November 18, 2007January 4, 2008Meeting Report

December 7, 2007

Brigitte Jaensch

Muslims in America after 9/11

Brigitte RaenschMs. Jaensch gave a very informative presentation, much of which was dedicated to answering the question, “Who are Muslims?” For instance, she stated that four out of five Muslims are not Arabs. Of the top ten Muslim countries ranked by the number of Muslims within their population, Egypt is the only Arab country. Nonetheless, some of the presentation was about Arabs in general, not just Muslims.

Ms. Jaensch also endeavored to dispel misinformation and misconceptions about Muslims. For instance, with much media attention on suicide bombers, she pointed out that Islam prohibits suicide and in fact Muslims are less likely to commit suicide than the population at large. She also pointed out that the oft cited 72 virgins supposedly awaiting suicide bombers is incorrect on several points. Given the Islamic prohibition on suicide, it is not valid to imagine they would receive any virgins at all according to doctrine. The correct number is 40 and the term that has been translated as “virgin” describes, in its original Arabic, one with a purified soul, not sexual innocence.

On characterization of Arabs in the media, Ms. Jaensch’s contention was that it is always negative. This is supported by the movie, Reel Bad Arabs, available on DVD (http://reelbadarabs.com) and in book form.

One of the more surprising revelations of the presentation was the consensus among historians that Arabs were in America before Europeans. This was determined by examining Native American language and discovering that it contains Arabic words and names.

The topic of torture received significant coverage. We used to be told that Muslims and Arabs were the barbaric torturers of the world. Now it would seem popular to perform it on them. She cited comments made by conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She then pointed out that Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, Dean of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and other prominent military figures responsible for training the nation’s military officers met with the producers of the television show “24” to encourage limiting torture footage. It seems it makes it difficult to teach the nation’s officers to use proper interrogation techniques after they see how it is done by the show’s hero, Jack Bauer.

Ms. Jaensch concluded the presentation by noting that one should not ask a stranger where s/he is from until after spending three days getting to know him or her, including for example sharing meals. Although we might not be able to always follow this advice, the sentiment is well worth taking to heart. As usual, an energetic question and answer session followed.

Report prepared by Brian Jones, Recorder


Brigitte Jaensch, a human rights advocate, is on the board of Sacramento Peace Action. She has been a guest on KDVS, discussing her work on behalf of Palestinians, and wrote “Ugly Realities in Palestine: Human rights violations abound in Gaza and West Bank,” published in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue of Because People Matter. She also funds the Elly Jaensch Memorial Scholarships, awarded to Palestinian refugees living and studying in the West Bank or Gaza.


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November 18, 2007 2007 Meetings January 4, 2008