This was the plan: on Saturday, September 11, a small church in Florida (very ironically called the Dove World Outreach Center) would commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 by burning copies of the Qur'an. Despite this church only having 50 members, the issue took over the media, as such a hateful act naturally should, people from all over the world protested it, including many Americans. Because such a bonehead move will add fuel to the extremist fire, undoubtedly making someone declare jihad against American targets and when asked about the possible consequences and loss of life from this act, the pastor of this church - which on its website proclaim that "Islam is of the devil" - declared that "we do not feel responsible for that." Right. Dude, you do know that you are the Christian equivalent of an Islamic extremist, right?
Yesterday afternoon, the burning was canceled, the pastor claiming that an agreement had been reached with the builders of the “Ground Zero” mosque to move the location, but this doesn't appear to be the case.)
But it's more than that, isn't it? Is a particularly egregious example of the hatred and intolerance increasingly expressed towards Muslims. There’s Sarah Palin whipping everyone in the room frenzy about the mosque that's going to be built on Ground Zero, neatly sidestepping mentioning that the proposed site for this mosque is four blocks away, as well as ignoring the existence of strip clubs within that same ratio and the plan to build a mall on Ground Zero. Which is so much more respectful, y’know.
And then there are countries like France that ban women wearing the hijab - hiding it in a rule against wearing any religious clothing in state schools (does that mean you can't wear a yarmulke, either?) - and I find it particularly ironic that the country of "liberté, égalité, fraternité" was leading this particular social movement, because it proves that just as Napoleon - the Animal Farm: Centennial Edition, that is - said, "some animals are more equal than others." And it's also sort of ironic that to make this point, I use a quote attributed to a pig.
It makes me wonder why there seems to be so much confusion about Islam and Muslims in the US, why there's continuing polarization and simplification of the issue, with so many people equating being Muslim with being an extremist and not understanding the difference. It's sort of ironic that the country created by people who fled religious persecution has so little understanding and tolerance towards religions that aren't Christian. And naturally, I'm making a huge generalization as there are many very smart and tolerant Americans who have as many problems understanding this as I do. But that’s the first thing I don't understand and the second is how so very many people are using Christianity, a religion of love, to spew such hatred.
Part of my reaction to this is my general bleeding heart liberal tree-hugging politics, but the other part is that I live in an area where there are many Muslims. A good quarter of the tenants in my building are Muslim, are terrific neighbors who are very involved in our little community and any time somebody starts with the bigotry, I see the faces of my neighbors, see the faces of my friends and wince. We're not perfect, far from it - my mother's homecare worker has teenage sons who are afraid to speak Arabic in public and it makes me wonder what their everyday life is like to generate such fear. But I think there is hope in this neighborhood, in the city because of the integration of different cultural groups -the different becoming familiar is the first step to understanding and that counts for cultures, disabilities and any other difference you can think of.
Getting back to the Qur’an burning, I did some reading about it and on Wednesday, the National Post posted an opinion piece called A Double Standard on Rage. They make a good point that regardless of burning or no burning, extremists of any faith finding something to be pissed off about, then talk about the infamous Danish cartoons of the prophet, saying that "There was little wrong with the original 12 cartoons to Western eyes; we see cartoons of our leaders and idols on a daily basis that are as bad or worse." And then go on to defend our God-given right to print caricatures by saying "[a]nd we shouldn't have to curtail our beliefs and cultural practices just because people half a world away with only a sketchy understanding of our culture go into violent fits of rage." And my question is why not? Why not lead by example?
Let's say a friend of yours comes over for dinner to introduce a new boyfriend, who happens to be Muslim. Would you serve pork roast and tell him to suck it up? If you wouldn't be that intolerant and rude in your living room, why would you be that rude anywhere else? It's about respect, the respect you show to your friend because you don't want to hurt her feelings by being an arse, respect you show to other people in your neighborhood by not interfering with their right to religious expression (provided, of course, that it doesn't hurt anyone else and I don't see how e.g., wearing a scarf can infringe upon the rights of anyone). And it is the respect you would show the neighbors further away where, in the immortal words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, you may disapprove of their opinions, but would defend to the death their right to have it.
And then I started thinking about the irony of that National Post piece, because although we don't think we should curtail our beliefs and cultural practices, we certainly expect others to do so, don't we? We expect Muslims (for instance) to curtail their beliefs and cultural practices not just when they, as so many other people from so many other cultures, move to our countries, but in their own homelands, too. I guess some of us really are more equal than others, after all.
And it makes me wonder about the legacy of 9/11. We have a choice: to nourish more hatred or to create love. Why not go for love? Why not try to build a world where there is less reason to hate?