Hakan Yeşilova, Editor, The Fountain Magazine

“Why Do They Hate Us” vs. “Who Are We?”

“Acute” and “chronic” are two terms in medicine that are often confused. Which one is severe, which one is not? Which one lasts longer and painful, which one does not? Acute is when a disease comes from outside, but chronic is the stage of the disease when it starts to be generated from inside, your own body. One other term that is so significant in medicine is that “there are no diseases, but only patients.” It is obviously very important to look at a disease from the standpoint of practice and methods, ultimates, results, and changes in the tissues. However, equally important is to consider the root causes, and how each and every individual patient reacts to them, for without eliminating root causes, we cannot save the patient from the disease; but only treat the symptoms.

Violence, and that includes terrorism and suicide attacks, is a chronic human disease at this stage of our civilization. Almost as chronic and contagious are our weaknesses to defame and develop stereotypes. And chronic diseases require healing from within, and violence is such a disease.

Violence emerged as a question perhaps first time when Abel was murdered by Cain. We do not know how Cain was punished, for we do not have information other than the stories mentioned in the Qur’an (Maidah 5:27–31) and the Bible (Genesis 4, 1–9). What makes this story very significant and directly relevant to this paper is that the brief Qur’anic account of this murder is followed by the injunction of the most basic human right, i.e., right to life. Not only did this murder mark the beginning of an evil tradition; but it was also instrumental, at least in the Qur’an, in establishing a legal rule that was also recognized and endorsed globally only as late as twentieth century through a number of human rights declarations and conventions:

He who kills a soul unless it be (in legal punishment) for murder or for causing disorder and corruption on the earth will be as if he had killed all humankind; and he who saves a life will be as if he had saved the lives of all humankind. Assuredly, there came to them Our Messengers (one after the other) with clear proofs of the truth. Then (in spite of all this), many of them go on committing excesses on the earth. (Maidah 5:32)

As far as essentials are concerned, the basic needs, potentials, and desires are almost the same for all human beings. We breathe air, sleep, consume food; we grow, get old and die, leading a life competing or cooperating with others for similar, almost identical ambitions. Jails of the twenty-first century are full of murderers who were tempted to kill, just like Cain’s defeat against his carnal soul, for similar reasons: jealousy, revenge, hatred, etc. Thus, if humankind continues to preserve similar faculties, ambitions, and virtues, which is naturally the case, then human rights have always been a natural component of human existence throughout history and regardless of time and place

Yet if you stretch out your hand against me to kill me, I will not stretch out my hand against you to kill you. Surely I fear God, the Lord of the worlds. (Maidah 5:28)

Abel’s decision not to fight back to kill is a proof that even the first generation of humankind were aware of what is right and what is wrong. Nevertheless, if human beings were to remain faithful to the law, there wouldn’t be any need for thousands of messengers to come generations after generations and the mission would have been fulfilled with Adam. As the hadith goes, “Adam forgot, so did his children.”

 “Human rights” have come to be perceived as rather exclusively linked to international human rights law in our times. This was mainly an outcome of the transformation of the state in the West to a more liberal, secular, and democratic form starting from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. Added to that, the entire world had to pay high toll both in terms of life and economy in the two, but especially in the latter, world wars; so, not to suffer from this tragedy another time it was felt necessary to arouse a global human rights consciousness. It is sad but true, but we more often than not wait for a disaster so that we find the right path.

Repercussions after 9/11: “Why do they hate us?” vs. “Who are we?”

Not less important than the rise of human rights awareness after WWII, have been the many positive developments after 9/11. It has been a difficult decade for many Muslims across America and Europe, but it has also provided many opportunities of positive engagement. Many sensible individuals and larger circles, Muslim and non-Muslim, have discovered the need to come together and learn from one another.

Self-identification is an important dynamic for a person’s or a community’s survival. The question many Americans asked after 9/11 was “why do they hate us?” But the question many Muslims around the world asked themselves was “who are we?”

I would like to quote Dr. Naif al-Mutawwa, a psychologist, who recently wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer and this is relevant to Muslim self-identification.

During a recent lecture on the biological bases of behaviour, I passed out two articles to my medical students at Kuwait University, one from the New York Times and the other from New York Magazine. I had deleted all clues as to the identity of the subjects and the locations in the stories. I asked the students to read the articles and guess where the stories had taken place.

The first article concerned a group of clerics, known as the “Party of [God]“, who advocated serious consequences for those caught romancing on Valentine’s Day. They warned that St. Valentine was a Christian saint and that celebrating this day was therefore strictly against their religion. And they threatened to immediately marry off any couples caught flirting. Opponents described the clerics’ behaviour as “Talibanisation.”

My students imagined these hardliners harassing the poor romantics, and they were unanimous: this fiasco could only have taken place in Saudi Arabia.

But my students were wrong. In fact, the incident took place in India and the deity in question was a Hindu god. Allah caught a break on that one.

In the second article I gave the students, a woman complained that “stupid Talibans” had assailed her immediately after a gentleman stranger stopped her on the street to comment on how cute her baby was. When the man left, three minivans immediately surrounded the woman. Half a dozen bearded men jumped out and began interrogating her on the street: “Who was he? What did he want?”

