The other day I hesitantly made the word fatwa in a Scrabble game, doubting that it would be accepted. But it was: An Islamic religious decree…popularized in 1989 when Ayatollah Homeini sentenced Salmon Rushdie to death for publishing the ‘Satanic Verses.’ Then I tried the word, “jihad.” Again, Scrabble has accepted it, defining it as: a holy war undertaken as sacred duty by Muslims.
As anyone who plays Scrabble knows, foreign words are not generally permitted unless they have become so organically mainstream in the English language that their foreignness is no longer an issue. It occurred to me that the slow, imperceptible transition from foreign words to accepted English has a parallel in the real world.
It wasn’t until the attacks of 9/11 that these words became mainstream, but they have since become part of the vernacular in the same way that Islam has been accepted and rationalized. Notwithstanding murderous and deliberate attacks on New York, Bali, Madrid, London, Belgium, France, Canada, Australia and, of course, Israel, by Muslims whose declared intention is to destroy anyone who is not in their camp, our media and politicians, for the most part, have assured us that Islam is really a peaceful religion that is being misinterpreted and hijacked by extremists. And so, we really ought not to condemn a religion that has a majority of peace-loving practitioners.
The fact that most of the young people who commit these atrocities are home-grown has been explained away by describing them as “disenfranchised Muslim youth.” The fact that they have been raised in the West in countries where they have access to education, social welfare, and opportunities almost non-existent in their countries of origin – which motivated their families to emigrate in the first place – is not questioned.
Implicit in such platitudes is that, somehow we, the mainstream people, are at fault because we are not tolerant enough, understanding enough, compromising enough of such people who really do have goodness in their souls if we just put aside our prejudices long enough to understand them and give them a chance.
The cold-blooded, meticulously planned and orchestrated assassination of the staff of Charlie Hebdo last week, in the heart of Paris in broad daylight, has punctured a big hole in the hot air balloon of rationalization. (Interestingly, “assassin” is a word of Arabic origin.) Central to any democracy is the right of free speech. But debate and the peaceful expression of difference of opinion are not the Islamic way. Allahu Akbar is Islamic for our way or the highway, with the highway in this case being one of instant carnage and destruction. The secondary attack on the kosher supermarket, in which four Jews doing their shopping for Shabbat and one Muslim policeman guarding them, were murdered by Islamists, for no other reason that they were Jews, was the Islamic manifestation of Tikun Olam.
The immediate rallying cry of people in France, and indeed across the free world of Je suis Charlie was both emotional and heartening. It was difficult not to be moved by the sight of 3 million people marching in the streets of Paris to affirm their belief in democratic principles and to stand against terror.
However, there was one very large, ominous black cloud over this gathering to which no one seemed to pay much attention. All the synagogues of Paris remained closed for the first time since World War II while, for the mosques, it was business as usual. The message clearly was that Jews had to take precautions against further attacks, while Islamists themselves had nothing to fear. And, indeed, except for minor property damage, they incurred no harm.
This speaks volumes, both symbolically and in reality. Jews in France have to lay low and suspend the communal practice of their religion, at least for the time being. The best-case scenario if they remain in France is to do so under heavy military and police protection. The Islamists, by contrast, can do what they like freely. That is the message and the reality.
This past Sunday the New York Times ran a full-page piece entitled, What Can Muslims Do to Reclaim their ‘Beautiful Religion?’ Here’s a quote from that article,
Our denial and our relative silence must stop! It is the duty of we Muslims to actively and vigorously affirm and promote universal human rights, including gender equality and freedom of conscience. As our Holy Qu’ran states (4:135) “Believers! Conduct yourselves with justice, bearing true witness before God, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, or your kin.” We must engage in and promote reforms where necessary, including an honest and critical reinterpretation of scripture and shariah law used by Islamists to justify violence and oppression.
Who can argue with this thinking? But where were these people after 9/11? Why did it take them almost 14 years to speak out against those “few extremists”? Their words ring hollow and count as too little, too late.
Arabic words pertaining to barbaric, modern Islamic practice have become mainstream and so have earned their acceptance into Scrabble. But Scrabble is a game. Judging from recent events in Paris, it appears that barbaric Islamic practice has become mainstream in real life as well.