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Why Afghans riot if you burn the Quran but not if you kill an entire family
Articles written before 2012

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

  • (march 2012) Why Afghans riot if you burn the Quran but not if you kill an entire family.
    I had withhold this article because i didn't want to get accused (as usual) of inflaming anti-Islamic sentiments at a time when Muslims are at war with just about everybody (NATO, Russia, China, India, Philippines, Nigeria, etc etc).
    I started writing against Islam way before the 2001 terrorist attacks. Besides an ideological hostility towards monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam, with Islam being the most monotheistic of them), i was appalled when (years ago) i read the minutes of an Islamic conference (See The Islamic world is perfect). The Islamic conference is a periodic assembly of leaders from the Islamic countries. The one that shocked me took place just two years after a group of distinguished Arab scholars published a scathing report on social, economic, political and cultural development that showed how the Arab world was falling behind the rest of the world ("Arab Human Development Report"). According to that report (as well as many others compiled by Western sources), Arab countries ranked last in almost all the most important indicators. I doubt that Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan would fare better than the Arab countries, so the same can be said of 90% of the Islamic world. Nonetheless, the leaders of the Islamic world at that conference spoke for days of the ills of the non-Islamic world never mentioning a single problem in their own countries: according to them, the Islamic world was simply perfect. All the problems were caused by others: USA, Israel, Britain, Russia, India, etc. No problem was caused by Muslims. In fact, there was no problem to talk about within the Islamic world. The contrast between rhetoric and fact was almost comic.
    Since then there have been psychotic dictators, global terrorists and suicide bombers that have further isolated the Islamic world at a time when the whole world was booming. It is worth remembering that the Arab world was second only to the West at the end of World War II, a time when people in India and China were starving to death by the millions, when Latin America lived in utter poverty and destitution under fascist dictators, when Africa was torn by bloody wars, and when Eastern Europe was plunging into communism. The Arabs and the Iranians were doing quite well by international standards in the 1950s and 1960s. Now they lag behind everybody else except the poorest countries in Africa and maybe North Korea. The rest of the world has passed them. Other Islamic places (like Pakistan) fare even worse. It really doesn't take a lot of research to find out that the Islamic world has the largest concentration of problems in the world.
    However, there has been very little self-criticism within the Islamic world, and an impressive degree of tolerance by the rest of the world for practices that would be considered aberrations elsewhere.
    For example, in 2012 the media have widely reported the coup in the Maldives that ousted the democratically elected president two weeks ago. They have not reported at all a much more troubling event of two weeks later: Islamic fundamentalists destroyed all the Buddhist statues in the national museum. The Maldives are yet another country (like Afghanistan) that used to be Buddhist before it was occupied by Muslims. Nothing is left to prove the Buddhist past of the country. For these fundamentalists any trace of other religions is blasphemy. Pretty much the same thing that the Taliban did in Afghanistan in 2001. Buddhist fundamentalists don't destroy mosques nor Qurans. Muslim fundamentalists destroy Buddhist statues and Buddhist scriptures. The difference should be obvious to anyone with eyes to read but apparently it is not: we keep tolerating what Muslim fundamentalists do to others.
    What would happen if a Christian fundamentalist destroyed all the copies of the Quran from the British Museum? There would be riots all over the world. In fact, all it takes is that one insane preacher in the USA burns one copy of the Quran for riots to erupt all over the Islamic world. But if a Muslim fundamentalist destroys all the Buddhist statues of the Maldives not a single Muslim feels outrage. In fact, i suspect that no media in the Islamic world reported this incident (it is clearly irrelevant for the average Muslim in the world).
    Incidentally, state television in the Maldives routinely broadcasts criticism of the pro-democracy movement, and that would be the same that goes on in any country where the military just staged a coup. What is interesting is the way a tv broadcaster tried to discredit one of the critics of the military regime: it accused him of having tried to spead Christianity! That's obviously considered a heinous crime. In between the news of the day, state television broadcasts a gentle celestial chant. The screen shows the text in both Arabic and English. If you just listen to the music without knowing any Arabic, you will think it's some kind of love song, truly touching. The English subtitles clarify what it is: it is a call to arms against Christian, Jews and Hindus (Al Tawbah 9:1-9:35). This is broadcast over and over again all day long. And this is one of the least "fundamentalist" lands of Islam, where non-Muslim tourists are more than welcome.
