Travel – Trying to Understand America

By Asiff Hussein

An inquiring Journalist shares his thoughts after a nearly three-week sojourn in the United States, telling us what America is and what it is not, and that looking at it in black or white is certainly not the answer to our problems. Asiff Hussein, though a layman, was fortunate to be part of a group of Sri Lankan religious scholars of all major faiths visiting the US on a Program on Religion and Social Justice in America organized by the State Department from June 28 to July 16, 2010. He shares with us the rich experiences of his brief but eventful visit and his many thoughts arising from it, especially in relation to the Muslim world.  Let’s hear what he has to say.

Growing up in an English-speaking environment with Hollywood movies, Marvel comics and Pop music besides other aspects of American culture in our early childhood made us look upon America with awe and wonderment – the place to be in. I can still picture in my mind’s eye avidly going through my favourite comic strip Tintin in America which tells of Tintin the Journalist’s adventures in America. Little doubt it influenced my choosing journalism as a career later in life. But one’s childhood, however memorable it may be, is no yardstick to look at the real world for it is a time when we are enchanted with all things material and the small world around us with others doing the thinking for us.

And so things changed as I grew up. I would come to realize that things were not really as it seemed. In my later childhood for instance my conscience often pricked me when I heard of the unspeakable sufferings caused to the Japanese people by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with generations suffering the consequences of the fallout. Growing up into adulthood I was often disturbed by the stories of the Vietnam War and the harmful effects of Agent Orange that were being told to the world at the time.

And I was distressed when George Bush Senior launched the first Gulf War to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. I wondered to myself what the big deal was when Israel had not only taken over Arab lands after the six-day war of 1967, but continued to illegally occupy it and even build Jewish settlements displacing thousands of innocent Palestinians in the process. At least Saddam had not gone so far, and reprehensible as his action was, it was an eye-opener to set things right in the Middle East. But worse was to come when I read of the horrific accounts of the effects of the depleted uranium the US military had dropped in Iraq as part of its campaign to weaken Saddam, a campaign that had a terrible impact on ordinary Iraqis including those thousands of innocent children who would die a slow and lingering death from the childhood cancers the uranium caused. I still recall seeing in a Frontline magazine of the time, a picture of a sick little Iraqi child, her little body broken down by a lack of medication, needlessly dying because the US had compelled the UN to impose sanctions on the Iraqi people. This image like many others would continue to haunt me in the days and years to come and now that I am the father of two little daughters, they are all the more painful to recall.

And I was outraged when George Bush Junior finally invaded Iraq to oust Saddam on the trumped up charges that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. And even if it had them, so what ? Israel too had them and the US nor any of its allies ever made an issue of it. Nay there was more to it. One was of course to safeguard Israel from the threat of an Iraqi attack. The other was as the German newspaper Der Spiegel put it bluntly Blut fur ol (Blood for Oil). It was all the more distressing because it was such an uneven war, a mighty military power going to war with the full array of its arsenal against a small developing Middle Eastern state. Here was technological arrogance at its height with terrible multi-tonne bombs like Daisy Cutters doing the talking.

And I was infuriated when working as a Journalist for a leading state-controlled English language Sunday newspaper I noticed some rather strange editorials in the period leading up to the build up of the war against Iraq, in support of US foreign policy even to the extent of justifying the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One bizarre passage from the paper dated 9 February 2003 had it that “When the United States dropped atom bombs on Japanese cities in the ferocious closing stages of the Second World War, it had the moral support of countries and societies that upheld the strongest systems of modern democracy”. Another read: “The US today, in keeping with its commitment to global peace and democracy is once again engaged in intensive international consultations in attempting to restrain a state, Iraq”. This was all the more surprising as my Editor was a man whom I greatly admired for his forthright and humanistic views. I decided not to have much to do with him and one day while I am browsing through the newspapers, the man, probably sensing my disappointment at the recent editorials he had been turning out, candidly admitted that he had no hand in it and that the editorials concerned did not at all reflect his thinking, and that he had been compelled by the powers that be to carry the comments which were faxed to him by the US embassy in Sri Lanka. Of course this happened during the term of a different Sri Lankan government than that existing now and a different US administration than that which exists today. It is unthinkable that such a thing could happen in our day.