This time, the students were deadlocked on the location – evenly split between Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Fixed in their minds were images of stick-wielding morality police on the streets of Kabul or Riyadh.

It shattered the students’ mental images to find out that this “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” was roaming the streets of New York, and that the religion in question was Judaism. Once again, Allah was not implicated.

Yet it was fascinating to see that my students in Kuwait, by opting for Saudi Arabia as a likely location of both stories, seemed to associate their own faith, Islam, with extremism.

Dr. al-Mutawwa’s experiment is very much similar to Dr. Kenneth Clark’s “doll test” conducted in the 1940s. Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark showed plastic dolls, which were identical but different in color, to black children between the ages of three and seven and asked them questions to determine racial perception and preference. Although almost all children readily identified the race differences, when asked which they preferred, the majority selected the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. The children were also asked to color the outline drawings of a boy and girl and the same color as themselves: many of the children with dark complexions colored the figures with a white or yellow crayon. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred. America has come a long distance from decades of segregation: we now have an African-American president, to mention the least. But when you search “doll test” on YouTube you find more recent research conducted in the same way, and results are almost no different.

To take it to bit more extreme, remember Caesar, the ape, in the movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” when he was placed in a Primate Facility by his owner who did not help him for some time. Caesar preferred to stay behind the bars rather than return back. Are we not making some nations of the world feel reserved by pushing them away to self-alienation, mocking them by treating them like Caesar? We should not make others become suspicious about their own identities and be willing to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. On the contrary, we should find ways to share our riches, quality of life, and level of civilization with others as much as we can to eliminate ignorance, poverty, and disorder, the root causes of violence. However today, there are so many countries of the world which look like as if they live in a time zone that is three centuries back. Many peoples feel themselves like Tom Hanks did in The Terminal: with no connection to anything, lost, unable to get out.

Faith traditions

Violence and hatred have not started with 9/11. They are as old as the day human adventure began on the face of the earth. This is why our greatest challenge is not the fight against the enemy on the battlefield, but to strive hard to develop a “second nature” by channeling our innate faculties and powers for our betterment. Religious traditions, which have been the scapegoats of terrorism—Islam in the case of 9/11, Christianity in the recent attacks in Norway—can provide best guides for their respective communities as much as for those who want to benefit from them. Just as we have not developed terms like “secularist or atheist terrorism” because of the violence by Marxist Tamil Tigers who were the pioneers of suicide belts and killed over 8,000 people, or because of again Marxist PKK terrorists who claimed the lives of over 40,000 people in Turkey, we should not defame religions and their members with violence and terrorism. Considering the fact that religions exist to invite rather than push away, it is nonsensical to identify them to be essentially pro-violence against non-members. The following quotes should be enough to reflect on what our faith traditions teach us:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:25-37) 

Keep on loving each others as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to welcome strangers. (Hebrews 13:1-2)

Hadith: “You cannot enter paradise without faith, and you cannot have faith if you don’t love one another.”

President Barack Obama reflected the same message to the world in his first visit to Cairo in 2009: “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.”

What to “never forget”

Bringing this cycle of suspicion to an end is very much related with how we remember atrocities like 9/11. Remembrance is significant for a nation to survive and maintain identity, but it is equally significant to moderate this survival so as not to deny the existence of other nations. Will the motto “never forget” continue to dominate our vision for revenge or for other reasons?

Let us make a list of things nations of the world should never forget: Japanese never forget Atomic bombs! Arabs never forget 1967 war! Jews never forget WWII! Armenians and Turks never forget the atrocities of 1915! The French and Germans never forget Verdun, where in 1916 nearly 800,000 French and German soldiers were killed or wounded over a few square miles of territory!

But the question is “are we going to be able to solve our problems with this “never-forget” spirit? Or are we going to try to reconcile as German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand did on 22 September 1984 at the Douaumont cemetery in Verdun? Are we going to hate one another or learn to coexist in peace and respect as did the Ottoman Muslims with the Orthodox Greeks? Are we going to consider the “other” nonexistent, or extend a hand to one another as Fethullah Gülen did?

I am coming from a geography where my nation and our neighboring nations have hurt one another for centuries. Should we be willing to seek reasons for friction, we have a long list of atrocities in our past. But if we are willing to respond positively to the global connections of our times, there are also countless points of reference in our common history to revive.

We don’t have to change our identities to talk to one another. We are living in a time of global neighborliness, and all faith traditions teach us to help our neighbors regardless of their nationality, color, or faith.

A Turkish scholar who lives in the US told me he loved two English phrases more than any other: “What is next?” and “Move on.” Let us move on and be prepared for a future of togetherness as one global human family. Let us believe in the God-given powers of being human and raise generations who are aware of this value. Let us remember Archimedes, who said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Let us believe that we can hit the ground like Moses did with his staff or like Hagar’s baby Ishmael did with his heel, and water will spring up and will bring life to Africa with the reviving breath of Jesus and the merciful touch of Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Let us make our generations appreciate this innate power, but also teach them to “adopt as their fundamental creed that they will equip themselves for life, not solely for their own benefit but for the benefit of the whole community” in the words of Sir John Monash, and that with this power they can make violence stop and make peace prevail.