UNKNOWN ARABIA

Recently the Saudi government in Riyad placed an order for planes, helicopters and other weapons which possibly was the largest single war contract in peacetime. A shame indeed, when the Saudi armed forces are already well equipped for killing purposes beyond any probable need. That government has enemies, yes, beginning with Al Qaeda. But the latter are enemies that conventional warfare does not destroy nor deter. Certainly you and I would think of different, more civilized ways to spend the dollars coming from oilfields which represent 25% of all known reserves of the planet.

Anyway our present theme is not moralizing about the ethical choices of Riyad. Our theme is some strangely unknown features of the Arabian modern reality. We now find it natural that the Arab monarchies are very rich. But as recently as the Thirties of last century the major wealth of the Saudi economy was fishing natural pearls; and the largest receipt of the Riyad treasury was the taxes pilgrims paid to enter Mecca and Medina. Pearl fishing was cruel- most persons engaged in it died younger because of the stress of diving for natural pearls. Today the Saudi king collects enormous royalties and fees from the oil/gas industry.

The predominantly arid peninsula is now inhabited by more than 60 million people. Qatar, 1,4 millions, numbered 30,000 sixty years ago. This means that oil and a thunderous modernization has attracted so many immigrants as to provoke imbalances and distortions. Gulf emirates whose populations were tiny, today may have non-native majorities. Societies have formed where at bottom Indians and Sri Lankans are house servants and manual laborers; above them a middle class of educated Indians and Arabs works in offices and technical jobs. The top stratum of foreigners is made of Palestinians, Lebaneses and Western expatriates. The native Arabs share the oil bonanza in a number of ways: they do not pay taxes, are compensated by foreigners to act as their partners or legal ‘sponsors’ -foreigners are not allowed to own firms and houses. In addition there are jobs, state loans and outright gifts which can only go to natives. Many young Arabs do not feel compelled to find employment.

The sudden wealth and some over-ambitious modernization programs have generated mistakes. In Dubai, formerly a small gulf port, oilfields are now empty, so the emirate had converted into a giant financial and tourist center. In 2009 the international crisis and the consequences of a property bubble forced Dubai to ask the help of Abu Dhabi, where modernization had been wiser.

Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1932, the year when the kingdom came into existance. We know that before oil the Arab peninsula was poor. It wasn’t always so in the remote past. Kingdoms and principalities of the South were the legendary producers of spices: aromatic, very valued vegetable productions used in religious rites, cookery, medicine. In the south-western hill country native plants grow whose resins give frankincense and myrrh. The local princes (one of them was the Queen of Sheba of the Bible) also monopolized the trade from India and other Asian spice-producing countries to the Mediterranean.

Out of the three historical great sections of the 3 million sq.km. Peninsula -Arabia Petrea to the North, Desert Arabia in the center, Arabia Felix in the South- the third one was (comparatively) green and fertile in spices. Now divided in two states, Yemen ( including Hadramouth) and Oman, Arabia Felix saw around 500 a.C. an episode of Christian domination (of the Abyssinians from Axum) and another one of Hebrew influence. Central Arabia was of course the origin and nucleus of Islam: from there Mohammed preached and acted to create a world faith and a great empire. Internecine conflict soon erupted between factions, so the highest authority of Islam abandoned Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed. The caliphs of Damascus and Bagdhad plus other leaders competed to guide Islam. In 1517 the whole of Arabia fell to the Ottomans. Three centuries later Great Britain conquered Aden and most coastal territories; only Yemen remained independent.

Today the king in Riyad, while remaining a feudal sovereign, is the foremost protagonist both in the modernization of the peninsular society and in repelling the political/terrorist attack of adversaries such as Al Qaeda. The latter is said to maintain an operational basis in Yemen.

Why have we dealt with Arabia, a small ‘continent’ which is usually ignored when oil is not involved? Because long depressed Arabia might find a role in the geopolitics and, more importantly, in the future evolution of wide sections of the globe. An experiment is going on in the peninsula, one that may both fail and succeed: grafting an almost futuristic modernity into a very old tree. Some traits of modernization are frightful, such as the golden sanitaries and precious plumbings of the seven star hotel in Dubai, the yachts as big as ships, other marks of unbridled consumerism of many former dromedary and goat shepherds.

