Something to contemplate this Ramadan

Posted: Nov 26, 2002 12:00 AM
Part of me wanted to let Ramadan, Islam's month-long holiday of contemplative fasting and Thanksgiving, slide. Sure, there has been a mini-surge in published musings by American Muslims on the cruel and unusual punishment of airport security, but, some things, as they say, never change. More intriguing is a scheduled flurry of administration-sponsored Ramadan dinners. Even this inspires only minor head scratching over the specifically Islamic whirl of events to be hosted by the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department -- unmatched, of course, by any consciously Christian, Jewish or even Druid soirees. No point wondering what makes Islam so special. I haven't understood the Bush push to console and placate Muslims over 9/11 since 9/12. This round of Ramadan outreach looks like more of the same. Yet, maybe things are a little different now. The president's rhetoric on Islam (see hasn't changed much since his "Islam is peace" line of last year, and his "Islam is a peace-loving faith" line of this month, but in the repetition over the long haul, some almost-Orwellian echoes may be heard. "Islam is a faith that brings comfort to people," Mr. Bush said last month, one day before the world shook from a blast in Bali set by Islamic jihadists (one of whom was nabbed when his motorcycle was spotted outside a local mosque). October was also a month, the New Republic reports, in which American law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, an outspoken liberal Muslim who's received death threats since 9/11 and required 24-hour security to attend a debate in Qatar where he contested the morality of suicide bombing. None of which is to say, of course, that Islam doesn't bring comfort to people, but maybe that's not all it brings. "It's a faith based upon love, not hate," Mr. Bush said in September, a month in which a Palestinian Muslim suicide bomber took the lives of 19 Jewish Israelis on a bus in a by-now common act of premeditated mass murder sanctioned -- indeed, encouraged -- by some of Islam's most senior religious authorities. "Islam is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others," Mr. Bush said last week as headlines told us a man in Iran and a woman in Nigeria stood condemned to death under sharia (Islamic) law, he for "apostasy" (renouncing his faith), she for the capital crime of adultery. While our president surely doesn't see himself as defender of the faith, his inexplicable tendency toward the slogans of boosterism have caused him to gloss over crucial pieces of the big picture. Which hasn't gone unnoticed, by the way, in the deeper reaches of the Islamic world. As reported by the Washington Post last year, Abu Qatada, a British-based imam with links to Al Qaeda, put it this way: "I am astonished by President Bush when he claims there is nothing in the Quran that justifies jihad violence in the name of Islam. ... Is he some kind of Islamic scholar? Has he ever actually read the Quran?" Thanks to, among other things, the separation of church and state, it's not in the president's job description to be an Islamic scholar; but neither is it incumbent upon him to take up the pom-pom for old Islam. This seems particularly clear now that Mr. Bush has decided to weigh in on the blunt critiques of Islam offered by several conservative Christian leaders who have voiced their reactions (negative) to the violence at the core of Islam's unreconstructed traditions of jihad. Islam is violent, said one. Islam is evil, said another; and besides, said another, Mohammed was a pedophile. Historic truths or baseless slanders? If the president has his way, we'll never know. Such remarks "do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans," Mr. Bush noted pointedly last week. "Ours is a country based upon tolerance ... and we welcome people of all faiths in America. And we're not going to let the war on terror or terrorists cause us to change our values." But what if terrorists believe in terror -- for the sake of Islam? Not only does a willful official blindness to the militant Islamic-ness of the terrorist foe undermine our war effort, a point columnist Daniel Pipes has most recently made, it is also a detriment to any peace that follows. Just think: If the President of the United States -- the Great Satan's great Satan -- believes, as this one has variously and repetitively stated, that unreformed Islam is already the ultimate in peace, comfort, charity, compassion, honesty, inspiration, love, mercy and justice, then you have to wonder what on earth would possess Islam's liberals to undertake the arduous and even dangerous work of forcing the religion out of the Middle Ages and into the 21st century. Something to contemplate this Ramadan season.