|“Power is not alluring to pure minds”|
sun kisses forest
trees glow in wild abandon
autumn in splendour
Celestine is a blogger in Ghana. Please click on her name to see more of her wonderful haiku and writings.
With the tone of the US media and academic debate about the Arab world over the years, and the anti-Islamic legislation passed in countries like Switzerland, who have banned minarets in the last years (as from 2009, not the call for prayer, which was always banned, just minarets), the naïve observer could be excused for thinking Islam is some kind of evil force.
Personally, as a somewhat naïve observer here in Finland I am always amazed at how easily ‘official’ versions of events are accepted. Take this case for example: On Saturday 18 February 2012, a gunman opened fire in a pizzeria in Oulu, northern Finland – killing one man and injuring another. The gunman – a 24-year old Finn – turned the gun on himself and later died in a hospital on Sunday evening. The pizzeria shooting claimed the life of a 21-year-old man of Moroccan origin and left a 42-year-old Moroccan man wounded. According to a news report published on Monday 20 February 2012 in Metro Helsinki, a daily newspaper in Helsinki, the shooting ‘may’ have been motivated by racism, and police believed the shooter was not motivated by racism. They would. Following the Oulu pizzeria shooting, Tommi Rautio, a politician of PS – a right wing anti-immigration party – wrote on Facebook that the shooter should be given a medal because there is “a war going on and for every war decorations are handed out.”
Comments that followed the newspaper article were centred on how Islam is violent (yep, the Muslems were violently shot actually) and Sharia law promotes violence. There are seriously blurred lines here. Not that there is only one brand of Sharia law by the way, in case that too, becomes an off-topic discussion here.
It has been 12 years since 9/11. Since then there was much violence perpetuated - unimagined violence for people like the vast majority of the families in Iraq trying to make a living and stay alive.
We could discuss attacks and counter attacks in Baghdad and Iraq till the cows come home, but the big picture for me is seen in the non-violent Arab Springs in Tunisia and Egypt, to force Western-propped government to change. This, to me, gives a better picture, and one that many Iraqi intellectuals were calling for instead of invasion in Iraq, because Islam throughout history has not been a religion of violence.
Indeed, if I think of violence what pops to mind?
The Spanish Inquisition.
The Crusades, and the absurdist ways they are portrayed in school textbooks.
I am notionally discussing Arabs, not Islam, but if were to extend this thesis to Islam as a whole, then the issue becomes even more interesting. Is Islam violent? No. It is remarkably peaceful, and has been in history for centuries. Let’s look at Baghdad again – specifically at the time when the Christian church was massacring one million Cahari Christians in southern France, had demanded the hunting and killing of ‘witches’ – two million women murdered, and in a highly innovative measure for it’s time, when Pope Innocent III restricted the teaching of Aristotle’s work in Paris. And my personal favourite, the decree in the 12th Century forbidding clergy to marry so that property would pass to the church instead of the family of the clergy. Heretics the lot of them.
So how about Baghdad? In about 762 A.D., the Abbasid dynasty took over rule of the vast Muslim world and moved the capital to the new city of Baghdad. Over the next five centuries, the city would become the world’s center of education and culture. This period of glory has become known as the “Golden Age” of Islamic civilization, when scholars of the Muslim world made important contributions in both the sciences and humanities: medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, zoology, cartography and literature. Under Abbasid rule, Baghdad became a city of museums, hospitals, libraries, and mosques.
Most of the famous Muslim scholars from the 9th to 13th centuries had their educational roots in Baghdad. One of the most famous centers of learning was Bayt al-Hikmah (the House of Wisdom), which attracted scholars from all over the world, from many cultures and religions. Here, teachers and students worked together to translate Greek, Persian and Sanskrit manuscripts, preserving them for all time. They studied the works of Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Euclid, and Pythagoras. The House of Wisdom was home to, among others, the most famous mathematician of the time: Al-Khawarizmi, the “father” of algebra (which is named after his book “Kitab al-Jabr”).
While Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, Baghdad was thus at the heart of a vibrant and diverse civilization. It was known as the world’s richest and most intellectual city of the time, and was second in size only to Constantinople (now Istanbul), scene of terrible carnage against it’s population by passing Crusades.
After 500 years of rule, Baghdad was finally trashed by the Mongols from what is present day day Mongolia in 1258 A.D, to which it never properly recovered. The House of Wisdom; the largest repository of books in world history until present day, was totally burnt, and the complex canal system from which Baghdad and Iraq’s culture flourished was destroyed, causing a huge psychological and physical blow.
However, it still remains easy to derail enlightenment about civilisation with jingoistic terms like ‘Suicide bombers’ – first used by non-Arab Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka by the way. There is no defendable argument on this page for that. But as for the whole notion of terrorism in Palestine and Israel, our memories are short. When the first Jewish settlers began arriving in Palestine in the the 192os they were welcomed with open arms by the Palestinian population, itself a trading nation. Who were the much feared and labelled terrorists the British were dealing with? The Jewish (politically Zionist) Lehi group, called the Stern Gang by the British, and advocating a Greater Israel. The Lehi group assassinated Lord Moyne , British Minister Resident in the Middle East, and carried out what is now called a campaign of terror in Palestine. They carried out what is known as the first truck bombing against British troops and were caught about to start a letter bomb campaign to selected European targets. Lehi assassinated United Nations mediator from Sweden Folke Bernadotte. and the group also carried out the massacre of Deir Yassin, involving cold-blooded killing and multiple rape of hundreds of surrendered Palestinian civilians, causing a large number of Palestinians to flee. Israel granted a general amnesty to Lehi members on 14 February 1949. In 1980, Israel instituted a military decoration, the Lehi ribbon. Former Lehi leader Ytzhak Shamir became Israeli Prime Minister in 1983.
There is still horrendous anti-Arab racism in Israel, with settler movements habitually, and suspiciously easily defacing Palestinian schools and worse. The general treatment of Palestinians as cattle at numerous and excessive checkpoints beggars belief. However, the following side also exists:
The Litmus test: ask any expatriate who has worked for a decade or less in any Arab country if his or her views are close to those expressed in this post concerning Arab people.
Update – interesting article here