Thus it would be evident from the foregoing that my esteem for the US had suffered over the years since my halcyon childhood days. Of late however I must admit that my views of America had mellowed a bit with the victory of president Barack Obama whose middle name happens to be the very Muslim sounding Hussein, not to mention his Muslim antecedents and his longstanding opposition to the Iraq War, showing that those young Americans who chose him certainly knew better than their elders with their cold war mentality and that they yearned for change for the better which was something the rest of the world could look at in a positive light. The fact that of late Obama had gone so far as to snub Netanyahu seemed to suggest that the unthinkable had happened and that there was perhaps still room for change in America. However as subsequent events proved, change does not come easy. And now Uncle Sam had thought it fit to invite me to his hallowed land. And believe me I actually accepted his invitation, something that would have been unthinkable a few years back. Here was my chance to understand America and its people first hand. As a Journalist I needed a fresh experience to write about; and as a human I needed to understand Americans better, more so since the most basic teaching of the discipline I had chosen to pursue for my higher studies, Sociology, was to ‘understand the other’. But why the other ? one might ask. The fact, sad to say, is that by now America had sort of become ‘the other’. But such is the world we live in with artificial barriers of all sorts impeding our understanding of one another. Understanding the other is then the first step in coming to terms with the complex world we live in. Understanding the other, despite our differences is what really makes us human. To think otherwise would only make us less.

Understanding America

One’s first impression of America on US soil is admittedly a very favourable one. The people one will find are a very warm and friendly lot, to the extent of initiating a greeting or a smile and even going out of their way to help the seeming stranger. And this one sees among ordinary men and women, whether in the hotels, or in the streets or in their happy homes. Being polite it appears is deeply ingrained in the American psyche and one that is perceived very positively by visitors to this country.

Although this might at first seem a trivial observation, it is not so. First impressions count and I must say I was very impressed with this quality of Americans in general, a far cry indeed from my last visit to a foreign country, Pakistan, to attend a conference on Islamic Banking and Finance, where I found the people, particularly in Karachi, to be a most unfriendly and inhospitable lot. There is so much some nations in this part of the world can learn from Americans whose possession of this noble trait strikes one as a truly Islamic one, a trait which even some Muslim nations seem to have lost somewhere down the road.

Added to this must be mentioned the hospitality America extends to those of other nations it deems are vital to its progress or mutual understanding, whether it takes the form of Fulbright scholarships or  exchange programmes. Not many nations are humble enough to invite peoples of other nations to contribute to their progress or understand them better. Goodwill counts and Americans are smart enough to understand that. Although much has been said of Muslims being singled out and harassed in the US, we encountered no such problems as Muslims, whether in the airports or elsewhere. Of course being guests of the State Department would at first suggest that we were given preferential treatment, but such a suspicion would militate against what we really experienced, for instance, at the airport. Those who were really searched were the three orange-robed Buddhist monks and the saffron-robed Hindu Swamy in our delegation no doubt on account of their long robes which could potentially conceal weapons. We were all no doubt a peaceful religious lot, but the officials were taking no chances given the security situation the country faces today.

Another favourable impression we had of the US was the freedom of expression it gives to its citizens. Indeed we were surprised to witness one such protest by anti-nuclear activists right in front of the White House which speaks well for America’s commitment to this basic democratic right. A far cry again from many parts of the Muslim world where the right of protest against injustice and tyranny conceded in the Qur’an itself (4:148) is denied to its people by despotic regimes supported ironically by the very nation that concedes so much freedom to its own people – the US.

Yes indeed. The US has no problem with freedom, but as we shall shortly see, it has a problem with access to free information. And the dearth of free information admittedly does affect one’s freedom to make the correct choices. And this is the very reason why I disagree with those who pronounce in all their ignorance that American citizens could be legitimate targets in the war against American Imperialism or World Zionism. To penalize the American people for the folly of their government on the grounds that what the US government does reflects popular sentiment is a rather perverse notion. Although it is true that the US is a democracy founded on the principle of Government of the People by the People for the People the facts are far more complex.

As we learned from a presentation on American Federalism delivered to us by a retired US Foreign Service Officer in Washington, the American system of democracy is far more complex than meets the eye. Take for instance the fact that the 50 US states are divided into 3141 counties with about 30,000 cities and 85,000 townships, with different laws operating at federal, state, county and municipal levels and even in the native Indian reservations that are considered to be sovereign states which are governed by their own tribal laws as we were later to find out in our visit to Okeh Owingeh Pueblo in New Mexico.

The US constitution, as the USFS Officer pointed out, granted state and local governments all powers not specifically reserved for the federal government and consequently states and communities are free to adopt laws and forms of government that suit their needs, resulting in a diverse patchwork of governmental practices. In fact, while I was in Huntsville in the State of Alabama I was quite surprised to read in a local newspaper that the era of prohibition when all forms of alcoholic beverages were outlawed in the US in the 1920s as a result of the eighteenth amendment to the US constitution still existed in certain US counties despite its repeal in 1933 by the twenty First Amendment. Thus to conceive of America as a single nation united in how it views the larger world is a travesty of fact. Americans often have trouble understanding America itself and it is inconceivable that they could really understand the rest of the world.

Added to this is the pervasive practice of funding particular candidates to suit vested interests as well as the well established practice of lobbying which includes all attempts to influence legislators and officials whether by other legislators, constituents or organized groups. Indeed, we were surprised to learn from our presenter that people are paid to make direct “lobbying contacts” with members of congress and officials of the federal executive.  Money talks here and it talks loud. Lobbying at legislative level needless to say impacts negatively on the free expression of the public will which explains why the US legislature sometimes takes unpopular decisions such as going to war and why powerful lobbies like the Zionist lobby and the Arms Lobby always have their way, however much their policies may be harmful to the American people as a whole.

