If I were Muslim, this would make me a militant

Terrorists, would-be terrorists and terrorist sympathizers come up with all sorts of reasons to declare us the Great Satan: U.S. troops being in Muslim countries (the fave of Osama bin Laden and incompetent bomber Faisal Shahzad), support for Israel, the immodesty of our women, rock-‘n’-roll, beer, what have you.

Of them all, the only excuses that strike any sort of resonance in me are the cultural ones. I do sympathize with people of a religion that values sobriety and modesty feeling beleaguered by the global assault of the tackier, baser elements of American popular culture. If you’re trying to keep the young men’s minds on the words of the Prophet, Lady Gaga cannot be seen as helping one bit. It doesn’t justify violence, but it could certainly be maddening.

But now, Western influence has gone too far. Check this out:

KUALA LUMPUR—The U.S. has “American Idol.” Britain has “The X Factor.” Malaysia, one of the world’s more progressive Muslim nations, has something rather different—a televised search for the country’s most eligible young religious leader.
“Young Imam” might look familiar at first glance. Ten good-looking male contestants in sharp-looking suits are assigned to sing and complete a series of complex tasks. At the end of the show, the studio lights dim, the music drops to a whisper, and a clutch of young hopefuls step forward nervously, waiting hand-in-hand to find out who will be sent home that night.
Instead of a record contract or a million-dollar prize, though, the last imam standing wins a scholarship to the al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia, a job leading prayers at a Kuala Lumpur mosque and an expense-paid trip to Mecca to perform the Haj pilgrimage.
The sole judge who decides who stays and who goes each Friday in prime-time isn’t an aging pop star or talk-show host. He’s the turban-wearing former grand mufti of Malaysia’s national mosque, Hasan Mahmood. Last week Mr. Hasan stifled a sob as he eliminated 25-year-old Sharafuddin Suaut from the show for stumbling over some of the finer points of Islamic theory…
Sorry, folks, but desecrating Islam with the great cultural evil of our time, “reality TV,” is an outrage too far. If I were a conservative Muslim seeing this on the tube, I would have just become radicalized.

17 thoughts on “If I were Muslim, this would make me a militant

  1. phillip

    When it comes to the “tackier, baser elements” of American culture, nothing takes a back seat to “We’re No. 1” nationalism and the famous self-bestowed “American exceptionalism.”

  2. Brad

    Have to disagree with you there, Phillip. At least I think so. You’d have to elaborate. There are ways to assert “We’re number 1” that have nothing to do with nationalism. As for American exceptionalism — do you really not see this nation as unique in history, and unique in ways that offer hope to the rest of the world and have inspired movement toward freedom and liberal democracy all over the globe? If you don’t, then I have to wonder what forest you’re looking at, because we’re talking here about one of the most pronounced phenomena of global history of the past 250 years.

    I’m not imparting moral force here, but simply describing as they are. If you’re equating these things with true nationalism (people from my country are better because they’re from my country or my ethnic group) or the idiotic assumption that we can do no wrong, then you are setting up straw men to knock down, and are not being fair at all to the overwhelming majority of people who would say American exceptionalism is a valid concept, and has been since those guys gathered in that meeting hall in 1776.

    And the finer impulses of our nation, the things that generally go into the mix when we speak of exceptionalism, are FAR higher and better than the tackier, baser elements. As different as night and day.

  3. Bart


    If “American exceptionalism” is one of the “tackier, baser elements” of American culture, then I can be described as one of the “tackiest, baser elements” of American culture you can find. And, I apologize to no damn person on the face of the earth for having an exceptional pride in this country, in spite of it’s warts, flaws, and faults.

    As far as “We’re No. 1”, we have been “No.1” for a very long time but forgot the responsibility of being No. 1. We have led the world in developing technology across the spectrum, medical advancements, and just about anything imaginable. We led the world in helping others when they needed it. Along with our allies, we led the world in defeating the slaughter machine known as Nazi Germany. Our humanitarian efforts have never been surpassed by any other country.

    We make mistakes and when we do, at least we admit to them and try to make corrections, right or wrong.

    So, from this tacky, base old timer….forget it, Brad would kick me off the blog if I said what I really want to say.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    Dunno, Brad–as far as exceptionalism goes, Canada is in reality far more of what “America” was supposed to be, as I see it.

  5. Phillip

    Brad, I do see this nation as “unique in history,” “offering hope,” etc. And Bart, having “exceptional pride” in this country is great. I do too, being an eighth-generation American on my dad’s side, a dad who fought in WWII, a granddad who fought in WWI. I take a back seat to no one in my patriotism.

    But when national pride extends to “exceptionalism,” as it has in the 2nd half of the 20th-century and on, it has too often meant that we feel we do not have to abide by the same code of conduct that we insist other countries behave by. That we are, in fact, “exceptional,” therefore we and only we are the final arbiter of how we comport ourselves within the world community.

