Whatever happens in
There's a fatigue in the West with an Arab world that sometimes seems to put its creative juices mostly into building better bombs. Even open-minded people in the West sometimes feel a sense of resignation that maybe the bigots are right: Maybe Islam just is intrinsically backward, misogynistic and violent.
After I wrote recently about reform elements in Islam, I received a long note from a 24-year-old Chicagoan, Paul Williams, who ventured what many people feel: "I went to school in Macalester College and the whole time there I wrote paper after paper defending Islam,'' he told me. Now, he says, after reading the Quran cover to cover and living in Turkey, he has lapsed into political incorrectness: "The more I'm here the more I'm beginning to think that there's just something wrong with Islam.''
That's a common view, shaped partly by the way we in the news business focus on violence in the Islamic world. So let me step up and say that I find the common American stereotypes of Islam profoundly warped.
Those stereotypes are largely derived from the less than 20 percent of Muslims who are Arabs, with Persians and Pashtuns thrown in as well. But the great majority of the world's Muslims live not in the Middle East but here in
At the moment I'm in
Anwar Ibrahim, the former Malaysian deputy prime minister, says he reminds Americans that the most populous Muslim country (
Yes, Islamists are a threat in
"We tend to be more tolerant,'' Yusof Halim, a prominent lawyer in
Meanwhile, many Muslims are as disenchanted with us as we are with them. They complain about hypocritical Americans who parrot slogans about human rights but brutalize Muslims at
The Quran and Bible alike have passages that make 21st-century readers flinch; most Christians just ignore sections on slavery or admonitions to kill a disobedient child. Likewise, some Muslims are reinterpreting Quranic passages on polygamy and amputations, saying they were restricted to particular circumstances that no longer apply.
Frankly, I don't see that any religion's influence is intrinsically peaceful or violent. Christianity inspired both Mother Teresa and pogroms. Hinduism nurtured Gandhi and also the pioneers of suicide-bombings.
These days, ferocious anti-Semitism thrives in some Muslim countries, but in the Dreyfus affair a century ago Muslims sided with a Jew persecuted by anti-Semitic Christians. And the biggest sectarian slaughter in
The plain fact is that some Muslim societies do have a real problem with violence, with the subjugation of women, with tolerance. But the mosaic of Islam is vast and contains many more hopeful glimpses of the future.
There is a historic dichotomy between desert Islam -- the austere fundamentalism of countries like
Nicholas Kristof writes for The New York Times.