Also Published in Allvoices.com
How To Respond to a Fanatic.
By Roi Ben-Yehuda
Not Long ago, during a debate that took place on Facebook, I experienced my first death threat. It went something like this:
“Roi, i know what i am talking about…Islam will win at the last, u r the brother of begs and monkeys u r masters u r full of hatred for us. god will help us to fight u, i will look for u in the war and kill u, u r going to hell, promise me if we live tell this moment to find me and i will show u i will cut u 1000 pieces.”
This Muslim man was responding to a series of comments I made about how Jews and Israelis are not evil. It seems that just pointing out that Jews are not monsters, that they don’t enjoy killing children, and that there are not bent on fanatically destroying the Muslim world can get a brother killed.
The blog entry that provoked the death threat read:
“Asem, as I showed you below, you really do not know what you are talking about. You are ignorant, irrational, fanatical and full of hate. There is no point in our conversations – they are a waste of time. I can respect and learn from a position that is different from mine own when I think the person talking with me is knowledgeable and smart. You, however, are neither. So lets end here.”
Now I am not sure if it was the death threat, or just my need to discharge some “authentic” frustration in the direction of Islam, but my dialogues on facebook made me want to go and re-read Irshad Manji’s The Trouble With Islam Today and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel – Books by two powerful women (no strangers to death threats by Muslims) who stand at the center of the debate surrounding Islam’s relationship to modernity.
Manji has been at the forefront of the Muslim reform movement arguing that Islam and the values of modernity can and ought to be reconciled. While critical of Islam, especially of the type of Muslim anti-Semitism that my Facebook interlocutor expressed, Manji believes that the key to reform lies in re-discovering ijtihad – Islam’s tradition of independent thinking. Ali, on the other hand, rejects the idea that Islam and modernity can peacefully co-exist. “True Islam,” Ali tells us, “as a rigid belief system and as a moral framework, leads to cruelty.” Both of these books provide a valuable insider’s perspective into the dignity and disaster that is Islam in the 21st century. Particularly for women.
I thought of sending my new fan a copy of these books. I reckoned they would do him good. However, the thought of mailing anything to someone who had just threatened to turn me into finely chopped dish seemed like a bad idea. Did Salman Rushdie send the Ayatollah Khomeini a signed copy of the Satanic Verses?
Confronting somebody who thinks that my brother is a monkey (truth be told he is a bit hairy), that I have a special place in hell (what good Jew doesn’t?), and that God will help him kill me, is a bewildering experience. How is one to respond to something like this? How does one resist the metaphorical temptation to throw away the baby with the dirty bath water? Or conclude that maybe the dirty bath water has asphyxiated the baby? Or that maybe there was no baby in the first place, but only dirty bath water?
Just as soon as I was ready to holds hands with Ayaan Hirsi Ali and proclaim to the world that Islam and religion in general represent a collection of false and irrational ideas that lead to stupidity, bigotry, and cruelty, I got the following email from a Muslim friend.
“Dear infidel, that’s a good one right there. By brother of “begs” maybe he means beggars, in which case he should heed the Qur’an’s message to neither wrong the orphan nor chide the beggar, but to proclaim the goodness of the Lord (ch 93). Or, he’s calling you the brother of a pig. And since he may just share Semitic ancestry with you, he’s just a wee swine too. Mashallah.
These brats just blowing off steam should be reported, but mostly they’re just, well, wimpy brats. Doesn’t take much of a man to write what he wrote, nor to threaten a bullet between the eyes. In any event, welcome to the fold. Hang in, and I’ve read some of your posts in that group. Insightful, fair, and smart as usual. If only your interlocutor would recognize that he’s speaking to one of the most fair-minded, reasonable Israelis he’ll ever meet. His loss, khalas.”
Hmm. It seems that more than rationality and cogent thought–out arguments, it is personal experiences that matter most. Having a friend from the “other side” can go a long way in determining how we see one another.
Perhaps I will send my friend Asem those books after all.