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Column displays lack of knowledge about Islam

Matthew H. Hersch '94's analysis of Islam in Algerian politics demonstrates ignorance and bias ["Algeria now out of control," Jan. 15]. Perhaps Hersch's column can help us examine the stereotypes, misconceptions and double-standards that abound and are perpetuated in our society and even our academic institutions.

Hersch tells us the Islamic Salvation Front is a "militant organization" -- an odd term to use for a group that has sought to implement change through popular support and free parliamentary elections.

He falsely associates Islamic law with totalitarianism, socialism and Marxism. His statement that Islamic law "has proven itself to be antithetical to progress" demonstrates that he has neither a deep knowledge of history nor of Islamic law. He further insults Algerians by says they have been "fooled" into supporting the party. Only an ignorant person would say that Middle Eastern peoples' opposition to the United States and Israel starts with these countries' opposition to Saddam Hussein.

Maybe we don't need to blame Hersch for his odd standards of morality and fairness. Democracy is finally working in the Middle East and people are choosing their leaders freely. Meanwhile, American media is warning Americans about the "fundamentalists" gaining control of Algeria. Does anyone wonder why we rarely get FIS' view of its own agenda and platform while we get plenty of interpretations by its opponents and our own media? Does anyone else wonder just what "fundamentalist" means and how FIS earned this title?

Hersch's column illustrates a continuing process that occurs more subtly in our media, institutions and society. The media, government, and established lobbies have conveniently selected good guys and bad guys. They have selected catch-phrases and labels -- fundamentalist, terrorist, extremist -- to instill the desired emotions. We are supposed to feel outrage when force is used to halt the democratic process in Tiananman Square and Moscow, yet the analogous response to the case of Algeria is substituted by hypocritical debates over the wisdom of the military intervention.

I hope that one day we will truly support or oppose governments, parties and individuals on the basis of their conduct, justice and morality, rather than simply paying lip service to these concerns. Perhaps Hersch should be less concerned about Algerians being "fooled" and worry more about ourselves.

Syed Arif Khalid G->