The All or Nothing Argument

Ever get into an argument with someone, say your spouse, and you are hit with “You always leave your shoes out,” or “You never tell me you love me”?  How about the one parents use on children: “You never do what I ask you to do”?

How often do people always or never do things in relationships? Of course there are exceptions (My husband could say, “You never cook beets,” for example). But using this language in any discourse is problematic at best and weakens the point made.

In a recent letter to the editor of a Lawrence County Tennessee paper, an author states unequivocally that with regards to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Americans are fighting Islam. He goes further to state that there is no such thing as a “good Muslim,” the term “good Muslim” is an oxymoron, all Muslims are immoral and corrupt as a way of life (Muslims are brought up this way), lying and cheating are relished so long as it accomplishes a goal, all Muslims are taught to hate Jews and Christians, etc.

My my. Seems there is no wiggle room for debate.

You can assume that the author was raised in a Muslim country where he observed this horrific behavior first-hand in Muslim homes and schools. You can also assume he has met many Muslims and has observed that all are as he describes.  No exceptions.

As of 2010, the Pew Forum estimates that there are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world.  If the author’s all or nothing argument is true, this thrusts 22% of the world’s population into damnation, including women and children.

Declaring that Americans are fighting Islam is akin to saying a country is fighting Christianity because Islam is a religion. A more valid claim would be to say Americans are fighting Islamists. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are technically Islamists, but do the populations of predominately Muslim countries join with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s quest for domination? Hardly.

Take Tunisia for example. Beginning in December of 2010, this Mediterranean country known as the most European in North Africa, saw demonstrations that spread throughout the Arab world pitting populations against authoritarian rule. After the country’s first free election resulted in a moderate Islamist party (Ennahda or renaissance in Arabic) win, secular people in Tunisia have struggled to come to terms with what role Islam will play in their lives. The majority of Muslims in Tunisia, though they believe strongly in a democratically elected president and parliament, do wish for the Islamic religion to play some role in their governance (as do many Christians who want Christian tenets at place in our country’s laws). But by no means have the Muslims in Tunisia chosen Al-Qaeda’s and the Taliban’s tendencies towards jihad.

According to the New York Times: “It is not religion, nor the adventures of a single leader, nor wars with Israel that have energized Tunisia, the subsequent uprising in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. Across the Middle East, a somewhat nostalgic notion of a common Arab identity, intersecting with a visceral sense of what amounts to a decent life, is driving protests that have bound the region in a sense of a shared destiny.”1

In other words, Muslims across the Middle East wish to be able to work for a decent life just like Americans and Europeans.  They want to be free of totalitarian rule and the strong-handed influence of hard-line Islamic clerics. These are not jihadists who hate America; these are primarily young people, encouraged by Facebook and the Internet, to rise up and use their voices for political change. They emulate the American way not hate it.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has military bases in several countries in the Greater Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Turkey, Pakistan, UAE, Yemen, Iraq,  AfghanistanDjiboutiKyrgyzstan, SomaliaEthiopiaTurkmenistanUzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Chad. Can you really say that the populations of these predominately Muslim countries are all our enemies? Really? Our country’s leaders might find that surprising. Humanitarians also would be shocked that Muslims in the African nations of Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Chad care for much more than raising crops and livestock to feed their starving children while protecting themselves from Islamic extremists.

For people like me who know and have been friends with Muslims for almost thirty years, the truth of the matter is that they are all not one and the same any more than Christians are. They are moral, they love and cherish people, they teach their children kindness and compassion. My friends have always loved me with no regard for my Christian upbringing. Indeed, they have very good relationships with the Christian side of their family as well.

For many Muslims who mistrust, not hate, American policy (not Americans), it is mostly due to an allegiance to Israel and other perceived anti-Arab causes, not our religion or way of life. To be clear, I am not justifying anyone’s feelings here; I am merely stating them as I have heard them, read them, and studied them. For anyone to deign to encapsulate the feelings of all Muslims in one fell swoop renders the opinion dubious if not downright misleading.

I merely scratch the surface of Islam and the Muslim world and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The issues run far deeper than a column here allows. The most salient point here is that neither I nor most other non-Muslim Americans can speak for those who adhere to Islam. We can surmise, assume, and postulate, but an all or nothing argument does not hold water.

It practically never does.

1http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/tunisia/index.html

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4 Comments

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  1. 1
    Gregg Baran

    Love your writing and call for understanding. Countries are made of humans with common goals of love and happiness. Keep up the good work.

    • 2
      Emily

      Thank you Gregg! I love comments from friends, especially those with open minds. I wrote the original article for the county paper in response to a pretty nasty treatise on Muslims. I can’t stand for misinformation to be floating about, swaying people in negative ways. Alas, it was not printed. So, I rewrote it for my blog. Glad you came here to visit!

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