You’ve probably noticed the absurd spectacle – and resulting media feeding frenzy – of a Muslim “group” in New York making a barely veiled threat to the creators of “South Park” for (almost) portraying Muhammad and causing the episode to be censored.
As Hussein Rashid rightly emphasizes in his observations in Religion Dispatches, these inane provocations don’t come from an Islamic “group”. To hear the breathless media coverage you’d think this a call to arms from jihadi leaders on American soil, when this duo is far more Beavis and Butt-Head than Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. Two foolish men with an Internet connection that happen to be Muslim are getting their 15 minutes of fame and scaring the daylights out of everybody. Two men do not an organization make and so far, there is no more evidence that these hateful nutcases are any more representative of any broader stream–or even a really narrow one–within “their” community than, say, the infamous and equally odious Westboro Baptist Church, whose handful of congregants are known for traveling the land to picket at high profile events with outrageously homophobic and anti-Semitic signs (e.g., “AIDS cures fags.”). Both “groups” are minuscule and repudiated by their fellows, and both would be unknown were it not for the media attention they’ve gotten.
That doesn’t make their antics any less disturbing or repulsive. (But what do you expect from disturbed cretins who’d praise the murderer of Fort Hood as an “officer and a gentleman”?) Neither does it make the threat any less concerning or worthy of investigation–I don’t always agree with what’s done in the name of the War on Terror today, but vigilance is certainly necessary. Nonetheless, this episode still needs to be kept in perspective.
A little post-holiday levity. TIME has a photo essay on the storied history of the AK-47 and I had to share this incongruous photo from Somalia.
Read the accompanying blurb below and then inspect the weapon.
Dhushamareb, Somalia, 2009 – The Timeless, Ubiquitous AK-47 – Photo Essays – TIME:
Michael Kamber / Polaris
A Sufi Muslim fighter attends an outdoor religion class. Traditionally nonviolent and tolerant, Sufis in Somalia have only recently picked up guns in response to attacks from al-Shabab, a hard-line Islamist group that has subjected the country’s south to a reign of terror. So far, these moderates control an area in the center of the country, enjoy popular support and have fended off incursions.
I’m not sure I’d be able to focus my thoughts on the Sacred with my muṣḥaf (i.e., my copy of the Quran; literally, a manuscript or collection of sheets) resting on a machine gun, much less with it sharing my lap with with an advertisement for our time’s preeminent icon of pornography, but perhaps this particular gift of Globalization has yet to reach Somali village life (unlike the even more iconic, successful, nearly as pornographic and sexist–and, sadly, increasingly tame-seeming–TV series “Baywatch”).
Sometimes as a Muslim I feel suspect that the simplest, most effective way to begin to answer the many burning questions Westerners have about Islam and Muslims isn’t to give them a Quran or even the most erudite and engaging book on Islam. For many living in our postmodern world, such a discussion needs to start far closer to home, with a crash course in Western religious history and the basic ideas of the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Not only is that often a necessary remedial measure, but in this day of –to borrow an inspired metaphor once applied to U.S.-Iranian relations–“mutual Satanization” I think it is for many probably the only way to begin this critical conversation.
As an undergrad studying French in the early 1990s, I took a class on the Francophone literature of Quebec. Until recently in most Western societies literature was riddled with references to and assumptions of familiarity with the Bible, and this was especially true of Quebec’s literary output thanks to the province’s tradition of being *plus catholique que le pape*.
I was the only non-Christian in the class and my knowledge of the Bible is anything but encyclopedic, yet it sometimes seemed that I was the only student with even a rudimentary familiarity with the famous biblical narratives, events and turns of phrase that were mined at every turn by our Quebecois authors and film makers. During one class room discussion of the wonderful 1989 world cinema classic “Jesus of Montreal”, after painfully obvious Gospel allusion after painfully obvious Gospel allusion had appeared to be zoom over most people’s heads, I remember thinking, “My God, if these guys are so ignorant of their own tradition, what hope is there of explaining the yet more unfamiliar worldview of Muslims?” (For more on this trend, see Stephen Prothero’s stimulating Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–And Doesn’t.)
In such a backdrop of abject religious illiteracy, the most effective introduction to Islam for the average American may not be a book on Islam at all, but rather an discussion of the parallels of Islam’s supposedly peculiar doctrines and practices that are to be found in one’s own culturo-religious heritage.