Besides, little is it known that much of the more pernicious policies we tend to associate with successive US regimes ever since World War II has its origins in one man, Harry Truman, a man from the backwoods of America who through a skillful blend of cunning and ruthlessness became President of the United States on April 12, 1945 upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a genuine American leader whose contempt for Truman was so deep that he even excluded him from his inner circle. And not without good reason, for Truman was known for his odious character from his very early days. In a letter lamenting the end of the First World War he once wrote : “It is a shame we can’t go in and devastate Germany and cut off a few of the Dutch kids’ hands and feet and scalp a few of their old men”. And in the early stages of World War II he declared: “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible”.

Truman it was who ordered the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki despite the fact that the Japanese, having suffered many defeats at the hands of the allied forces were moving towards peace and even surrender. Truman, it is said, resorted to the atomic bomb to retaliate against Japan for their attack on Pearl Harbour. To nuke a civilian population for the fault of their government goes against all norms of justice and fair conduct. But Truman thought otherwise. The vindictive man he was, after hearing of the terrible destruction of Hiroshima, he declared in all his arrogance: “This is the greatest thing in history”.

All this despite the fact that Japan’s surrender was imminent. The United States’ Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that “in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated”. This was echoed by Air Force General Curtis LeMay who slighted the use of the atomic bomb, calling the new weapon “the worst thing that every happened…. Even without the atomic bomb and the Russian entry into the war, Japan would have surrendered in two weeks”.

It was also Truman who enunciated the well known doctrine that would characterize later US foreign policy of supporting ruthless and yet insecure right-wing dictators deemed friendly to US interests, even against their own people, on the grounds that it was the only means to control those popular movements deemed inimical to American interests. Whether it was support for General Pinochet’s brutal regime that ousted Allende’s democratically elected socialist-leaning government and brutally killed thousands of innocents or Zia Ul Haq’s repressive rule that introduced a most intolerant form of Islamic extremism from whose affects the country is suffering to this day, the USA’s role in these bloody dictatorships all carry the stamp of Truman’s doctrine.

And it was Truman who did more than anybody else in the West to create a Jewish state in Palestine by giving in to the unreasonable demands of organized Jewry without whose influence the Zionist design in Palestine would never have been realized. Dewey Stone, a Zionist businessman financed Truman’s vice-presidential campaign in 1944, while businessmen Abraham Feinberg and Edmund Kauffman led the fundraising for his otherwise penniless 1948 presidential campaign. Feinberg, who helped secure many donations to Truman’s cash-starved campaign from supporters of the Zionist cause, was also President of Americans for Haganah Incorporated, which was founded to support unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine “If not for my friend Abe, I wouldn’t have been elected,” Truman would later say. Truman’s legendary upset victory in 1948 over Thomas E. Dewey is no doubt attributable to the support he received from Zionist Jews.

And he paid his debts many fold. In spite of the then State Department’s emphasis on good relations with the Arab world as the basis for maintaining US interests in the Middle East which reflected the views of its educated  members including Secretary of State George Marshall who strongly opposed the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, Truman would do everything in his power to shift US opinion towards Israel and to popularize the canard of its vital importance to the West as a ‘strategic asset’. His notorious Yom Kippur Statement calling the creation of Israel a solution which “would command the support of public opinion in the United States” and his subsequent role in the UN where he took personal credit for changing several votes in favour of Israel besides other acts to appease the Zionist lobby would have serious implications for the future of the US for it brought with it a recipe for quasi-sovereign Jewish influence on foreign policy in successive American administrations, whether Democratic or Republican. Truman had established organized Jewry as a major power broker in the US whose effects we see to this day which is reflected for instance in the US’ shortsighted Middle East Policy, but one that goes against American interests in the long run. It would be evident to any sensible person that it is far more prudent in America’s interest to cultivate good relations with the Muslim world rather than maintain ties with a solitary rogue state founded on terrorism. Truly is it said that the evil men do lives after them, and this is perhaps no better illustrated by Truman’s ghost that continues to haunt US politics to this day. A man from the backwoods of America whose policies took America to the backwoods in the eyes of the larger world. America would never be the same again and many of us in the rest of the world would get away with the idea that the US government and the American people are the same. A sad state of affairs indeed.

