war Sisi declared on Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing but part of the war on power. Sisi is restoring to the Nasserite Egyptian military state the place it lost to the Islamists. He and his army possess no alternative socio-economic vision to offer the Egyptian people. Sisi and his government have no principle objection to totalitarianism and extreme violence but they just want to monopolize them. Recent government sponsored propaganda in Egypt claiming that ISIS is a Zionist-Israeli-American conspiracy should be evident to the Egyptian government intentions; they do not want to moderate nor modernize the country but to control.

Supporting brutal military dictatorships in the Middle East in order to build a wall which separates western civilized countries from the seas of middle eastern barbarity proved to be nothing but a long term disaster. It created a cap on the top leaving the elements of militant jihad active building their basis from the bottom to the top. The west have already done this once and we are now looking at the results. Committing the same stupidity again with a different name won’t change the expected results. Besides it’s really hard for me to convince my Muslim friends and family that western world wants them no harm while it is supporting and celebrating mass murderers like Sisi. We can’t claim we believe in values we finance others to violate.

General Sisi is nothing but another ignorant and uneducated dictator. He is just another setback for the whole region. The 1960s Nasserite propaganda and moral policing which he heavily relies on does not help bringing Egypt to the modern age but will give the Islamists fertile ground of oppressed sympathizers. Eliminating all political secular opposition will leave a vacuum Sisi’s propaganda can’t fill. Sisi is no moderate nor reformer. He has no profound vision for the future of Egypt nor the future of the region. His vision is that of the military state from which he emerged. A military which still lives in the 20th century eastern bloc authoritarian centralist mentality. His demagogic simpleminded and incoherent mix of religion and nationalism will not convince a new generation of impoverished, desperate, semi-skilled, semi-educated and repressed Egyptians not to turn to Islamism.

The alternative is simple; do not be so desperate. The west should not betray its own values and rush to get in bed with the bad guy just because they can’t find a nice guy. Before we celebrate a leader, we should lay out our requirements and conditions and wait for someone to fill them. We should clearly state we are expecting to deal with someone who genuinely believes in freedom and human dignity. We should demand someone who does not pretend he is a moderate while his government media outlets blames the Zionist conspiracy for Islamic terrorism. The entrance ticket to the club of modern states should have a price, it should not be handed out army generals who have dreams of Allah giving them swords and hunt down gay people.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The problem with moderate Muslims

On March 23, 2013, members of Alif Laam Meem, a national Muslim fraternity based at the University of Texas at Dallas, stood up against domestic violence as Muslims and as men of Dallas.

For the past six month the president of the U.S has took it upon himself to defend Islam as a religion and a culture. One State Department spokesperson made a statement suggesting that “lack of job opportunities” is a major reason for beheadings and cruel violence. All of this is not just shocking because of how irrelevant it is, but it’s shocking because the will to avoid addressing the problem is too big that the president of the United States personally had to deviate from his federal job description and give speeches about what Islam is and what it is not. Our desire to reassure ourselves that all people as nice as us is so great that we are changing the ways we conduct our business. That is why I want to share some thoughts on the issue of Islam and Islamic moderation.

To deny the existence of moderate Muslims is ,beyond any reasonable doubt, an anti-Muslim prejudice. Not only that but it’s most certainly destructive to any efforts to counter Islamic extremism. A world with no moderate Muslims is inconceivable. Check out these long quotes from an open letter from Ani Zonneveld, a Malaysian-born Muslim, published on AlJazeerawebsite:

