If it is it doesn't matter

Monday, February 20, 2006

I have been promising, in comments on several sites, to post a long discussion of my view of the "Muslim Mindset." (Of course, that would be idiocy if taken literally. Muslims are no more 'all alike' than any other group.) What I am going to try to portray and explain are certain traits that seem to be very common in Muslims that result in some of the conflicts and misunderstandings on both side of the Muslim/Western rationalistic divide.

Some of the topics I hope to touch on, in what may become a long series of posts -- and I seem to have a number of 'series of posts started, which i do expect to get back to and complete -- include the difference in the attitude of Muslims to the Qur'an (similar to the Fundamentalist/Literalist mindset of a minority of American Christians, but with some specific twists), the Muslim tendency towards gullibility and lack of critical thinking, the Muslim paranoia that frequently sees every other group's actions as aimed at Islam, the confusion between opponent and 'enemy,' the Muslim double standard that frequently seems to prohibit or explain away or deny actions by other Muslims -- or to claim of any Muslim that does anything wrong that 'he isn't really a Muslim.' (This leads in the extreme to '9/11 denial'(and I should state that I do not consider the Osamists anything other than perverters of Islam, not exemplars of it), but also comes up in discussions of things such as 'honor killings' and women's right.

But what right have I to talk about such things, or rather what right do I have to be listened to when I do. All I can do is give some of the sources of my observations -- and to stress that I have only discussed things that seem to be patterns shown in various observations. (I have also requested several Muslim bloggers to look in on and comment on these observations.)

I am someone who follows world news, and who has also been interested in History for much of my life. (And I am the sort of person who tries to read several books on a given subject and to 'triangulate' the various observations rather than accepting them whole.) I have studied areas such as the Middle East, the split between India and Pakistan, etc. I have also followed and read closely comments about events that have been in the news over the past few months. The Danish cartoon controversy, of course, but also the stories of Mukhtar Mai and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, stories of honor killings, the Indonesian beheadings, the Pakistan church killings, the Saudi Arabian destruction of Islamic historical sites, etc. In each case I have been as interested in the reaction to such events by Muslims as I was in the events themselves.

I have found the insights in V.S. Naipaul's AMONG THE BELIEVERS very valuable, even though they are somewhat dated. Even older by a hundred years is the introduction to E.H. Palmer's translation of the Qur'an, and I am still hoping to get other sources on his statements, but I found his description of Mahammed and the early history of Islam to be thought-provoking.

My most important insights came, however, from a five month period I spent on an almost entirely Pakistani forum. (I didn't go there to 'do research.' I went there because I love Pakistani music, and expected to be discussing that. Instead I found a very wide range of topics being discussed from many varied viewpoints, and was welcomed when I joined in on these.

I cannot stress enough that despite my status as an 'odd duck' -- not coming from South Asia or of South Asian descent (there were a handful of Indians, everyone else was Pakistani or Kashmiri), non-Muslim and in fact an atheist, (there were a couple of Hindus and one Pakistani Christian, everyone else was brought up Muslim, though there were some who had left the faith), the second oldest in a group of mostly teenagers and people in their twenties, bisexual in a somewhat sexually conservative group -- I was received with great friendship and respect and, in fact have rarely enjoyed the company of a group of people as much as i did them. I left the group voluntarily because, after having finally begun discussing my atheism and in the heated and lively discussion being repeatedly referred to the Qur'an, I finally read it through. I realized that if I stayed, I would find myself attacking their faith instead of merely giving my own beliefs. Many of them were at the age when I ceased being able to be a believer. I have never doubted that i made the right choice in this, but it was an extremely stressful decision and i simply refused to possibly be the direct cause of some of them making the same decision. So I left.

But while i was there i heard many things that helped me get an idea of what i have called the Muslim mindset, things that have only been confirmed in seeing other comments by Muslims. (Even when they were Muslims who objected as strongly as i did to the attitudes that bothered me, they described them and I saw echoes in the discussions I had had. And few of them would claim to be in anything but the minority when they objected, few would claim the attitudes i saw were 'just a few extremists,' mostly because many of them lived in communities where they saw the ideas expressed every day. (Not that any of them, or any of the forum members would necessarily accept my interpreatation of them.)

Anyway, that's why I think what i think about islam. Over the next few days i will be describing in detail what it is i DO think. sorry for the length this is getting to be, but i hope at least a couple of your have gone through it at least enough to have an idea where I am coming from.


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