Ever since 9/11, the American mainstream media has been chockfull of instant
fixes to Islamic terrorism.
Some claim the fault lies with the Arab leaders, and hence they support the
slaughter in Iraq for the removal of Saddam Hussein. A lot of good that did!
But still, the mass media is inundated by "experts" who request for regime
Others claim that the fault lies with Islam itself. These Bible, Torah and Gita
thumping genocidal racists would like to see all of the Middle East and the
entire Islamic community disappear in a giant mushroom cloud, or be fenced in
at concentration and "detention" camps. These web crawlers, thankfully, are not
yet openly strutting their stuff on network news talk shows. Yet.
But what irks most is the half-hearted attempts at an intellectual argument -
the condescension that tries to offer a slimy, limp hand to the suffering
Muslims. The latest from The New York Times Op-ed on August 4: The fault lies
in the translation and interpretation of the Quran.
Nicholas D. Kristof, in this shortsighted and ignorant article, claims that the
Muslims line up for martyrdom mission because they expect to be welcomed by 72
virgins in heaven. If the martyr-wanna-be's were to realize the prize in heaven
for martyrdom was the Aramaic "Hur" (white grapes) and not the Arabic "Hur"
(described variedly as a beauty, enchantress and virgin), argues Kristof, then
Muslims would probably would not be in such a rush to kill themselves.
This, of course, assumes that the old Hollywood stereotype of the Arab as some
sort of a perverted, illiterate, maniacal sex-craving fiend is applicable to
all those Muslims who volunteer for suicide missions. Take away the virgins,
Kristof's argument suggests, and the fiends would simply take their salivating
chops to the next whore house instead of the next bomb belt or Kalashnikov.
Never mind the years of humiliation at the hands of Israelis. Never mind the
oppressive, violent regimes supported by the United States. Never mind the
stripping away of their sovereignty that has left them naked to exploitation
since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Take away the virgins, replace them
with grapes, and all of this is resolved.
This kind of thinking, which treats the Arab and Muslim as some kind of a
hapless, backward, pathetic, and sick creature is exactly the reason why
Americans continue to misunderstand and, therefore, prolong the violent tussle
which turns friends into foes.
Those who argue that the Quran, or its misreading, are the cause of violent
Islamic fundamentalism forget that for over three generations the most violent
Arab and Muslim groups coming out of the Middle East were socialist and
Last year I visited various Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon where
teenagers belonging to secular organizations pleaded with me to help them find
a way to leave Lebanon so they could enter the West Bank. They wanted to be
involved in the Intifada. A young girl told me she was ready for a martyr
operation. None cared about 72 virgins or 72 grapes.
A young leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, a secular group, told me
in Srinagar that the youth were tiring of the frustrations of peaceful protest
movements and may soon slip back into the violence of active insurgency.
The fault, Mr. Kristof, is not in their books, whether they be penned by Karl
Marx or descended from the heavens. Men and women do not die by their thousands
because of the promise of heavenly virgins, but because they believe they are
on the right path. Because life is unbearable, and death is a release. Because
suffering is unending and being on the other side of a gun barrel, even just
for a moment, seems a blessing.
If your children would not embrace death for the promise of 72 virgins in
heaven, then why assume the same of Muslim children? Because of their religion
or your prejudices?
As many Muslims, radicals and otherwise, have told me: End their suffering and
the violence shall also end. And the answer for that does not fit into a sound
bite or a tidy Op-ed piece. Or an invasion disguised as a liberation.
The least that the academics and the intellectual elite, growing plump on fat
grants and slim on fashionable diets, can do is offer a discourse that is
constructive, realistic and grounded in reality.
In the meanwhile, you can keep your virgins and your grapes.
Abhinav Aima is an Instructor of Journalism at the
University of Minnesota Duluth.