Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pope Benedict's speech meets the media monster; was the Prophet Mohammed defamed?

I blame the media for quoting the Pope's words out of context. I blame the media for sensationalization. I blame the media for letting their news values get the better of their corporate and societal responsibility. I blame our general media system that emphasizes timeliness, competition and excitement over responsibility.

Not all the international media were guilty of these. At least some bothered to put the context in the body of their news articles - though that doesn't help the many people who only read headlines.

Our 411 Prof expressed disappointment at BBC's coverage - and I felt likewise.

What Pope Benedict was actually saying
The Pope's speech was about establishing a common ground from which there could be inter-faith dialog - that common ground of reason. The bulk of his speech was about how secularization had resulted in a divorce between faith and reason - that people were no longer supposed to talk about and try to understand God through reason. This he briefly touches on in what he calls 'the 3 stages of de-hellenization' - hellenization meaning Greek thought, philosophy and systems of seeing and understanding things.

Now personally I do not agree about whether it makes sense or it is even possible to be able to talk about God using a man-made and thus finite system of logic and reasoning - I suppose such endevours can, and should be done with several conditions in mind.

These systems would help to explain in human terms the way things work, but they would fall short and be insufficient. Thus,

1) We must do so with an acknowledgement of these systems' limitations and shortcomings

2) We must use these systems against a backdrop and basis of faith and in truth - being the revelation of truth via the scriptures with the illumination/conviction of the Holy Spirit.

3) Keeping a crucial biblical principle in mind - knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

Let's be reasonable dear Muslims - just like God is
That being said, the 'reason' that the Pope has been talking about as a backdrop seems universal and neutral enough to be a common ground from which to begin with - and that's a good start.

I do agree the Pope was being insensitive in the way he brought up the medieval quotation. However, he was trying to illustrate a point - a point that has extreme relevance in today's world. People are hijacking the Muslim faith to commit irrational - and hence, the Pope argues -unreasonable acts which are contrary to God's will. This ground of reason could be a way to combat this militant extremism.

How dare you define our faith
What a shame it is that the leader of another faith needs to try and point out deviations and problems with your own. Feel insulted? I understand. To be frank, the history of Christianity has had many episodes of such abuse by its leaders - many committed by that same authority pointing its fingers at Islam now. Many still abusing it now. But, apart from the bombings of abortion clinics (which I detest - let 'free will' reign - everyone shall have to answer for himself before God during the judgement) Christians don't go about blowing up people of other religions anymore. But at least we're honest with ourselves. We suck too.

But this is something Muslims need to settle amongst themselves. Should Bush intervene and promote freedom and democracy? Should the Pope engage the Muslims on a common ground in order to temper their militant deviations? I honestly don't know. Muslims already have a dark, mysterious view of Bush. Of the Pope? Conspiracy theories, unfounded or otherwise, abound.

Pacifying the Media Monster
The Pope was taken out of context. There is an outrage at the media reports. Pope apologises and regrets the outrage. I think this is a fair apology. In fact - he's kind of apologising for the way the media reported his words out of context.

Defamation test
I don't know what else they want the Pope to apologise for. The Pope has already shown his moral dignity by regretting the unhappiness and outrage at that part of his speech. If you want a recant of the statement

"show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached"


1) you'll need to prove the falsity of the Pope's quotation, that Prophet Muhammad did not command, in any of the holy texts, to spread the Muslim faith by the sword.

2) evil and inhuman have no objective test in a secular context - some people would classify homosexual behaviour and eating of animals and abortion as 'evil' or 'inhuman' - thus it is a matter of opinion that is based on a fact; this fair comment defense would fail only if you manage to prove its being based on a false statement as described in 1)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

9-11 6 years on

There have been several anniversaries in the past few days. The 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York was commemorated with the US President Bush saying that the war on terror was not a 'clash of civilizations' but rather 'the fight for civilization'.

Let us examine the shift in terminology.

If the West / Europe in general could be seen as a civilization, we are more or less convinced that it has an interest and will to fight the Islamic extremists propagating violent terror acts in the religion's name.

But some hard truths remain. The Islamic world, or civilization, if we take Huntington's paradigm, has not wholeheartedly and resolutely agreed that these elements in their civilization are a problem that need to be addressed. In spite of the condemnation of the attacks by most Islamic nations (most already implies problems of collective agreement on the state level) we must realise that the sub-state level is where all the action counts. As long as extreme variants of Islam continue to have a foothold amongst the populations of majority Muslim communities - the spreading of extreme doctrines and people who will obey them to their deaths will continue.

So Bush is, rather unfortunately, being idealistic when he says that all civilization, united in their agreement of the condemnation of extremist violent Islamic doctrine, is going to quash these fringe extremists together.

As long as a significant portion of the Islamic population is sympathetic to these extremists then it is still, a clash of civilizations.

How can we win Islamic civilization over? This grappling with religious extremism is something that has to be settled from within Islam. The learned men of the faith need to go back to the source, the Koran, as well as all the practices, doctrines, teachings, traditions and institutions that spring from it, and try to establish a common ground. Which are indigenous customs and traditions? Which are absolutely mandated by the writings of faith? What of fatwas? No longer should Muslim brothers and sisters be misled by false teachers who try to twist and turn Allah's authority to their own ends.

You realise how strange and offensive it is for an outsider Christian like myself to just merely comment on another faith? So no outside intervention from the West or Europe or secularists is going to help in this process. If Bush, without winning the Islamic civilization in general to his side, proceeds to war, then I fear that hardline strains of Islam will become more popular.

One can reason with another most of the time. But though faith is reasonable, faith cannot be reasoned with. If someone told you murdering thousands of people was going to bring God glory and you believed him nobody else would be able to reason with you. The only way would be to prove to you that this someone is not to be believed.

It's the false teachers - humans - who are spreading these teachings, that need to be stopped. So Muslim scholars, religious leaders and teachers need to sit down together. Islam as a religion is undergoing emancipation. From the politics of man, from abuse, from subversion, from false teaching. They have their work cut out.

What can non-Muslims do in the meantime? Forgive. Strengthen security and be vigilant. But don't play into Osama's hand. Continue to be open-minded. Have interfaith dialog. Public awareness. Mutual understanding. Dispell misconceptions. Agree to disagree. React firmly but humanely. Show mercy to those who have been misled. For charity will overcome all evil, even if this charity may be at times used against us. Let Muslims understand that in this 'us versus them' - its the world versus some people who hijack religion for their own ends.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

count your blessings name them 1 by 1

Can you believe it I rewrote this blog entry 5 times because of lack of focus, and at this point I've just kind of given up and I'm just gonna write what's been happening to me rather than some lengthy discussion on Islam or law or something like that.

CS411 has been quite interesting in terms of the content covered but unfortunately not in the way in which it's being approached... Human Rights critique due some time next week... Boy am I going to have an interesting time writing on this.... but the readings are lengthy...

Been very blessed - recently had a few ups and downs but the Lord has been my strength and joy. Christian brothers and sisters in and outside of church always make my walk more bearable. Questions and issues raised and debated... edification and understanding amongst us has improved... Still need to continually reach out to the rest of the brethen who are struggling or getting lost or disillusioned... so many of us... God help us all

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us - Heb 12:1