Saturday, September 02, 2006

Muslims feel like victims. The West feels guilty. Is the world going mad?

"Times" columnist Gerard Baker says it takes courage for leaders to expose flaws in their society. But some are willing to do it

If all the big terrorist attacks of the past 35 years — from the Munich massacre to the July 7 London bombings last year — had been carried out by groups of white, English, middle-aged newspaper columnists, I suspect my life might have become quite intolerable in recent years. I would have had to get used to looks of fearful suspicion every time I got on a train or a bus. Whenever I checked in for a flight or sought entrance to a government building I would doubtless have been taken away for questioning.

It would, no doubt, have become very frustrating. I’d have probably taken to the streets with other white, English, middle-aged newspaper columnists (it would have been quite a big demonstration), with placards that declared “We are not all terrorists!”. Or, being prolix by profession, more likely: “Extrapolation from isolated instances of criminality to sweeping ethnic and professional characterisations is immoral!” But in the end, I’d have to accept that the suspicion was justified. That it was an inescapable fact that my ethnicity, age and profession had become associated, over a very long period, with a predilection for terrorist activities.

Racial profiling is an ugly business. Carried to extremes it can produce outrageously discriminatory outcomes, based on the false logic that all terrorists are Muslims, therefore all Muslims are potential terrorists. A reasonable person can only sympathise with those poor chaps who were thrown off a plane from Manchester last month.

We should be careful to ensure that “flying while Muslim” does not become a new offence in the criminal code. As critics have said, not only is it wrong, it is almost guaranteed to increase sympathy for the real terrorists. But those singled out for increased scrutiny must also accept that profiling is going to save us lives. In a world of limited resources and clearly identifiable threats it is entirely legitimate, indeed necessary, to subject certain individuals to greater attention than others.

To complain about unnecessary intrusions seems reasonable; to insist that profiling be carried out properly and indeed respectfully, entirely proper. But to argue, as is now common, that it is another example of harassment of and discrimination against Muslims by an increasingly aggressive and hostile State and society, is not only a bit rich. It sounds disturbing like another example of what is becoming a dangerous pathology among many Muslims — to wallow in a self-imposed and eagerly embraced status of victimhood.

This condition places the blame for every ill in their lives, in their communities, in the West and in the countries of the Middle East, on the imperialist oppression of the white man, the American and, of course, the Jew, never once stopping to consider even the possibility that their plight might be, in part at least, their own making.

Though the West is surely not blameless, either through history or today, in its treatment of Muslims, the idea that responsibility for the woes of the Islamic world these past few hundred years can be laid at somebody else’s door is escapist fantasy.

The nasty regimes of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt conveniently emphasise this victim status to divert attention from their own repression and inequality and to blame Israel. The failure of Palestinians to create an orderly and successful society is blamed on “the occupation”.

The failure of many Muslims in Europe, especially in Britain, to integrate effectively is laid at the feet of a white racist society that excludes them. The real injustices suffered by these communities become a convenient smokescreen to hide their own flaws.

This victim mentality reaches its apotheosis in the minds of a few in the hideous distortion of martyrdom. The image of the suicide bomber captures the ultimate catharsis of victimhood and at the same time the ultimate escape and liberation from it — the violent immolation of the victim on the altar of a sacred ideology. Of course this is a perversion of the very idea of sacrifice. Martyrdom is a willingness to die for one’s faith, not a willingness to take hundreds of innocents with you in the process.

Pierre Rehov, an Algerian-born French filmmaker, who produced a documentary, Suicide Killers, was asked in a TV interview this year how the world could end the madness of suicide bombings and terrorism. “Stop being politically correct and stop believing that this culture is a victim of ours,” he said.

Of course, this celebration of victimhood plays to the West’s deep sense of guilt, producing a fearful complementarity that makes today’s crisis so potent — a civilisation all too willing to accept the blame for the woes of a people all too willing to blame them.

We can stop enabling the victim mentality by overcoming our guilt complex. But then it is up to Muslims themselves to defeat it. Polls repeatedly show vast majorities of Muslims in the West, and smaller majorities in the Middle East, believe that terrorism is a perversion of Islam. But those same polls also show many Muslims agreeing with the proposition that the root cause of that terrorism is “oppression”.

It takes courage for leaders to expose the weaknesses in their own society. But there are some willing to do it. Last week their ranks were augmented from an unlikely source. No less a figure than Ghazi Hamad, the spokesman for the terrorist-supporting Hamas Government in the Palestinian Authority, wrote in an Arabic newspaper about the real causes of the mayhem in Gaza since the Israeli occupation ended last year.

“We’re always afraid to talk about our mistakes,” he said. “We’re used to blaming our mistakes on others. What is the relationship between the chaos, anarchy, lawlessness, indiscriminate murders, theft of land, family rivalries, transgression on public lands and unorganised traffic and the occupation? We are still trapped by the mentality of conspiracy theories, one that has limited our capability to think.”

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