However, who can say? With her northern shores on the Mediterranean, Arabia is the homeland of the entire race of the descendants of Shem, now chiefly represented by Jews and Arabs, but in ancient times including the Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, et cet. Arabia generated, in addition to three world religions and unsurpassed civilizations, a large empire. Notwithstanding present deformed, adulterated cultural circumstances, Arabia could possibly go back to enriching the Family of Man.

A.M.C., Daily Babel

ISLAM IN CRISIS: THE MULTICULTURAL LITMUS TEST

Germany has been rocked in recent weeks by questions about its “multicultural” society, and in particular about whether it will ever be able to integrate its 4 million Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent addition to the controversy, saying that “multiculturalism has utterly failed,” while undoubtedly a political move to win over some of the 66% of voters who are disenchanted with Germany’s Turkish Muslims, merely ratchets up the heat without providing much light on the subject. But there is an irony here that no one seems to have seen: Islam is itself monocultural, with very few exceptions. There’s the Islamic way and no other way. Islam, so Muslims believe, is not a world religion but the world’s one true religion. Everyone else is an “infidel,” even so-called brothers of “The Book”, Jews and Christians.

In Turkey the irony of its Muslims being upset with Germany’s disenchantment with multiculturalism is even greater: in 1900, in Istanbul, there were over 500,000 Christians (500 years earlier, of course, its many millions were all Christians, as Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) was the Christian Church’s Eastern center). Now, however, only a few Christians remain (and these are mostly “religious”), the rest having been oppressed, persecuted, killed, or taxed out of existence. And let us also not forget, less than 100 years ago Turkey committed the first modern holocaust, against a million and a half Armenian Christians, men, women, and children—which ethnic and religious “cleansing” Turkey to this day refuses to accept responsibility for! Indeed, even to mention it in Turkey is a crime against the state! (This holocaust, incidentally, would later give Hitler the idea of doing something similar to the Jews of Germany and Europe.)

This, then, is a parable of how Islam treats non-Islamic cultures. To say that Islam is against multiculturalism is but to speak in gross understatement. Non-Muslims are not, and perhaps never will be integrated into Muslim societies. Even today, for example, it is not safe to be an open Christian in most Islamic countries, and one may not proselytize one’s Christian faith, on pain of death—and to convert from Islam to Christianity brings an automatic repudiation by one’s family and, in many Islamic countries, an automatic death sentence as well! So much for Islamic tolerance and “multiculturalism.”

The crisis in Islam, then, is precisely this: How can it continue to complain about western countries’ treatment of Muslims while it itself oppresses and persecutes, and refuses to integrate and accept its own non-Muslims? Indeed, Islam even persecutes, and kills, its fellow Muslims if they are members of a different Islamic sect! The hypocrisy of Muslims, then, complaining about non-tolerance of its own religion in western countries is both irrational and truly maddening.

Indeed, even after 1400 years, since the rise of Islam, Muslims have yet to allow non-Muslims to be fully integrated into their society, or even to live normal lives. For example, as recently as the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Christian churches in Muslim-controlled Palestine were not permitted to be renovated! Only after Israel had won the war, and taken control of part of the territory, could Christians carry out long-needed repairs to their churches. (But the persecution of Christians in Muslim-controlled Palestine has continued unabated, with some towns, like Bethlehem, losing almost all of its Christians.) And in all Muslim lands, the building of new churches is either strictly forbidden or sharply curtailed. And there are few signs of anything changing in the long term, much less the short term.

