Perspective Writer Takes on Critics of Middle East Piece
TO THE EDITORS
I have recently come under attack for my article, "The New Red Scare: Western Prejudices Against Islamic Fundamentalism" in the January issue of Perspective. Several letters have been sent to the Crimson and Perspective concerning my use of the phrase, "Jewish fundamentalists, usually referred to by the more polite term Orthodox." The letters have implied that I somehow believe Orthodox Jews to constitute a fundamentalist terrorist organization. I meant nothing of the sort.
I never meant to imply that all Orthodox Jews are terrorists or religious lunatics. I was simply attempting to make three points. First, both Israelis and Palestinians have at times resorted to violence. In the 1967 wars, Israel resorted to violence to conquer the West Bank and other areas. The PLO and Hamas have also resorted to violence in recent years. Yet, the PLO and Hamas are referred to as terrorists while the Israeli government is not. This phenomenon is not limited to the Middle East--why is the US government not considered an illegitimate terrorist organization who wiped out many Native Americans and conquered land that was not ours? The sad fact is that in war, the winners are called governments and the losers are called terrorists.
Second, we do not condemn all Orthodox Jews for the actions of several radical individuals, so why do we condemn all Islamic movements for the actions of isolated groups? Yes, the man who massacred Palestinians in the Hebron mosque was probably violating every important tenet of Orthodox Judaism. It would be unfair to characterize all of Orthodox Judaism based on the actions of this one individual. Likewise, it is unfair to characterize every grass roots Islamic group as terrorists. True, some Islamic groups are fanatical terrorists--the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example. However, that does not preclude the existence of legitimate Islamic groups like the FIS in Algeria, which is fighting for social justice. My article was simply pointing out a double standard. I do not propose to eliminate the double standard by stereotyping Jews; I simply mean to say that we should stop stereotyping Moslems.
Third, legitimate religious sects are referred to by the term Orthodox, whereas the word fundamentalist has negative connotations. Obviously, this is why Orthodox Jews take offense when called fundamentalist. In their literal sense, the terms "fundamentalist" and "Orthodox" refer to very similar ideas. The word fundamentalist means someone who is very devout and believes that every word of their holy text is true. The term Orthodox refers to a religious sect of Judaism that closely follows the laws of the Torah, Both words have a very similar literal meaning. However, they have very different connotations. "Orthodox" connotes a legitimate religious sect; "fundamentalist" connotes fanaticism and terrorism. Thus, the devout Jew is seen as deeply religious, whereas the devout Moslem is seen as a fanatic and terrorist. Such semantic differences become more apparent when we try to imagine a world where there are "fundamentalist Jews" and "Orthodox Moslems."
The point of my article was not to attack Orthodox Jews or stereotype them as terrorists and lunatics. My point was simply that a double standard exists. I understand that my point may have been ambiguous and unclear. It may have been easy to misinterpret my intentions. If so, I apologize to anyone who was offended. I thank the Hillel and other individuals for bringing this to my attention. Rita Lin '00