Deepak Chopra and Intent

Even before his inauguration, President Obama signaled a change of attitude toward Islam. He renounced the term “war on terror” and has never even flirted with another right-wing favorite, “clash of civilizations.” Since taking office he has addressed the Islamic world with respect — a key concept in that culture — and recently declared in Israel that the United States is not at war with Islam and never will be.
This shift in attitude seems like exactly the right one. But it has infuriated some people, not all of them on the right. The attacks on 9/11 were used by the Bush administration to deliberately inflame opinion against the Muslim world. All of us have been overwhelmed with negative images that reinforce prejudice and hatred. How does one ease images of riots in the Arab street, American flags set on fire, women being stoned for adultery, suicide bombings, berserk clerics, and the whole incendiary image of “them,” an alien enemy that stands for everything barbaric and backward?
The key to change lies in ourselves, naturally, since we know rationally that the extremists and jihadis form a tiny minority among the billion Muslims across the globe. But to reach a state of accord, we also need an image of good Muslims to offset the bad.
Who is the good Muslim?
At this moment, the image is clouded. One can’t help but think back to Germany and the rise of Hitler. Hitler made quite clear his intentions, used violence from the first moment, and called upon the general anti-Semitism prevalent at every reach of European society. There was no room for “good” Germans to claim they were quiescent, unknowing, or not in agreement. By the same logic, “good” Southerners didn’t know that blacks were being mistreated.
Likewise, good Muslims have no defense for tolerating anti-Semitism and the oppression of women. One of the most powerful points Obama made on his recent European tour was that ordinary French and Germans entertain a casual anti-Americanism that is nonetheless insidious. I imagine that’s how many Arabs feel about Israel. They wouldn’t lift a hand to attack Israel, and they realize full well that Israel has a right to exist. Yet by casually allowing their neighbors, relatives, students, and countrymen to foment virulent anti-Israeli sentiments, the damage is done. It is all the more insidious for being casual.
So for us to believe in good Muslims, we need more. We — and here I mean the entire world — need the vast majority of Muslims to wake up and then to stand up. Fear is the greatest ally of terrorism, but denial comes in a close second. The rise of al-Jazeera and al-Arabia brought uncensored news and opinion to the Arab world for the first time. Free speech without fear of reprisal was a huge step forward. Yet all too easily “free” went the way of “good,” as these media outlets fell into lockstep by portraying Israeli violence out of balance with the threat of terrorism, by casually exploiting the U.S. as invaders and crusaders, and by not speaking out sufficiently against ruthless oligarchs and military regimes.
I do not monitor these outlets every day. Like everyone else, I depend on professional analysis of the situation, and therefore specifics get turned into generalities. But it seems to be agreed that the Muslim press and news media are slanted to tell their viewers and readers what they want to hear (the same thing happens in the West, too). The point is that little public incentive is offered for good Muslims to find their power of protest. If hundreds of millions of Muslims oppose Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, where are the street demonstrations, outraged lawmakers and judges? When the funds of the ruling class in every Arab country are diverted, either openly or barely in secret, to support extremists, jihadis, and “freedom fighters” who are actually terrorists, the hope for making an alliance with “good” Muslims quickly turns sour.
These are painful truths, but they need to be told. Otherwise, the festering mistrust and hatred of Islam will never change. The left will look the other way while the right keeps throwing fuel on the fire. The plight of good Germans became tragic, and they emerged from the conflagration ashamed, guilty, and impotent. It would be doubly tragic to see that happen in the Islamic world.
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle
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