Westerners—including Germans—aren’t blind. They see these things, and it worries them. For once a population of Muslims achieves a certain degree of numerical power, as in Lebanon, then Christianity (or any other non-Muslim religion) is forced onto the defensive, since Islam is strictly “monocultural.” There is simply no such thing as Islamic tolerance, let alone full, complete and permanent acceptance, equality, and integration of non-Muslims. No Muslim country, for example, has a “bill of rights”(both de jure and de facto) to protect its non-Muslims and to guarantee them full equality and acceptance; and no Muslim country is multicultural in the same way that almost all Western countries are. This rightfully worries countries with growing Muslim populations.

Moreover, It is not even certain that most Muslims wish to be fully integrated since there are so many professions Muslims refuse to enter, and academic subjects they refuse to study, let alone obtain a degree in—fields such as world history, philosophy, world religions, the philosophy of religion, Christian theology, a history of the Church, biblical studies (not to mention Judaic, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist studies, or the study of primitive and prehistoric religions ), inter alia, let alone verboten subjects like the fine arts. When I was studying in Germany, in my classes I met and befriended a Turkish lawyer and his lawyer wife. They spent almost every weekend for several months meeting with young Turks in Berlin, trying to persuade them to study, stay in school, integrate, become part of their new society. But they were unsuccessful in their appeals—and this was nearly 10 years ago. Evidently little has changed since then.

Should we ourselves in the West, then, be multicultural? Should we accept Muslims since they in their own countries don’t accept us? By all means. That’s what’s so important about the Judaeo-Christian western culture: from Christ comes the commandment to love and to serve others—Muslims included! These commandments are what make western culture so vital, open, flexible, dynamic, and creative. But on the other hand, Muslims who “become westernized”—i.e., those who come to the West to live—must then adopt their host country’s laws, due process, constitutional rights, and western ways of approaching life—which many still refuse to do. (“Honor” killings, the treatment of women and children, and bigamy are but three examples of their refusal to adapt to their new country’s different laws and mores.)

If Muslims wish to be fully integrated, then the challenge is for them, too, to be open and tolerant and accepting in their own cultures—i.e., to be “multicultural” even as they expect the same treatment from western countries. But this must mean, first and foremost, to lay aside permanently their eternal war with so-called “infidels,” including those people they deem to have been disrespectful of Allah or Mohammed, and therefore must be “punished.” Not to do so opens them to the crippling charge of hypocrisy, and puts at risk their lasting acceptance, and final integration, into Western societies, to which they have come voluntarily seeking a better, more open, more dynamic, and more secure way of life.

We in the West have no stomach for their religious fratricide or wars against “infidels” (ours ended for the most part well over 200 years ago—and was in any event a negation, not an affirmation, of Christianity!). The beauty and wisdom of Christianity lies precisely in its counsels to love, to serve, and to forgive—and to seek genuine and lasting peace among all men.

We do not wish, as a culture, to give up these precious ideals, and to substitute for them instead endless warfare with and hatred of “infidels”. History has moved on—in the West—beyond such insanity and sacrilege; there can be no going back now to that earlier, barbaric, less tolerant way of life without also destroying everything good that we presently enjoy in western culture.

Islam, then, is in crisis: It may stay where it is and risk rejection from the West—or it can adopt tolerance and acceptance as its twin modes of being, and be at peace with both itself and the world—and therewith become a vital, vibrant and contributing part of the world community. Let us hope it has enough wisdom to choose the right path—for its own sake, as well as for the peace, security, and happiness of the whole world.

Len Sive, Daily Babel

C’É DEL MARCIO A NEW YORK

C’è del marcio a New York. E il furore intorno alla moschea di Ground Zero è solo la punta dell’iceberg. La vicenda che ha rimesso la Grande Mela al centro del dibattito nazionale e internazionale, infatti, è solo la punta dell’iceberg di un crescente scontro culturale che avvolge l’America fin dal 2001, ovvero dai giorni dell’Operazione Enduring Freedom e dell’imporsi all’attenzione pubblica del concetto di ‘Islamofascismo’. Uno scontro culturale che si propaga senza sosta in lungo e in largo per gli Stati Uniti, proprio come un rapido contagio, infiammando l’opinione pubblica in un periodo di grande scontento generale.

