Feb. 6, 2006

Will you carry the word of love with you?

The current unrest over the Danish cartoons of Mohammad (including one of Mohammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban) has saddened me and got me thinking. In case you've been in outer space for the last week there's a Wikipedia page about the controversy here. At first it was hard to find the cartoons to see what the fuss was about, but a Google search found copies on a rather smug Young Republican site. Now of course the cartoons are everywhere. This photo is of the Danish embassy in Damascus, set on fire by an angry mob.

As a matter of free speech the cartoons, un-nuanced as they are, should be seen as a voice in a debate not a reason for confrontation. The connection between Islam and political violence needs to be examined. Also the justification that any depiction of Mohammad is blasphemous is something that I reject, because although religious beliefs should be generally respected there is no moral right to force their rules onto non-believers.

On the merits of Islam itself, I'm divided. As I understand it Islam is fundamentally a religion of compassion and self-improvement (aren't they all?). The much misused term "jihad" apparently refers to this internal struggle. The violence seen today in Islam's name is, to my eye, more about power politics than spirituality. In its early days Muslim societies set an example of enlightenment, especially compared to the Christians to the north. Muslim society doesn't seem to have progressed though. Instead, again to my eye, Islam is being used as a prescriptive tool telling followers what they can't do or believe and to help focus attention on the West as the source of their social ills.

There's no question historical developments have been hard on the Muslim world and that they have legitimate grievances, but the self-interest of their political and religious leaders has magnified the situation through deliberate attempts to keep their followers ignorant and obedient. So Islam is OK by me, but the intolerant versions that are gaining ascendancy are definitely not...

The title of this post comes from a phrase in the backing vocals of the Cat Stevens song Oh Very Young. I discovered his ballads in high school and still love them. Sadly, the songs portray a spiritual enlightenment that is at odds with his later embrace of "strict" Islam under the changed name of Yusuf Islam. He repudiated music and even supported the death sentence imposed on Salman Rushdie! Sigh.

Listening to: Oh Very Young by Cat Stevens from Buddha and the Chocolate Box.

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