How Do We Respond? Part 2

This is the second part of the blog I posted on November 4, 2010, laying out ways in which Muslimscan respond to the problem of anti-Islamic sentiments in America, which I wrote about in my earlier blog “When You’re a Statistic” posted on October 17.

4) Seek common ground with conservatives too. As Muslims, we don’t have a political party. We are morally committed to a sound ethical system that demands an uncompromising adherence from us. The principles, ethics, and values that demand our allegiance do not fit neatly into a particular political school of thought. Thus far, too many Muslims have tried to ally mostly with the Left, but in the current dialectic, the Left is unlikely to win the battle for the hearts of Middle America, especially when it comes to accepting Muslims as full-fledged members of the American tapestry. But there are many intelligent and influential people within the philosophical conservative movement, and some of them know what Islam is and some don’t. We need to make strategic alliances with them and recognize that we share a lot of common ground, as we are also concerned about losing moral foundations in an increasingly secularized, and even worse laicized, world that is downright hostile toward public faith. For example, the conservatives are as troubled as Muslims are about the predominance of premarital and extramarital sexuality, the breakdown of the family, and the proliferation of pornography and drugs. On the other hand, the truly progressive Left and not mainstream Tweetle Dee Left to the Tweetle Dum Right, despite its moral ambiguity on many such personal and social issues, has a far better track record of standing firmly against warmongering, arms proliferation, and American aggression in countries where we don’t belong – but there is also a progressive Right that we forget about best embodied in Ron Paul, who is one of the most outspoken critics of warmongering and American foreign wars and misadventures. So in some things, we are more with the Left and in others we are more with the Right, which puts us somewhere in the middle, as we comprise the Middle Nation.

For instance, in the recent election ballot in California, we had Prop 19, which would have essentially legalized personal use of marijuana. I abstained from voting on it because Islam forbids intoxicants, even though, in my opinion, the ballot measure was based on sound logic within the secular context. A good argument can be made to legalize or at least decriminalize marijuana, especially when alcohol is deemed legal. From a secular perspective, either both should be illegal or both legal. The same holds true for smoking tobacco: it is unsound to legalize it, despite its harmful health effects, while keeping marijuana illegal. As for the effects on one’s behavior, a stoned person is less belligerent and friendlier than a drunk person. People under the influence of marijuana also drive more safely, and slower, given the experience of time being slowed down for them. An authoritative article in The Lancet from 2007 showed through sound research in England that alcohol was far worse than any other illegal drug. The Prophet, God bless and grant him peace, called alcohol “the mother of all foulness” (umm al-khaba’ith). If I had to choose between the two evils, I would rather have stoned people than drunk people but that legal option doesn’t exist in America. Though I digress from our topic, I do so only to make an important point: social problems like alcohol consumption are never solved by outlawing them – a point the progressive Left recognizes, yet the reactionary Right fails to understand. These problems can only be solved by cutting off the demand through personal transformation and abstinence of the individuals that currently generate, through their demand, the supply-side of the drug problem.

Wars on drugs or terrorism or any other problem usually involve trying to battle the problem without addressing their root causes, and so such efforts are doomed to failure. The roots of the marijuana problem are not in Mendocino County’s fertile soil where marijuana is grown in abundance; they are in the spiritual emptiness of the hearts of America’s young and old consumers of the weed. I have been Muslim for 33 years and not once during that time have I desired a drink, a joint, or any other mind-altering substance because I don’t need to escape from anything when I have prayer, patience, community and the wine of natural beauty that surrounds me. I prefer Emily Dickinson’s brew that is not made in “vats upon the Rhine.” In the parlance of Ibn al-Farid: “We’re drunk on a wine that existed before the vine was ever created.”

In any case, when we consider our response to the onslaught of anti-Islamic sentiments we face in the current climate, we ought not to align ourselves totally with either the Left or the Right. One can be “progressive” on one issue and “conservative” on another. Let’s not become a religion of Democrats or of Republicans by politicizing our religion or slanting it to the Left or to the Right. Let us be morally committed to reasonable and just positions. For instance, the Palestinian problem is one of religion (because the Israeli claim is a religious one, that God deeded them the land and hence all previous inhabitants have no standing.) The Muslims also have a religious claim, and that cannot be proven with any absolute proof either, even if Muslims think it is a stronger claim. But if you remove both Islam and Judaism from the equation and consider only the historical facts, you have to conclude that, for the most part, the Israelis are simply acting immorally – I say most, because some land was legitimately purchased by Jews in the exodus to Palestine, and there were also Arab Jews as well as Sephardic Jews living there before Israel came into existence. For instance, the mother of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded in Pakistan, was an Iraqi Jew, and they were living under Muslim protection before some were forced to migrate. Many Arab Jews, including the Yemenis, did not want to leave but ended up in situations that were so traumatic that they had no alternative. My point is this: it’s not all black and white; a lot of grey exists, but some things are black and white.

5) Build new institutions. Let me re-iterate my third point in the previous blog and add the need for new institutions that will address the needs not being addressed by the existing ones. Muslims must build real institutions to combat the madness. We have a growing community that is far outstripping our capacity to address the social, familial, cultural, and every other type of problem. We need real think tanks of which the ISPU is an excellent start but needs much developing. We need a powerful legal defense fund and an ADL type institution, well-endowed and vibrant, which CAIR can develop into with the right financing and leadership.

Thanks for the patience. I have several more points to come. So please bear with me.