Saturday, February 21, 2015

Islam vs. the West

We live in strange times.  Since Al-Qaeada managed to destroy the World Trade Center in New York City back in 2001, tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims have gradually escalated.  Although Al-Qaeada still exists, a seemingly even more radical collection of Islamic fanatics who call themselves ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), also known as ISIS (presumably because adopting an acronym that sounds like the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage and wisdom sounds cooler) seems for the time being to have eclipsed even the aforementioned terrorist organization in terms of notoriety.  Though Al-Qaeada doubtless still holds the lead in terms of innocents murdered (after all, roughly 3,000 casualties from the World Trade Center attack alone gave them a good head-start), the broadcast be-headings and live imolations recently carried out by ISIS, while smaller in number, just seem more personal and brutal somehow, though I will grant that this is probably largely a matter of perception.

The danger, in my humble opinion, is in overreaction by the West.  Suddenly every radical nut-case who walks about shooting innocent bystanders, such as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau who shot Canadian Corporal Nathan Cirillo, is seen as a representative of a terrorist organization and an entire religious community is held responsible for his crime.  When western governments then retaliate against Muslim nations or western citizens harass anyone of the Muslim faith, including those who have never harmed anyone, it only makes them look like the aggressors and generates sympathy for the radical jihadists that they profess to oppose.

Provoking Islamic enmity by mocking their Prophet is likewise counter-productive.  While I certainly don't agree that the cartoons poking fun at the Prophet merited the recent deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine, I do agree with Pope Francis, when he proclaimed that freedom of speech does not include the right to insult the deeply-held beliefs of others.  Those Christians who have trouble understanding the rage that certain Muslims felt over the affair should ask themselves how they might feel if other faiths were to publicly mock Jesus.  The western media's incensed response after Sinéad O'Connor tore up Pope John Paul II's picture on Saturday Night Live back in 1992 shows that Muslims aren't alone in being sensitive about their faith.

I exchange "joke" e-mails on a regular basis with a group of friends and acquaintances.  Sometimes, I receive jokes that stereotype Muslims as terrorists or make fun of their faith.  I usually make it a point not to forward joke e-mails of this type, not because I believe in political correctness but because I choose not to perpetuate these stereotypes nor to contribute to the deepening of the rift between Muslims and other faiths.  Still, I did receive a joke e-mail once that presented the following picture of a talking Muslim doll:

It went on to say that nobody knew what she says, because nobody had ever had the guts to pull her cord.

I chuckled in spite of myself.  I admit it.  I'm prone to human foibles, just like everybody else, and the essence of humor is that it provokes a gut reaction over which we have little control.  But wouldn't it be ironic if someone finally did get up the courage to pull the doll's cord and all she said was "The peace of Allah be with you, my brother"?

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