“I was raised in a harmonious interracial and interfaith society that accepted and respected other religious practices.. Saudi Arabia started exporting its Wahhabi ideology in the 1970s, and it spread around the world, turning existing interpretations of Islam into one that is dogmatic and violent. We cannot continue on this path of religious-based mayhem in the name of Islam. The Muslim world needs a change…
..As a child, I remember celebrating Mawlid — the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday — with uplifting songs, prayers and even a parade. Now it is taboo to observe Mawlid even in America, and adherents to the Wahhabi brand of Islam would rather emphasize his death…
..When I was growing up, weddings and community events were colorful and featured music and dance, without segregating the sexes. This is no longer the case in many Muslim communities. Music, dance and unsegregated gatherings are deemed haram, or forbidden. Artistic expressions must be Sharia-compliant, meaning no depiction of humans or animals..
..The Quran liberated women from subhuman status, gave us rights to choose whom to marry, to work, to be in leadership positions and to ultimately live in full dignity. And yet in 2015, Wahhabi imams have relegated women to subhuman status by allowing husbands to cane their wives into obedience and promoting a version of Sharia that permits forced and child marriages and condones honor killings. Women have become sexual objects through forced veiling, which makes our voices, skin, hair and faces off limits, and even a handshake is deemed a potentially arousing sexual experience.”

This is one of the most honest Muslim self-criticism pieces I have read. It is sincere, genuine, authentic and above all it is unbiased and it is the work of a moderate Muslim. However, it is obvious that those words raise the same concerns I have: the majority of the Muslim world is not under the influence of a moderate version of Islam but rather a very extreme, violent one. I was born and raised in Egypt, thousands of miles from Malaysia, and I have an almost identical experience with the rapid radicalization of the Egyptian society. There are moderate Muslims but it should be clear at this point that they are not as influential as the extremists. It should be clear that advocates of reform in the Muslim world are as marginalized and persecuted as any other non-Muslim minority. One clear proof of that can be seen in the fact that many if not most such Muslims, like Mr. Zonneveld or me personally, do not actually reside in their home countries but in the western world due to the fact that many parts of the Muslim world are extremely intolerant towards reform and criticism.

In my childhood I was told that every day that passes on the Islamic nation without a caliphate is a sin. That the failures and miseries of the Muslim world started the moment we gave up conquests and wars against the infidels. That our prosperity depends on conquering new lands, converting new believers, looting new resources and enslaving more women. I was taught that a Jew is essentially a demon in flesh and that it is our destiny as good Muslims to kill them all. I was regularly fueled by battle stories and stories of lethal feuds of seventh century Arabia. It was not just me, a small child in Cairo, who was raised with these great apocalyptic prophecies, it was also so many people from all around the globe.

In Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler rose to power, conducted rapid and drastic changes to German society, declared war on the world and fought, all while enjoying the support of the majority of the German people. In the United States, some of the earliest public opinion polls in the 1940s found that an overwhelming majority (about two-thirds) of whites were willing to support racial segregation. Similar polls from South Africa, with much closer dates, suggest that the vast majority of the white population was in support of total white domination and apartheid. In a much earlier time of history, 14th century European Christians were avid supporters of witch hunting, inquisitions, public executions, anti-Semitism and a verity of extreme cruelty. Try to imagine a young European couple happily taking their little children to watch the latest heretics torching techniques and encouraging them to smell the burning flesh; that was 14th century Europe. This is no myth, no phobia, it is history.

The bottom line is; it is quite possible, at one point of history, to have an entire nation dominated by some very bad ideas. We have seen it before and we are seeing it today. For the west now to deny this historical fact and pretend that the majority of people are always naturally sane, rational, peace loving hippies is hypocritical, misleading and dishonest. It is an ugly lie that offends our intelligence. We have a long history of the major human consensus to persecute women, Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. Thus, it is quite possible — at least theoretically — for a significant portion or even the majority of the world’s Muslim population (estimated to be over 1.5 billion) to be anti-Semitic, homophobic and in sympathy with violence and even Islamic totalitarianism.

Many parts of the Muslim world are intolerant towards free speech, criticism and reform. Human rights are not observed in most of the Muslim world; women’s rights, homosexual rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of belief..etc. are things that the majority of non-violent Muslims do not observe. Execution of apostates, women who are not allowed to drive, sexual segregation, persecution of liberals and journalists, homosexual imprisonment, and persecution of non-Muslim minorities are all common themes almost in all Muslim countries. Many Muslim countries use public beheadings, hangings, lashings, stonings and chopping of limbs as an accepted form of punishment.

