Friday, May 30, 2008

"Writing Is Also a Bomb."


The old saying goes than the pen is mightier than the sword. These days the pen (or keyboard) for some people is their sword. Check out this recent article from the New York Times:

BRUSSELS — On the street, Malika El Aroud is anonymous in an Islamic black veil covering all but her eyes.

Malika El Aroud, a prominent Internet jihadist who lives in Brussels, says words are her weapon.
Malika El Aroud with her husband, Moez Garsalloui. In 2007 a Swiss court convicted them of operating Web sites that supported Al Qaeda. Her sentence was suspended; he served 23 days.

In her living room, Ms. El Aroud, a 48-year-old Belgian, wears the ordinary look of middle age: a plain black T-shirt and pants and curly brown hair. The only adornment is a pair of powder-blue slippers monogrammed in gold with the letters SEXY.

But it is on the Internet where Ms. El Aroud has distinguished herself. Writing in French under the name “Oum Obeyda,” she has transformed herself into one of the most prominent Internet jihadists in Europe.

She calls herself a female holy warrior for Al Qaeda. She insists that she does not disseminate instructions on bomb-making and has no intention of taking up arms herself. Rather, she bullies Muslim men to go and fight and rallies women to join the cause.

“It’s not my role to set off bombs — that’s ridiculous,” she said in a rare interview. “I have a weapon. It’s to write. It’s to speak out. That’s my jihad. You can do many things with words. Writing is also a bomb.”

Ms. El Aroud has not only made a name for herself among devotees of radical forums where she broadcasts her message of hatred toward the West. She also is well known to intelligence officials throughout Europe as simply “Malika” — an Islamist who is at the forefront of the movement by women to take a larger role in the male-dominated global jihad.

The authorities have noted an increase in suicide bombings carried out by women — the American military reports that 18 women have conducted suicide missions in Iraq so far this year, compared with 8 all of last year — but they say there is also a less violent yet potentially more insidious army of women organizers, proselytizers, teachers, translators and fund-raisers, who either join their husbands in the fight or step into the breach as men are jailed or killed.

“Women are coming of age in jihad and are entering a world once reserved for men,” said Claude Moniquet, president of the Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. “Malika is a role model, an icon who is bold enough to identify herself. She plays a very important strategic role as a source of inspiration. She’s very clever — and extremely dangerous.” (Read the whole article here)

Reading about this woman was a chilling experience but it was less her gender that got me thinking than the power (for good or evil) that new communication technologies such as websites and blogs can have in the world. It reminds me of some powerful commentary made by the Universal House of Justice about speech:

"From a Bahá'í point of view, the exercise of freedom of speech must necessarily be disciplined by a profound appreciation of both the positive and negative dimensions of freedom, on the one hand, and of speech, on the other. Bahá'u'lláh warns us that "the tongue is a smouldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison". "Material fire consumeth the body," He says in elaborating the point, "whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century." In tracing the framework of free speech, He again advises "moderation". "Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation", He states, adding, "As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets." Also relevant to what is said, and how, is when it is said. For speech, as for so many other things, there is a season. Bahá'u'lláh reinforces this understanding by drawing attention to the maxim that "Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it." Speech is a powerful phenomenon. Its freedom is both to be extolled and feared. It calls for an acute exercise of judgement, since both the limitation of speech and the excess of it can lead to dire consequences."
(The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)

Meditating on the standard of self-expression that the Baha'i Faith calls me to strive for I realize that it is easier to criticize people like the woman described in the Times article than to reflect on the degree to which my own writing on this blog may help or harm. Are there times when my "writing is also a bomb"? What is the line between provoking thought and just provoking people? Can you take on challenging issues without assuming a challenging tone? Is there a "Baha'i way" to blog about oppression and injustice in this world? If so, what does it read like?

What do you think readers?