“I see water. I see buildings. We are flying low.
We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low.
Oh my God! We are flying way too low. Oh my God!”
-Madeline Amy Sweeney, 9/11/2001-
The terror attacks of September 11th, 2001 are the redefining moment of the American experience with Islam. No matter what anyone felt before the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93, which never reached its target, the context of what being Muslim was changed forever on that Tuesday morning, injecting the word “Jihad” into the 21st Century lexicon with a blaze of fire, blood, and horror as 19 jihadists took the lives of 2977 men, women, and children.
But ask practically any 16 year old what he thinks about the terror attacks that occurred on 9/11/2001 in New York City, in Washington, D.C., and in a field near Shanksville, PA, and you’ll get the sort of ambivalent, second hand sympathy that you’d expect from any teenager. They are as likely to say the same things about the attack on Pearl Harbor. They, of course, have so many more important things in their lives, and those things simply overshadow anything that happened when they were in diapers, with no visceral cognitive understanding of the event.
Ask practically any 26 year old what he thinks about the terror attacks on 9/11/2001, and you’ll get a very different response. For them, it happened when they could see, hear, and understand it. Whatever their feelings about the attacks may be, they won’t be as muted, at least not in the same way as for their younger cohort. The more likely someone was old enough to experience the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, the less likely they are to be ambivalent about them.
Time and the many distractions of our every day lives, unfortunately, makes a society forget all too soon even those things that it should never forget.
“As-salāmu ʿalaykum. (Peace be with you.)”
-Traditional Arabic Greeting-
In a YouGov poll taken in March 6th through 9th in 2015, 33% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 had favorable opinions of Islam, whereas only 24% of respondents between the ages of 30 and 44 had at least somewhat favorable opinions of Islam. Of older respondents, above the age of 45, only 14% to 15% had any favorable opinion of Islam. Most interesting is only 18-29 year olds are less likely to be “Not Sure” about how they felt about Islam, than to feel positively or negatively about it.
While we must always be careful when talking about groups of people, particularly people of one religion or ethnicity, how does one parse how a quarter of Americans are “Not Sure” what to believe about Islam in the shadow of the violence that has been the norm since September 11th, 2001? How do we balance the millions of Muslims who dedicate their lives to perpetuate a peaceful and just society that respects many religious beliefs against the few Muslims that gave their lives to violence in attacks in San Bernardino, Orlando, Boston, New York, Quebec, Fort Hood, Little Rock, Chattanooga, and so many other cities?
As western Islamic scholars continue to conclude that the spread of Islamic faith through violence and intimidation is not only outdated in an age where, by and large, a significant portion of the world’s human population no longer believe that a person’s ideas or beliefs should condemn them to persecution or death, the tensions between a more pragmatic “New World Islam” and the radical traditionalism of “Old World Islam” will become ever bloodier, as the latest jihadist attack on the Quebec mosque demonstrates.
While Islam’s own adherents clearly struggle to determine what the religion is about, it’s also clear why so many Americans can be unsure what to think about Islam.
“When we think of Islam we think of a faith that
brings comfort to a billion people around the world.
Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace.
And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race.”
-George W. Bush-
When I was attending the University of North Texas in the early 90’s, I took a semester of tennis to fulfill the “physical education” requirement of my curriculum. It was then that I met a Muslim man whose name I sadly can no longer remember. All that I remember about him was his incredible charisma. He wore an infectious smile and was an endless font of funny stories about himself and his life in America. The comfortable rapport we shared was really the best part of those chilly early Texas mornings. He was a good man, and I hope fate finds him well.
Until the terror attacks of 9/11/2001 fundamentally reshaped my understanding of Islam, my opinion of Islam was largely shaped by him. I honestly want to believe that he is what modern believers of Islam are about than the jihadists, but I know that this is not the case. If we asked one Muslim what his religion was about, and he answered “The mercy of Allah, helping the sick, and feeding the poor.“, then we asked a jihadist what his religion was about, and he answered “All will submit to Allah.“, both men would be right.
As Conservatives, holding to the classically liberal principles of freedom of thought and of religion, we cannot turn our backs on the men and women of the Muslim faith who earnestly seek to better relations between Muslims and people of all other beliefs and force them to struggle against jihadism alone. We can balance our condemnation of jihadists who deny the fundamental humanity of anyone that fails to conform to their barbarous and ignorant values with celebrating and defending the efforts of men and women of the Muslim faith as they try to realize Islam in a pluralistic 21st Century world.
Good people must always stand with those who attempt to do good, just as they stand against those who attempt to do evil. Sadly, the struggle for the heart of Islam has only just begun, and, as non-Muslims, our ability to effect the course of the struggle is limited to support of those who must battle from within. And, for those of us “of the Book“, our obligation to our brothers and sisters is inherent in our own belief.
Peace be upon those who seek justice.
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