    In other words, pride must not become arrogance. And if we are “No. 1,” that means you over there are No. 2. And over there, you’re No. 61. And so on. That leads to us conducting foreign policy in a way that treats people in other lands as just so much fodder and so many pawns in our own quest to pursue our own “national security agenda.” And while yes, our democratic experiment is a great one in history, there are PLENTY of ways in which we are most assuredly NOT exceptional in the world, or maybe exceptional but in undesirable ways. For example, few democratic societies tolerate the extremes between rich and poor that we seem to. Our health care system is great only if you’re pretty well-off to really well-off, but if not, well, there are LOTS of other countries where you’d be better off.

    None of which means we aren’t a GREAT country in many ways. But so many people around the world—not terrorists, but just ordinary people like you and me, from Africa to Europe to South America, scratch their heads at our constant “we’re the greatest country in the world” boasts, not because they don’t think we’re a great country, but because they think that bespeaks an arrogance and a blindness towards our own shortcomings, a lack of awareness that, great though America is, it is but one country among many on this fragile planet.

    So the problem is not the “terrorists calling us the Great Satan” as in the first sentence of Brad’s blog entry here. It’s about ordinary people around the world shaking their heads at American hypocrisy and arrogance. People in France or Canada or Australia or Brazil or Malaysia hear yahoos in America talk about the way they live as if it’s an unimaginably inferior existence to being an American, and they just go, “what the heck are they talking about, we have a pretty good country here, not perfect, but good for most.”

    So Brad speaks of my setting up “straw men,” but he knows full well that these are not straw men arguments, because they have indeed led to people dying, people whose main concerns were eating, living, breathing, loving, living, just like us in Shandon or Lexington or whatever comfy neighborhood we sit in as we say, sure, let’s send troops in their to keep us safe or some such political slogan of the day.

    So go ahead Bart, say what you really wanted to say. You surely dare not question my patriotism, for I really love this country and believe fully that we are at our best if we go about our business, try to ADVANCE the ongoing experiment that is America, make it the best country it can be, sure, celebrate our national holidays, but let’s not keep running our mouths about how America is the greatest country on earth. Maybe I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve spent so much time abroad and interact so frequently with citizens of other lands, which I feel has helped give me a better perspective on my own country. And at the same time, I feel that after all is said and done, I love this country even more than ever.

  6. Herb Brasher


    I’m not sure of all that you mean specifically, Phillip, but I like what you wrote, and can only agree. And I agree also that having the privilege of living abroad does tend to widen one’s perspective. Certainly health care is one thing that we are behind other countries on, and it is hard for me to understand why so many people here are against changing it.

    @Brad, I agree also that the American experiment of the last 250 years has been an agent for change; what I don’t understand is that you don’t seem to get the fact that the Protestant Reformation is one of the major streams (certainly not the only one) that flowed into and influenced that experiment. As much as I respect much about the R.C. church, and even more so the faith of individual Catholics, the church itself seems to be modeled upon and have allied itself with the hierarchical systems of government that dominated Europe for centuries. The Protestant Reformation was one of the major steps leading to a break in the church-state alliance that held back democratic reform. Without our Protestant heritage, I don’t think the United States would have come about. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Catholics haven’t made, and continue to make, a great contribution.

  7. Bart

    “”When it comes to the “tackier, baser elements” of American culture, nothing takes a back seat to “We’re No. 1″ nationalism and the famous self-bestowed “American exceptionalism.”””

    I rest my case. No further comment necessary.

    By the way, I too have spent time abroad, interacting with citizens of other lands. Travelled across the Middle East, have been insulted in Paris, treated well in London, Surrey, and a few other locations, enjoyed my time in Brussels, and spent hours upon hours talking politics with German, Australian, Italian, Pakistani, Indian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and a wide range of other friends and acquaintances from across the globe. Heck, even spent time with Canadians who for the most part, actually like America.

    I have also listened to the absolute hatred spewing out of the mouths of the very people we have sacrificed tens of thousands of American lives to protect. Try spending a little time in a news shop in a major foreign city that specializes in publications that do nothing but attack America and call for our total destruction.

    Also spent an inordinate amount of time travelling across this great nation, meeting and spending time with the ordinary citizen who for the most part, deeply love this country and feel the same way I do.

    My family on both sides are original settlers in both Carolinas and both enjoy a history of service to our country as well.

    Your remarks reminded me of the great apology tour taken by the current resident of the White House. By the way, I never questioned your patriotism, you brought that one up, not me.

    As I said, I will withhold my remarks and say nothing further.

  8. Brad

    You and me both, Bart. There’s little point to continuing the discussion.

    I could go on all day discussing this with Phillip, but I would spend all my time defining terms.

    And I say that will all due respect to Phillip.

