Thursday, April 17, 2014

Promotion of hatred is a dangerous thing


Sloughing Toward Bethlehem
William Butler Yates wrote in his poem, The Second Coming, “… The ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity…”  He was worried about Islam.

The promoters of profitable paranoia are popular on right-wing news and talk shows.  They speak in sweeping generalizations, us versus them, the uncivilized enemy, conspiracy to dominate the world, and liberal complicity.  They are joined by the Christian media who, for a love donation, will burn the Quran and feed you “just believe” propaganda that makes all actualities irrelevant.  They claim that only they are factual, and that scholars and historians are misleading the public.  In this day of Duck Brother persecution and swamp alligator reality, experts are portrayed as mistaken elites.  You need to look no further than the qualifications of anti-Islam authors and their emotional language to see that their intentions have overcome their intellect.  One example is their incorrect use of the term jihad or holy war.

Jihad is not officially one of the pillars of Islam.  It does not authorize acts of terrorism against innocent civilians or allow offensive war.  It refers to the struggle of Muslims to live the virtuous life and promote social justice.  It is the extremists who have redefined the term to include terrorism.

Neither the Torah nor the Quran appeared in a vacuum.  They were written from a brutal time when life was short, culture was tribal, God was polytheistic, and science was superstitious.  They describe many cruel practices.

Statistical Islam
The author and international lecturer Bill Warner/French runs the Center for the Study of Political Islam.  His book, A Simple Koran, claims to have achieved objectivity through the use of statistics.  It rearranges and statistically combines information from the three foundational Islamic texts assuming that this doctrine is the dominant cause of modern political tension.  Modern Muslims don’t deny the relevance of these texts, but they recognize that a thousand years of  man’s interpretation tempered by wars, splits in the faith among the Sunni, Shii, and Sufi, the geographical  spread of Islam, nationalism, and colonialism have influenced a religion that makes no clear separation between politics and the spiritual.

Computers can collect or generate impressive mountains of data quickly.  The next step is to look for regularities and patterns in the data that reveal simpler relationships and equations, that given initial conditions can find and predict or provide a clue.  However, logical mathematics achieves its certainty by abstraction (letters, symbols, numbers, and procedures) that can be at the expense of truth. Mathematics can’t calculate authenticity or make us see the forest in spite of the trees.  The parameters and numbers of descriptive statistics don’t bring meaning to the data.  That is something that we read into it.  This challenges the ground of Bill Warner’s truth.

Worse yet is the idea of assembling quotes out of context from Islamic books to allegedly reduce confusion.  This manufactures instead of finding an interpretation.  It is an upside-down objectivity made clear by the assertion that the Islamic texts were made “deliberately difficult to read and comprehend”.  The fact is that Islam’s complexity did not prevent it from exploding across continents in about 100 years to lead the world in art, science, mathematics, and military.

Islam is dynamic and complex.  It is found in 56 countries and includes people of many races, languages, and cultures.  Only twenty percent of Muslims are Arab.  It includes the Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Wahhabi, Fulani, Sanusi, Mahdi, and historical dynasties.

Books that characterize all Islam as simple, uniform, and extreme are not realistic and won’t reduce Muslim resentment.  They might help to elect our politicians, who could introduce legislation promoting policies that threaten civil liberties, restrict immigration and teach creationism in public schools.  Will that help America’s adaptation to the global world that is inexorably coming to be?

A balanced perspective of what is at stake for both sides can be found in Bernard Lewis’ books, The Crisis of Islam and What Went Wrong?  For the development of Islam, one can download Professor John Esposito’s Great Course, Great World Religions:  Islam.

It all depends on how one criticizes.  There are Muslim scholars who criticize Islam’s foundational literature, but they don’t demonize “elites” and stereotype the media, schools, and religious leaders as liars.  They don’t play the persecution card claiming that they are unfairly called bigots.  We have to recognize “hate speech” for what it is.

John Bargh’s January 2013 Scientific American article, “Our Unconscious Mind”, is concerned with gut reactions and internalized stereotypes.  They are there every moment of our lives.  These are often incorrect or unjustified when applied to the individuals that we meet who have done nothing bad.  This is the flaw that comes from demonizing all of Mohammad’s 1.2 billion followers and forgetting that terrorism requires only a few.  Prejudice exists whenever we accuse those who are of a different race, creed, or nationality, regarding them as adversaries, not brothers. Thousands of years later, Christians still speak of the original occupants of the Promised Land, the Canaanites, as though they were not human.  Good people, who claim to be open-minded, are unaware of their subconscious biases.  Bigotry spreads like wildfire.  We cannot appreciate or control its effect.

The History Channel program on the Holocaust was culture-war revision.  It was the good guys versus the bad guys.  The Nazis were devil worshipers instead of fundamentalist Christians!  This nicely gets around introspection, responsibility, and lets everyone feel good about being among God’s elect.

