Friday, July 9, 2010

Letter to a Suicide Bomber

Dear Radical Muslim Suicide Bomber,

I realize your faith is the most important thing in your life. There's no reason to even discuss that. I also realize you may feel frustrated, ignored, helpless, poverty stricken, and any number of different things. But I'd like to ask you to look at this:

As you probably know, that's the Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan. Please click on that picture, and look at it. I mean really look at it. Look at it like you've never seen it before. Look at it like you've never seen anything like it before. Look at what your people accomplished. It is absolutely breathtaking. This building was built in 1634. Sixteen Thirty-Four.

Just so you can understand where I'm going with this, I propose a little game. Go to Google Maps and look at my home, New York City. Choose any point at random on the island of Manhattan and start looking up and down streets. I'll give you an entire hour to find any building built more than 250 years ago.

I could probably do it, because I know the history of the city, so I'd know where to start searching. But I'm assuming you live in another country. If you can find one by searching at random that way, I'll give you a million dollars. One of the things I love about New York is that we do have more gorgeous historical buildings than many other parts of this republic, in addition to our futuristic structures, but they are few and far between, and you have to know where they are. They probably pale in comparison to someplace like Boston or even Philadelphia.

And don't get me wrong, I love the Modernity of my city. The gravity-defying domes and soaring minarets of your mosques, the sun-bathed reach for the heavens of Europe's medieval cathedrals, as much as the sky-scraping steel and glass monoliths of America's newer cities, these all attest to the wondrous glory of the human spirit. They show what beauty and majesty is possible in the world when mere mortal human beings care to dream and push the boundaries of engineering and construction and artistry.

We all have our differences. There are parts of my country I could go where my political ideology, social attitudes, or spiritual philosophies would meet hostile, even violent opposition. But maybe there's something more important than all of that. It's this:

That's the Shrine of Hazrat Ali (the Blue Mosque) in Mazari Sharif, Afghanistan. This one was built in 1521.

Fifteen-hundred and twenty-one.

I'm only using these as mere examples: I mean whatever mosque you might see down your street. Your part of the world is filled with architecture of this age and caliber from one corner to the next.

I realize you may look at this and feel that it represents ideas in Islam that you find particularly offensive, even disgusting. It may make you terribly angry. This may seem so important that you MUST do something to stop it, even at the expense of your own life. You may feel that people practicing their faith in such a way MUST realize the errors of their ways, and you are the person to show them, with a bomb strapped to your chest. My interest is in aesthetics and culture and history, but the loss of human life will always be the greatest tragedy. I personally feel that killing is always wrong, period, regardless of what my government and its military are doing, but that's not a discussion for here.

But what I'd like to ask is that for just one moment, you stop...and look. Look at it. Look at how beautiful and majestic and important that structure is. How truly valuable is the age and longevity of its majesty in this fleeting, ever-challenging, alienating twenty-first century. Look at the exquisite, elaborate patterns of its ornament and consider how one of your ancestors had to be a genius in geometry to even conceive such grace. Consider the millennia of ceramacists perfecting the art of tile-making to produce glazing of an intricacy and vibrance the world had never seen. Notice a sense of proportion, elegance, and symmetry clearly inspired by Allah, Himself, and in glory to Him, every bit as much as Beethoven was inspired by God.

Instead of anger and fear and hate, there's a much more positive emotion you might feel: Pride (don't ask the Catholics). I implore you to just stop and think to yourself, "this is what
my people contributed to the world. This is what the culture of which I have the honor to be a part was capable of producing." Maybe for just one moment, think not of the differences in cultures and beliefs, but what fantastic and impressive beauty your great ancient culture has been able to give all of the world, and don't destroy it. Please, don't destroy it. If I were to be able to look at, for instance, the Blue Mosque, and think "my people did this," I might weep with joy and pride.

Your ancestors gave you the greatest gift. Please don't take that for granted.

Yours Sincerely,
Ryan Witte


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an excellent essay!! Seriously, I was looking for random pictures of Mosques and I found the Mazar-e-Sharif Mosque you have, so I decided to read your essay. It's amazing and thank you for that. I am from the Middle East, I wish all of us can think about these historical buildings and think of what our ancestors contributed to society, we would truely be in a better place and really have a peaceful world. Again thank you.

Ryan Witte said...

You're quite welcome, and thanks for taking the time to read it.

Ronjf1 said...


It is 5:33 am and I woke early today. This is my usual routine, check the email. Architecture is one of my linked in areas of interest. But today your essay has made the usual not so usual. Thanks for the history lesson, the appreciation for the knowledge the people possessed that built these mosques, and the spirit of your letter.

Now I have an appreciation for what was achieved so long ago.