Letter: Muslim feature one-sided

Publication YearIssue Date 

Editor, the Gauntlet,

[Re: "The Muslim," Sarah Malik, Nov. 9, 16, and 23, 2006]

I began to read Sarah Malik's three-part feature on Muslims with great interest. I wanted to understand "the world's most misunderstood religion," and "the history of Islam." But I find almost nothing on the Islamic religion, and the history of Islam is in fact an account of the oppression of the Middle East Muslims by the (Christian) West since the 19th century.

Ms. Malik seems to think that oppression went exclusively in one direction. Islam's expansion into Spain was, I suppose, refreshing, not oppressive. If we must restrict discussion to the past two centuries, see Elizabeth Kolbert's article on the 20th century genocide against Armenian Christians by Turkish Muslims in the Nov. 6, 2006 New Yorker.

At the end of part one Ms. Malik makes a comment that I think gets to the crux of the matter: "Under Western state microscopes, all Muslims are suspect." If Westerners think that every Muslim is a terrorist, and if every Muslim thinks that all Muslims are innocent victims who never do anything bad--and as I understand, a large percentage of Muslims still think that 9/11 was a CIA/Mossad plot--then we are in for a very long and costly siege of mutual suspicion, hatred and violence.

It need not be so. I recently read about the rise of Muslim gangs in northeast Calgary. The source of this information was a concerned Muslim leader. That is helpful and encouraging. We must all face reality, especially when unpleasant. Sarah Malik's one-sided account is, in my opinion, utterly unhelpful and discouraging.

Robert Schmiel

professor emeritus

department of Greek and Roman studies





Dr. Schmiel,

Perhaps the title was misleading, but I chose it after reading/watching Bill O'Reilly, Charles Krauthammer, Sher Zieve, and others who have made "Muslim" a political identity and so I carry that assumption with me into the article. My concern was not with religion because 1) the issue is too complex with many interpretations that I will not be able to do justice to and I am not an expert on Islam, 2) as a political article, any religious information would have rendered my arguments tautological.

Nearly all of my sources were Western precisely because I wanted to avoid accusations of bias (how do you know I am even Muslim? Are you assuming that I support terrorism?) The facts I have used are from respected Western sources. I owe a great debt, particularly, to Edward Said's Orientalism. I also drew on statements made by Dr. Chaim Weizman, Evelyn Baring (Lord Cromer), Lord Balfour, the Vatican, Dante, Ernest Renan etc. that represent typical Occidental opinions of the Orient over the past few centuries. I only regret that I could not have provided greater information on the study of Orientalism and the history of Occidental interference in the Near East.

As for your comments about Spain, all empires have encroached on lands not their own, that is what empires do - they expand. Europe has come to the Near East and South Asia far more than Islam has ventured into Christian lands. Here are the statistics: "Muslims cowered in their lands while 7% of the world surface (the Occidental capitals), according to the historian J. M. Roberts, controlled 37% of the planet. Edward Said told of an even more marvelous achievement: for a century till the first world war, Europe directly controlled 85% of the earth."

Like you said, we must all face reality, especially when unpleasant. I am not in support of "Muslim" gangs, and I do not support the sorry state of the Middle East, which is a legacy of its history; a history that is not entirely self-determined.