Protesting xenophobic ignorance
Today is September 11, 2010; the anniversary of the 9/11 attack and the day that pastor Terry Jones of the ironically-named “Dove Center” in Florida intended to burn Korans.
Well possibly not. Late yesterday Jones said that he had been in contact with Imam Rauf of the Cordoba Center in Manhattan, and received a promise that no mosque would be built at Ground Zero. So he now says he isn’t going ahead with his plan to burn the Koran. (Rauf denies this conversation, and Jones’ daughter is concerned that he may be losing it)
Anyway, it got me thinking about book-burning as a symbolic protest and I decided to hold a little protest of my own: I spent a couple hours reading the Koran. After a few more sessions I’ll write my impressions, but for now the point is that we can handle ideas contrary to our own without the Earth splitting open and swallowing us up.
And this is something we Americans should practice more. As a people we’re not usually multilingual (said the man reading the Dawood translation of the Koran), but the very least we can do is try to understand. And we won’t get that understanding by listening to angry heads who demonstrably know next to nothing about our putative “enemies”. You’d learn more about Islam in one lunch hour with a Muslim friend, inviting them to talk about their experience than you would in a year of watching Fox News.
Now the odds that we’ll really succeed in understanding are, admittedly, slim. But the attempt has value in itself. For one thing, we might figure out that “they” have the same, terribly human problem of trying to understand us.
With a little effort we could try to understand that there are different flavors of Islam, just as there are of Christianity. We could learn that there are poor and rich Islamic countries, and that a couple of them are secular democracies. We could study the ugly history of Western intervention in oil-producing lands, which are predominately Muslim.
The alternative, sadly, is to look at videos of planes crashing into buildings and say; “Everything I need to know about Islam I learned on 9-11”. As if all 1.2 billion Muslims were all members of the tiny faction, Al Queda. As if American Muslims (been around since George Washington’s time, actually) didn’t serve in our military. And as if, well, a hundred other things.
The link above is satire, but it contains a very important truth about the practical value of understanding. It isn’t a touchy-feely kind of value, but a real improvement in our prospects. If we know the differences among Muslims, and have a more accurate understanding of the cultures within Islam, we have a better chance of not playing the role of xenophobic idiots. We won’t protest things that are actually all to the good. We might find more allies among the larger Muslim population, who after all are not all that fond of Al Queda either. And we might make some new friends and make the world a safer place.
But we’ll never know unless we try. I’m not holding out much hope that Jones will try, but the rest of us don’t have insanity as an excuse.
- Today has been dubbed “Burn a Koran Day” by Terry Jones, but also “Read a Koran Day by Huffington Post’s Jesse Berney. I didn’t get the idea from him; it just seemed like an obvious thing to do.
- I’m not kidding about what you can learn around Muslim friends, vs. what you “learn” on Fox News. Having experienced both the contrast is striking.
- PZ Myers, who knows something about symbolic acts himself, shares a video ridiculing Jones.
- Take a look at these Ramadan pictures for another visual perspective.
- Obama says, correctly, that the Koran-burning is a recruiting bonanza for Al Queda. PZ has interesting reasons to argue that shouldn’t be a factor.
- Obama, echoing Bush; We are not at war with Islam. Given that he actually does know something about Islam (which was one of several reasons I voted for him) the statement has some positive meaning.
- ***Dave has