Wednesday, May 25, 2005

holy, holy

Much has been made of the Newsweek story that sparked deadly riots and massive anti-US demonstrations in a number of muslim countries in recent days. The Bush administration has, somewhat sanctimoniously, called for reparation of America's damaged image in the Islamic world. The magazine, supported by numerous media sources, claims that the real cause of the trouble is not an isolated article, previously ok'd by Pentagon reviewers, but the Administration's entire response to Islamic terror, including especially the detention center at Guantanamo.

THAT is a beef that will go on for as long as Bush is in office and may even then never be resolved to the complete satisfaction of either party.

The Exorcist, however, would like to get his two cents in, specifically, on one aspect of the controversy.

Two pieces by editorial contributor Thomas L. Friedman were run by the NY Times last week on the Guantanamo incident that seem to reflect a broader misunderstanding of what's really the issue.

In Outrage and Silence (May 18), Friedman calls the alleged desecration of the Qur'an an outrage, but goes on to say that if riots are going to be staged and fatwas are going to be issued they should instead protest "the indiscriminate mass murders of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds by these jihadist suicide bombers".

In The Best P.R.:Straight Talk (May 20), he extends this thinking even further, saying, "we think the Arab-Muslim world must also look in the mirror when it comes to how it has been behaving toward an even worse crime than the desecration of God's words, and that is the desecration of God's creations". Mr.Bush should reprimand the Islamic world stating clearly, "I don't understand a concept of the sacred that says a book is more sacred than a human life. A holy book, whether the Bible or the Koran, is only holy to the extent that it shapes human life and behavior."

What "we think" and what we "don't understand" about Islam have seldom been more evident.

Our western culture, oh-so-remotely reflecting judeo-christian values, recognizes no greater dignity, no greater right, no greater value than that associated with human life. It is in the name of 'human dignity' that some defend euthanasia and abortion and others protest the death penalty or advocate adoption.

Not so in Islam. The dignity, rights and sanctity of Allah are quite evidently in a different category, untouchable and incomparable with human claims of any type, however noble. Foreign and contradictory as it may seem to us, Islam has retained a heightened, almost hair-trigger sense of the sacred that absolutely outweighs any other values, convenience or consideration. In practice, this results in a moral standard that westerners find hard to swallow.

From a theological standpoint, the Qur'an in Islam is not similar, in the way it is understood, to the Bible in Christianity. For us, Sacred Scripture is God's word analogously, that is, inasmuch as it reflects the true, original Word of God who is Jesus Christ in person. Inspired, but not dictated, the Bible is not diminished by this analogy. Its authority in the Christian world derives from it.

Again, not so in Islam. There is no human mediation involved in the Qur'an. The written word in it's original form (arabic) is directly identified with its Source, Allah himself. The Qur'an is God's caring and commanding presence among his people, the only way he is present in the world. To defile or disrespect the Qur'an is to dishonor God himself. Contrary to what Friedman asserts, its effect on human life and behavior is irrelevant to the holiness of the Qur'an.

A true muslim could never be indifferent to even a supposed affront to the Qur'an. The riots after the Newsweek debacle (inasmuch as they may have had anything to do with the Guantanamo story) were not an exaggeration, they were an obligation. Killing or dying in defense of Allah/Qur'an is not a denial of morality, it is its most sublime expression.

I do not think this way. You do not think this way. But it is equally irrational to expect fervent muslims to surrender their moral standards, which reflect a sensitivity to the Sacred long abandoned by the western conscience, especially on advice by George Bush. That is what Friedman proposes in his response to the Newsweek article conflict.

This is where the Exorcist begs to differ, in case you were wondering.