BOSTON — If Angelina Jolie can help bring peace to Sierra Leone, I think I might have a compromise solution that can salve the wounds of this latest Gitmo outrage: We’ll stop throwing your Korans in the toilet if you’ll stop burning our flags.
A joke, of course, but one that exemplifies a larger point: In light of the travesty that was Abu Ghraib and several other published accounts of Koran desecration, it’s not implausible (Newsweek‘s retraction notwithstanding) that something along the lines of what was reported did happen at Gitmo. Nevertheless, if the Muslim world is to advance/progress/evolve into a peaceful place where human rights are protected and a more socially and monetarily productive pluralism is embraced, getting over the uber-sensitivity with regard to their book would be a good first step.
Indeed, one of the most important steps on the way to a peaceful enlightened existence outside the Muslim world has been when people wisely started treating church more like a book-of-the-month club (albeit, with the same book every month) than a singular prescription for the ordering of society.
Try to imagine, if it is even possible, American Christians setting a New York City block afire because someone in Saudi Arabia kicked around the Bible. When American Jews had issues with the message and intent of The Passion of the Christ last year, we saw a riot of press releases and op-eds, but no actual riots. The other morning when I saw crying Pakistanis angry that a Koran might have been desecrated at Gitmo burning an American flag on the front page of the Boston Globe, my first reaction wasn’t to go burn a Pakistani flag in the street in spontaneous protest with my neighbors.
In fact, you could come into my house today and throw any one of my books into the toilet and I might call you a jerk, but I guarantee you I will not scream, cry, or risk my life over it. Kick any of my books across the floor and I will not pray for God to smite you. When my neighbors get a little too enthusiastic with their hip-hop, I call the police to deal with it, not a priest, rabbi, or dial-a-fatwa.
This is not because I — an un-baptized heathen — am any better than anyone else, or because Christians or Jews are better than Muslims. Indeed in some parts of the world today fundamentalists from all religions still behave in absurdly backward ways. Literal interpretation Jews in settlements outside the borders of Israel — many radicalized in America, it may as well be noted — are holding up a peace agreement their government and every other country on the face of the earth has endorsed because they cannot tell the difference between their book and rule of law; between the Torah and a deeded title. Some evangelicals in our own country are taking credit for everything from handing Bush the last election to the creation of every worthwhile American institution.
But the simple fact is that, overall, most religious people in civilized nations — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Deist, whatever — have “a life” before they have “a book.” And that’s a good thing. Whenever more people are dedicated to their book than their lives, disaster is bound to follow.
Need a local example? Puritanism gave us the Salem witch trials, bad teeth, and worse clothes. Religious tolerance gave us peace, commerce, and variety. It’s not much of a choice, really, is it? I think we can all agree we’d much rather have the Pilgrims as characters in children’s picture books than running the government.
It’s sort of amusing in a tragic way that the leaders of Islamic countries where manliness and male superiority are pillars of their book-based government have ended up seeming so weak and emasculated in the face of this controversy.
“The apology and retraction are not enough,” Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed wailed to Reuters after the Newsweek retraction. “They should understand the sentiments of Muslims and think 101 times before publishing news which hurt feelings of Muslims.”
This is from a representative of a country that routinely burns its political prisoners with acid and boiling water, an act that hurts more than the feelings of many Muslims. The Pakistani authorities, our great allies in the righteous War on Terror, have not apologized for the rape rooms in their prisons where Muslims are sexually assaulted as a matter of course.
UNFORTUNATELY, THE REACTION of the Bush Administration has been basically to hold the collective hand of the Muslim world and have a good cry with them. Once again, the Bush Administration has opted to call for tolerance of fundamentalism, even as the nascent secular movements in these Islamic nations struggle for air.
Not that we perhaps shouldn’t apologize and agree that this sort of behavior is unacceptable, but groveling so much gives the unfortunate impression that this maniacal, insane reaction that ended some lives and destroyed others was somehow justified.
Just once, wouldn’t you like to hear something reasonable come tumbling out of one of our representatives to the world? Instead of Condi Rice saying, “We honor the sacred books of all the world’s great religions. Disrespect for the holy Koran is abhorrent to us all,” wouldn’t you have rather heard her say something like, “We’re really, really sorry, but, come on, seriously, don’t kill yourselves over it.”
By allowing the rioters to get a rise out of the highest echelons of the U.S. government, the Bush Administration has basically guaranteed this will become a regular occurrence. Like a child having a fit over a toy, acknowledging one over-reaction encourages another. And you can’t blame that all on Newsweek.