Mechanical

Playing with Muslims: "dangerous and irresponsible"

By now there's a good chance that you've heard the story of Farris Hassan, the 16 year old Florida boy who traveled to Iraq to see firsthand what was going on. He was taking a class in immersion journalism and took it a bit more seriously than most. There was one passage from news stories which disturbed me, though:

Diving headfirst into an assignment, Farris, whose parents were born in Iraq but have lived in the United States for about 35 years, hung out at a local mosque.

The teen, who said he has no religious affiliation, added that he even spent an entire night until 6 a.m. talking politics with a group of Muslim men, a level of "immersion" his teacher characterized as dangerous and irresponsible.

Let's reword that a little bit to see just how appalling that is:

Diving headfirst into an assignment, Farris, whose parents were born in the USA but have lived in China for about 35 years, hung out at a local church.

The teen, who said he has no religious affiliation, added that he even spent an entire night until 6 a.m. talking politics with a group of Christian men, a level of "immersion" his teacher characterized as dangerous and irresponsible.

So hanging out at a house of worship and talking to believers is "dangerous and irresponsible"? I certainly hope the teacher's words were taken out of context because it is attitudes like this which are causing so many problems. The vast majority of Muslims are like the vast majority of Christians: peaceful. Unfortunately, people take quotes from the Qu'ran which can seem just as violent as many quotes from the Bible and claim that the Qu'ran teaches Muslims to be violent. This is rubbish.

Islam, like Christianity, has a long history of both violence and peace. Religion, in this context, is akin to a gun. People point to the tool and forget that it must be wielded. If you took away Muslim's religion, many would simply find different tools to accomplish their goals.

There are many Muslims today who hate the West but I submit this is because the West has long failed to accept any responsibility for our behavior in the Middle East. We've worked hard to keep many nations in poverty to ensure that they do not become rivals and many of those nations happen to be Muslim. Unfortunately, rather than try to unravel the Gordian knot of historical grievances in the area, many people are content to adopt simplistic and frequently incorrect attitudes such as "they hate freedom" or "Islam teaches violence". People have always found it easier to chant slogans than to think.

  • Current Mood: cynical cynical
honestly I think it is ignorange....so many people never take it upon themselves to learn facts and even history of places and people before condemming them
I think that I understand what the teacher was trying to say. Talking politics and religion in Asia ( i.e. Pakistan, India, China ) as well as the Middle East with people who you do not know, especially if they migh have ties to extremist groups, *is* dangerous and irresponsible. However, the writer let his/her own prejudices come through in the statement. The fact that they were Muslim is obvious and irrelevant.
I copied the quote without giving enough context. He was here in the US when he was in the Mosque and chatting with Muslims.
I think it's just poorly phrased. My interpretation was that the word "Muslim" was used as contrast to Farris' lack of religious affiliation.

I took the "dangerous" in the second half to mean that it was dangerous for a 16 year old kid to be out until 6am talking to a bunch of strangers in a foreign, unstable country.

"There are many Muslims today who hate the West but I submit this is because the West has long failed to accept any responsibility for our behavior in the Middle East."

I submit that most hate us because we back Israel. Some hate us for purely religious/cultural reasons.

"We've worked hard to keep many nations in poverty to ensure that they do not become rivals and many of those nations happen to be Muslim."

Huh? Which Muslim nation have we "kept down"? We've played a couple against each other (Iran/Iraq), and worked against a few as part of the Cold War (Egypt, Syria, Jordan), but explicitly tried to ensure poverty? I don't see it.
re: ME poverty and US involvement
there is a "free trade zone" in Jordan, if you're aware of what that means. there's one solid example of direct intervention into the economy of the region (which of course profits the rich and impoverishes the poor even more). But you could also just check out the history of the US and Saudi Arabia (note: don't rely on oil companies or royal families or their "think tanks" and "foundations" for sources of info). Or the ten years of economic sanctions on Iraq which killed around 500,000 children. (Great documentary on this is "Paying the Price" with journalist John Pilger.)

For plenty of this sort of stuff, see the fictional film film "Syriana" - it seems hardly a work of fiction, it's so close to reality
I wonder what they told him in that mosque?

That kid wants to be a reporter?
Not if he's that naive, he aint!
(A statistic, probably, but no serious agency will hire anyone that reckless)
The kid was angry at the cab-driver who wanted $200 for driving him from Cuwait to the border of Iraq, then back again when the guards wouldn't let him pass...
Doesn't he realise that the cabbie took a hell of a risk driving him that far?
It's only THE MOST DANGEROUS road in the world...

Walking around in Iraq, entering a café and using a dictionary to try to ask for a menu?
This kid must be too stupid to live. The only reason I can imagine for him to still be alive must be that local insurgents probably assumed he was a bait.

