Fareed Zakaria Asks The Wrong Question

Fareed Zakaria World Economic Forum 2013

In a recent op-ed by Fareed Zakaria titled “Let’s be honest, Islam has a problem right now” he discusses the very public, very crude simplifications of Bill Maher that “Islam” is inherently bad, violent, or both as well as Maher’s guest Sam Harris who says that Islam is “the mother lode of bad ideas.” If liberal secular values are what Maher and Harris claim to support, they’ve certainly gone against them in this instance by essentially making statements by a segment of Muslims included in a Pew study into a thought crime. The position that some percentage of Muslims, when asked, believe that apostasy should be punishable, is for them beyond the pale. Freedom of speech and thought be damned, if those engaging in it are Muslims.

While Harris and Maher attempt to paint 1.6 billion people with broad strokes based on a poll of 15 Muslim majority countries, they fail to admit to or acknowledge that even if 20% expressed that when polled, the other 80% of that population is still over 1 billion people. Zakaria rightfully brings up large swaths of Muslims that don’t fit the convenient caricatures that Maher and Harris would like us to believe, namely Indonesia and India. To support his point, Zakaria quotes Zachary Karabell. Karabell is the author of “Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Conflict and Cooperation” written specifically on the topic at hand.

Quoting Karabell:

“If you exclude the last 70 years or so, in general the Islamic world was more tolerant of minorities than the Christian world. That’s why there were more than a million Jews living in the Arab world until the early 1950s — nearly 200,000 in Iraq alone.”

So, If Islam was inherently a violent religion, we would have 1400 years of violence. But we don’t. And Zakaria makes an excellent point, that we need to stop blaming “Islam..” but instead “some Muslims.” Religions, books, and ideas don’t commit violence. People do.

In this op-ed, Zakaria does however ask one wrong question. One very wrong question. He says:

“How many mass rallies have been held against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in the Arab world today?”

This question assumes a few things. It assumes a right to assembly. It assumes safety and security to do so. It assumes that ISIS is a major problem for most inhabitants of the Arab world. AND …. it assumes the same thing that Bill Maher assumes, that all Muslims are some how culpable for the actions of a few.

I’d like to ask another question:

“How many countries in the Arab world allow mass rallies for anything?”

When people in Arab countries rose up and rallied for basic human rights during the Arab Spring, their efforts were subverted (sham elections/payoffs/deposing elected officials) or they were violently attacked. Oppressive regimes were given direct support by super powers and imaginary, ever shifting red-lines were drawn. The same countries who surreptitiously armed ISIS are now, subsequently, fighting them and enlisting Arab countries to fight them. I am no fan of ISIS, as I am no fan of foreign invasions and clandestine funding of armed groups. One thing I know is, if an Arab citizen’s children are dying from depleted uranium munitions poisoning his water supply or because of an aid embargo imposed by American allies, rallying against ISIS is probably the last thing on his list of priorities. And that is, of course, assuming that he is some how culpable for the rise of ISIS or any other terror group; he and his faith are clearly not.

The question Zakaria puts forth is simplistic. It is as simplistic as slogans like “Islam is the problem.” Both are lazy ways of shifting blame for failed foreign policies that do not respect the collective consciousness, prosperity, or popular sovereignty of the people they are directed at.

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