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 might 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.




  •' fledermaus1 says:

    Good read. Familiarity on a personal basis with ‘otherness” is one of the most powerful tools to break down ignorance and fear. We desperately need more of it.

  •' PastorM says:

    Last night, at the YMCA in Fishers, IN, where I work, a junior high young lady named Mariam started as a volunteer. She is Muslim, I am a retired United Methodist pastor. We talked a lot about being a Muslim in our city, which has an increasing Muslim population. After a few questions, I said, tell me if I am asking too many questions. She said that we learn by asking questions. I have had similar conversations with Muslims, as well as people who come from different countries and other religions. I agree with fledermaus 1’s comment.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    That was an easy letter to tear apart – seems like an actual case of bigotry.

    On the nukes – two thoughts. Americans (most – not certain Christians) are generally afraid of theocracies having nuclear power. Add in that Iran is a Muslim theocracy, and many in the US wet themselves. The constant chants of “Death to America” don’t help much either.

    On the US being the only country to have used nuclear weapons – I recommend an excellent podcast episode from Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History called “Logical Insanity”. He outlines the shock at the rate of causalities in WWI and the idea that anything that could end a war sooner, would result in a net reduction in suffering. On top of this you have this huge jump in air power between WWI and WWII, but a lack of technology that would allow a precision that was within 10 miles or so. These factors lead to acts like the bombing of entire cities – of special note is the fire bombing of Dresden and Tokyo. The rather dark calculus is – do you keep fire bombing (Tokyo may have had 125,000) deaths and draw the war out another year or so or drop the “bomb”. When dropped on Hiroshima – the overall death toll was estimated at 135,000, which isn’t much different than the Tokyo numbers. We could argue a bit about which is worse: radiation or being burned alive, but I think the differences are minor relative to the similarities.

  •' where,etc says:

    There is already a nuclear power in the mideast that has openly threatened to use that power if it so chooses. No one seems to require their restraint.

  •' Clay Farris Naff says:

    Well said. Ignorance and fear are the parents of hate.

  •' Judith Maxfield says:

    Couldn’t you just read the piece, sit on it and reflect? Didn’t this come today, April 14?
    So what your take on history in another place. So what your redirecting the comments. How well do you really listen? There is sadness here in what Haroon is saying.

  •' Judith Maxfield says:

    This is sad for me. I am very aware I am American by birth, my roots are half Irish, also English, just barely ahead of the post WWII baby boomers. I grew up with words like “Yid, Gook, and the N..word. It was my mom who gave me the cues to not accept these words as Ok. She grew up in Philadelphia with terrible discrimination being Irish. I knew her stories and the pain it caused.
    Her story became my story.
    Because of this, my love of learning and being curious about life, I’ am interest in what Haroon is saying and to ask an open Why? I do know Muslims, mostly from peace activists, which is not the same as personal friends, but at least helpful. There’s a lot of culture I admire in the Muslin world. There is more of what I know, but not here for now, the point being I don’t assume or ignore. I’ve heard that curiosity is the opposite of arrogance. I read and look for experiences of the”Other”. I’m embarrassed and I grieve of how ignorant and destructive Americans can be towards the rest of the world.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    You know, you are right. If I had sat on this article for a while and thought about it, I would have responded differently. And the letter is sad. I should not thought, that lots of groups receive what amounts to hate mail and his experience is not singular.

  •' John Micheal Stacey says:

    I work with Muslims. The worst thing Ive had happen to me is that when we order pizza for lunch we have to get 1/2 a pizza without pepperoni or ham. Now, only 2-3 slices of the cheese only pizza gets eaten. Now, were left with 2 pieces of pizza now one else wants to really eat.

  •' Judith Maxfield says:

    Thank you! being able for all of us to connect in a positive way gives hope we have the power to change ourselves.

  •' andrew123456789 says:

    Excellent response to the reader, who also apparently does not really know Islam and its history.

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