I also wonder how crazy his father is as he helped pull strings to get the kid a visa to Iraq after he got to Libanon...
I'll just assume that it was plain stupidity, and not that he has a huge life-insurance on the kid...
As for which Muslim nations "we" have kept down, "we" in this case means the Western powers, primarily the US, the British and the French. The US is a relative latecomer to this activity, but we picked things up with a gusto. And our "working against a few" was not just part of the Cold War, though that's a large part of it. In fact, if you read through most ME nation's 20th century history, you'll see a lot of grievances they have against us. And Israel is only part of that story.

Note: much of the following information can be very difficult to piece together. Many history books in the US are accepted only after elected school boards choose them. If the books sound too accusatory in tone, the school board members get tossed out. Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States", though slanted very, very far in the other direction -- he states deliberately that he's trying to provide a counter balance -- has much pertinent US history that we should learn, but many parents seem to think it's unpatriotic to learn a history different from what they were taught.

In regards to Israel, remember that the original UN partition plan after WW II was to split the territory, giving half to the Jews who started emigrating there in the first half of the 20th century and the other half to the Palestinian Arabs. As you may have noticed, there is no Palestinian state. Not only were the Jews not wanted there in the first place, you now have an entire nation of homeless people. Further, the entire area was to be a UN protectorate with the ultimate goal of creating a joint Arab/Jewish government. By the US supporting Israel, we have implicitly supported the destruction the Palestinian nation and surrounding nations have had to deal with this mess.

Syria/Lebanon: Lebanon has historically been part of Syria. This was recognized under the Ottaman Empire and after the latter's decision to support the Central powers in WWI, Britain took away Lebanon and gave it to the French (well, the League of Nations did this, but it's what the British wanted since the Ottaman Empire had long been a thorn in their side. Also, the French "sort of" had Syria but exercised little control). By denying Syria a long portion of their coastline, they lost tremendous economic opportunities. This was very deliberate.

Iraq/Kuwait: Kuwait historically has long been part of Iraq. Though the history is muddled quite a bit, Kuwait was part of the Basra province under the Ottaman Empire. Wanting more independence, they asked the British to help them out and the British were only too happy to do this. By effectively denying a major seaport to the Ottamans (and later, Iraq), the British once again managed to maintain a fractured series of states in the Middle East and helped limit their economic opportunities. Kuwait was particularly important in this regards as Baghdad was rather powerful.

Iran: And let's not forget how the CIA arranged the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh in Iran because he nationalized the oil fields. We installed a brutal but submissive dictator, the Shah of Iran. The current Iranian government is a direct result of our behavior. Of course, this is also a perfect example of how the US government has historically never cared one whit about democracy if it conflicts with our business or nationalist interests.

Iraq/Iran: we supplied intelligence and weapons to both sides during the war since we didn't want either one to become too powerful.

(End part one -- LJ comments have a 4300 character limit)
(Part two)

There's a lot more, but those are some of the major issues which spring to mind. Prior to WWII, it was primarily the British (with some help from the French) who worked towards keeping a fractured, divided Middle East in order to ensure that no state would have too much power or money. This was to ensure the stability of Middle Eastern oil. That, at least, has been largely successful, though the price of this intervention has been horrific.

After WWII, the US has largely replaced the British in these actions and we've been quite happy to continue. We've also been quite successful in similar endeavors in South America. We've tried this in Asia but those pesky Chinese and Russians won't cooperate.

But don't just take my word for it. Research this yourself. There's a good chance that you'll find I have a couple of the finer points askew (this is a very complicated history, after all), but you may also find that my presentation of US behavior in the Middle East is, in many respects, in accord with how the people of the Middle East view it. If you don't even know this stuff, it's pretty difficult to defend against this viewpoint and instead we're reduced to moronic "they hate freedom" arguments.
(Anonymous)
"...but you may also find that my presentation of US behavior in the Middle East is, in many respects, in accord with how the people of the Middle East view it."

I agree. But I would like to point that this doesn't mean that the view is automatically right (in particular Israel).
As you said the ME nations were reluctant to let the Jews have the land. Initially Israel was not trying to destruct the Palestinian state but was only looking for safeguarding its own land which came into constant attacks (Later on there is a lot of blame game going on and no one knows the clear picture). The ME nations created bigger mess for themselves and the world by initiating the wars and polarizing the situation. If US had not intervened I believe there would have been another holocaust. Well, this is the only instance where I think the US stood by its principles while dealing in ME affairs.
Sure, hanging out in a church - a church of whatever faith - is dangerous and irresponsible. He might have got infected with religion.
Eff any of the naysayers. This kid seems to take journalism and politics seriously, and were I a newspaper editor his name would be at the top of my 'to hire' list.

I hope he writes a book on the experience and that it garners the attention it deserves.