Dear Reader, I’m Assuming You Don’t Know Any Muslims

Last Thursday, a reader from Cape Coral, Florida emailed the following to RD’s general mailbox in response, it appears, to my recent review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book, Heretic:

Moghul naturally sees Islam as a religion, one of the several of mankind.

I do NOT see Islam as a religion, but rather as a dangerous, repressive, subversive, anti-humanistic, military, financial and commercial conspiracy designed and intended to dominate the entire world to the advantage of a few charismatic fast-talking snake-oil salesmen.

It needs to be put down permanently by any and all measures necessary to do so. There are other “religions” of similar design and threat, but which have of yet not gained a significant foothold.

My response:

Dear Reader,

I can understand why you might think all Muslims want to kill you, and so: kill us first. Last week, for example, I found myself a seat on the subway and resumed reading Shulem Deen’s memoir, All Who Go Do Not Return. After a few minutes the young man beside me interrupted. Seeing the author’s clearly Jewish name, he wondered (a) what the book was about and (b) if I were Jewish.

My fellow straphanger—the term is correct, if even we were both sitting—wore a kippa, which made my admission that I was reading the autobiography of an apostasizing former Skverer Hasid that much more awkward, not to mention that I was not Jewish but Muslim, which you know. “Where are you from?” he asked, and I said Pakistan. “Oh,” he responded, “so you speak Arabic?” My desire to flinch complicated by yes I do speak Arabic.

But should I blame him? When I was growing up, all I knew about Pakistanis—other than that we weren’t Arabs and didn’t speak Arabic—was that we were Muslim. I believed all Indians were Hindus, because all the Indians I knew were Hindu. Fortunately, adolescence, attendance at a big college, and a healthy addiction to books disabused me of such naive assumptions. But they continue to run rampant, due in part to lack of exposure.

I’m assuming you don’t know any Muslims, which is a safe assumption based on your email. (Also: I think the whole let’s kill everyone is overkill, but that’s me.) Were you to know Muslims, you’d realize we’re not all what you hear about, or see, on television; you’d find out that, for example, American Muslims are deeply American. You’d find out we’re just as dismayed by extremists as anyone else, and deeply concerned for the future of our country and our faith.

But this might not satisfy you. You might ask, “Well, what about the Muslims who want to conquer the world?” Other than the fact that the gap between stated intention and ability is greater than the known quantity of space available in the universe, I’d really genuinely just say, “Yeah, and so what?” When I traveled to Israel, I met many Israelis who confessed they saw themselves as victims. A people nearly destroyed by the Holocaust, who arrived to what they thought was safety in Palestine, only to find themselves at the center of a far vaster and very hostile Arab and Muslim world.

To these Israelis I countered, “You do realize many in that Arab and Muslim world believe you are the aggressors—and are scared of you?” Many were surprised. But, I explained, they don’t see Israel standing on its own. They see it as a forward operating base for America, which is itself a continuation of European colonialism and hegemony. And it doesn’t help that America’s military power, which hasn’t always been helpful to populations in that part of the world, is basically unchallengeable.

Just recently, we had a debate in our country about the Iran deal. About whether it was fair. I had to laugh every time the question was brought up. To most of the rest of the world, this is an absurd and even offensive question. Fair? The only country in the world to have ever used nukes is arguing about the potential threat posed by a far smaller, far less sophisticated, far more vulnerable nation that might, conceivably, develop nukes somewhere down the line?

Not to mention we used nukes against civilians. In a war we’d almost won.

What sane person wouldn’t be scared?

But we can’t see these things if we can’t imagine ourselves in the shoes of other people. When you see crazy Muslims calling for a global war on the West, and think, that’s all Islam, plenty of Muslims turn on the television and see unarmed black men shot in the streets and think: there’s that aggressive, racist, violent America.

Which is why I appreciate your writing to me: We really need to get to know each other. To break down barriers. To see each other as human. You will, however, forgive me if, given your somewhat genocidal inclinations, I would like to keep this a long-distance relationship.