Saturday, September 11, 2010

Learning tolerance from Terry Jones

Today, "Rev." Terry Jones may or may not burn a copy of Islam's holy book, the Koran.  Yes, I find his actions and attitudes appalling; yes, book burning reminds me of the worst totalitarian regimes; yes, I know his actions may put U.S. soldiers at risk from the most extremist and ignorant Muslim elements.  But this is America, right?  If burning American flags and draft cards is constitutionally protected, so is burning a book.

I've been following some of the coverage and comments about Jones' media extravaganza.  One comment caught my eye, and I'll have to paraphrase: We have to accept that some extremists like Jones will use their constitutional freedom to insult religion, and Muslims will have to accept that some people will act on their extremism without responding in kind.

99.99% of Muslims understand this very well.  The ones that don't are the ones who bomb buildings, shoot filmmakers and throw acid in the faces of unveiled women-- in the name of Islam.  But, as my friend Owen Broadhurt posted on Facebook today, "Islam did not attack us on 9/11. Islam, along with all of us, was attacked on 9/11."

Most of the major assaults on the people of the world are no longer done in the name of religion but are crimes committed by one state against another.   90% of the world's population now live in secular states.  A few states still recognize some form of Christianity as their state religion-- Finland, Costa Rica and Cyprus, to name a few-- but the majority of countries with state religions are Islamic.

This should not be surprising.  Islam is the youngest of the world's major religions, only about 1,400 years old.

So where was Christianity when it was about 1,400 years old, at the time when some version of Christianity was the state religion in every organized European state and when it was poised to expand to North and South America?

A few moments in time:

In 1389, the entire Jewish population of Prague -- some 3,000 -- is killed by Christians.
Joan of Arc is burned at the stake as a heretic in 1431.
Witch burnings begin in 1480; 100,000 women and men lose their lives.
The Spanish Inquisition begins in 1482 and ultimately claims about 2,000 lives.
"In the name of the Holy Trinity," in 1492 Christopher Columbus ships 500 Taino indians to Spain as slaves.

I don't make these points to condemn Christianity.  Even in the Dark and Middle Ages, surely most Christians would never lift a hand against another human being because of that person's religious beliefs.  But I do think that Islam as a state religion stacks up pretty well against Christianity at the same age.

Part of me is grateful to Terry Jones. On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, as the nation stops to remember and mourn 3,000 deaths, Terry Jones shows us the darkest side of prejudice and fear.  The level of thoughtful discussion about Islam has never been higher.  Let's not stop here.


peacesojourner said...

I had planned to write a blog statement about this tomorrow and also to quote many of the statistics that you mention.
Most organized religions have a history of discrimination and violence in "the name of God."
While Terry Jones may seem to be extreme in his beliefs there are many who agree with him.
If we just take a look at the signs and placards that some from the Tea Party carry there is a definite hatred against Islam along with the mistaken desire to even label the President of the USA as the leader of the Islamic Terrorists.
I am glad that so many have spoken out against his threats of burning the Koran (as if that action will solve something)
I agree with what you have written.
In peace. Lesley

scribadiva said...

Loved this post! Came to get copy of ARISE newsletter; I'll put my email here when I sign out. I'm going to write a post about this soon, actually, two. My family tree begins with a Rabbi marrying into the family after the expulsion of the Jews;my family was in Basque territory.2.Ask any victim in OK city about the refusal of FBI to follow up on certain leads. Terry Nichols, had a test run with their bomb, it didn't work. Terry went to see his father-in-law in Cebu City without his wife. When the Filipino cops raided his boarding house, he had an Al Queda manual; when Terry came back home, the bomb worked. It's not conspiracy theory, but it does prove that the extreme anti-gov't Christians and extremists of Islam SOMETIMES have the same agenda, and will cooperate. (Peter Lance's book, "One Thousand Years for Revenge." Your history here is a good introduction towards more UNDERSTANDING, which is the only way out of this mess. Sweet tides, and glad you've had time to write.May move to Northampton after surgery, so I want to keep up with you. I may not post, but I can get your Facebook posts via my phone; I've already got your SMS, and if I'm in rehab, will have Web access to come here. Sweet tides, and thank you for all your work.One of your biggest fans in the Berkshires,