Arrivati a questo punto, la questione riguardo il diritto o meno all’esistenza della moschea prevista al Park51 dovrebbe già essere stata risolta. Nella decisione non dovrebbe essere determinante l’evidenza che negli immediati dintorni di Ground Zero ci siano già altre due moschee, la Majid Manhattan e la Masjid al-Farah: la vera risposta, supportata dalla Costituzione Americana, è che la moschea Park51 – molto semplicemente – ha diritto di sorgere lì. Ma ciò non ha placato il temperamento di persone come Pamela Geller e Robert Spencer, che tramite la loro associazione ‘Stop Islamization of America’ (SIOA) hanno dichiarato guerra totale a quella che definiscono la ‘Moschea della Supremazia Islamica’. Un’associazione che, stando al loro sito, difende la ‘libertà religiosa’:

Ricordate: siamo in guerra. Stiamo combattendo per la nostra nazione, per i nostri valori e per i principi costituzionali di libertà che hanno reso grande l’America. Siamo in guerra per la libertà di parola, l’uguaglianza dei diritti delle donne, e per la libertà di coscienza – tutte cose negate dalla legge islamica.

Le incongruenze sono visibili a occhio nudo. Se la SIOA combatte per la difesa dei valori americani, non dovrebbe essere a favore della costruzione di una moschea guidata da un imam moderato? Non dovrebbe, la SIOA, essere dalla parte dei musulmani americani che sono morti nell’attacco dell’11 Settembre, e di quelli che – ancora oggi – combattono in Afghanistan e in Iraq? E, soprattutto, contro chi stanno combattendo i ‘patrioti’ americani della SIOA? Dando una rapida occhiata ai confini americani, non mi sembra di vedere orde di barbari che si riuniscono con aria sediziosa preparandosi alla presa della Casa Bianca.

Ma i sostenitori della filosofia della SIOA (che è poi quello dei Tea Parties, e dunque di Glenn Beck e Sarah Palin) non sono particolarmente preoccupati delle incongruenze. Il loro è un mantra di supremazia etno-religiosa, e la loro islamofobia si sta rapidamente trasformando in una nuova e rabbiosa forma di razzismo. La SIOA ha programmato un raduno per il prossimo 11 Settembre e uno degli ospiti invitati a parlare sarà l’estremista politico olandese Geert Wilders, che in un’intervista ha affermato che ‘l’Islam non è una religione, ma un’ideologia: l’ideologia di una cultura ritardata’. Quello che preoccupa è la constatazione che questo sentimento, una volta relegato nella marginalità di subculture sotterranee e minoritarie, stia ora lentamente uscendo allo scoperto, fino a diventare mainstream.

Movimenti contrari alla costruzione di questa e altre moschee stanno fiorendo in varie parti d’America. A Temecula, in California, gruppi di manifestanti si sono riuniti brandendo cartelloni con la scritta ‘No Allah Law Here’, in aperta ostilità con il Centro Islamico di Temecula Valley, che vorrebbe costruire una moschea di oltre 2.000 metri quadrati su alcuni terreni inutilizzati di cui è già entrato in possesso. Un Centro Islamico a Florence, Kentucky, è apertamente attaccato da un website anonimo (‘Stop the Mosque’), e inoltre vi sono state diverse segnalazioni di un anonimo oppositore – soprannominato ‘il vigilante’ – che va in giro appendendo volantini che intimano l’immediato stop dei lavori di costruzione della moschea. E poteva forse mancare un bel rogo di libri? Terry Jones, il pastore del Dove World Outreach Center di Gainesville, in Florida, sta programmando una giornata internazionale dedicata a bruciare il Corano (International Burn a Quran Day), ovviamente per il prossimo 11 Settembre. Lo scopo dichiarato è quello di inviare ‘un messaggio molto chiaro, e radicale, ai musulmani: la legge della Sharia non è la benvenuta in America’.

