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2002 December 02 Monday

        Today I was depressed to see in the newspaper indications that we may be heading in the direction of a global war between religions. I never expected this to happen. In fact, I thought the whole reason we had the Middle Ages was so people could spend a few hundred years killing each other in the name of religion and so get it out of their systems.
        Back last year, on September 11th, the train known as Consensual Reality jumped tracks. The familiar world disappeared, and we found ourselves in this strange and increasingly unpleasant alternate reality. However, even after all that has happened, this latest development really takes me by surprise.
        My source is today's INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, published daily in Japan in conjunction with an English-language edition of THE ASAHI SHIMBUN. The news makes the front page: Dana Milbank of THE WASHINGTON POST writes an article datelined Washington. It has been headlined "Bush chided over view of Islam" and starts "President George W. Bush finds himself in a rare disagreement with conservatives in his party over his efforts to portray Islam as a peaceful religion that is not responsible for anti-American terrorism."
        A gentleman by the name of Paul Weyrich is quoted as saying "Islam is at war against us," and it is this kind of position that the president is very sensibly trying to avoid.
        From Dana Milbank's article, it seems clear that there are a number of intellectuals prepared to argue that "Islam = the enemy" or "Islam = terrorism", and to my way of thinking this kind of argument is a recipe for disaster.
         I'm living in Japan, which is a Buddhist country (to the extent that it is anything at all), and from where I'm sitting the only people I can see are Buddhists. There isn't a Christian or a Muslim in sight. (I'm sitting at a park bench by a broad pavement in Iidabashi, in the center of Tokyo, on an overcast afternoon, autumn leaves everywhere.)
        My co-workers are (I guess) mostly Christian, if they are anything at all, and I generally don't meet Muslims from one day to the next.
        However, some time after the events of 9/11, I did meet one Muslim. To tell the truth, he's the only Muslim I've had a conversation with in the days since the 11th of September last year.
        This guy was from Bangladesh, and I met him at a friend's party in Tokyo. I asked him how 9/11 had affected him, and he said it hadn't, really. He had been working at the same factory for quite a few years, so all his co-workers knew him well, so they weren't going to mistake him for Osama bin Laden.
        In fact, what was on this Muslim guy's mind, at the time I met him, was not the events of 9/11 but events back home in Bangladesh, which at the time was experiencing a certain degree of tension in the run-up to an election.
        Now, although I've only met this one Muslim guy in the days since 9/11, I'm sure that he can be multiplied by the hundreds, the thousands and the millions.
        Although Osama bin Laden is real, there are millions upon millions of Muslims who are not Osama bin Laden. There are millions upon millions of Muslims who are not at war with Christianity or with the West or, in fact, with anyone. They're just getting up in the morning, going to work in the factory, going to parties, sending money home, and worrying about the next election.
        To take the position that "Islam is at war against us" is a statistical nonsense. However, if enough of Judaeo-Christian America is persuaded to believe this, then it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
        The expression which comes to mind is "It takes two to tango." I don't think that Osama bin Laden has the power to destabilize the world and bring about a war between cultures. But there's a big "if" involved here.
        If we take the position that "Islam is at war against us" then it logically follows that we must destroy Islam, and that leaves no place in the universe for the regular Islamic guy, the guy who is not Osama bin Laden, but just some guy who goes to work like everyone else, pays his taxes and worries about the elections.
        I very strongly feel that we are at a decision junction here. And if the train jumps tracks again, and heads off into even grimmer territory than we are presently inhabiting — into the part of the map marked "replay of the Dark Ages" — then we're in for a major catastrophe.
        And I think there's a choice. I think that what happens next is something we choose, of our own free will.

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