While the vast majority of Muslims may frown upon ISIS and Al Qaeda and may be horrified by their acts, they will still approve of many human rights abuses. The majority of the world Muslim population believe that the cartoonists who ridicule Muhammad should be prosecuted. Many Muslim countries carry death penalties for any similar heresy action because they simply do not believe in freedom of speech. There is a Muslim consensus that any acts of violence against Israel, including suicide bombers in buses, are justified if not encouraged. Our acceptance or denial of those facts does not affect the reality we are all living; the Muslim world is dominated by bad ideas and bad beliefs. The majority of Muslims have no principle objections to application of extreme violence, subjection of women and minorities, prosecuting if not killing homosexuals and confiscating personal freedoms.

My argument is, we are using the label “moderate” for everyone who is not trying to kill us regardless of that person’s actual views. We are in a very bad situation to the extent that we have confused moderation with self-interest. The majority of the Muslim world may not be moderate, but rather acting in its daily life from a purely self-interested point of view. This is a very good thing. We should encourage all Muslims to act and preserve their self-interests. But we should not lie to them about the nature of their religious ideas.

One of my other concerns regarding moderate Muslims is their response to Islamic terrorism. Whenever the issue of Islamic extremism arises, the first reaction of moderate Muslims is not to start an honest debate and reform in their religion but to defend Islam and Muslims. Moderate Muslims are obsessed with slogans like “the religion of peace” more than they care about facing the terrorists emerging from their own communities. Moderate Muslims rush to warn about Islamophobia and unjust western prejudice against Muslims. Almost in every single occasion that Islamic terrorism is mentioned, Muslims’ first action is to defend their faith. They assert over and over how peaceful and beautiful Islam is. They are obsessed with their religion and care about it more than they care about stopping murder in its name. It should be clear that this kind of obsession is just another form of fundamentalism. The time has come to talk about how unhelpful and unhealthy their constant obsession with Islam is. Those Muslims need to know that it is more important right now to direct their efforts inside their communities to battle extremism than to polish the image of a faith soaked in blood. Constantly using the rhetoric of Islamophobia and defending their faith as if it was under attack does not help us to promote peace but actually makes the job of terrorist recruiters easier.

We can all agree that prejudice against Muslims is indeed a form of unacceptable discrimination, but moderate Muslims should not try to stifle criticism of their religion by raising the racism card. Many Muslims are responsible for creating an environment of intimidation and social blackmail, using the alleged charges of Islamophobia to immediately dismiss any criticism. We should be clear and honest to our Muslim friends; Islam and its prophet are just other figures in the world of religious fascinations and they are not above criticism and ridiculing and this is nonnegotiable.

Recently we have been hearing the argument, sometimes from the highest figures of the U.S government, that we should not criticize the doctrine of Islam in a way that points out its inherent violence because that is the exact point organizations like ISIS are trying to convince Muslims with. The point is we should not help terrorists in convincing Muslims that Islam is violent. I have to say that this is the most twisted acrobatic irrational logic I have ever heard. I think a truly moderate sane person, when told that his god promotes and enjoys public beheadings, should do one of two things; either dismiss the cruel claims about his god as untrue or dismiss his whole religion. The victims of terrorism should not be blamed for the crimes being committed against them. Our intellectual freedom should not be taken hostage so moderate Muslims won’t break bad. What kind of logic is that? I assume that any peaceful moderate person should remain so regardless of what anyone says on TV or in a newspaper or a coffeehouse about a sixth century belief system. Otherwise, the words “peaceful” and “moderate” simply mean “I will be nice as long as you do not hurt my feelings.” Personally I find this closer to psychopathy than moderation.

If we are sincere about solving this pressing global issue, then we should be honest and truthful. We can’t fight cruel terrorists while we ally ourselves with people who commit similar atrocities but have more oil. We can’t allow ourselves to deceive our Muslim friends that it is their right to oppose free speech, LGBT rights, women’s rights etc. Moderate Muslims should not be part of the problem, they should be the solution. Islamic extremism will not be “degraded and ultimately destroyed” unless it is Muslims themselves who fight it. Being obsessed with religion is not a proper response and we should be honest and clear about that. I am aware of the fact that all I’m sharing is tough and not easy to do, but I can assure you that closing our eyes to reality will do us no good. Only acknowledging it will allow us to take our first steps toward a profound and desperately needed reform.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Good, the Bad and the Moderate

Last week a group of students in Swarthmore College prevented me from talking or reasoning with them, or with the audience. It was sad to see young students unable to participate in a peaceful argument. I’m also saddened that we have missed on an opportunity to enjoy a constructive debate about our world, which is something I always enjoy. Therefore, I have decided to imagine that our debate did take place and was not interrupted by an irresponsible burst of emotional hostility. I will assume that what I imagine is a common argument was made, and I will try to answer.

