David Horowitz wants to know who's afraid of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. Though I'm a proud Jew who feels a very close connection with my Jewish community both at Columbia and at home, I think there are many reasons to be afraid of such an idea. The idea of simplifying Islam and the Muslim world's current situation and reducing the significance of an ideology that precipitated the murder of six million Jews is very scary. For one, such simplification makes it much more difficult to understand the social, political, and economic forces that have caused a conflict between the West and the Muslim world, and it thereby prevents any hope of a resolution. Moreover, to associate Hitler with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Osama bin Laden is equivalent to forgetting the real events that occurred.
Reducing the Muslim ideology and the Muslim world so that all the people between Jordan and Indonesia are terrorists misses the important complexities and nuances of the Middle East and the Muslim world. When Horowitz uses an Al-Jazeera poll that shows 50 percent of Muslims supporting Osama bin Laden as a sign that nearly all Muslims are evil, he just assumes them all to be terrorists, without trying to understand how someone could support a man whose philosophy is so hateful.
Nevertheless, the reasons for bin Laden's support are many. Certainly, there is a radical minority who believes that anyone who doesn't follow Shar'ia is an infidel. But there are also extremist Jews who tell their followers to throw stones at those marching in a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. And not that long ago, there were Christians who believed that marriage between a black man and a white woman was a sin. For every religion there's a small group of fanatics, but that doesn't mean everyone who supports bin Laden supports such fanaticism.
Many others who support bin Laden, however, see him as an activist who is standing up to American imperialism. For more than 60 years, Muslims have seen the United States oppress, evict, or terrorize them. In 1947, the U.S. supported the establishment of a Jewish state and the eviction of people who had lived there for generations. They watched as the U.S. and the European Allies apologized to the Jews for their inaction during World War II by displacing their brethren. From the support of the Shah of Iran to the continued support of an undemocratic and oppressive (but pro-American) Egyptian regime, Muslims have witnessed the United States suppress their autonomy in order to further its own political and economic goals. And the U.S. continually violates the American principle of due process and the Geneva Convention as they arrest suspected terrorists and either leave them in Guatánamo Bay or send them on super-secret renditions. Most significantly, they see that American interference in their affairs has caused the horror and chaos that is currently taking place in Iraq.
Because of this history and our continued actions in the Middle East, many Muslims see the United States as an oppressive, imperialist power that has both continued to thwart democratization by propping up oppressive pro-American leaders and has done little to aid those Muslims suffering from earlier American actions. They therefore support anyone who will oppose this imperialism. Today, that person is bin Laden.
That's why labeling all Muslims who support bin Laden as fascists or terrorists misses a more important point. It neglects to acknowledge that support for fanaticism did not just spring from the Qur'an, a book no more violent than the Old Testament. It neglects to understand that bin Laden is not the cause of the terrorism—he's only the vehicle through which terror is spread today. If we keep neglecting to understand causes of animosity and just label it all with a scary word like "Islamo-Fascism," then we will never be able to actually rectify the problem. We may thwart terrorist cell after terrorist cell or depose Saddam after Saddam, but we will never really be able to kill the nucleus of the issue. The United States can only do that by recognizing the issues that have inflamed such hatred and seeking reconciliation.
The other part of Islamo-Fascism Week that perturbs me is that, by comparing hateful Muslim leaders to Hitler, Horowitz dilutes the horror of the Holocaust. During the Holocaust, the Jews of Europe, many of whom had been integrated into society, were systematically rounded up, tortured, and murdered because of a state-sponsored program of hate. The government was not only actively spreading hate, but also taking the necessary actions to commit genocide.
This is not the case in Iran, though people like Horowitz call Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the second Hitler. It surprises many to learn that the second largest population of Jews in the Middle East is located in Iran. Despite Ahmadinejad's vehement rhetoric, he is not a Hitler. In fact, the most expensive show aired in Iran today by Iranian state media is about the Iranian embassy in Paris during World War II, in which Iranians forged passports so that Jews could escape the Nazis. To call Hitler and Ahmadinejad the same is to obstruct the memory of the most horrific event the modern world has ever seen. Moreover, it scares people into thinking that Iran must be attacked. This, as Nicholas Kristof noted in a New York Times column on July 19, would be a huge mistake because, Iran is actually "the most pro-American Muslim country in the region."
So, Mr. Horowitz, do you really want to know who's afraid of a week during which Islam is so simplified that it can be labeled as evil, and the real history of the Holocaust is forgotten so as to make it a political tool to spread fear? I am.
The author, a Spectator Associate, is a Columbia College sophomore.