    This is a stark reminder that the problem is still very much with us. The Arab Spring has generated hope that the Islamic world can reform itself from the inside, but religion remains the main enemy of progress in that part of the world.
    Of course, your Muslim friend (and mine as well) will tell you that Islam means "peace" and that those vandals do not represent Islam at all. We heard that countless times. Unfortunately, we only hear it in our languages, not in Arabic, and only here, not "there". Unfortunately, the racist and violent message is very much part of the Quran, of Islam's story (the only religion created by a war of conquest), of Mohammed's life story (the only founder of a major religion who personally killed scores of people). If the Quran comes from Allah, and Mohammed was sent by Allah, then you cannot completely eradicate that violent and racist message without repudiating Allah.
    As i have been writing since the 1990s (way before the West became obsessed with Islamic fundamentalists), the main symbol of Islam's aberrations is Mecca: only Muslims are allowed in Mecca. Compare with Rome, the capital of the Christian world: not only Muslims are welcome to the city and to any church of Rome, but they have even been allowed to build the largest mosque in Europe. When can Christians build a cathedral in Mecca? Christians can't even walk into Mecca, let alone worship their god, let alone build a church to their god. I heard a Muslim tell me that this difference of behavior is evidence of Islam's superiority: instead of realizing that other religions are more tolerant than Islam, some Muslims interpret the tolerance as a sign of weakness. Unfortunately, i can see their point: intolerance "is" an essential feature of Islam (of the Quran's message, of Mohammed's life and of Islam's history).
    Two episodes have left the non-Muslim world puzzled: in february Afghans rioted after discovering that copies of the Quran had been thrown into garbage (and later burned with all the garbage) at a military base of the USA, but weeks later nobody rioted when a soldier of the USA deliberately killed 16 Afghan civilians. Is the accidental burning of a book more upsetting to them than the deliberate killing of 16 humans? The answer is obvious if you think like a Muslim who is convinced that a) his main purpose in this universe is to serve Allah, b) the worst possible crime is to insult Allah. Your relatives are just pawns in a cosmic battle between good (Islam) and evil (the rest of us). What really matters is what happens to Allah, not to 16 members of your family (who, incidentally, are now in paradise, a much better place than Afghanistan).
    The Afghans know that the whole world will condemn the soldier who killed those 16 people, and that there are laws in the whole world that condemn murderers; therefore the motivation to riot is low. They also know that, on the contrary, the non-Muslim world does not condemn the burning of the Quran, and that probably millions of non-Muslims (starting with any public library) have done it countless times, and will keep doing it (i will personally do it very soon when i receive a new copy of the Quran and will dispose of the old one in the paper recycling bins, because for me recycling paper is much more important than some ridiculous superstition of 1400 years ago). Therefore for them it is indeed worth rioting: they know that there will be a degree of justice for the serial murderer but not for the Quran burners. They know that measures will be put in place to avoid another serial murder, but no measures will be put in place to prevent non-Muslims all over the world from burning the Quran.
    The episode that i relate below took place in a peaceful part of the Islamic world, and i don't want to mention the country because i don't want this article to be read as an indictment of the people of that country: they were hospitable, friendly and helpful like only Muslims can be. It is the last place on Earth where one can witness Islamic fundamentalism. Nonetheless...