    For instance, that “We’re No. 1” business. Now that he has elaborated, I see he regards it as some sort of mindless cry of chauvinistic collective ego, a statement of unjustified national superiority over other nations. Me, I tend to think of it as an assertion of obligation. If you have the No. 1 economy, you have an obligation to try to lift up the rest of the world to enjoy some of the same blessings — through free trade agreements, for instance. If you have the No. 1 military, you have an obligation to global security that is far greater than that falling to any other nation.

    I suspect this is an outgrowth of my communitarianism, and it leads to disconnects with others on a host of issues. Where they think in terms of rights, or in terms of what this person or that nation GETS TO DO, I think in terms of responsibilities — what MUST we do? If y’all remember, a couple of years back I wrote about an interesting David Brooks piece linking Tony Blair’s position on Iraq to his communitarianism — another reason why I’ve always felt simpatico with Tony.

    Thinking that way imposes a whole other map on the world, and on decision-making. But it makes it hard to have a meeting of the minds with the VAST majority of people who don’t look at the world that way.

  9. Herb Brasher

    Well,I suppose the discussion should end, mainly because I have a feeling that we are all talking past each other here.

  10. Pat

    @ Herb Brasher – seems you are right on that feeling.
    Maude, have you heard anymore on the “Real Housewives of Riyadh”?

  11. Phillip

    Herb’s right, much of this centers on how we define our terms. Brad, I certainly understand that your view of American “exceptionalism” means we have responsibilities, etc., and I do agree.

    But having the #1 military and the responsibility: ultimately, is it just a question of size? If China decided overnight to try to outspend the US on military might, would the “responsibility” then fall to them?

    The only thing I really disagree with you on, Brad, and that I wish you would realize is that how you define America’s “responsibility” is not exactly how everybody in the world sees it (and I don’t mean just people who wish America ill). American “exceptionalism” (and I admit I brought the word up here, not you) is objectionable to me as a doctrine, because it’s a classic example of circular, or closed logic: we are the good guys, therefore what we are about to ponder in terms of military action must be for the ultimate good.

    And the biggest problem with saying what a great country we are is not that it is not true, but that it tells us NOTHING about how we should proceed from this moment on. If I am a sinner, a wicked man, and you are a near-saint, a model citizen, if we are both pondering an action that is morally questionable if not outright wrong, then the action is no less wrong if you do it than if I do it, simply because up to that point you have been a “good” person. You cannot use your previous “goodness” to justify an action that is not inherently “good.” And so it is with nations: each decision, to send troops somewhere, to fight somewhere, to make some alteration to our concept of domestic liberties, etc., has to be considered anew, on its own merits. The fact that “we have been the most remarkable beacon of freedom for 250 years etc” cannot be used as the primary justification for this or that military action.

    Finally, Brad, if you REALLY believed in communitarianism, you would realize that our American responsibility is to help lead the world into a place where the community of nations polices itself, and is not policed by whichever nation has the most guns and bombs, however intrinsically benevolent that nation might (and I emphasize “might”) be.

  12. Brad

    Phillip, just a quick thought re communitarianism and the War on Terror…

    Forgive me for slipping into the “What If” realm of alternative history, but one of the great tragedies of the past decade was that Tony Blair was not the leader of the Western Alliance fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    If he had been (say, if he had been president and Bush p.m., or if the sun had still not set on the Empire and the US had been the junior partner), your view of our involvement in Iraq would probably be radically different. You might not support it outright, but you’d have a different attitude about it.

    That’s what really torques me off about the British voters, the ones who call Blair “Bush’s poodle,” which shows they never actually listened to anything their PM said. Either that, or they didn’t understand any of it.

    Between the two men, he was the one who truly understood what we were doing in Iraq (or rather, SUPPOSED to be doing, as opposed to the way Rumsfeld ran things) and why. It shone like a beacon in every sentence he spoke about the subject. That they could only hear Bush, and see it as HIS thing, was not only hugely unfair to Blair, but greatly harmful to Britain’s role and to the alliance.

    Just an accident of history, that Blair was leading the country whose global role declined long ago. It wasn’t Blair’s fault. He did his part; people just didn’t listen.

  13. Doug Ross



    The flaw in logic is where the “We’re #1” crowd attaches much of that position to our military strength. Our might doesn’t always make us right.

    We’re not #1 in education, healthcare, life expectancy, minimizing teen births, violent crime, drug abuse, fighting poverty.

    We ARE #1 in nuclear weapons, government spending, deficit spending, and reality TV shows.

    A mixed bag… one that shouldn’t have us strutting around telling the rest of the world what to do.

    We’re a long, long way from utopia.

  14. Brad

    Early in our Iraq involvement, Mike Fitts said to me, “If we have to go to war, can’t Tony Blair be our leader?” Or something like that (I’m having trouble at the moment finding a link to the exact quote).

    Anyway, I quoted him in a column, attributing it to “a friend” or “a colleague,” or something like that. Quoted it in a context that made it clear I agreed.

    The result? I got a message from a Republican lawmaker demanding to know why I had protected the identity of the person who had said that horrible thing about W.


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