Monday, 20 August 2012

God of Love?

It was almost certainly a deliberate and very telling editorial decision, but one page of the print Guardian should have caught the attention of any reader today.

Emblazoned across the top of the page was the headline:

Pakistani girl accused of Qur'an burning could face death penalty

In an outskirt of Islamabad, an eleven year old Christian girl has been accused of blasphemy, a capital crime in Pakistan, for allegedly burning some pages of the Qu'ran - her family dispute this, claiming she was tricked by a Muslim neighbour into throwing ash into a pot with pages from the Muslim holy book already in it. Whatever happened, this child has now been arrested and nine hundred Christians expelled from the area.

Although he is a priest for a faith whose founder called on its followers to extend special protections to Christians and Jews as "Peoples of the Book", the local mullah is quoted as approving of the expulsions, not only because of the alleged book burning, but because of the infernal singing of hymns in the local churches (now closed).

On the same page, the next article similarly told the tragic tale of religious intolerance and the hypocritical taking of lives in the name of faiths that all outlaw killing.

Jewish settler attacks on Palestinians listed as 'terrorist incidents' by US

The US Government has finally declared as terroristic a longstanding pattern of hate crimes by Jewish settlers in Palestinian lands against Arabs - and even the Israeli Government has condemned in similar terms a series of attacks by settlers over the last few weeks which have included the random beating of a young Arab by a mob and the firebombing of a taxi carrying Arab children. The "Hilltop Youth", a group of Zionist extremists, has been linked to attacks that have killed three Palestinians and injured 183 over recent months. 10,000 olive trees, vital for Arab farmers' livelihoods, have been destroyed and in 90% of cases, the Israeli police have closed the case without charge.

During the same time, Palestinians have murdered a Jewish settler family in their home and bombed a bus terminal in Jerusalem, killing one and injuring fifty. Some may argue that the continuing and desperate siege of Gaza, where hundreds of thousands live in ghetto conditions surrounded by the Israeli army, somehow justifies such assaults, yet how can it? Such attacks are not war, but simple murders with civilians as their targets - as such, they detract from the real injustices and murder committed against Gazans by the Israeli state and invite the enemies of Palestine to create some moral equivalence between oppressor and oppressed.

And the three faiths involved - the Judaism of Israel and the Islam and minority Christianity of the Palestinians all talk of the sanctity of life. Yet here we see blood shed in the name of these same faiths.

The final article is less directly focussed on interfaith disputes, but shows how bigotry, in this case Christian-led against Muslims, can lead to laws with supposedly unintended consequences for all.

Pussy Riot protesters arrested in Marseille

Arrested because...?

Because in a fit of Islamophobia, France has banned the niqab, the face covering worn by some Muslim women as a mark of their faith. It is a policy advocated by many rightwingers in Europe - curiously adopting the same policy adopted by President Assad in Syria, who enacted a similar ban on such garments in universities, while until recently Turkey imposed a similar ban on Islamic dress in public buildings. Why so many are so obsessed with what others wear has always been a puzzle to me - it also ignores the possibility that, while some people may ban face-coverings now, this is setting a precedent for other people to ban other forms of dress they don't like. For example, what if the fundamentalists of all three Abrahamic faiths club together to ban women wearing trousers? Or to insist that men must stop shaving (a sinful activity in all three faiths writings)?

In France, the law has been used to arrest people who wore balaclavas over their faces to show solidarity with the similarly-clad Russian punks, Pussy Riot, three of whom were jailed for two years at the weekend. Supposedly, the French arrests prove that the niqab law is not about niqabs at all - but about face coverings and so not aimed in particular at Muslims. It seems an ingenuous argument and a patent lie - the law was inspired and argued for by pro-Christian rightists supposedly to defend alleged and undefined "French republican values". The last time I looked, the values of the Republic included liberte; but in modern France, it seems noticeable by its absence, especially for liberal protesters and for Muslim women of a certain outlook.

And the point behind all these sad stories of intolerance, violence and bigotry?

JUDAISM: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"      (Leviticus 19:18)
CHRISTIANITY: "Love your neighbor as yourself.'           (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)
ISLAM: "Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger..."                                             (Qu'ran Ch4, v 36)

"We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmai'l, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets form their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we submit to God."  Qur'an (2:136)

Each faith stems from the same beginnings, shares a number of Prophets and holds, on paper at least, the many of the same or similar teachings, mostly based on respect and love. Yet, as we know, so often the reality is warped beyond recognition by the fundamentalists and bigots of each. It may be a trait within monotheism - if there is One God with One Way which has to be revealed to His followers, then the corollary is that those who don't agree with you must not only be wrong, but sinfully against God too. And so what is the duty of a believer? The majority of each faith see it as little more than proselytising, if even that - for the truth is that most people of faith live in at least passive tolerance of each other the overwhelming majority of the time; many learn to respect and share each other. 

But where belief morphs into blind faith with its attendant dogmatic superiority and is manipulated by those with a political agenda to boot - racial supremacy, land grabs or simply scapegoating for some sort of gain, then we see the headlines of today. A sad, bad and foreboding taste of how the 21st Century presents itself as far from the enlightened "modern" society it would like to think it is; but rather, the echoes of the Dark Ages and the dark hearts of the zealots of monotheism grow louder and louder with every day. It is a harbinger of a dystopian future of neo-Inquisitorial theocracy. Torquemada would approve.

We let the headlines pass at our own risk.

Jews, Christians and Muslims - one God, three faiths.

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