More On Islam
There was a time in the recent past when I would have nodded and said to myself, "Of course the pope is just saying things that are politically incorrect but honest. No one wants to say this, but Muslims do have a concept of jihad and there are parts in the Quran that do recommend conversion by the sword."
Not that I'd ever read the Quran, you understand -- just bits and pieces of it. My status as a citizen of the most powerful nation on Earth made it eminently acceptable for me to pass easy armchair judgment on the entire Islamic world without ever having visited a Muslim community or knowing much of anything about the religion and culture of Islam.
I'm not ashamed of that; I'm just another dumb, arrogant American. No shame in that unless you adamantly stay dumb.
I am beginning to see, however, that my smug Western assessment of Islam -- which came with a kind of pursed-lip liberal gee-whizzery, as in "Gee whiz, I hate to say this about a major world religion, but Islam is kind of extra violent, isn't it?" is just as inexcusably ignorant, racist and dangerous in its own way as the Christian militant who wants to imprison all the "towel-heads."
I have to admit now that a lot of my own reaction to Islam was/is the visceral reaction I get to the visual images and sounds of the Muslim world: thousands of people wearing clothes I can't relate to, jammed in tushy to tushy in a mosque prostrating themselves in prayer, women covering their heads with scarves, wailing ululations that sound nothing like the hymns that are so comforting to my own soul. Visceral anxiety = You People Are Weird. Not an acceptable way to approach fellowship and understanding.
I think the Pope made a big, dumb mistake. I don't think the Pope knows doody about Islam. He has fallen into the same trap most of us have fallen into, but since he's probably the most important religious leader in the world, he ought to be ashamed of himself. He should get out there and fix what he did. And the next time he hires a Unitarian Christian woman of Jewish descent who dabbles in witchcraft as one of his personal advisors, I will be sure to tell him that!
I am beginning to think that the religion of Islam and the hideous infection of Islamic terrorism bear practically no useful relation to one another. I think that looking to the Muslim religion to understand why men were willing to fly planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center is an exercise in futility.
I believe now that we should look to other factors, such as deep cultural assumptions and influences, and stop trying to understand Islam through the lens of the question, "Why are all these terrorists Muslims?" Those who seek to understand Islam have the difficult but necessary job, I think, of exorcising the question of terrorism from their initial exploration. To set about understanding Islam from an initial assumption that it breeds terrorists can never give us a fair or responsible conceptual foundation for learning. Religious people should protest this when they see it happening. Pope Ben, I'm looking at you.
Say a group of Martians descend on our planet. They set up a university to try to understand human beings, and they decide to study human nature using Hitler, Stalin, Vlad the Impaler, Pol Pot, and John Wayne Gacy as case studies. They put a pile of the world's sacred scriptures in a pile and begin to comb through them, looking for the answer to the question, "How do the many religiouis beliefs of these creatures incite them to such heinous crimes against one another?" Say we give the Martians some yellow highlighters in order to help them find the passages in all the scriptures that support their initial assumption. Think they would find lots and lots of things to highlight? Think that the Holy Bible would be full of yellow? Yea, me too.
Now I've got to go do my day.