Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On Revelation Distorted as Ideology (part 2)

The other day I mentioned a book called The Muslim Next Door.  I actually started writing my rant about distorted revelation before I started the book.  As I revised it, I'm sure some of the things Mrs. Ali-Karamali write must have bled in.  I want to get that out of the way. I was not intentionally plagiarising her work if I inadvertently quoted her.  

In a way it's more a case of picking up her book now because these things were on my mind already.  The book simply gave me a different perspective on things I was already pondering.  I think it more or less affirmed everything I've been writing about lately.  Religion is not bad in and of itself.  I believe Revelation happens.  It is when Revelation is misunderstood or twisted and used to push an agenda that it becomes so very dangerous.

People have done extreme evil in the name of every religion ever conceived by humankind, including but by no means limited to Islam.  The Crusades for example.  We need to get over the notion that Islam is totally evil and Christianity is totally good. We need to get over that now.

We also need to get over the idea that there is anything qualitatively different between what Bin Laden's people did on 9/11 and what Timothy McVeigh did in Oklahoma.  Bin Laden killed more people but  McVeigh did exactly the same thing, for exactly the same reason, and based on the same ridiculous notion that killing a bunch of innocent people to make some kind of point is something God wants people to do.  There is NO DIFFERENCE between Christianist extremism that kills and terrorizes in the name of Jesus or Islamist extremism that kills and terrorizes in the name of Allah or Jewish extremism that kills and terrorizes for the sake of its God-given Homeland.  

The overwhelming impression I have from reading this book is that Islam (in its "ideal" form) actually sounds like Judaism or Buddhism or Christianity in their ideal forms: a way of attempting to grapple with words to try to understand the Holy.  As described by this author, who clearly loves her religion and is deeply nurtured by it, Islam shines forth as a vibrant and healthy and wonderful religion.  The fact that it has been interpreted, twisted and used by its adherents to push every manner of agenda does not change the fact that its core message is not that different from most other religions, at least the Religions of the Book. 

Islam has also been demonized for millennia by Christians and Jews, to the point that I think we in the West have such a distorted and skewed view of Islam we might be hard pressed to ever be able to relate to Muslims as equals. 

Part of that is due to Christian arrogance that holds itself up as the One True Religion.   Hell, I was an active, involved and committed member of the Episcopal Church for years before I stopped thinking of it as a bogus form of Christianity, thanks to my indoctrination by the Roman Catholic church.  I eventually was able to reach the point where I truly believed it was just as authentic as the RC church.  That giant leap for me allowed me to accept other Christian denominations as "real"  (whether I like them or not).  It also allowed me to accept the authenticity of other religions, Judaism and Islam, included. 

The other reason for our rampant ignorance on the subject is, I think, cultural "disinformation".  Mrs. Ali-Karamali is critical of the media but she is careful not to blast American culture too much. She has good reason for being cautious: the safety of her family, for one.  I'm white and (sort of) Christian, so I'll say this. The hatred of Islam runs so deep in the West it has infected the very heart of Christian teaching. The Crusades were religious wars to purge the world of the "Infidel".  Five hundred years later our media pundits feel free to opine on the subject of Islam, when they know nothing about it and their general attitude is still that Islam and its adherents are inferior.  The infinitesimal information that does seep into the schools about Islam appears to be virtually all incorrect, if not out and out disinformation.  [The main thing I learned from reading this book is that virtually everything I thought I knew about Islam beyond the fact that it is a monotheistic religion very closely related to Judaism and Christianity is totally wrong.]

I am sorry for the fact that I keep quoting show tunes in these ramblings, but I think the best description I know of for how the infection of racism (religionism  or any other bigotry) is given in a song from the play South Pacific. It is so good, I'm quoting the whole thing.:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught! 

It is precisely that cultural indoctrination of bigotry from toddler-hood that keeps us from building bridges, or that causes terrified extremists to blow up the cultural and religious bridges built by people of good will. 

I ended my article on Sunday, worrying about how on earth we can turn things around and stop the madness.  This book makes me both more certain that we need to do that, and less optimistic that we will. 

I guess the good news is we live in a country where a person can publish a book like that for others to read.  The problem is that the people who really need to read it won't. 

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