Background Noise

Two videos, for your consideration. Both taken on Western colleges. The first, from a guest lecturer’s visit to Uppsala University in Sweden. The lecturer, Lars Vilks, was one of the cartoonists who created the now-infamous Mohammed cartoons that so inflamed the Muslim world:

Next, a revisit to a video first brought here earlier this week by my colleague Rick:

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In the first video, it picks up immediately after a member of the audience charges Vilks and head-butts him viciously. Police rush in immediately and a brawl breaks out, but eventually order is restored.

In the second, a young woman and member of the Muslim Students Association of the University of California at San Diego confronts David Horowitz about his criticisms of the radical elements of Islam, and how firmly entrenched they are in mainstream Islam.

Now that you’ve watched the videos, go back and watch them again. But this time, try to ignore the focus of the videos. This time, pay attention to what happens — or doesn’t happen — in the background. There is the real story.

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In the brawl, only a few Muslims attack Vilks and charge the police. Only a very small minority engage in violence in the defense of what they see as an insult to their faith, and justification for a violent response.

But how do the rest of the Muslims respond to this incident?

They cheer it on. They celebrate it. They should “Allahu Ackbar!,” “God is great!,” expressing their approval for the assault. They are rejoicing in that some “brave Muslim warriors” have chosen to avenge the “insults” to their prophet with violence. They might not precisely want Vilks dead (a common sentiment among the Muslim world), but they are gladdened to see him assaulted and injured.

In the second video, the young woman first makes a comment that the MSA is hosting the annual Hitler Youth week, and invites people to come out to those events.

Is she being serious, or ironic here? I can’t tell, and apparently neither can anyone there — there is absolutely no response to her comment. During World War II, quite a few Muslims — led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the uncle of Yassir Arafat — sided with the Nazis. And Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is readily available in most of the marketplaces in the Middle East. So if any group were to organize a Hitler Youth, a Muslim group would be the second likely suspect, behind neo-Nazis. So what she says is entirely too plausible to be immediately perceived as hyperbole mocking Horowitz.

Then, as she goes on, concluding with literally endorsing genocide:

Horowitz: “… I have had this experience at UC Santa Barbara, where there were 50 members of the Muslim Students Association sitting right in the rows there. And throughout my hour talk I kept asking them, will you condemn Hizbollah and Hamas. And none of them would. And then when the question period came, the president of the Muslim Students Association was the first person to ask a question. And I said, ‘Before you start, will you condemn Hizbollah?’ And he said, ‘Well, that question is too complicated for a yes or no answer.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll put it to you this way. I am a Jew. The head of Hizbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For it or Against it?

MSA member: For it.

Horowitz: Thank you. Thank you for coming and showing everybody what’s here.

The transcript doesn’t reflect just how tense the moment is. Horowitz is speaking conversationally in the leadup, but for the final question, he leans forward and says “For it or against it?” loudly, forcefully, almost accusingly.

Then there’s a pause, and it’s clear that Horowitz has ended his narrative and is not repeating the question he asked at the other campus, but wants an answer from the young woman before him now. She pauses, then leans forward into the microphone and says those two words.

But back to the background. After the first “thank you,” there is a brief moment of applause — no more than five claps. But the rest, silence.

Here is a young woman, claiming to represent the Muslim Student Alliance on her campus, who has announced a gathering of the Hitler Youth and spoken in favor of killing every single Jew in the world, and there is no reaction — just that one individual who appears to be applauding Horowitz, but quickly stops when he or she realizes that no one else will join in.

It’s often cited that the percentage of extremists in Islam is very small — it’s impossible to measure, but one percent is usually the number cited. The vast majority of Muslims are described as peaceful.

But that tiny percentage dominates the faith. The vast majority is a silent majority that is content to remain silent.

In the assault on Vilks, only a few Muslims attack. The vast majority does not. Instead, they cheer them on, they take pictures for posterity, or they do nothing. Given the chance to confront the radicals among them, or at least distance themselves from the extremists, they do not.

In the Horowitz case, perhaps it’s simply good manners that keeps the rest of the audience from reacting to her Hitler Youth reference and her endorsing genocide (which casts serious doubt to the “ironic” explanation for the reference), but I don’t think so. I’ve been to quite a few gatherings like that (but none quite so intense — I once challenged Dick Gregory when he came to my school, and he shrugged me off like the somewhat callow youth I was), and that kind of silence is extremely rare. There’s usually some murmur of conversation, occasions of applause or laughter, and whatnot. The kind of silence in that three and a half minutes is very rare, especially given the “red meat” being tossed around that is intended to provoke audience reaction.

I’ll go along with the argument that the vast majority of Muslims are not radicals, not extremists, not terrorists. But the vast majority of that vast majority is perfectly content to allow their faith to be “hijacked” by those extremists. They are willing to allow those extremists to commit their atrocities in the name of their common faith. They will not challenge the radicals in their midst, and — if caught unguarded, like in the assault against Vilks — will even cheer it on and celebrate it.

That is the fundamental problem at the core of Islam. Not the radicals that can find inspiration for their atrocities, but the culture and mindset that has the vast majority tolerating and supporting them.

Islam needs a Reformation. It needs its own Martin Luthers and other courageous people to step forward and demand changes in the nature of their faith.

Unfortunately, there are major obstacles in that coming about. For one, would-be reformers within Islam tend to get identified and killed fairly quickly. For another, the Christian reformers had a nice, convenient target with the Pope and the monolithic nature of the Catholic Church. There is no similar power structure within Islam; there is no single authority to rebel against, no single leader to identify and villainize, no single doctrine to reject.

And in the meantime, the graveyards continue to fill with the bodies of those who “insulted” Islam. It’s some slight, cynical comfort that the majority of those killed by Muslim extremists are their fellow Muslims.

Judaism and Christianity both had their aggressive, expansionist periods, but both outgrew them. Islam, on the other hand, is still in the middle of that adolescent phase. To steal a quote from one of my favorite movies that fits so well, “Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit now has a body count.”

Islam’s teen-angst bullshit has a huge body count, and it’s constantly rising.

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