Prejudiced Nazis believed that Jews were less than human.  Hitler took these ancient stereotypes literally.  What they were doing to the Jews was justified by history, science, and nature.  That is why Hitler was able to enlist a “heroic-German” world view and fan the flames of hate that already resided in the subconscious of respectable Germans.  In America, it was Henry Ford, the man who gave us the assembly line and model-T, who blamed the Jews for the world’s ills.  The promotion of hatred is a dangerous thing. 

Church and State
Much of the tension between Islam and America arises from the incorporation of politics with faith.  Religion and politics used to be separate in America, but not anymore.

When John Kennedy ran for president, he let the American people know that he would not be a puppet of the Pope.  In the civil rights area, Martin Luther King appealed to religion, but he was not running for president.  By 2010, Republican presidential candidates where running with their religion on their sleeves for all to see.  Now we have a politics that invites anti-Islam speakers.

Do we need to return to the time of Colonial America and alleged Christian tolerance?  Religious conservatives use this argument against secularism.

It is a myth that the Pilgrims and their followers who established the thirteen colonies were all of one accord, seeking religious freedom.  Many came for non-religious reasons and founded colonies that were not religiously based.  Religious toleration was not regarded as a virtue, even by those who were escaping persecution in their homeland.  The 1620 Plymouth Rock Pilgrims were not running away from British persecution, but instead they fled the Netherlands fearing that Dutch culture would corrupt their youth.  The Massachusetts Bay Puritans, a decade later, banished dissenters from their own congregation, like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson and executed others who would not be banned.  In Maryland, it progressed to religious warfare between Catholics and Protestants.

The Pope’s holy Crusades, the Inquisition, the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, the Salem witch trials, the Northern Ireland conflict, and the Central African Republic genocide, testify that Christians have not always been capable of non-violently disagreeing.

Recognizing that God created the diversity of mankind, the Quran stresses pluralism and tolerance.  In (2:256) it states “There is to be no compulsion in religion”.  Except for extremist groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, Islam has been comparatively accepting, but we need to remember the meaning of the word “tolerance” in modern America is different than it was in seventh century Arabia.

It’s Not Christianity
Anti-Islam books are not about comparative religion.  Their emphasis can be summed up in a single sentence, “It is not Christianity”, setting the stage for everything that follows.  But can one affirm oneself as a Christian by opposing all that is Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist?  Are you in it, or is it in you?  Can a Christian learn anything from other faiths?  Lacking an authority, can there be a single known and agreed upon truth?

“Muslims believe that the Quran is the literal, eternal, uncreated Word of God sent down from heaven to the Prophet Muhammad as a guide for humankind”.  The Bible is viewed in the same way as completely unambiguous, never contradictory, an absolute truth that is beyond criticism, literary style, and history.  These interpretations promote unresolvable disagreement.

Adam Parafrey’s book, Extreme Islam, accurately describes anti-American propaganda and hatred by Muslims.  It documents how religion that provides the guidance that people need in their lives can turn to minutiae.  However, veils, food, and circumcision provide an important identity for followers.
Islamic Defeat
Islam is the third largest religion in the United States, but Muslims, who do not go door to door with the Quran in hand, are not recognized.  There is no conspiracy to take over America.  They were present in America before the nineteenth century.
They included many explorers, traders, and settlers who migrated to the New World.  Between fourteen and twenty percent of the African slaves, brought to America between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries were Muslim.  We gained many who lost their homes when Israel was created in 1948.  The fall of the Shah of Iran brought engineers and educated elites to America as did the rise of international manufacturing allowing companies to pick the best from the nations that they built in.

Islam’s success came from its combining intelligent faith and reason.  It did not mandate unreasoned belief.  The divide between religion and science, that hampered European progress, did not limit the Muslims who saw the sacred and the secular as part of the same thing.  That is why their religion rose and conquered the world.  But success breeds failure when it does not adapt.

The European Renaissance brought dramatic change in civilization, cultural heritage, science, and technology.  It was heathen, so medical and technical books were never translated into Arabic and remained unknown to Muslims.  There was no need to understand other achievements because they did not demonstrate Allah’s will.  It eventually showed up in the military where Mediterranean-style ships could not compete with the better armed European designs made for travel in the Atlantic.
It is much harder to change when you have been winning.  The seventh century Muslims never saw it coming.  By the twentieth century, they were left behind.  Now extreme fundamentalism is on the rise and could be a greater threat to Islamic civilization than terrorism.  That solution has become the problem.

To once again become great, Islam faces a choice of retreating to the past or reconstructing for the future, but it has no pope to unify focus.  Fazlur Rahman, the twentieth century Muslim scholar said, Islamic reform requires “first class minds who can interpret the old in terms of the new as regards substance and turn the new into service of the old as regards ideals”. 

It was Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, whose spiritual journey through life led him to appreciate other religions and their people who wrote:  “We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison."

No comments: