Why do they want to attack us here?
St. Peter's is a church of social justice.
The first amendment to the United States Constitution is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Donald Trump, leading Republican candidate for the office of President of the United States of America wants "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." According to him "we can't allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States."
Members of the St. Peter's Social Justice Team met members of a nearby mosque to make friends and learn about Islam. The meetings were friendly, enjoyable, and educational. We've since brought our young people together to do good works.
Some things were left unsaid. Second to last session a woman I'd not seen before asked "Why do they want to attack us here?" The simple answer is "Because we're there" but when it comes to religion nothing is ever simple.
Richard Engle, Chief Foreign Correspondent, NBC News * lived among peaceful Muslim fundamentalists in Cairo, Egypt from 1993 to 1997. Where Mr. Engle lived everyone was poor, proud of Islam and proud of their Egyptian heritage. One thing he learned was that among the Muslims he met in Egypt and elsewhere "There was no distinction between modern and ancient history." This is very unlike most westerners who focus more on the here and now than on what happened hundreds of years ago.
Since many Middle Eastern Muslims share very strong feelings about their religion and heritage it makes sense to learn their history.
Islam was founded in CE610 in the Arabian peninsula when it was engulfed in constant tribal warfare. The Archangel Gabriel demanded Mohammed (who was illiterate) dictate the Quran to scribes. In the Quran it is written that all men are equal in prayer with rich and poor humbled together in common submission which is a compelling message. Conversion was fairly easy. All that was required was
- Five common prayers together per day,
- Ability to endure short sermons,
- Partial fasting one month each year and
- Pilgrimage to Mecca if possible.
While circumcision is and was widely practiced in the Middle East there is no mention of it in the Quran which made conversion easier than it might have been.
It is important to know Islam emerged in a tribal society in which there was no separation of church and state. When Islam emerged Christianity was already more than 600 years old and had evolved into Dark Age coexistence within nation states. According to Richard Engle"Islam has never accepted a division of church and state. For Islamists the distinction is nonsensical and heretical. In their eyes, Islam is a perfect system handed down by Allah himself through his chosen vessel with specific instructions on how men and women should manage their daily lives. So why wouldn't states also use it to administer their affairs?"
Mohammed wanted all Muslims to live together in harmony. Unfortunately soon after he died a power struggle erupted resulting in the death of three of the four men who claimed to be Caliph thus creating the still alive Sunni and Shite split.
Sunni's chose to follow the Prophet's close companion Abu Bakr, a man known for his devotion and discernment. Because of their direct connection to Muhammad and his teaching Sunni Muslims call his first successors the "rightly guided" caliphs.
Shiites chose to follow Ali who was Mohammad's cousin and son-in-law. According to The Economist marriage between close relatives is still a common practice. About 40% of all Egyptians marry cousins and the rate of close relative marriage is much higher in tribal areas like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Kuwait.
Islam quickly spread into Africa and the Byzantine and Persian Empires in part because everyone being equal is a very compelling message and partly because small groups of effective fighters on horseback were able to enforce the peace. Islam entered a "golden age" as Muslim scholars led the known world in study of astronomy, algebra, poetry, medicine and science. According to Mr. Engle
"Muslims know about and are nostalgic about this era
and costume dramas flood television during Ramadan."
By CE1100 Byzantium was so weakened and frightened by Muslim expansion Christian leaders asked Eastern European nation states to come to their rescue. Christian priests sent waves of "Crusaders" into the Middle East. This led to centuries of back and forth wars that weakened both sides.
In CE1258 Mongols sacked Bagdad, burned scientific and historical books and executed the caliph. Arab Muslims were unable to recover. The Turkish Osman tribe took over all Muslim controlled territory and thus launched the Ottoman Empire. Ottomans eventually conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) and much of Southeastern Europe.
Unlike Arabs who lived simple lives Ottoman Turks built elaborate buildings, kept harems and lived ostentatiously. In Western Europe all Muslims were simply referred to as "Turks". Most Europeans assumed all Muslims lived like Turkish Muslims.
