Some myths in Middle East politics and religion need to be deconstructed.

Myth: The “Ancient Feud”

Unfortunately, a few academics have fallen for this one. The myth is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in an ancient feud between Ismael, the perceived ancestor of the Arabs, and Isaac, the ancestor of the Children of Israel, both of whom are the sons of Abraham from different mothers.

Minnesota Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion. Muslims, and friends of Muslims, would like to change this climate. Engage Minnesota is a blog that begins that effort.

From the point of view of Muslims, this is particularly absurd. Muslims highly revere both Ismael and Isaac – peace be upon them – as holy prophets whose brotherhood transcends sharing one father. Prophets are the highest humans in good manners and their presumed falling into feuds would be quite substandard.

Moreover, not all Arabs are related to Ismael. In fact, the majority of them are not, just like the majority of current-day Jews are not actually related to Isaac.

Myth: Palestinians resist Israel because it is Jewish

It so happens that the majority of Israelis are Jewish and the majority of Palestinians are
Muslim. However, Palestinians did not resist the Israelis simply because they are Jewish or even because they had a different religion. They resisted because the Israelis are foreign people from Europe who practiced land and home confiscation and expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, of whom my parents are two, in order to establish their state. The Palestinians’ response would have been the same regardless of the offenders’ religion.

Myth: “They hate us for our freedom”

The mythical nature of the above statement is several fold. On September 20, 2001, President Bush, referring to Al Qa’eda, addressed the members of Congress by saying:
“They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

But many right-wing demagogues propagated it using the pronoun “they” to refer to most Muslims living abroad, and I will dissect it as such, although it would retain its inaccuracy either way.

First, the assertion that plain envy of a social value can lead to war is not only lacking in reason, but unprecedented in history. No two entities fought because one envied a certain law or a social pattern that the other had. That kind of envy naturally leads to competition, not hate, and certainly not war.

Second, people in countries with Muslim majorities do envy the United States for some things, but “social freedom,” if we may use the term, is certainly something they have no envy of. Just like most Americans think of Middle-Easterners as camel jockeys who lock up their women at home and shoot you if you are an “infidel,” many Muslims living abroad think of Americans as the audience and participants of any Jerry Springer episode: morally corrupt, socially irresponsible, drug-addicted, sex-driven, drunk, and fat.

Of course, both views are terribly biased, but the point is that many of the Muslims living abroad do not envy most of the “freedoms” people enjoy here in the U.S. If they had to choose, most of them would probably prefer a safer social environment that is strict over having to worry about their teenage daughters getting pregnant, for example. To them, from their point of view, the fact that a jewelry store owner in Mecca can leave his store unattended and go to pray in complete safety makes the harsh punishment of thieves worthwhile.

One freedom Muslims abroad do envy is the freedom of speech, because they are ruled mostly by dictators who will lock you in prison if they hear you make a joke about the ruler or his party.

Another thing that Americans are envied for by people living under dictatorships is the relative lack of corruption and the rule of law, which trickles down into a general sense of orderliness and organization. That is why the West attracts large numbers of Third World intellectuals: Things here happen in a predictable manner for people who work hard. If you study well, you will get a good grade. If you get a bad grade, it is not because you did not have the right connections and it is not because your father is not wealthy enough. Intellectuals have their minds as their biggest assets, and they feel comfortable in a place where that is all they need to succeed.

But the envy that Muslims have for freedom of speech and the rule of law cannot possibly lead to hatred. Instead, people in Third World countries are striving to change their conditions and fix their systems. Unfortunately, the force used by dictators is thus far the winner.

Perhaps President Bush was subconsciously trying to say: “They hate us because we support most of their dictatorships that deprive them from their freedoms.” Food for thought, although even then the supposed “hatred” would be directed at the U.S. government, not the American people.

Elias Karmi, Burnsville, Minn.