There are between 1.3 and 1.66 billion Muslims in the world compared to 2.1 to 2.2 billion Christians. When America says it is at war, as President Obama has just said, it is quick to say it is not at war with Islam but with its terrorists, and yet the impression grows exponentially every time America says it is at war that it is indeed at war with Islam.

Impressions count. America must redress this volatile impression. Nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we are not wanted, does not count as doing something about this impression. It exacerbates the problem simply because we are uninvited and unwanted and in denial about being unwanted.

And even that denial is not trusted, because it is far from innocent. We are in denial because it suits us, because bankers are making fortunes on war and contractors are helping us fight our wars and growing rich doing it. And none of this is lost on Muslims. They did, after all, invent modern banking.

But there is something we can do, something simple and honest, something in concert with our founding ideals. We can acknowledge out of a reading of history that Islam is as much threatened by fundamentalist terrorists as America is. And it always has been. And we can go even further by acknowledging that policy agendas driven by fundamentalists whether in Saudi Arabia or Israel or the United States amount to the tail wagging the dog and the dog drinking out of the toilet.

To the degree that honesty is hard such a transformation in our approach would be hard, but without it we have no authentic basis for speaking to Islam, no credibility, because we continue to demonstrate day after day that we lack an understanding of the history, the challenges and the triumphs of more than 1.3 billion human beings.

There were times in Muslim history "in Abbasid Baghdad, in Ottoman Istanbul and Umayyad Cordoba "when tolerance allowed civilization to soar to unprecedented heights. In Spain the time was called the Convivencia. It came to life under the Umayyad caliphs in Cordoba before Muslim Spain was fragmented. And it came to grief there. When this magnificent caliphate was threatened it called upon Berber mercenaries from North Africa for help. They helped. But they got a taste of the good life, and later the Berbers came back under their leaders, the Almoravids, to destroy the caliphate and the Convivencia. They imposed their special brand of fundamentalism, not unlike the Taliban`s or Al Qaeda`s. Maria Rose Menocal tells this tragic story in her Ornament of the World.

In all likelihood the Renaissance would not have happened were it not for a golden age of Arab science, mathematics and translation. This story is still unfolding as lost history at MuslimHeritage.com. But once again fundamentalist thinking, the impulse to level civilization with a handful of simplicitudes, played a destructive role. Our own response to 9/11 is essentially fundamentalist. By saying we are at war we have given credibility to criminals. We have turned them into a nation, and so they will become as long as we pursue this dog-eat-dog approach. Perhaps the truth lies elsewhere. Perhaps we would rather be at war than address our broken society and the criminal neglect of our people by Wall Street corporados. Perhaps this war against terrorism suits our briefcase criminals just fine.

What is difficult to understand about this? Perhaps it is hard for us to appreciate because we have so often allied ourselves with corrupt Muslim leaders who have not shared their wealth with their people, just as Wall Street now refuses to share its wealth with the rest of us. Perhaps it is because Christian fundamentalists in our midst have bullied us into thinking that to befriend Israel and defend her is to make enemies of Muslims. This is a particularly hideous canard because historically Christendom has done far more harm to Jews than has Islam.

The most accomplished and enviable civilizations built in the name of Islam have been repeatedly toppled by Muslim fanatics. But lest we think that Islam has cornered the market on such perversity we should remember that Christian crusaders murdered thousands of Jews and sacked Christian Byzantium. We should remember that Spanish conquistadors slaughtered native Americans and destroyed civilizations greater than their own. And we should remember that to this day in North America we are crushing Native American culture.

All this was wrought by fanatics. They are the scourge of civilization, and we are in fact in the same boat as Islam when it comes to dealing with them. Unless our policies reflect this fact, the impression that we are at war with Islam will continue to grow and become ever more dangerous.

Our task, even if we were to rise to the call of history, would be complicated by leadership in the Arab world that is even more oligarchic than our own. It is the kind of callous leadership that breeds revolt. Thanks to the teachings of Saudi Arabian madrasahs, there are plenty of fundamentalists to lead such revolts. What the Arabs desperately need is more leaders like Abd el Kader, the 19th Century Algerian emir who fought heroically against French colonization and was powerfully influenced by the enlightened teachings of the Sufi Ibn al Arabi.

We are in fact at war with ourselves because we refuse to accept that our response to Muslim terrorism is driven by our own fanatics.

 

Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy. 

His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latté first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.  

He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.