This sad state of affairs we noticed during our visit to the State Department in Washington where despite the assurances by officials there that things were improving under the Obama administration, we noticed to our utter dismay, in the main hall, a large picture of the interior of the US embassy in Riyadh, it being the only picture of an American mission overseas as if it were the only US diplomatic mission that really mattered. Of course I was relieved that the picture in question was not that of the US embassy in Tel Aviv. It nevertheless made me wonder why the US government would place so much emphasis on maintaining good relations with an oppressive regime like Saudi Arabia whose repression of its own people and especially its women is well known.  Of course it goes without saying here that oil speaks louder than human rights! Another eye opener came when we visited the Civil rights Museum in Birmingham deep in the heart of the American South in Alabama. I asked the  spokeswoman how things were now under the Obama administration, only to have her promptly respond. “He’s an Oreo!“. I was not sure what an Oreo meant till somebody mentioned it was a black biscuit with white cream in the middle. Now that was food for thought!

However as subsequent events would show, it’s not easy taking a decision even for an American President as there are so many reactionary forces at play to undermine a good job. Obamacare and more recently his administration’s condemnation of Jewish settlements in Israel and abstaining from vetoing a UN resolution declaring the settlements illegal are good things, though they came a bit too late. Still, as I said, it’s not easy being a President in America as one has to contend with so many forces that are not only un-American, but also Anti-American as we shall shortly see.

Anti-nuke protest near White House . A placard reads Live by the bomb Die by the bomb !
Anti-nuke protest near White House . A placard reads Live by the bomb Die by the bomb !

A Religious Nation

The US is no doubt a religious nation. Although constitutionally it is more or less secular with the state playing no active role in religion, it is still One Nation Under God as its pledge of allegiance has it. Phrases like God Bless America and In God We Trust one would find are extremely commonplace, whether in public places or currency notes.

This was also borne out in our visit to the Pew Research Center in Washington where we had the fortune of listening to an interesting presentation on Religion and Public Life in the USA by a researcher of the institute. According to the findings of the Center the US is a ‘Nation of Believers’ with as many as 92 percent of Americans believing in God or Universal Spirit. 59 percent of Americans said that religion was very important to them as compared to 30 percent in Canada, 33 percent in Britain, 21 percent in Germany and 11 percent in France. Those countries that exceeded this percentage of believers were the largely Catholic Latin American states such as Brazil (77 %), Bolivia (66 %) and Venezuela (61 %) and Islamic states such as Indonesia (95 %), Bangladesh (88 %) and Turkey (65 %).

Further, as many as 74 percent Americans thought that displaying the Ten Commandments in government buildings was proper. As many as 64 percent favoured teaching Creationism or the Biblical/Religious Account of Creation along with the opposing theory of Evolution in public schools. And as many as 72 percent said that it is important to them that a President have strong religious beliefs.

When asked why Americans tended to be so religious minded when compared to Europeans who have undergone a very much similar socio-economic and cultural experience, the researcher explained that this might be due to the fact that the early American colonies were peopled by strict Protestants such as the Puritans, a tradition perpetuated to this day, albeit in isolation from Europe, reinforced by a strong religious involvement in social welfare activities which are left to the lot of the churches.

But just as religiosity is a good thing if followed in its proper spirit, it could also adversely affect basic human values if abused for the wrong reasons. And all indications are that Christian fundamentalism is growing in the US. It was found in the survey that as many as 26.3 percent of Americans now belong to the Evangelical Protestant churches as against 18.1 percent that belong to the mainstream protestant churches and 6.9 percent that belong to the black protestant churches. Hispanic Catholics formed 6.9 percent while non-Hispanic Catholics formed 16.9 percent.

The growing influence of these evangelical churches will have serious implications for the Islamic world and the world at large, for as Grace Halsell has shown in her well researched book Forcing God’s Hand, these radical churches preach a rather militant form of Christianity that seek hastening the process of Armageddon or the destruction of the World as a prelude to Christ’s Second Coming. As bad is the fact that unlike the mainstream churches that have always had misgivings about Israel, these new Judeo-Christian churches preach blind support for Israel and the Jews as God’s Chosen People who would have to be supported in their struggle against Islamdom and a revived Roman Empire meaning the European Union. That George W.Bush should belong to one such evangelical crusader cult is therefore not surprising.

The mainstream churches including the Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopal (American Anglican) Churches would therefore have much to contend with in the days ahead in containing this rising tide of Christian extremism. The members of these mainstream churches I found in Washington and elsewhere were a most amiable lot keen on inter-faith dialogue and co-operation, stressing on the common thread that binds us all including belief in the Oneness of God and the Equality of Man.

One such, a Professor of Theology in Georgetown University, Washington, a university established by Catholic Jesuit missionaries over 200 years ago in 1789, the year the US constitution took effect, explained to us that wars waged in the name of Christianity such as the Crusades had nothing to do with the true teachings of Christ with its emphasis on love and mercy but that religion in this case as in many other instances of recorded history had been employed as a tool to further man’s greed for land and lucre.

