Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Few Words on the Recent Pew Survey of Muslims in America

The recent Pew survey of Muslims in America has the news media up in arms over what was said about suicide bombings. I personally think it’s a bunch of hot air, and let me explain why.

It seems clear to me that the problem is that when asked if there were ever circumstances under which they would support suicide bombing in defense of Islam, 26% of Muslin youth said yes. Now all the talk shows are talking about this “problem” and how we can “fix it”.

Before I discuss the merits of the answer, I would like to talk about the question itself and the problems it poses. The real problem with this question is that it is loaded. It asks specifically about suicide bombings, a tactic associated with Islamic extremists, or as I will refer to them… them. This is specifically to contrast with our notion of acceptable versus unacceptable violence. In America, due to the phenomenon known as American exceptionalism (we’re better than them, what we do is moral, what they do is not, etc.) we assume that there is something fundamentally wrong when a suicide bombing happens, but ok when it is dropping bombs or launching missiles from afar. But the facts are that we have the most advanced and far reaching military strike capability of any nation in history. We can target anyone we want, anywhere on Earth, and attack them within an hour or so. From our Tomahawk cruise missile, to our aircraft carriers to our long range bombers, we have the ability to engage any target we deem necessary. In stark contrast to that, the people we are so afraid of have virtually no long range military strike capability except for suicide bombings.

Just to be clear I am not justifying them, but I am saying that they are no different from our way of killing people in that the intention and result is the same, even if the methodologies are not identical. So really what we are saying is that our way of violence is fine, and theirs is in some way immoral and to be feared more than ours. This is a laughable sentiment when you ask all the countries we have devastated which is worse. They will all say ours because the difference is between one isolated incident of violence or a sustained long-term campaign meant to cripple a nation.

Now what is my point here? Well if we want to be accurate the question should have been are there any circumstances under which you would support the use of violence to defend Islam? Now I don’t know what the answer would have been from Muslims, but I do know that it probably would not be much different from the answers you would receive from Americans (remember, if you will, how many supported our use of force in Iraq and they hadn’t done anything to us) or Jews, of whom I am one, and many of whom support Israel’s use of violence against Palestinians and the use of suicide bombings by Jews in their attempt to get the state of Israel. Indeed there has been much violence in the name of Jesus, and even Hindus engage in violence and sometimes suicide bombings in India and Pakistan. So really the answer you get is not so different among different demographic groups. Everyone thinks its ok when they do it and thinks that they are justified in their violence because it supports their beliefs.

The fact of the matter is that it is only because they are doing the suicide bombings that we are afraid and think it’s a problem very different from our violence. But it isn’t. It’s exactly the same. We believe in violence, at least as a culture, so why are we so surprised when another culture believes they have the right to do the same thing?

So to get back to the point, the real problem here isn’t the answer, it’s the question. The answer really needs very little analysis if we simply replace the words suicide bombing with the word violence because, fundamentally, what this is about is us being better than them and our violence being better and more acceptable than their violence. That is wrong, and indicative of the bravado and arrogance that have defined us these past few decades and especially during the Bush administration. We are the same; our violence is the same, and to pretend anything else is simply foolish.