One of the corner stone arguments of the anti-Israel/pro-Islamic activists who come from Muslim communities or leftist activism, is that the homicidal apocalyptic phenomena which is coming from a tiny radical minority in the Middle East, is nothing more than a response to the combination of brutal inhumane Israeli occupation, merciless American imperialism, and political economic western backed tyrannies. Although, such opinions should not sound any less defective, misleading, and insufficient than the opinion that satirist cartoonists bring their own death by ridiculing people most holy beliefs. However, for the sake of the argument  I would like to ask my readers to join me on the experimental thought that all of this is absolutely true and correct. That the incredible cruelty that we witness now on daily basis, and that nearly half a century of Islamic terrorism targeting primarily Jews, Christians, Westerners and Muslims themselves, is nothing but a reaction to an equal western barbarism.

There is nothing intrinsically bad with the current mainstream Islamic tradition or the mainstream culture of Muslims. It is the atrocities committed by Israel and the west which force an inherently good culture to produce some of the worst mass murderers known to the modern world. Nevertheless, the majority of Arabs and Muslims are as peaceful as anyone else, and driven by the same desires and fears as anyone one of their fellow humans. Any general accusations, or even hinting that Islam or Muslim culture is somewhat dominated by some bad ideas should be instantly labeled as racist and Islamophobic. In the light of this assumption I would like to examine some of the events took place last week:
Last week some individuals of the extremely insignificant Islamic radical minority, which does not by any means represent the true peaceful loving nature of main stream Islam, have publicly executed a Jordanian pilot, burning him alive in an astonishing demonstration of barbarity. It is naturally expected from the moderate Muslim majority to publicly denounce and condemn such abhorrent acts of extreme cruelty, which they did. Al Azhar University in Cairo, widely held to be the capital and chief center of moderate Sunni Islam, issued a statement denouncing and condemning the horrific act and claiming that those who performed it are indeed no part of the Islamic faith. Al Azhar added that the monstrous fighters of ISIS –monstrous indeed no doubt- “require the punishment mentioned in the Koran for these corrupt oppressors whofight against God and his prophet: killing, crucifixion or chopping of thelimbs." This of course came shortly after Egypt president Sisi was globally celebrated for publicly demanding “a revolution in religion” and a “reform of Islam”.

Al Azhar is significant, and we should pay attention to this. Al Azhar is the oldest most prestigious center of Islamic learning in the world. It is held to be the center of Islamic modernity in its war on radicalism. It has students from every country in the world, and it is one of the main reasons Obama chose Cairo to be his podium for addressing the Muslim world in his landmark New Beginning speech in 2009. The entry for Al Azhar University in The Encyclopedia Britannica states that it is “chief centre of Islamic and Arabic learning in the world”.  Obama described Al Azhar as “abeacon of Islamic learning.. that carried the lightof learning through so many centuries”  . The bottom line is the legitimacy of Al Azhar theological and legal opinions is indisputable to the majority of the Muslim world –assuming the majority follows moderate Al Azhar and not the insane minority. Now let’s again examine their statement “requires the punishment mentioned in the Koran for these corrupt oppressors who fight against God and his prophet: killing, crucifixion or chopping of the limbs.” I don’t know about you, but I personally have a problem here. You see, crucifying people and chopping of body parts is not exactly my idea of peace and moderation. We are now wise enough to know that such acts of extreme cruelty is not accepted in any cultural conext any more by any normative rationale. This beacon of moderate Islam has miserably failed to establish an objection to extreme cruelty and violence. They actually did the absolute opposite as they established the theological ground for killing, crucifying, and chopping of limbs of others given they are convicted with being “corrupt oppressors”. Think about this for a moment; the chief center for Islamic learning globally and what is held to be the most moderate Islamic institution is incapable in condemning brutality and barbarity without calling for applying them simultaneously. They are not just self-contradictory, but the capital of Sunni Islam scholarship has no principle objection to applying violence and public extreme cruelty –as it is the case with crucifixion- to those which are seen as corrupt oppressors, let them be Israelis, Americans, Muslim brothers or blasphemous cartoonists. It is needless to say that any attempt to interpret “corrupt oppressor” is exactly what opens the wide gates of jihad depending on any political conflict you are interested in, and one does not need to think too hard to conclude that taking down towers, a barrage of rockets from Gaza, bombing of buses and pizza restaurants, as well as stabbings in public transportation are merely a variation of the methods used to deliver justice to those who deserve it. You can split a few hairs here and there, and try to argue about who qualifies to be labeled as a “corrupt oppressor”, but it will still be left for the perpetrators own judgment of who is.