Most Muslims do not live like "Turks". Culture shapes behavior and the dominant culture in each region shapes Islam in its own unique way. Muslims live all across South Asia with the largest number living in Indonesia. While the inner concepts are the same what an outsider sees when traveling place to place may make it appear an entirely different religion is being practiced.
When World War I erupted the weakened Ottoman Empire aligned itself with Germany as a way to fend off English and French imperialists. After England and France won WWI they arbitrarily divided the indivisible Ottoman Empire into colonially governed French and English nation states. No attention was paid to the religions practiced within the straight lines drawn and Palestine was designated a future Jewish enclave. The victors cared little about Arabia because it was barren and inhabited by poor desert dwellers.
Muslims cared about Arabia because that is where Islam emerged and where Mecca and Messina are located. Soon oil was discovered and the Arabs and Persians became wealthy. Since there was no tradition of contractual law the imperialist solution was to equip a "Strongman" with the weapons needed to control each of the colonially created nation states with which western nations wanted to do business. This worked until Europe erupted into World War II which bankrupted France and England.
After World War II the United States stepped in. President Eisenhower promised the various nation states economic and military aid as a way to keep Russians at bay and protect Western access to Middle Eastern oil. Even more ruthless Strongmen emerged.
The new Strongmen were universally brutal and corrupt. They were resented because they ruthlessly suppressed members of rival Muslim sects while funneling wealth and privilege to their own families who often lived opulent corrupt lives. Strongmen kept control for more than seventy years making it possible for Western Nations to buy their oil and poor Muslims to live in peace as long as they did not challenge whichever Strongman was in power.
Palestine is the exception in that it has no oil but does include divisive historical shrines three major religions consider their own. Palestine was inhabited by Muslim's who were forcibly displaced from their homes. Arabs defending Palestine were humiliated when invading Israelites quickly conquered Palestine in 1948 and much of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in a single week during 1967.
Invading Iraq was a terrible mistake. When American armies invaded and quickly conquered Iraq it became apparent to oppressed Middle Eastern Muslims that the Strongmen they feared and hated, and who governed in ways that favored relatives and religious sects, were vulnerable. Our invasion of Iraq unleashed an incredibly violent version of Islam. According to Richard Engle"I like to think of the Middle East as a row of decaying houses that looked ornate, impressive and sturdy from the outside but were full of termites and mold. Like hollowed out trees, the states that looked strong from the outside could be toppled by a slight push. President Bush gave them a hard shove." "In the years that followed, Obama, elected by a public opposed to more adventurism in the Middle East, broke the status quo even further through inconsistent action."
Words are important. Islam promotes a culture that does not separate church and state and wherein modern and ancient history are one and the same. According to Richard Engel "When President Bush said he was launching a Crusade after 9/11 most Muslims took his words at face value". While President Bush's intent was to remove the Iraqi Strongman Saddam Hussein what many Muslims heard was Christian crusaders were once again attacking Islam.
These civil wars will not end soon.
We made things worse when we removed Saddam Hussein, a ruthless visibly Sunni but actually secular Strongman, who was supporting suppression of Shiites as a way to gain and retain power and wealth for members of his family and tribe. We made things even worse by disbanding the Sunni military and firing all Sunni government officials. Lack of experienced bureaucrats made it impossible to establish a civilian government. Disbanding the Iraqi Army and end of wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya was a disaster in that it left tens of thousands of experienced Sunni and Shite combatants with nothing to do.
American supported Shite Iraqi Strongmen used our military might to retaliate against Sunnis and to enrich themselves and their families. Frustrated, frightened Iraqi Sunnis joined ISIS to protect themselves and their families.
Both sides of the current Sunni-Shite civil war are rich from oil money. Shite jihadists, and their proxy warriors, are funded by the oil rich Persians of Iran. Sunni jihadists, and their proxy warriors, are funded by oil rich Arabs. Israelis are given all the weapons needed to protect themselves by The United States of America. Wars will continue as long as there is oil money to finance both sides, we support Israel, or one side annihilates the other.