In contrast is the attitude of the Evangelical churches whose opposition to inter-faith dialogue is well known. They played no part in any of the inter-faith organizations we met in the course of our visit including the Inter Faith Conference of Metropolitan Washington which brings together eleven historic faith communities to promote dialogue and understanding among peoples of diverse faiths and to work cooperatively for social and economic justice. In fact we were told by the promoters of the movement that the evangelical movement looked upon inter-faith as something Satanic.

It is however in the interests of the Islamic world to cultivate good relations with the mainstream churches who do not subscribe to these extremist views. This is the need of the times and is not something anathema to us in the Muslim world. Muslims are duty bound to maintain good relations with Christians who do not wish them ill. To realize this one has only to look at the Qur’anic statement stating that You will find that the closest people in friendship to the believers are those who say, “We are Christian.” This is because they have priests and monks among them, and they are not arrogant[5:82].

We also know that when in 628 AD, a delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai came to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and requested his protection. He responded by granting them a charter of rights, which is as follows: This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).

It would be evident from the charter that this promise is universal and perpetual and that the rights given to the Christians are inalienable. The Prophet asserts here that the Muslims are with Christians near and far thereby eliminating any attempt to limit the promise to St. Catherine alone and by commanding his followers to obey it until the Day of Judgment he does away with any future attempts to revoke the privileges granted them. The Prophet declared Christians as his allies and equated ill treatment of Christians with violating God’s covenant, which speaks a lot of how the Muslim world should treat Christians.

At the same time, what is saddening is how many American Christians to this day have a rather dim view of Islam. Most Christians, whether in the US or elsewhere, are unaware of the similarities our two faiths enjoy, or of the fact that we regard Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) as one of our prophets, or the extremely considerate manner in which we are supposed to treat his followers.

One however cannot blame them for this. For there are many factors that prevent Americans from really knowing and understanding Islam. A major factor is the lack of information Americans have on the true teachings of Islam, to which must be added the fact that Muslims whether in America or elsewhere have done little to reach out to them and the ungenerous attitude of the Jewish-dominated US media in portraying Islam and Muslims generally in a rather negative light.

A church in Washington
A church in Washington
A classroom at Saint Ignesius College in San Francisco founded by the Catholic Jesuits
A classroom at Saint Ignesius College in San Francisco founded by the Catholic Jesuits

Jewish Domination

One may wonder why I have chosen to deal with American Jews in such an extensive manner here. Well, the answer’s simple. The Jews constitute the second largest religious grouping after the adherents of Christianity, even outstripping Muslims who still form about a mere 0.6 percent of the American population. Thus unlike in Europe where Muslims form the second largest religious community after Christians, and that too in very large numbers ranging from 5-10 percent of the population, the dynamic in the US is somewhat different. The Jewish presence here, though, small, is a very pervasive one.

More importantly, the Jewish presence in the US has implications for the larger Muslim world, and particularly for the future of Palestine which is dear to every Muslim heart, and of Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islamdom. Why so ? For the simple reason that American Jews remain some of the most ardent supporters of Israel, constantly exerting pressure on the US government through powerful lobbies like IPAC to support and aid Israel in its war against the Palestinians and neighbouring Arab nations.

Jews constitute a mere 1.7 percent of the American population. Although a miniscule minority numerically, their influence is pervasive in many areas of American life. In the political arena as is obvious to anybody who has studied American politics, they exert a very profound influence. In fact we were surprised to learn that as many as 18 percent of the members of the US Congress were Jewish. American Jews also remain some of the most conspicuous fundraisers and contributors to the major political parties. Added to this political clout must be mentioned the Jewish stranglehold on the US economy and media. According to a Researcher of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life the Jews exert such a profound influence on American national life due to their higher level of education and income, being the second highest earners after the Indian immigrants whose knack for money-making is well known, as well as the fact that they tend to be closely knit and well organized as a community. The Jews here are also well assimilated and integrated and blend well with Americans in general despite a strong racist attitude that characterizes a good many of them.

What strikes one as surprising is how Zionist Jews here are able to win over Americans to their cause, despite the odds being against Israel from both a moral and practical standpoint. One factor of course is that American support to Israel has been deeply entrenched in the US establishment ever since the days of Truman. It has more or less come to be accepted as part of the system. Another is the appalling ignorance of Americans in general about the bloody history or objectives of Zionism.

Most Americans if told that Zionism is a racist movement that seeks world domination on behalf of the Jews as the ‘Chosen People’ would probably scoff at the idea. And they would not believe their ears if one were to tell them that Israel was a state founded on terror. The sad fact is that Americans in general are blissfully ignorant of the fact that terrorism in the Middle East is no recent phenomenon, but was pioneered by Jewish terror groups as far back as 1948 when they engaged in the brutal massacre of hundreds of innocent Palestinian villagers in the peaceful village of Deir Yassin, thereby resulting in the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands which were subsequently taken over to form the Jewish state. They seem not to have heard accounts of the rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up on the execution wall, or of women being raped and killed or children having their throats slashed or of the unborn being killed while still in their mothers’ wombs with butchers’ knives. A state founded on terror needs terror to survive which is evident to this day in the carnage seen in Palestine and Lebanon, but all this seems to be lost on most Americans.

