Hello? Can anyone hear me? Koran burning over here

No, I’m not really burning a Koran nor would I burn a Bible, Torah or rip up a picture of the Pope. I wouldn’t even fling elephant poo on it, hang it in a museum and call it art. Why? It’s not that I don’t reserve the right to express myself in these ways — because in America, I do — but because they are deliberately intended to show disrespect to other people’s beliefs about themselves. Doing these things is only intended to send a message of disrespect to others, not as an expression of my free speech.

But that is not really my point. I just said all that because I believe it to be true, but also to stave off any nutjob who wanted to come over here and pee all over my carpet just to show he can. Whoopdeedoo, you found the comment box.

My point is just one small contention with one assertion President Obama made in his press conference today. He stated (40:22):

This is a way of endangering our troops… I hardly think we’re the ones who elevated it. In the age of the Internet, something that could cause us profound damage around the world.

With all due respect, Mr. President, I disagree.
Continue reading “Hello? Can anyone hear me? Koran burning over here”

Quit scaring us and quit calling us ignorant. The great Park51 mosque debate

I’ve been mulling over this issue of the Park51 community center containing a mosque for the past week now, trying to reconcile in my own head the disconnect I have with an unconditional freedom of and from religion and the general unease and empathy I feel with those who oppose the placement of a community center containing a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. After being scared to death by the Republicans and called ignorant and intolerant by the Liberals, I struck me what was at the core of this issue.

Most Americans don’t see Islam as a religion but rather as an imperial political and cultural machine. When a “religion” becomes politicized, it then becomes fair game to oppose, much like Fascism, Communism or Socialism. The intolerance becomes perfectly rational because this “thing” you oppose is no longer a religion. Ok, just hold on a minute and I’ll explain how I’ve arrived at this conclusion.

In the West, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the natural state of religion is separate from the secular state. When we look “over there” at governments like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines and such, we see a religion that trumps the secular state. To us, it is the equivalent of the Supreme Court being overruled by clergymen and The Bible.

I object strongly to the Republicans painting a picture of fear and mistrust, comparing Islam to Naziism and the like. I get why they are doing it. Nobody pays attention to the rational anymore. Everything has to be hyperbolic. But what irritates me even more than the calculated contrived craziness of the Right is the haughty indignation of the Left, calling us all ignorant for not recognizing Islam as a religion for which we need to be tolerant. They scold and berate us for having a bit of trepidation about the intent of the Muslim community when clearly we can see established government states being unnecessarily cruel and inhuman, run by the same religion that tells us it is peace-loving. We are conflicted. What is Islam then? Islam ultimately must be a religion that is peaceful until it gains power. Then it is not.

For eight years, the peace-loving Evangelical Christians had the US Government at its beck and call, wielding power over who was and was not worthy to serve as an elected in a secular government. Only toward the end of the George Bush Administration did their stranglehold loosen.

A Catholic as late as the 1960s was seen as unelectable because it was believed that allegiance to the Pope in Rome would trump the Oath to defend the Constitution. John Kennedy proved that wrong; Bart Stupek made us wonder all over again.

In 1620, the Puritans landed in Massachusetts after getting kicked out of England and The Netherlands and promptly set up a theocracy which eventually led to some witch trials some seventy years later. Eventually, secular sense took hold, but not before a lot of people were scared into confessing sins which they did not commit as a matter of civil law. It is a convenient myth to believe that the Puritans were kicked out of England for practicing their religion, when in fact, they wanted their version of religion to rule the State. King James kinda had it right.

We mistrust the Muslim intentions because we mistrust our own. We’ve seen how a religion that purports itself to be tolerant, patient, peace-loving and kind will turn cruel, ugly and destructive when it gains power. While many of us can’t articulate exactly why we feel like we do about the Mosque at Park51, these feelings of uneasiness are no less valid. It is not empty fear stoked up by loud voices nor is it intentional ignorance and faulty logic the arrogant intellectuals would have us believe. Perhaps it is our own sense of history with regard to religion that gives us pause.

But we are not ignorant, fear-mongering intolerant trolls. We mistrust because there is a reason.

And a small pup is easier to kill than a full-sized bear.


What is really going on behind the NYC mosque? It’s personal

As plans for an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero move forward, the arguments for and against is getting more and more contentious. On the one end of the debate, Sarah Palin, Rev. Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich and others are outraged that radical Islam can be allowed to exist so close to “sacred ground.” On the other end, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others claim that the United States is a country of laws that tolerate all or no religion and that the Islamic community center has a right to exist where it wants.

But both sides are wrong and are wagging the dog.

I happened to be listening to the soundtrack of Les Misérables this morning with Morning Joe debating the issue. As it was, “Who am I?” was playing and the lyrics below burned into my brain:

If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!

At the end of the song, Jean Valjean decides that the punishment of eternal damnation was far worse than any punishment the state and Javert could inflict on him and declared loudly that he was 24601!* Without going too deeply into a character analysis, Jean Valjean’s faith eventually overwhelmed his need for corporal survival. One could argue all day long that it wasn’t really his faith in God and his fear of eternal damnation, but his place in the community, etc, etc. But they would be wrong. It was his faith or his “bargain” with God.

It is not about religion, the rule of law, public sensibilities or tolerance. It is all about the individual’s relationship with their God. In the end, each player in this act believes he or she will be standing naked before their God and defend his or her actions. Muslims will defend they did all they could to expand Islam and Christians will defend they did all they could to be tolerant of others.

Eventually, the rule of law in the United States will say that there is no legal basis for denying the group from building a mosque, regardless of how close it is to Ground Zero. For Muslims, expansion into a Judeo-Christian stronghold like the United States is a victory. For Christians who believe in forgiveness, accepting Muslims into the fold is a victory. Both sides will win the tussle because they define victory differently. In the end, however, the “State” known as the United States of America will cease. It may take a hundred years, it may take a thousand, but the path of tolerance will eventually doom us. Time is an irrelevant metric for God.

And for many, that will be ok because by then, the concept of a state existing without a religion will be as foreign a concept as a body without a soul, like a bulldozer without a driver, like a dog without a master.

*If you really, really want to go deeper into this, start thinking about the cry to Allah that each of the 9/11 hijackers shrieked as they crashed into the buildings. The parallels here are frightening.