Lamar on Life

From a Christian living in a Gulf country. The Middle East, Arabic, understanding Muslims, outreach to Muslims are to be addressed. In addition, thoughts, reflections, and book reviews will be posted.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Roots of Rage - Part 2

In my years of experience with Muslims, I have found some Muslims who supposedly hate "the West." However, what a person imagines in their mind to be "the West" is invariably different from what the West actually is. It is impossible to hate the reality of something so abstract and large. That is, for example, people are not able to look at the lives of 300 million individual American citizens, and learn all about each one, their attitudes and actions, their social interaction, their community values, etc. and then after a consideration of their faults and general lack of virtue form a general hatred of the country. (The same would go for Danish society or whatever the flavor of the month is.) Even when hating individuals, we humans are only able to hate the mental image, the abstract construction, that we ourselves have formed and attached to the object of our hatred.

I have often heard this from Muslims, "We don't hate America, it's your government." Or, I have often been subjected to a 10-minute denunciation of America, which is followed by a request for help in obtaining a visa to go there. Muslims are very conflicted in their feelings about the West, but they always know they are supposed to feel negative toward the West because the West represents the opposite of their own society. Therefore, if a Muslim professes a fondness for the West, what it means to them is that that person is professing hatred for his own society. That's why I never trust opinion polls taken in the Arab world because Arabs usually keep several contradictory opinions handy, one for being polite, one for secret thoughts, and one of them is just for anyone that asks.

The concept of the West is prominent in the minds of the Rest, especially in the minds of Muslims and Arabs . The Muslim world's self identity is largely formed by looking in the mirror of the West and saying to itself, "We don't know what we are anymore, but we know we are not that." (Actually, that's what a Canadian friend told me about Canadian identity and America, but I think it's more true for Muslims.)

To complicate things further, when a Muslim looks at the West, he doesn't see what you think he sees. A (Newsweek?) reporter embedded with American troops rolling into Baghdad wrote about the somewhat vague ideas Iraqis had of what a free Iraq might mean for them. He tells of seeing a jubilant Iraqi man on the side of the road shouting in excited broken English to the liberators/invaders, "Yeah! Democracy! Sexy! Whiskey!" Such is the image of the West that is both hated and lusted after.

And the same is true for their image of Christianity, which Muslims usually suppose holds a similar role in the West as Islam does in their society. When satellite dishes where new in these parts, I asked a man, "Do you get any Christian programs on that?" He replied, "Oh, yes! I like to watch them -- Baywatch and (professional) wresting especially -- I watch all the Christian programs."

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