US needs to consider conduct of governments
Matthew H. Hersch '94's recent column about Algeria was offensive, alarming and saddening, and I ask that he apologize to Muslims at MIT and in Algeria ["Algeria now out of control," Jan. 15].
Hersch displays a complete ignorance of the ideals, legal system and history of Islam. As a female convert, I have to differ with his categorical statement that Islam restricts the rights of women. Many Muslim countries do, but that is based on cultural standards from before Islam, or adopted from missionaries from the West, and such restrictions often directly contradict specific rights as guaranteed in the Koran (such as the rights of women to work and to sue for divorce). Hersch exhibits no understanding of how the rights and responsibilities of men and women balance in an Islamic society. In addition, the Koran indicates that "there is no compulsion in religion" and there are also many well known instances where the Prophet Mohammed praised those who spoke out against injustice, including women.
His claim that amputation and flogging contradict equality and liberty is illogical. Whatever the punishments may be, if they are applied equally and are publicly announced to be the punishments for given crimes, they remain within these values.
Hersch goes on to make ludicrous statements about Islamic law being "antithetical to progress," and subsuming science and education to the clerics. While in recent centuries Muslim countries have lagged behind Western ones, the great flowering of Western society was due to its contact with the then-technically advanced civilization of Islam. Islam is clearly not inherently anti-progress -- its first 1000 years saw immense developments in mathematics, astronomy, biology, medicine, philosophy and linguistics. I remind Hersch that it is not without reason that the recent movie Robin Hood showed the Moor, a Muslim, as being leaps and bounds over the English scientifically.
Next, Hersch says Islam advocates a "bizarre form of totalitarian socialism." This statement is false, and the use of the word "bizarre" is unnecessary and offensive. Why does he equate Islamic law with Marxism, a dogma that did not exist until nearly 13 centuries after the advent of Islam and which contradicts many of the basic rights of Islam -- such as the right to private property and freedom of religion?
Hersch's claim that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) has fooled Algerians is silly. It is true that they have a platform of Islam, order and economic growth -- something that would appeal to the vast majority of Algerians who are Muslims, who would like to be better off, who certainly advocate law and order and who don't want elections cancelled simply because the opposition is likely to win. Algerians don't want to have to worry about imprisonment simply for voicing a political opinion as in many of the neighboring states where the governments are not in the hand of Islamists. And they don't want to have to worry about the excesses military governments are known to commit.
The only validity to any of Hersch's arguments, such as the ones about no freedom of religion, lack of rights for women and Marxism, would be if FIS did not uphold Islamic tenets. In which case, to blame it on Islam would be truly unfair.
Finally, I would like to point out that even if Hersch had accurately pulled out bits and pieces of Islam, it is unjust to pull out one or two tenets and analyze them as though they were part of the Western system. Islam offers a total approach, a complete way of like, not just a set of rules. Though many of the ideals are universal, it is only in the context of the Islamic system that many Islamic laws can be implemented, or even understood.