Both Sunnis and Shiites have safe-havens where practitioners nurture especially harsh fundamentalist forms of Islam. When Shite fundamentalists took over Iran in 1978 they seized control of one of the most oil rich nations in the world. While some moderation has occurred radicalized Shite Muslims still control Iran and actively equip and encourage proxies to foment civil war across the Middle East.
Wealthy Sunni Wahhabis, who set the harsh standards of behavior that are the foundation of al-Qaeda and so-called Islamic State practices, control the Arabian Peninsula and have built and staffed schools and mosques around the world to promote their version of Islam. Furthermore they control access to Mecca and Medina which all Muslims consider sacred and to which all Muslims hope to pilgrimage.
In general we encouraged the serial overthrow of Strongmen across the Middle East in ways that led to replacement of their repressive rule by the even more ruthless rule of religious fanatics who in most cases are much worse than the original Strongmen. In Syria we inadvertently contributed to creation of the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
We're in need of forgiveness.
While unconditional forgiveness is an extremely difficult standard in Christianity it is each believer's personal responsibility to accept culpability for what he or she has done or not done and to unconditionally forgive those who have trespassed against them no matter what they did. This is an incredibly high standard almost no one can attain. Many Christians believe Jesus dying on the cross demonstrated how this is done.
No one can make any other adult do anything. All anyone can do is control their personal response to whatever has occurred. As difficult as it is to forgive persons who have done one grievous harm it is still more possible to personally forgive another than it is to make someone else understand they offended you and what they need to do for you to forgive them.
Having read the Quran, and what a few Muslim scholars have written, I find no equivalent to the Christian commandment to unconditionally forgive anyone who trespassed against them. Islamic forgiveness appears more complicated. From what I've read instead of the injured person being expected to unconditionally forgive the offender it is instead the offender's responsibility to recognize his or her offense, to make a commitment not to repeat the offense, to do whatever it takes to rectify the offense, to ask pardon of the offended party and to then ask for God's forgiveness.
A politically difficult beginning would be to admit our culpability. France, England and we actively supported, and continue to support, Strongmen who practice nepotism, live opulent, corrupt anti-Islamic lives and ruthlessly suppress dissent.
"Why do they want to attack us here?"
The short answer is almost none do. Almost all Muslim families want to live in peace in their home land. I'm not afraid of those being allowed to settle here. They've been more carefully vetted than any of our ancestors and all Cubans.
The attacks in Europe have been launched by radicalized young men from ghettos of despair who were being treated with contempt by members of the mainstream society wherein they lived. The young men who attacked this nation in 2001 were similarly isolated and alienated.
It is my observation that young men who've been humiliated, and who are living without the hope of living within a normal loving family, feel they have nothing to lose and can become angry and alienated to the point of becoming capable of incredibly self-destructive behavior.
One thing is clear, Islam always manifests itself in the culture in which Muslims live. Who are we?
Is America a nation of social justice that honors the Constitution of the United States by respecting all religions, honoring free speech and freedom of the press, provides everyone an equal opportunity to become the best they can be, provides for the sick, elderly, orphans and widows and keeps our nations national resources and iinfrastructure sound enough to support our lifestyle?
Or will America be a well-armed theocracy that persecutes practice of any religion other than that practiced by the party in power, silences dissent, limits income and opportunity to the wealthiest 1%, has no compassion for anyone but persons just like oneself, wastes the national resources necessary to survive, depreciates our infrastructure until our lifestyle deteriorates and spends more money on prisons and foreign adventures than on the education of our youth and health of persons living here?
Recent takeovers of public land by self-described well-armed "militias," and escalating poitician fomented violence, make it clear native born Americans pose the greatest risk to our way of life. Terrorist attacks within the United States are most likely to be by well-armed men who feel they've been cheated of their place in our society, believe themselves on a mission to restore their self-centric world view and are looking for the fame that comes from fighting and dying for a glorious cause.
The social justice solution is to live the First Amendment, to become friends with Muslims living among us and to help them and ourselves help each other embrace the best of our culture. The social justice solution is to be the "beacon on the hill" to which persons looking for a peaceful home land in which to practice their peaceful religion and raise their families are attracted.