An Apostate in the Land of the Caliphate: Thoughts on Morocco, Islam, and the Folly of Ignoring Truths

We’ve just returned from a remarkable trip to Morocco, and the experience was beyond anything I had imagined. During the journey, as I often do, I wrote a blog piece about my travels. This piece reflected a positive experience in an Islamic country immersed in the Islamic Religion and steeped in unfamiliar traditions. As someone raised in a predominantly Christian country and having lived in the era of terror activities mischaracterized as inspired by Islam, I wondered what my impression of Islam and a majority Islamic culture would be.

It was enlightening, enjoyable, and reinforced my long-held belief that the majority of Muslims, like the majority of most people, seek nothing more than to live in peace and enjoy their lives. Islam, like all religions, has often been twisted by those who seek to dominate others through abuse of power and by exploiting the uneducated.

Religion has, throughout history, often been a tool used to control those unsophisticated enough to see the true meaning behind the carefully selected words taken from the Bible or the Quran. Words chosen to incite rage, rejection of others, and recourse to violent suppression or invasion.

In the United States, where our embracing education, understanding, and tolerance are often clouded by nationalistic tendencies and simple, unrefined analysis, many people cannot separate themselves from their religion and see the similarities with other faiths, only the differences.  Geography has more to do with one’s faith than any exclusive validity of the doctrine. By the accident of birth, we are raised in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, Jainism, or the other thousands of religions or sects.

To borrow the title of an Arthur C. Clark book, there are Nine Billion Names of God, and each is as valid as the next.  It is never the religion to blame for things done in its name. The fault lies with those who purport to speak to their God, who twist the words of their sacred texts, who turns them to the often evil purposes of man.

The reaction to my blog expressing a positive image of Muslims caused an avalanche of mostly supportive comments intermixed with delusional and predominantly uninformed negative remarks about Islam.

These comments were mostly illustrative of willful ignorance wrapped in disingenuous Christian misanthropy of other faiths. When combined with the sophistry of the President and others demonizing an entire culture based on the acts of a few, it creates a dangerous atmosphere of behavior contrary to the foundation principles upon which this country was built.

In Casablanca, we toured the grounds of the fifth largest Mosque in the world, Hassan II Mosque.  The Hassan II Mosque or Grande Mosquée Hassan II is the largest mosque in Africa. Its minaret is the world’s tallest minaret at 210 meters high.

Hassan II Mosque Morocco

The most exciting part of the Mosque is the motivation behind it.  While the structure is awe-inspiring Hassan II, the King who conceived building the Mosque, established it as a symbol of religious tolerance. Nearby are two Catholic Churches, all within a short distance of the Mosque.

But here is the genuinely exciting part. The Mosque was built mostly with donations. Donations from many people all over the world. Including Saudi Arabia, Spain, Yemen, Egypt and, wait for it, the United States and Israel. People of all faiths saw the Mosque as a symbol not just of the Islamic faith but as a symbol of the many faiths of the world.

We can benefit more from understanding that which we do not than from embracing ignorance inspired by blind adherence to religious tenets. By demonizing Islam here, we lose an opportunity to foster common understanding and reduce the chances for those who would twist religion to their own purpose.

Morocco was the first nation in the world to recognize the United States as a sovereign nation.  Morocco can also serve as a wonderful place to showcase the infinitely more essential similarities between our cultures rather than differences misused by those who choose not to understand.

Nothing could be less American than to deny the words written at the very founding of this nation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Born in the USA: The Bright Shining Lie of Uninformed Patriotism

Last night we went to the first of six Pawtucket Red Sox games which feature a themed firework display after the game. (I know this may seem like heresy from a Yankee fan, but it is a nice place to watch a game despite the Red Sox aura.)

For the Memorial Day Weekend, the theme was a patriotic one. Commemorating the lives of those who served in the military and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, defending the freedom of this country and others around the world.

There is much for which this country should be proud. We’ve been willing to sacrifice our young men and women for our ideals.  In the words of President John F. Kennedy, we’ve been willing to,

“pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

We survived and thrived because we valued dedication, intelligence, and determination in pursuit of these ideals. We haven’t always been perfect, no nation or people are, but we have always been willing to learn from our mistakes.

I wonder where that brilliance has gone.

One song chosen to accompany the spectacular and inspiring display was the Bruce Springsteen song, “Born in America.”

Odd how an anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex song critical of the way we treat veterans has somehow become a rousing “hurray for America” theme. It strikes me as an indictment of our inability to think things through anymore. Our failure to find solutions to problems. Favoring slogans to rouse emotions over doing the difficult things.

To quote the lines I found most troubling amid the applause and cheers of the crowd,

“Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the yellow man”

I couldn’t help but notice the families of many Southeast Asians in the crowd. I wonder what they’d think if they knew the lyrics?

This underscores the rising rampant dangerous nationalism within this country that screams for a “target of opportunity.”  Today’s target is Islam.

But our failing to even bother to understand the meaning of these songs we use as a soundtrack to patriotic displays underscores our failure to understand the nature of warfare today.

In World War I and II we helped defeat a military-supported government seeking to impose themselves on others. One can debate the many reasons behind how these wars started, but the goal was clear.

Today is a different world.  Today is a world of asymmetric warfare requiring asymmetric thinking. We face any enemy of ideas, not divisions and tanks.

We must fight the genesis of these concepts of twisted jihad with intelligence and thoughtful policies, not B-1 stealth bombers and cruise missiles.

Weapons such as these have their purpose, make no doubt about it, but we could double the stockpile of weapons and it would have no effect on the enemy. Calling for the leveling of Mecca or Medina may make for rousing sound bites but would be a wasteful, inhumane, and ineffective policy.

Perhaps we should think about the ideas behind Springsteen’s lyrics.

Wars are started by ambitious politicians but fought by young men and women.

Wars are won and lost by these same politicians. (See Vietnam as an example.)

Our enemies today are enemies of everyone who opposes their ideas. We must bring the world together to fight these insidious twisted 14th-century concepts, not push ourselves into an America first isolationism.

Before entering into both World Wars, we sought to stay out of the “European” problem. That was the world where most people never traveled more than fifty miles from where they were born. Where communications between countries took weeks.

That is not today’s world.

The time of unleashing “Ole’ Blood and Guts” military leaders of Patton, Eisenhower, Marshall, and MacArthur is over. Now, more than ever, we need intelligent policies that utilize the selective application of military power to compliment our once formidable determination.

It is the only way to change the conditions that breed these terrorists.

We have the big stick, we need to remember to walk softly.

I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime, but I hope for a day when we celebrate the passing of the last veteran. For when that day comes, all the sacrifices of every veteran will be worth it.