However it is not a difficult task for anybody knowing the naïve disposition of Americans in general to achieve such deception.  This was seen for instance, in our visit to a Jewish Temple Beth Shalom not far from Santa Fe in New Mexico. This temple built by a community of American Jews has as its name Beth Shalom ‘The House of Peace’ but as we were to find out it was a fervent supporter of Israel, a nation founded on war and terror. The spokesperson of the temple smilingly told us that what they wanted is a ‘strong Israel’ while at the same time ‘rights for the Palestinians’. This I felt was a contradiction in terms for when one talks of a strong Israel, it does not necessarily mean a secure Israel, but the Zionist dream of an Eretz Israel or Greater Israel stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates or in the least an Israel that includes Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories it occupied after the Six-Day War of 1967 and still continues to illegally occupy despite numerous UN resolutions calling for its withdrawal while at the same time building illegal Jewish settlements and displacing thousands of Palestinians in the process. Thus to speak of a Strong Israel and Rights for the Palestinians does not make any sense.

When I pointed out that what Israel is doing goes against all religious principles and ideas of social justice she retorted that one has to understand it all from the point of view of the Holocaust which was a great tragedy for the Jewish people. I asked her why the poor Palestinians should pay for it all, when they had no hand in the holocaust which was a German achievement. She had no answer.

The sad fact is that this canard of the holocaust is one that is played over and over again by Zionist Jews to justify their oppression of the Palestinians. And most Americans, sad to say, still buy it. In fact a while earlier the lady had taken us round the temple and having taken out a scroll of the Jewish holy book, the Torah, was narrating to us a story of how the Nazis had collected torahs from all the synagogues they had demolished to build for some strange reason, a museum housing all these scrolls. She implied that the one she had just taken out was one such scroll saved from the Nazis. But when I a short while later asked her how old that particular scroll she had in her hand was, she answered that it was about thirty years old. I then told her that it could not have been one saved from the Nazis for otherwise it would have to be much older. Turning round to her accomplice she casually remarks that this may not be such a saved scroll, though there are many such in existence.

But that’s not all. Taking us round the temple, she explained to us, pointing to its wide expanse of windows with its ample light, that all synagogues were built like this, symbolizing the Jewish concept of being one with nature. Made me wonder what it had to do with the Judaic tradition of man being master over the rest of creation and the Jews being master over the rest of mankind by virtue of their being the so-called “Chosen People” as anybody who has studied the long and bloody history of the Jewish people knows.

Yes indeed, makes one wonder. In fact I too experienced the Jewish concept of ‘otherness’ when I sought to help the lady unfold the scroll of the Torah she had placed on a table for all of us to see. She tightly held on to it and when I had taken my hands off it, quietly unfolded it, smiling all the while as usual. If one thinks this is prejudiced, it is nothing what some American gentiles had witnessed at the hands of such Jews. One such American whose autobiography I had the fortune of editing a year ago, Prof Feelgood (real name William Selandia) relates in his life story The Subjective History of a Genuine Impostor how during his early days as a performer in New York, he was subjected to many crude racist remarks, among others being called nicknames such as Goyim, a derogatory Jewish term meaning Gentile or non-Jew which has racial connotations and Golem meaning a being with a body but without a soul, by Jews who dominated the lucrative field of showbiz. He tells us that he gradually came to lose interest in the New York circuit, to put in his words “now that I knew better these obnoxious people from New York and they were getting me down. Now, always being called Goyim was starting to be something else, as I now knew what it really meant. It was not a friendly nickname for the blond kid, but something the mockies used about me which was completely derogatory. Once I was introduced by an MC who spoke to the audience in half English and half Yiddish, which was very “in” as the Goy Gollum. Instead of someone being funny in their own right, it was easier to get a cheap laugh by putting someone else down”.

Much of these racist ideas have its origins in the Talmud, that body of Rabbinical writings regarded as law by strict Jews which among others contains statements like “Even though God created the non-Jew they are still animals in human form” (Midrasch Talpioth) and that Gentile girls are in a state of filth from birth (Abodah Zarah). Nay, one even finds Genocidal tendencies in the work such as in the saying of Rabbi Simon Ben Yohai: Tob shebe goyyim harog (“Even the best of the gentiles should all be killed”) (Minor Tractates. Soferim ). Little wonder then that a disproportionately high number of American doctors performing abortions are Jews. For the simple reason they have no qualms about taking gentile lives, in this instance the most helpless of them – the unborn.

