A U.S. citizen currently residing in India, N.S. Rajaram, has kindly allowed us to reprint a most revealing exchange he had with the editor of “Span” magazine, a publication of the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, India. Even though the exchange took place in 2002, it is still relevant today, and not just for Mumbai: the attitudes that Lea Terhune expresses here are today part of the unquestioned orthodoxy that prevails at State and in the media (both Left and Right). Until this dogma is shattered, as it deserves to be, the US will continue to be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than it needs to be.
The exchange began with the publication in Span of an article entitled, “Koran: An Open Book: Thoughts on the secularism of Islam,” by S.A. Abbasi. This article is an open apologetic for Islam. It begins:
One June evening years back, in a Thiruvananthapuram restaurant, a stranger walked up to my table, voiced the Muslim greeting “as-salaam-o-alaikum” (peace be on you) and sat down in an empty chair opposite me.
I was surprised and asked the stranger, “Do you happen to know who I am?” “No,” he said, “I haven’t known you.” “Then how did you make out I am a Muslim?”
The stranger””clean-shaven above the upper lip and sporting a thick beard below the lower one””smiled. “It is not difficult to tell a Muslim among the strangers,” he said, “a Muslim has certain dignity and grace about him that sets him apart.”
Just then his coffee came which he sipped in silence as I sipped my tea. I recalled the words of Bernard Lewis, the acclaimed scholar of Islam: “There is something in the religious culture of Islam which inspired, in even the humblest peasant or peddler, a dignity and a courtesy toward others never exceeded and rarely equaled in other civilizations.”
I decided against disappointing my interlocutor by telling him that I wasn’t a practicing Muslim. The “dignity and grace” he had seen at that moment on my face was perhaps an illusion created by the fading light of a Kerala summer.
But, I believe he wasn’t entirely wrong in his generalization. Anyone who goes through a regulated life, with a strong sense of humility and concern for others””tenets which all major religions of the world emphasize””does acquire certain natural dignity and grace. It may be more noticeable with Muslims because Islamic practices demand day-to-day regulation of life and frequent reiteration that only God is almighty and divine, that all humans are created equal and that no one has hierarchical superiority over any other human being in the eyes of God.
Rajaram wrote to U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill, who is now evidently one of the Administration’s leading architects of Iraq policy.
Subject: Misuse of US Government publication SPAN for justifying Jihad
I am a United States citizen currently residing in India in connection with research relating to ancient civilizations. I am deeply concerned by the appearance of the article “KORAN: An Open Book” by S. A. Abbasi in the July/August issue of the US Embassy publication SPAN. The article is misleading and at the same time violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution separating Church and State. I have enclosed copy of the article for your reference.
The article in question tries to justify Jihad as a defensive war, which is highly misleading to say the least. According to the authoritative Dictionary of Islam, Jihad is: “The duty of religious war (which all commentators agree is a duty extending to all time) is laid down in the following verses, and it is remarkable that all the verses occur in the al-Madinah Surahs, being those given after Muhammad had established himself as a paramount ruler, and was in a position to dictate terms to his enemies.”
It is therefore a travesty of truth to represent Jihad as a defensive campaign, while its real goal is to extend the rule of Islam. Jihad can never be accepted as a legitimate instrument of policy. More fundamentally, I believe that such an article has no place in a US Government publication. It violates the First Amendment to the US Constitution separating religion and the State.
August 26, 2002
Dear Mr. Rajaram:
The Ambassador’s Office has forwarded your letter of August 16 to me. We thank you for expressing your concern about Professor Abbasi’s article “Koran: An Open Book,” which appeared in the July/August 2002 issue of SPAN. The point of the article was not to justify or defend jihad, but to clarify some misconceptions about Islam, as you may see if you go over it more carefully. “The Koranic message about violence, unambiguously prohibits aggression, even coercion, is loud, clear and very consistent. The Koran unambiguously prohibits aggression and violence,” Professor Abbasi writes. As the professor also notes, religious war is not something that originated with Islam. It appears in Hinduism and other religions, including Christianity and it has doubtless gone on from time immemorial. Professor Abbasi’s aim is to show the flaws in the thinking of the proponents of Jihad. We believe and still believe, that his comments are a balanced endeavor to put certain Islamic beliefs in perspective. We have had very positive responses to this article, some of which have come from members of conservative Hindu groups.
SPAN is a magazine that reflects all aspects of American society and culture, including its religious diversity. That diversity includes Muslims along with Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Jews. The events of September 11 have brought into sharper focus the importance of recognizing and respecting religious diversity in America and around the world.
Lea Terhune, Editor
Did you catch the distortions about the Qur’an? And this: “The events of September 11 have brought into sharper focus the importance of recognizing and respecting religious diversity in America and around the world”?
Did you realize that the lesson of 9/11 was that we must respect religious diversity? That the planes crashing into the Towers was just a cry for help, a frustrated expression of the need for respect for diversity? The implication is, then, that if we just respect diversity, the trouble will go away. But will Muslims respect it?
Anyway, Rajaram was having none of this PC nonsense from Terhune:
Dear Ms. Terhune:
Thank you for your letter of August 26, 2002 responding to my comments on the article “Koran: An Open Book,” (SPAN July/August 2002). You are right in pointing out: “The events of September 11 have brought into sharper focus the importance of recognizing and respecting religious diversity in America and around the world.” But the “events of September 11” would not have taken place but for the fact such spirit is largely lacking in major segments of the Islamic world. The message of well-intentioned individuals like Professor Abbasi should be addressed mainly to these segments and not to you and me or the readers of SPAN.
Such articles should also be more truthful and not try to dilute the evil of Jihad by suggesting that other religions, including Hinduism have indulged in religious warfare. This is supported neither by scripture nor history”” other than the misrepresentation of the Gita that Professor Abbasi invokes. He should then explain why the Zoroastrians of Iran had to flee soon after the Islamic conquests and seek refuge in Hindu India. Can we also ignore Koranic injunctions like: –¦ kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them, and lay in wait for them with every kind of ambush: but if they shall convert,”¦ let them go their way.” (Koran, IX 5,6) No coercion, no violence?
Such sophistry, that other religions have also pursued religious wars in the past begs the issue by diverting attention from the present to the past. The fact is that religious war (Jihad) is the stated policy of Islamic groups as well as of countries like Pakistan today. This cannot be deflected as Hitler did to the Bishop of Osnabruch: “I am only doing what the Church has done for 1500 years, only more effectively.”
The need of the hour is reform in Islam, not apologetics calling for better understanding on the part of the victims of Islamic violence. And this is what we should be encouraging and which the SPAN article by Professor Abbasi fails to do. I may use our correspondence in my writings for the purpose.
Indeed. The irony of the PC straitjacket about Islam that media outlets Left and Right wear today is that they wear it because they think that by doing so they’re helping moderate Muslims. In fact, they’re quashing whatever slim hopes those moderates ever may have had of being heard, by denying the fundamental premise of reform: that there is anything in Islam that actually needs to be fixed.
To his second message, Rajaram received no reply.