Islam, Afghanistan are more than the Taliban, bin Laden

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 26, 2001

In the wake of Sept. 11, many throughout the U.S. and Canada are devouring everything they can find on Islam and Afghanistan.

For a few, tragically, this is an obsession driven by hatred and revenge.

For the majority, I hope, it is a call to respect and compassion – respect for Islamic roots that underlie much of what is good in Western culture; compassion not only for the victims at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but also for the 24 million or so Afghans held captive by Taliban terrorists.

The retaliatory hatred of a few toward Afghanistan, and Islam in general, flows from ignorance. One Afghani-American writer put it this way in an e-mail several of you forwarded to me:

"The Taliban and bin Laden are not Afghanistan," Mir Tamim Ansary wrote. "They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult... Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan.

"When you think Taliban think Nazis. When you think bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think 'the people of Afghanistan,' think 'the Jews in the concentration camps.' It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity, they were the first victims of the perpetrators."

(I've checked into Ansary's credibility and the authenticity of the quote, and unlike so much on the Internet, this one's for real.)

Clearly, then, the attacks on New York and Washington are no more representative of Islam than the strife in Northern Ireland is representative of Christianity.

What is representative of Islam are the humanitarian endeavors of groups like the Aga Khan Foundation (Third World development) and the Red Crescent (Muslim branch of the Red Cross).

What is representative are the advances in the arts and sciences made while non-Islamic Europe was still locked in the Dark Ages.

In fact, if we want proof of Islamic impact on the arts and sciences, we need look no further than an English dictionary. Here are just a few of the words that derive from Arabic, the language of Islam:

In medicine: aorta, colon, diaphragm, and pancreas. In mathematics: algebra, algorithm, and zero. Foods and crops: artichoke, cotton, banana, coffee, lemon, orange, and sugar. Also: alcohol, amber, canon, magazine, monsoon, and safari.

I'm especially interested in the night sky. Many of the brightest stars bear Arabic names, such as: Aldebaran, Altair, Deneb, Fomalhaut, Rigel, and Vega.

This Arabic influence on astronomy brings me full circle. When you gaze upon the heavens tonight, look beyond the stars and pray for peace on earth (the word "earth" is also of Arabic origin). Then contemplate this proverb, in Islam as well as in Judaism and Christianity:

"The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God."

On another note, I thought I'd bring you up to date on the growing influence you are having through this column. In the past week alone:

  • I've heard how these columns are being used in classrooms and lectures, and how copies of them are being forwarded to relatives and friends around the world who, in turn, are becoming part of our global network of coffee companions.
  • The editor of a professional women's association publication in Rome, Italy, requested permission to reprint part of last week's column on peace.
  • And to top it off, Larry Giles, publisher of the Cochrane Times, informed me of an honor we have just received. The Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association awarded an edition of Coffee with Warren that appeared in the Times, Nov. 8, 2000, second place in their annual Better Newspaper Competition for Best Feature Column by a Local Writer. Entitled "Bombed on her birthday," it was a Remembrance Day look at Cochrane "Grandma" Nellie Dinnebier's wartime experiences as a young woman in London.

To use my favorite new word-of-the-month, I'm quite "chuffed" by all this. It means your stories – your beautiful, inspiring words and insights – are getting out there for a growing and appreciative audience.

Thanks for your continued participation at our coffee table. I raise my cup in a toast to all of you.

© 2001 Warren Harbeck

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