L’islamofobia ha trovato risonanza anche fra i politici di professione. Il New York Times riporta che il repubblicano Allen West ha definito l’Islam ‘un nemico pericoloso’, mentre un suo compagno di partito, il candidato al Congresso Ron McNeil, ha attaccato l’Islam definendolo una minaccia ‘al nostro modo di vivere’. E come se tutto ciò non fosse abbastanza, alcune frange stanno convertendo in chiare manifestazioni di violenza questi discorsi di stampo intollerante. Il 25 Agosto, a New York City, il tassista Ahmed Sharif è stato brutalmente accoltellato da uno squilibrato che poco prima gli aveva chiesto se era musulmano. E il giorno dopo, nel Queens, un uomo è piombato nella Moschea Imam ad Astoria e ha urinato sul tappeto delle preghiere.

E’ ormai evidente quello che sta succedendo: vaghe e infondate dichiarazioni di intolleranza, basate su razzismo e odio etno-religioso, stanno trovando discepoli volenterosi. Ma ancora più evidente è la mutazione di questo programma estremista: da filosofia spicciola e minoritaria, intrisa d’ignoranza, a fenomeno politico e sociale.

Un recente sondaggio del Pew Research Center for the People and the Press ha rilevato che un numero sempre crescente di americani (ora il 18%) crede che il Presidente Barack Obama sia musulmano. Questo risultato, chiaramente, è da mettere in relazione al generale malcontento della Middle Class americana, ma non può sfuggire che evidenzia anche la presenza di una volontà mistificatoria nei confronti del Presidente. “I dati del Pew hanno evidenziato che fra Repubblicani e Conservatori – ovvero i gruppi che non amano Obama – raccoglie sempre più adesioni la credenza che Obama sia musulmano”, scrive David P. Redlawsk, direttore dell’Eagleton Center per i Sondaggi di Interesse Pubblico.

Ma, chi sono questi islamofobi? Da dove viene la loro rabbia? E ancora, qual è l’elemento unificante dei loro – variegati – sentimenti ostili? E’ forse l’Islam in quanto tale? La disoccupazione? La mancanza di fiducia verso i politici di Washington? O magari la sfiducia, più in generale, nella democrazia? Dichiararsi sostenitori dei valori americani di libertà è un’affermazione senza dubbio vaga (non siamo forse una società pluralista in cui convivono molti, e diversi, concetti e principi di libertà?), ma la formulazione di un mantra aggressivo, basato su concetti ideologici e astratti, è chiaramente il fondamento di un pericoloso populismo.

Con i dati sull’occupazione praticamente immobili, e con quelli legati all’economia che promettono generazioni perdute invece che una riedizione dei bei tempi d’oro, la rabbia che sentono gli americani potrebbe essere – a volerle dare un nome più preciso – quella della perdita di opportunità. L’America, da sempre, è la terra del sogno; oggi, tuttavia, sembra offrire soprattutto pignoramenti e code di disoccupati. Arianna Huffington dell’Huffington Post ha perfino cominciato a definire il paese ‘un’America del Terzo Mondo’. Ma la ricerca di un’anima vera per questo paese confuso, e magari anche del vocabolario adeguato per esprimere la sua rabbia, andrebbe condotta prima che l’epoca di Obama si tramuti – suo malgrado – in una Repubblica di Weimar a stelle e strisce; prima che i discorsi improntati all’odio e alla diffamazione possano essere catalogati come cupo antipasto di un clima di vera e propria violenza islamofobica.

Il rischio è che i musulmani americani si ritrovino, loro malgrado, a essere i capri espiatori di una lista di problemi più ampi. Le pene degli americani di oggi, siano esse di natura politica o economica, appartengono a tutti, dai banchieri di Wall Street ai deputati del Congresso, per finire ai comuni cittadini elettori.

Alla fine dei conti, se c’è qualcosa che possiamo imparare da questo polverone e dalle grida che si sono alzate intorno a parole quali ‘valori’ e ‘libertà’, è che non c’è niente di più anti-americano che prendersela con un gruppo di individui per una crisi che appartiene all’intera collettività.

Andrew Z. Giacalone
traduzione di Leonardo Staglianò

photo: nowtheendbegins.com