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Old World Thinking

Reader comment on item: Jihad: The Fight Over Meaning

Submitted by John Hadjisky (United States), Jun 7, 2002 at 23:58

I've been a member of Dr. Pipes' mailing list for several months now, and believe he is right in his basic thesis that militant Islam has hijacked the religion. I feel that the struggle against militant Islam has emerged as the next challenge (after the Cold War) for the western democracies and freedom-loving peoples everywhere. Not being Muslim myself, I will defer to Mr. Pipes' conclusion that jihad has historically always meant armed struggle. And yes, Harvard is hypocritical -- as if that's news to anyone! -- in allowing this address but preventing ROTC and most religious viewpoints from coming anywhere near the commencement stage.

But there's a consideration that's more important than any of these points. Historically, American tradition has held that immigrants to our shores should not be judged by the historical baggage they may carry from their "old world"; America is the land of the fresh start, and immigrants ought to be judged by their own, as are all Americans, not by the past conduct of the country or culture they left behind. European sophisticates thought this a quaint and naive custom; in the old world, such historical baggage inevitably reasserted itself; yet miraculously they were for the most part wrong about America.

This same tradition ought to apply to newly arrived ideas. I don't know if the Harvard speaker is an immigrant or not, but it seems like his idea, that jihad can be redefined as a personal struggle, ought in the grand American tradition, to be given the benefit of the doubt, even in the face of strong evidence that elements of Islam don't accept the melting pot and are clearly attempting to export their fundamentalist ideas. The title of the address, "My American Jihad", could be a parallel to "My American Kampf", and if it turns out to be, it's not a new idea at all, and shame on Harvard for promoting such disgusting filth.

But it could also be a reference to the American tradition which I've described.

Of course, in today's culture of postponed adolescence, I fear it will be a muddled mix of old and embryonic ideas, instead of a well thought-out statement by a young man making presumably his first major address to society. Nevertheless, can't we at least hear the speech before passing judgment? Isn't that what makes us different than the fundamentalists?
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