Although Jewish racism has been in evidence throughout history, there is a strong tendency to deny it ever happens. And so it happened that when I asked the lady whether not discriminatory Jewish perceptions of non-Jews militated against the modern idea of social justice as borne out for instance by the fact that Jews could charge usury from non-Jews but not from Jews,  her reaction was one of flat denial. And when I mentioned that even the Talmud permits this, she went virtually speechless and pretended that she did not really know about it. That a temple spokesperson should not be aware of the teachings of the Talmud seemed to me rather strange. Even I seemed to know better !

Another instance of dodging the facts at hand was seen when I mentioned to the lady that Jews really do not encourage conversion to Judaism. Unlike Islam or Christianity which are concerned with the salvation of mankind through gaining adherents, Judaism is not a proselytizing faith, but rather the religion of a particular community that believes it alone is entitled to salvation by virtue of being the ‘chosen people’. The implication was not lost on her and she lost no time in explaining to us that non-Jews wishing to convert are turned away by their religious leaders only because they wish to test the resolve of the person concerned and that he or she would eventually be accepted into the community. How far this is true today I cannot say. It has however never been a teaching of Judaism to convert others. It is a tribal faith and remains so to this day. One is a Jew when one’s mother is a Jew, and this the lady acknowledged proudly. But to infer that matriliny or tracing descent from one’s mother gives women a high status is a mistake.

And so now we had the lady telling us that Jewish women enjoy a high status and have even attained to the status of Rabbis. I however point out that this is not the way of orthodox Judaism which is known for its rigid patriarchal tradition and here again she admits that it is a new trend in Reform Judaism, having arisen in the past few decades. The reason of course is obvious. Many Jews, particularly in the US, feel a strong urge to portray their religion as a sexually egalitarian one in keeping with modern ideas, in spite of the fact that Judaism or whatever the Jews have made of it, is a rigidly patriarchal faith. Little is it known today that in traditional Judaism women were prohibited from reading the Torah and if a woman accidentally touched the Torah, it had to be burned because the scripture had to be kept pure. The men upon whom prayer was a duty would daily recite the Talmudic verses: “Blessed art Thou who did not make me a woman”.

Also little is it known that the Talmud treats women little more than chattels. For instance a father could not only marry off his daughter without her consent, but could also sell her in slavery. And in case a virgin did not bleed on her wedding night, she would be stoned to death. It has often been argued by non-Jewish and particularly Christian polemicists that Jewish misogyny has its roots in the Biblical account of the Covenant God is said to have entered into with the Children of Israel, the sign of which was the rite of circumcision to be practiced upon the males of Israel on the eighth day of life. Excluding the females from the rite also meant relegating them to an inferior position as the Covenant could not be applicable to them. In fact so strong has this argument been that there has of late been a book written about it titled Why are n’t Jewish women circumcised. Gender and Covenant in Judaism by a Jewish Author named Shaye J.D.Cohen.

However not all American Jews are racist or Zionist. That same day in the evening we had the pleasure of being invited to the home of an extremely cultured and accomplished Jewish couple at Calle Del Rey for dinner. The good lady, although born Jewish, matter of fact told me that she had a problem with the organized religion and was particularly saddened by Israel’s repression of the Palestinians.  She is not exceptional. Many are the American Jewish intellectuals who have spoken out against Israeli atrocities, including among others Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk and Norman Finkelstein. Chomsky, perhaps America’s foremost intellectual, has repeatedly criticized Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, so much so that Israeli authorities have detained him and refused his entry to the West Bank via Jordan.

The same holds true of Richard Falk, a Professor of Law and Human Rights Activist who has charged Israel with genocidal tendencies and accused it of trying to achieve security through state terrorism. Falk has stated that Israel’s offensive in Gaza constituted a war crime of the “greatest magnitude” and has even gone so far as to state that suicide bombings by Hamas were a valid method of ‘struggle’. During one fact finding mission Israel detained him and held him for 30 hours, before releasing him to a flight back to Geneva. And then there is Norman Finkelstein, a Political Scientist whose book The Holocaust Industry evoked outrage from the Jewish-Holocaust-Israel establishment and marked the beginning of the end of his academic career. He lost his job at Hunter College right after its publication while Depaul University cited it as grounds for denying him tenure. Finkelstein too has been denied entry to Israel because, according to Israeli security officials, of suspicions that “he had contact with elements ‘hostile’ to Israel”.

In fact it has been observed that an increasingly large number of younger US Jews are looking at Israel with askance. And a well known group, American Jews for a Just Peace has done much to protest against the blockade of Gaza and against Israel’s continuing occupation and settlement of Palestinian land.

Jewish paraphernalia at Beth Shalom Temple, New Mexico
Jewish paraphernalia at Beth Shalom Temple, New Mexico
Group of Jews near a park in Washington
Group of Jews near a park in Washington

The State of American Muslims

Unlike the Jews who have a long 120 year old tradition of assimilation into US society, the vast majority of Muslims are relatively recent migrants who arrived here beginning from the 1950s or thereabouts. They are from different ethnic groups and of disparate economic and social backgrounds and understandably are still not well integrated into American society. They form a mere 0.6 percent of the American population.

