Monday, December 11, 2006


Well, not really, according to Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist whose admonitions to stop the Darfur slaughter have gone totally unheeded. But he’s talking about Muslims this time. No, not Arabs, he is quick to add. (Not all Arabs are Muslim, not all Muslims are Arab; in fact, most are not.)

Here’s a passage — or, borrowing from Sullivan’s lexicon, the ‘money quote’:

“The Koran and Bible alike have passages that make 21st-century readers flinch; most Christians just ignore sections on slavery or admonitions to kill a disobedient child. Likewise, some Muslims are reinterpreting Koranic passages on polygamy and amputations, saying they were restricted to particular circumstances that no longer apply. [For great analysis from an avowed Islamic humanist going by the moniker Ali Eteraz, check out the archives of his now-defunct site which is listed under my links.]

“Frankly, I don’t see that any religion’s influence is intrinsically peaceful or violent. Christianity inspired both Mother Teresa and pogroms. Hinduism nurtured Gandhi and also the pioneers of suicide bombings. [True, true, although I didn’t know about the Hindu suicide bombers thing; and Hitchens has some questions about Teresa’s saintliness.]

“These days, ferocious anti-Semitism thrives in some Muslim countries, but in the Dreyfus affair a century ago Muslims sided with a Jew persecuted by anti-Semitic Christians. And the biggest sectarian slaughter in Europe in modern times involved Christians massacring Muslims at Srebrenica. [Um, if we’re counting “modern times” … oh, sectarian slaughter; regardless, the Holocaust should be included in that category.]

“The plain fact is that some Muslim societies [point of confusion: when is it Muslim, versus Islamic or Islamist? These have almost become interchangeable] do have a real problem with violence, with the subjugation of women, with tolerance. But the mosaic of Islam is vast and contains many more hopeful glimpses of the future.

“There is a historic dichotomy between desert Islam — the austere fundamentalism of countries like Saudi Arabia — and riverine or coastal Islam, more outward-looking, flexible and tolerant. Desert Muslims grab the headlines, but my bet is that in the struggle for the soul of Islam, maritime Muslims have the edge.”

Ah, okay. Those damn desert A-rabs are the ones getting us in a pinch, Mr. Kristof; I see. Of course that is just irony. What’s interesting here is that he takes pains to differentiate the Muslim populations but has no problem grouping the ‘sand monkeys’ together as one homogenous, threatening group. Subtly racist of that distinction, no?

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