Friday, September 01, 2006

Prejudice toward Muslims

Theodore Dalrymple writes a very honest piece on British perceptions. He begins with a cab ride with a moderate Muslim driver:

Despite my liking for the driver as an individual, whom I adjudged sincere in his moderation, I could not entirely disembarrass myself of a residual prejudice against him: He was, after all, a Muslim, and I recognized in myself something discreditable that has become visceral, not under fully conscious control, namely a distrust of more than a billion people because of their religion.

It was not always so. In my youth and young adulthood, I traveled widely in the Muslim world—in the Middle and Far East, Central Asia, and parts of Africa—and I was not aware of any anti-Islamic feeling whatsoever. On the contrary, I saw—superficially, no doubt, for I spoke none of their languages and did not tarry long—many virtues in the people among whom I traveled. They (by which, of course, I mean the men) were usually extremely dignified and very hospitable. I feared for neither my safety nor my possessions while among them. Even in Nigeria, where the people cheerfully said of themselves, “There is no such thing as an honest Nigerian,” the Muslim North was conspicuously more honest than the Christian and animist South. I witnessed a hue and cry in a northern market, in which a thief was chased and then beaten. It was crude and vicious, no doubt, but more effective than, for example, the British police in the suppression of petty crime. Larceny on a grand scale was another thing altogether: The northern politicians were specialists in it. But you could leave your belongings in the middle of a town and find them still there when you returned.

So my prejudice is of recent, not distant, origin. Of course, I had long realized that the political traditions of the Muslim world were very different from those of my own country, and in my opinion inferior to them; but that was true of much of the globe, and extensive travel had taught me that the nature, virtues, and charms of a society were not completely captured by a description of its political institutions. Politics is not all.

The Islamists have changed all that. No doubt that was their intention: They invited, and wanted, a binary view of the world in order to overcome and defeat the half of it that they consider ungodly, evil, and an impediment to perfection on earth, and not coincidentally to their absolute power. Their success has been to instill apocalyptic visions in people who were previously immune to them.
Read the whole article.

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