Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist
To much of the Muslim world, American culture is the culprit
Recall the lurid photos of Private Lynndie England, United States Army. At Abu Ghraib, she was pulling an Iraqi man on a leash.
Liberals said it was "torture." It violated the Geneva Conventions.
Conservatives, hard-wired to "support our troops," said it was no big deal. Rush Limbaugh compared it to a fraternity hazing. Heh, heh.
"Most Muslims did not view it as a torture story at all," writes Dinesh D'Souza in his book, "The Enemy at Home." To the Muslims, Abu Ghraib was a story of sexual perversion. D'Souza quotes a Muslim businessman in Turkey: "What the female American soldier in uniform did to the Arab man, strip him of his manhood and pull him on a leash, this is what America wants to do to the Muslim world."
Before we say: Nonsense! — we might consider D'Souza's argument. His book makes other claims I set aside, but on the 9/11 question — Why do they hate us? — he argues plausibly that their objection is our spreading of an immoral culture.
We like American culture. We may criticize it, but it is ours and we resent it when others pick at it. When we see that much of the world is drawn to our ways, we think it's good. There is a thought, often not expressed, of an American world — which, as you might expect, may be unwelcome. And because America by global standards has a liberal culture, the strongest resistance is from the world's conservatives. Particularly the Muslims.
I worked with Muslim colleagues for several years on a magazine in Asia. We sometimes wrote about Islamic religion and politics, and had to be careful not to insult Islam. It was not that difficult — not nearly as difficult as keeping on the good side of some of the governments over there. It was not difficult to get along with Muslim colleagues, either. They were all decent people, serious about their religious duties and respectful of the religious duties of Christians.
And they were conservative people. As D'Souza says, they were drawn to American culture in some ways, but wary of Western ideas of easy sex and of a definition of human rights that would undermine the traditional family.
D'Souza goes on to argue that America's political conservatives, who also tend to religious conservatism, should be respectful of ordinary Muslims. And yet in 2004, when American soldiers made pornography of Muslims at Abu Ghraib, American conservatives gave Muslims no support.
In 2005, when a newspaper in Denmark printed cartoons blasphemous to Muslims, American conservatives did it again. They defended the Danes. They supported not only their right to print the cartoons, which was OK, but their decision to print them. Some Seattle-area conservatives posted the cartoons on the Internet. Others wore little Danish flags.
A few years ago, when an artist painted the Virgin Mary and splattered her image with elephant dung, did America's conservatives defend the New York gallery's decision to display it? No. They denounced it as a gratuitous attack on Christians, which it was. Would they defend an attack on Judaism? Never. An attack on Islam? Heh, heh. Freedom of speech!
That says clearly: Our religion counts; yours doesn't.
Right after 9/11, Christians and Jews in Seattle stood in support of the Muslims. It was a fine moment, and it was the liberal denominations that led it. Political conservatives tend toward a bombings-and-beheadings view of Islam. Listen to their radio shows and you can hear it. Their tribalism overwhelms their sympathy. They fail to see that ordinary Muslims are a lot like them. The Muslims are not liberals, and their feeling for God, family and country is about the same. They are outraged when excrement is smeared on their symbols, just as conservatives are.
None of which seems to make any difference.
Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com
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