Burning Qurans in the Western Bubble

The moronic Terry Jones, pastor of an insignificant church of bigots and semi-literates in Florida, has once again made the international news, this time for successfully burning a Quran and inciting the ire of several Afghan mobs. The stupidity of Jones’ actions should be obvious. The man knew the potential consequences of his ridiculous demonstration, yet did it anyway, clearly demonstrating that the man speaks not for Jesus, but as a self-interested peddler of cheap American religion.

Jones actions deserve repudiation; idiocy is no excuse for well.. idiocy. However, the brutality and mob insanity of demonstrating crowds in Afghanistan, who raided a UN compound and killed several also deserves intense criticism. In particular, local religious leaders who publicly called for “peaceful” demonstrations need to be held accountable for agitating already incredible tensions between locals Afghanis and UN workers. It is doubtful that these leaders were unaware of the potential consequences of rallying locals to demonstrate, particularly when the precedent of mob violence over western condescension of Islam has already been set. No doubt, these leaders are much like Terry Jones himself, self-servingly flaming the fires of hatred for political and economic advantage.

However, following the recent events, the standard litany of cries against Islam appeared in the Western press. Internet trolls mockingly refer to the “religion of peace” and point out the vast history of religious violence in Islam, while, of course, ignoring the history of religious violence and intolerance in their own Christian traditions, a history which continues to this day.

Most disturbing to me are the cries from the educated and literate. Yesterday, I read a blog post by someone I otherwise very much respect, wondering why Muslims do not condemn actions such as the recent mob attacks on the UN in Afghanistan. He wonders why there isn’t a unified call from the Muslim world against the violent and hateful appropriation of their religion. It is as if to say that silence is somehow a tacit seal of approval of violence, and that Muslims are either cowardly in the presence of their brothers or secretly approve of the killing of Nepalese UN guards in the name of Islam.

I would remind the world that there is nothing unified about Islam. Just as Christianity has for the past 2000 years engaged on a branching process of a seemingly infinite yet growing (not that infinity can grow) number of religious traditions, sects and beliefs, Islam is also a patchwork of often vastly differing levels of faith, from the ultra-conservative to permissively liberal. Faith healing Pentecostals in Nigeria have little to do with peace loving Quakers in Pennsylvania and neither probably bears much resemblance to those who call themselves Christian out of convenience. On top of that, vast cultural, linguistic and ethnic differences pervade through Islam, just as those difference pervade through Christianity. Indonesian muslims likely feel little kinship with Moroccans who feel little affinity to Muslims in Malawi, who probably feel little for Muslims in Aghanistan or Turkey.

Thus, the cultural double standard of calling for Muslims to account for the actions of their “brothers” is merely another form of bigotry and ignorance, Christians are not required to universally condemn Terry Jones, who is, de facto, a murderer, yet my Pakistani and Turkish acquaintances here at the University of Michigan, who are no more Muslim than I am Christian are required to stand up with signboards screaming at the top of their lungs. Seriously, would we expect that Christians in Korea would rise up and scream every time a batshit Christian attacks or kills an abortion doctor in Kansas? If anything, these calls for a unified response from the non-existent “Muslim World” (is there a “Christian World”?) display a deep cutural ignorance on the part of otherwise educated individuals and reek of the smug air of western cultural superiority which agitates young Islamic fundamentalists in the first place.

It is my view that destructive religious behavior is a scourge upon the stability and peace of societies. Religion is a tool by which political bodies divide and conquer populations. Religion is an easy tool by which humans can kill one another with impunity and without personal guilty. It can be demeaning, divisive and has historically been used as a weapon with which to stamp out undesirable cultural behaviors, enforce the power of the state and marginalize groups of people unliked by the status quo. However, ignorance is unforgivable in my opinion. If the western blogosphere can’t catch up and realize the complexities of Islam, and thus the world, then they are doomed to repeat that which they seemingly protest against.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

4 responses to “Burning Qurans in the Western Bubble”

  1. Ferunando-desu says :

    People don’t discuss religion in Japan 🙂

  2. Mark Maynard says :

    Jones has since said that he plans to “put Mohamed on trial.”

  3. Pete Larson says :

    That will be hard. He’s been dead for more than 1400 years. I wonder if someone could at least send a lawyer to stand in for him?

  4. Pete Larson says :

    That’s, of course, after centuries of discussing it. Hopefully, the rest of the world will catch up.

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