By SALIM MANSUR
The world, perhaps, is exhausted with trying to understand what malady torments some Muslims to behave insanely. And with their propensity to violence as in the latest saga over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
How does one explain how cartoons — however objectionable to religious sensibility — can spark violence in the name of Islam, which means peace?
Or, for that matter, why the late Iranian clerical leader Ayatollah Khomeini, in February 1989, pronounced a death sentence on Salman Rushdie for his novel, The Satanic Verses, that alluded allegorically to the Prophet Mohammed.
Experts have engaged for some time in explaining contemporary Muslim politics, as the historian Bernard Lewis does in his book, What Went Wrong? Such efforts continue in the hope of making sense of this behavior that bewilders non-Muslims.
But even as Muslims insist their faith-tradition is one of peace, the conduct of at least a considerable segment of the Muslim population contradicts their public faith.
Some writers such as Ibn Warraq, a pseudonym, suggest the problem with Muslim conduct is inherent in Islam.
They contend Muslim violence is symptomatic of an intolerant religion.
But the Koran, Islam’s sacred text, calls upon its readers to engage in introspection. Muslims who engage in what the Koran invites them to do would eschew violence as a requisite of their faith.
Why, then, is there such a disconnect between what Muslims insist their faith represents and the conduct of some Muslims, as we witness it in recent times?
For a plausible figurative explanation consider the following: Chronologically speaking Islam is in its 15th century, Christianity in its 21st and Judaism in its 58th.
We might express the ages of these three faith-traditions in terms of human life span, with Islam being in its adolescent years, Christianity having entered into its adult years and Judaism being well past its middle age.
Several centuries ago when Christianity was about the same age as Islam is today, it too often showed characteristics of adolescents lacking in introspection, readily prone to committing violence and in taking offense, behaving uncharitably toward others and being self-righteous.
The remarkable achievement of Judaism, from the perspective of its relatively long life, is survival against terrible odds.
This has provided Judaism with the wisdom of respectful coexistence with other faith traditions.
What we view in the behavior of radical Muslims as bewildering — people who have, for instance, dynamited the Buddha statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, gutted churches, repeatedly insulted people of other faiths — is consistent with the conduct of an adolescent, yet to grow up and understand that actions have consequences.
Not all Muslims are adolescents, or engage in violence and reprehensible behavior. But it is undeniable that Muslims who indulge in violence, irrespective of the reasons they offer, have not been effectively repudiated and checked by the Muslim majority.
The majority then, troubled and saddened as it is with watching its faith-tradition wrecked by its religious compatriots, is not entirely blameless.
This explanation of mentality in terms of age would suggest that many Muslims are yet to mature and grasp the precepts of their own faith-tradition.
Those who did — for example the little-known Sufis who seek the hidden treasure of Islam within their hearts and minds — were often abused by fanatics, reflecting the mindlessness of adolescents.
This also suggests the world must find the means to adequately deal with those Muslims who behave as destructive adolescents, until they grow up and become responsible.