    I had a lively and engaging discussion about Islam with local Muslims. As usual, the discussion started with the Muslims lecturing me on the fact that Islam means "peace". Minutes later one of them asked me why I didn't convert to Islam. I replied "Why don't you convert to Christianity?" He replied that there is the death penalty for any Muslim who converts to another religion. I asked him if he would marry a Christian woman, and he said "Sure, as long as she converts to Islam". What if she doesn't? Well, it's not perfect but it would still be ok as long as the children are raised as Muslims. Can i marry a Muslim woman and ask her to convert to Christianity? No: there is the death penalty for her if she accepts to marry a Christian and for me if i have sex with a Muslim woman. What about if I convert to Islam but she is married? Can she leave her husband? Only in very special circumstances and only if approved by all sorts of people (men). What if she just wants a divorce, for no specific reason? There was a bit of discussion among the men, but eventually the verdict was again: "death penalty". Homosexuality? That was a no brainer: death penalty. Then i mentioned one thing that i truly dislike about Islam: it is a racist religion by definition, because only Muslims are allowed in Mecca (unlike Rome, where all people of all religions are more than welcome). They discussed a bit but they definitely agreed that non-Muslims should not be allowed: first you convert, then you visit Mecca. What if a non-Muslim sneaks into Mecca and is caught? Death penalty. And of course they had no doubts that insulting Mohammed is a serious offense worthy of the death penalty. Ditto for intentionally burning the Quran. Then I explained that the Quran is just a regular book for me, and i have certainly thrown a Quran in the garbage when i bought a new edition. Am i insulting Islam if i throw away an old copy of the Quran, a book that to me does not represent anything? They definitely leaned towards "yes" although they realized the implication would have been to kill the guest whom they were treating as a friend. But then is it a crime to believe that Mohammed was not a prophet? That Allah is not the real god? They initially had no doubt that these were serious offenses worthy of the death penalty but then they started realizing what that implied: death penalty for all non-Muslims, something that not even Osama bin Laden ever preached. After a bit of discussion, they agreed that people should be allowed to believe that Mohammed was not a prophet, but they (meaning me and all other non-Muslims in the world) should not say it aloud.
    They asked me about the death penalty in my country and i replied that only murderers can be sentenced to death: you get killed by the state only if you deliberately killed someone and there are no excuses for the murder. (To be fair, there is also the death penalty for treason, but that's a longer story). I don't think they believed me when i said that there was no death penalty for them if they insult the Christian god, burn the Gospels, walk into a holy Christian city, etc etc.
    This is "moderate" Islam: death penalty for so many actions. If someone told me that Christianity prescribes the death penalty for anyone who insults Jesus, for anyone who burns a copy of the Gospels, for any non-Christian who walks into Rome, for any non-Christian who has sex with a Christian, and so forth, i would certainly not claim that Christianity means "peace". Then why do they claim that Islam means "peace"? For the very simple reason that there is another law that Muslims must obey under the penalty of death: not learn what other religions say. There is no other part of the world that has so little knowledge of what other religions preach. The average (moderate) Muslim has absolutely no clue what Christianity, Buddhism, etc preach, except that these other religions don't believe in the Quran and therefore are wrong. Because Muslims are kept into absolute ignorance about other religions, they don't realize how violent their own religion is.
    Therefore the mother of all problems is that other religions are not taught in the Islamic world the way Islam (and all other religions) are taught in all sorts of schools in the rest of the world.
    The Muslims who feel strong about peace are usually the ones who live in mixed societies where Islam has to "compete" with Christianity, Buddhism, etc: they know that, for example, many Christians and Buddhists are opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds, and then it would be embarrassing for Muslims to claim that the death penalty is good on religious grounds.
    Keeping Muslims in ignorance about other faiths is a very effective way to convince them that their faith is not only the only correct one but even the most peaceful one. In fact, they tend to be shocked and outraged when you mention that Mohammed is the only founder of a major religion who personally killed a lot of people. It is obvious to us (non-Muslims) but not to them, who have no clue about the lives of Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, etc.
    Hence the puzzling behavior of the Afghans who riot for the accidental burning of a book but do not riot for the deliberate killing of 16 people is a painful reminder that the problem is still very much with us, no matter how many "terrorists" (and, alas, civilians) are killed by the drones and by the soldiers of the USA (and, more quietly, by the secret police of Russia and China).

    Last but not least, monotheism is not only a problem "there": more than 70% of voters in a recent Republican primary said that they voted the candidate who most closely adhered to their religious faith. This clearly does not bode well for religious tolerance in the USA if the Republican candidate becomes president.

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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