Friday, January 30, 2009

Excuse me, but have you ever actually read the Koran?

The NY Times helpfully tells us that the author of the snippet quoted is "Ian Buruma is the author of “Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance."

...Comparing a book that billions hold sacred to Hitler’s murderous tract is more than an exercise in literary criticism; it suggests that those who believe in the Koran are like Nazis, and an all-out war against them would be justified. This kind of thinking, presumably, is what the Dutch law court is seeking to check.

One of the misconceptions that muddle the West’s debate over Islam and free speech is the idea that people should be totally free to insult. Free speech is never that absolute. Even — or perhaps especially — in America, where citizens are protected by the First Amendment, there are certain words and opinions that no civilized person would utter, and others that open the speaker to civil charges.

This does not mean that religious beliefs should be above criticism. And sometimes criticism will be taken as an insult where none is intended. In that case the critic should get the benefit of the doubt. Likening the Koran to “Mein Kampf” would not seem to fall into that category.

If Mr. Wilders were to confine his remarks to those Muslims who do harm freedom of speech by using violence against critics and apostates, he would have a valid point. This is indeed a serious problem, not just in the West, but especially in countries where Muslims are in the majority. Mr. Wilders, however, refuses to make such fine distinctions. He believes that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. His aim is to stop “the Islamic invasion of Holland.”

Now let me begin by saying that the vast majority of Muslims I've known have indeed been nice, peaceful, tolerant people. Then again a significant plurality of people from Muslim countries I've known have in fact been not really Muslim at all.

And this dutch guy the author's talking about does seem to be racist bigot.

But one of the key things about America, as immortalized in the film The People versus Larry Flynt is that denirgration, insulting, and instilling emotional distress is protected under our constitution.

And that's not a bad thing.

We cannot be sealed away from having our feelings hurt, especially if we're jerks.

Besides, have you ever actually tried to read the Koran?

The first bit is quite harmless actually.

But the second bit? The overwhelming image put forth is a resentful, capricous and bigoted deity.

Here's what it says about people who don't see the good stuff about Islam:

Allah has set a seal upon [unbelievers'] hearts and upon their hearing and there is a covering over their eyes, and there is a great punishment for them.

IOW, such a deity lacks any sense of ethics.

Then again, take this bit:

And if you are in doubt as to that which We have revealed to Our servant, then produce a chapter like it and call on your witnesses besides Allah if you are truthful.

But if you do (it) not and never shall you do (it), then be on your guard against the fire of which men and stones are the fuel; it is prepared for the unbelievers.

Really the threat of violence implicit in these verses is undeniable.

The thing is, it doesn't matter if millions "believe" it, whatever the monotheism is, if it is a rationalization or stalking horse or otherwise a way sublimate the expression of the believer's hate and resentment, it is conditioned on the unquenched hate and resentment of the believer.

That is why anyone who claims a literal, "true" interpretation of any of these texts is either ignorant or a mean-spirited person, because the personification of the monotheistic deity presented inevitably seems mean spirited.

It doesn't matter how many times the word "love" is used or whatever beautiful metaphors exist for care: if it comes with a threat to kick the shit out of anyone for eternity, it's nothing but hatred. And it seems mightily correlated with the fact that such deities don't have much evidence for their existence other than the fanaticism of their believers.

There's reasons why I'm Buddhist, and these are among them. If you care about human rights, if you care about people's lives, if you care about propagation of goodness, wisdom, generosity, compassion and kindness, it helps to think of where poison originates.

Sorry for the harsh words, but the fact that "millions" take a text like this to heart is part of the problem whether or not there's demagogues and bigots out there who are going to use it as another excuse for hatred, which I agree with the author of the quoted piece, is being done.

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