Moderate Al Azhar quite successfully has refuted all our presuppositions about the good peaceful ideology, the small bad radical minority, and the moderate majority in just one statement. Al Azhar is telling us here that there is nothing America, Israel, or the infidel west can do to force the main stream Islamic tradition to turn cruel and violent, violence is already there waiting for any person with the right label to provoke it. If our passionate anti-Zionist anti-Imperialist activists were wrong about that, why should they be right about bad Israel and tyrant America? This again is to remind us that many of irrational pro-Islamic and anti-Zionist activism is out there to protect Islam, and not Muslims, and even in many cases can be seen accurately as camouflaged anti-Semitism.

One does not need to look too far in order to find some evidence of the great consequential moral gap between the tradition which produced the statement of Al Azhar and the evil western civilization. The very recent American response to the CIA torture report should serve that purpose perfectly. The American people consensus consider physical torture  –which to no extent was near crucifixion or chopping of limbs- of the same monstrous terrorists to be a dark stain on American values, American honor, and the American flag. You should not search too much in Israeli public media to find the same harsh and sincere self-criticism of many of Israeli policies. It is my opinion that this huge moral gap accounts for almost all the miseries of the Middle East. Regardless of what America, Israel, or the west does. Extreme application of violence is an integral part of the doctrine of those extremists as well as many of those who we label moderates.

For the past three months or so the government of moderate Sisi and home of enlightened Al Azhar, has systematically engaged in the business of hunting, arresting, publicly humiliating, and imprisoning homosexual Egyptians.  Simultaneously, a stronger more violent state sponsored campaign was launched on atheists. Not exactly what the west had in mind regarding Sisi’s “reform of Islam” and “revolution in religion” don’t you think? Last week I was screamed at, cursed at, and even was successfully prevented from speaking at Swarthmore College by people who did not agree to what I was saying. Some of them fit the typical idea of the unveiled, perfect English speaking, moderate Muslim young women who live and study in the west. Similar “moderates” failed to do the same during my speech at Temple University the next day. Some of them sadly were students of journalism. This, along with the open call for crucifixion, chopping limbs, and Sisi's moral policing should make one thing very clear; these people have no clue as to what constitutes civil society. Blaming ourselves and Israel for everything that goes wrong in the world, accompanied with some wishful thinking towards the “culture and religion of peace”, may make us feel better and hopeful, however it can’t stand in the face of the very obvious truth, that this major culture which is controlling huge parts of the developing world has been taken over and even dominated by some very bad ideas, and they, not us, and certainly not Israel, are the reason why we expect to see cruel and horrific deaths of multiple people the next time we look at news.

Assuming that Israel and the west made all the necessary accommodations and concessions to the warriors of the Islamic world, would peace be achieved with a society whose only debate about violence is about determining who deserves his body parts to be chopped off? Is such a society capable of making peace? More importantly, are they capable of maintaining peace? We should know with certainty that crucifixions, limbs mutilation, women oppression, sexual repression, atheist hunting, systematic human rights violations, speech restrictions, and anti-Semitism will indeed cause many things, but not peace.