Fortunately, their interests are safeguarded at least to some extent by the Muslim Public Affairs Council which serves as a representative of the American Muslim community in government circles and works towards enhancing the political and civic participation of Muslims in national life. In Washington we had the pleasure of meeting the Government Relations Liaison of the MPAC who is the son of a Jewish father with a rabbinical lineage and a Roman Catholic mother of Hispanic origin. The young man converted to Islam when he did a comparative study of religion and figured out that Islam provided him the answers to what he was seeking.

The MPAC Liaison believes that religion has a big role to play in the US. He pointed out that although there were some who claimed that religious practice leads to conflict, this is not necessarily so, for some of the most atrocious wars in human history were committed not in the name of religion, but in the name of modern secularist and nationalistic ideologies. He noted that although religion has often been misused by unscrupulous elements as a tool to promote their agenda, the religions in question including Islam do not really support such violent or intolerant discourse or activities.

He observed that US Muslims who are largely migrants were until recently not well organized as a group to safeguard and promote their interests and that the notion of collective involvement to achieve this goal was unheard of. The events of 9/11 he explained however changed this so that Muslim communities in the US today are now actively looking at ways and means to safeguard their interests while at the same time contributing  to the larger American society in a meaningful manner. He asserted that it is not a difficult thing for Muslims to integrate into American society while maintaining their faith at the same time, pointing out that orthodox Jews, despite their rigid dietary laws for example, are able to play an important role in US society.

And this is likely to be a major problem for US Muslims. Their unwillingness to integrate with the larger US society in a meaningful manner while preserving and promoting their faith. We learned from officials of the Huntsville Islamic Center in Alabama that Muslims in this part of the US who are mostly migrants from the Arab world and Iran tend to keep to themselves and tend not to participate in community activities. We also found that there was hardly any da’wah activities taking place here ostensibly because Muslims here are fearful of approaching Christian and other Americans to explain their faith to them, especially after the events of 9/11. We however suspect from what we have learned here that a major factor why da’wah activity does not take place in any significant manner is the inward-looking attitude of these Muslim communities, reinforced by the suspicious attitudes towards Muslims many Americans still harbour since the events of 9/11.

Indeed one notices a very weak understanding of Islam among Americans in general. Many are those who would like to know more about the oriental philosophies as one could surmise from the popularity of the Dalai Lama cult or the inquiring attitude towards a saffron-clad Hindu priest or Buddhist monk. But alas Islam seems to be little sought or known here. One notices that even in the bookshops of the major cities and towns, there is a severe dearth of books on Islam which contrasts sharply with the multitude of books on Christianity, Judaism and even the Eastern Philosophies.

As we all know, there are many good books dealing with the true teachings of Islam available today in many parts of the world, but none of these seem to be found here, at least in the few bookshops we visited in the US capital of Washington in the north and Birmingham in Alabama State in the South. Although this may not necessarily be representative of the overall situation in the US, we noticed that there was no dearth of books that bring Islam and Muslims a bad name, particularly sensational books on the evil manner in which the fairer sex are treated in certain Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia. One wonders whether this scarcity of good books on Islam reflects the public demand or is a deliberate attempt by shop owners to keep Islam away from Americans. Be it as it may, this seems to be a major factor contributing to the lack of understanding of Islam among Americans, it being a well known fact that the modern media is one of the most important tools for the propagation of the faith in today’s complex world we live in.

More disconcerting is the fact that sensational books on certain repressive and regressive Muslim communities seem to be shaping American public opinion of Muslims. This was driven home to us in Huntsville in Alabama on July 4th, American Independence Day, when our gracious hostess who had entertained us for lunch at her home that afternoon, bemoaned the sad plight of women in Saudi Arabia in the course of a conversation we had about Islam while at a fireworks display later in the evening. It emerged that she had read the book Inside the Kingdom. My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Laden, wife of Osama’s brother Yeslam who portrays the plight of Saudi women in a very negative manner. I had to assure her that what happens inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not necessarily reflect true Islamic teachings and that some of what happens there is more akin to the pre-Islamic Jahilliyah tribal codes, pointing out to the recent Fatima-Al Timani case where a woman with two children was forcibly divorced from her husband by her brother on the grounds that her spouse was of a lower tribal background than hers. It is unfortunate that many here should get away with the idea that what happens in a country like Saudi Arabia is what is preached in Islam. A pity indeed, but one that needs to be urgently addressed if we in the Muslim world are to clear misunderstandings about Islam and build bridges of understanding with the rest of the world.

A Jum’a sermon at the San Francisco Mosque
A Jum’a sermon at the San Francisco Mosque
Muslim women offering their prayers on Jum’a Day at the San Francisco Mosque
Muslim women offering their prayers on Jum’a Day at the San Francisco Mosque

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