Sunday, May 18, 2008

Islamic Doublethink?

I'm no Islamophobe. I've got Muslim friends and friends who adhere to other religions, or no religion, as well. I believe God speaks to people in many ways. However, I'm confused about why Islam is so paranoid about "images" of animals or people, thinking that they may arouse idolatry, and so protective of the Quran itself. It seems to me that perhaps one can so revere two pieces of cardboard with paper inside that reverence for God might take second place to this physical thing as well.

I'm a Christian, so the Bible is important to me. In my view, it is the most important source of God's word to man. Yet I'm not at all protective of the Bible itself. If someone wants to step on it, burn it, or deface or ruin it in any way, I'm not going to take offense. Rather, I'm likely to feel sorry for the person and try to find out what would make a person want to do that. In my view, God alone can judge, or perhaps punish that person for their intent. For my part, the Bible is cardboard and paper. Harming it does not do actual harm to God in any way, and God does not need me to help defend the Almighty. God is surely capable of self-defense against such puny creatures as we.

Today I read a story about an American soldier shooting up a Quran. A general ended up apologizing profusely, another officer produced a new Quran and kissed it before handing it over to some Islamic clerics, and the soldier was brought home in disgrace. I'd say the soldier was stupid and wrong to do what he did, and his act was disrespectful to Muslims, but I'd leave the idea of defending God out of the conversation about this incident. Allah can take care of Allah's interests, no doubt. The soldier's act was the latest in a series of such Quran desecrations where violent revenge was threatened or taken for the insult. It seems to me that the book itself has just as much potential for idolatry as a picture. It is a material thing, and it seems to me that it can become just as much an icon as any graven image or picture.

More broadly, I view this situation as another of the millions of situations where members of one faith "insult" members of another either verbally or by some sort of desecration. We have civil laws against the more flagrant of these situations - painting swastikas on temples, turning over gravestones, messing around with stuff on an altar, discriminating against someone of another religion, etc. At some point even repeatedly calling people names becomes harassment. These are the laws that should pertain to things like shooting a Quran or taking a Bible out of a church and tearing it up. But when those of the "offended" faith start talking about revenge (in the name of God), things have got way out of hand and often the retribution is out of proportion to the offense.

Perhaps I have a Muslim reader who can explain why this man-made thing that eventually will fall apart on its own is so important to defend with violence? I wouldn't misuse a Quran simply out of respect for this reader and his/her co-religionists, but I can't imagine why some Muslims hyperventilate when idiots do what idiots will do. Is a book really worth rioting and killing for? Just curious.


ThomasLB said...

It's not just Muslims, and not just religious folks.

Twenty years ago an artist dunked a crucifix into a jar of urine, and fundamentalist Christians still regularly work themselves into a lather over it. Likewise, every few years the Republicans get a bug up their butt about flag burning.

I have a hunch it's got little to do with religion or patriotism, and a lot to do with power and control.

Woozie said...

Things in the middle east have been generally messed up since rapid decolonization and a series of western backed anticommunist leaders.


Ron Davison said...

Well, a word may have no meaning to me because I do not speak the language, and yet if I look my host in the eye and say it while pointing at his wife, he's likely to take offense. Things mean what people make them mean. I do not suppose there is a way around that, at least for now.
You might enjoy David Bohm's book, On Dialogue. Here's a quote:
Opinion is all programmed into memory. "You may then identify with those opinions and react to defend them. But it doesn't make sense to do this. If the opinion is wrong, why should you defend it? If you are identified with it, however, you do defend it. It is as if you yourself are under attack when your opinion is challenged."