Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.
The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
Prisoners of Azkaban
Friday, May 31, 2002
On Jihad at Harvard
Harvard commencement speaker Zayed Yasin has now announced that he is removing the word 'jihad' from the title of his speech, although he is not changing the text, which very few people have seen. If you need to be brought up to speed on this controversy, the place to go is blogger Matthew Yglesias.
Yasin seems to feel that negative reaction to the word 'jihad' is over-sensitive:
“It’s a speech about the privileged opportunities and responsibilities we have as graduates...and about how these are enunciated in both the Islamic concept of jihad and in American ideals,” Yasin said.
“The idea is that we live in difficult and trying times and we will have to struggle both within ourselves to do the right thing and with very difficult problems that affect our communities,” he said.
Yasin said he is not surprised by the outcry that followed the announcement of his speech title.
“That is part of why I wrote this speech,” Yasin said. “Jihad is not something that should make someone feel uncomfortable. It’s a matter of other people deciding what they think jihad is and attributing to the word the product of their own imagination.”
While not surprised by the reaction, Yasin did say that he was surprised at the vehemence of the response.
“More disturbing is ad hominim attacks upon the work that I’ve done and on my personal life,” he said. “They’re very disappointing. I expected more from the Harvard community. I’m referring to people who have called me anti-Semite, to people who have said I support terrorism...All of these are untrue.”
Now, some of us may remember that last year, shortly after 9/11, George Bush referred to a 'crusade' against terrorism. This was widely condemned and resulted in a mini-controversy that stayed mini mostly because Bush himself immediately withdrew the statement and apologized for using the word.
In the course of this controversy, it was generally allowed that Muslims had the right to be offended by the use of the word crusade. I didn't particularly hear people saying, "Look, those wars ended around 800 years ago. And besides, news flash: your side won. Get over it, for pity's sake."
Nor did people say: "OK, Christians got together and launched a war of aggression against Moslems. So what? The main thing that was unusual about the Crusades is that they were a counter-offensive in a period when Moslems were generally stronger and launched wars of aggression against Christian states in the West, and other non-Moslem states in the East, routinely."
Historically, the Crusades weren't even all that anti-Moslem. The First Crusade took time out on its jouney East to burn and pillage Jewish communities in numerous European cities. Perhaps the most successful Crusade, certainly the one which won the richest booty, was the Fourth, which in 1205 sacked the Greek and Christian city of Constantinople. Crusades were subsequently preached against Cathars and other heretical movements well after any serious attempt at recovering Jerusalem or other strongholds in Moslem lands (other than the remaining Moslem areas of Spain) were forgotten.
In fact, persons of Jewish or Eastern Orthodox faith have easily as much cause to jump at the word 'Crusade' as Moslems. They have, however, managed to live with events of almost a millenium ago.
While it seems to be entirely acceptable that Moslems leap into indignation at a mere mention of medieval atrocities, it is judged in some circles to be less acceptable that Americans are offended by the word 'jihad'. This in spite of the fact that less than one year ago, 3,000 of us were murdered in the name of jihad. In spite of the fact that millions of us personally knew one or more people who were murdered on 9/11 or in the terrorist acts of the present intifada. In spite of the fact that we know without doubt that others as I write are nurturing plots that they hope will result in equal or greater slaughter, in the name of jihad.
Having said this, I am not opposed to Mr Yasin giving his speech. To block the speech based on its subject would be unacceptable and contrary to our values.
However, I do note that the audience at the commencement has their own free speech rights, just as much as the speaker. I do not suggest any attempt to shout down or interrupt his speech, which would be consorship just as bad as barring it.
Speech can, however, take various forms.
Mr Yasin asserts that his concept of jihad is based on the idea "that we live in difficult and trying times and we will have to struggle both within ourselves to do the right thing and with very difficult problems that affect our communities ." These problems are universal, so we should see true jihad as being an opportunity for each of us, not linked to only one culture or religion.
In this broad interpretation of jihad, there are many jihads occurring at any time. A conspicuous current jihad is the struggle of the peoples of the United States and of Israel to maintain our nations against an evil and cowardly enemy that, being unable to strike at us directly, seeks to fight by killing unarmed people, in 'martyrdom' attacks that have no other purpose than to kill and maim the largest possible number of civilians, many of them infants, children, or elderly.
Part of this struggle, in fact much more challenging than mere military victory which is easily attainable for both Israel and the US, is the struggle to remain democratic societies which protect the rights of their Moslem citizens even when some of those citizens seek to undermine their societies, and which respect the rules of law and the laws of warfare while fighting against an enemy that has no respect for either and openly proclaims that their greatest strength is their 'love of death'.
By bringing American and Israeli flags to the event, and displaying them prominently when Mr Yasin is introduced and throughout his speech, Harvard students can demonstrate that they understand that the struggle for a better world is important for all of us, showing that they take Mr Yasin at his word in making their own commitments to jihad as 'struggle for personal growth and for wider peace and justice'.