Monday, August 3, 2009

Tolerance: Yes, it's a Good Idea

Updated (August 3, 2009)
If you're going to rip a page out of the Quran,1 stick a nail through a consecrated Host, rip another page out of some atheist's book, throw the lot in the trash with coffee grounds and a banana peel, photograph the result, and brag about it online, America is the place to be.

(from PZ Myers, Pharyngula (July 24, 2008), used w/o permission)

That photo's the work of University of Minnesota, Morris, associate professor Paul Myers. His actions are protected by America's constitutional guarantees of free speech, and by the University of Minnesota's dedication to their notion of academic freedom.

It could be worse.

As far as I know, professor Paul Myers is still alive, and buildings on the University of Minnesota, Morris, haven't been burned.

(from Mohsin Raza, via Times Online, used w/o permission)

About 50,000 Christians live in Gojra, Pakistan. After this weekend, the count is down by eight, maybe 10. Eight members of a family were burned to death. Local authorities say that four women and a child were among the fire victims, and two other people were killed by firearms. (Maybe it's seven dead: see update, below.)

Supporters of an (officially) outlawed Islamic group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, were put out because they thought three Christian youth had burned a copy of the Quran.

Turns out, the incident didn't really happen.

Murder isn't Nice, and We Shouldn't Do It

I sympathize, in a way, with the Muslims who burned the homes of about 40 Christian families, and killed those people. Last year, a professor at a university in Minnesota, where I live, decided to exercise his academic freedoms. He posted that photo, and discussed his contempt for the "self-satisfied ignorance" of people like me.

This is America, and by law I'm required to help pay his salary. Over the decades people in this community have served in America's armed forces. Some of them bled and died to protect his right to commit blasphemy.

I appreciate it when America allows me and other Catholics to practice our faith: but that doesn't mean that I appreciate the sort of activity that the professor indulged in.

As I said, I sympathize - in a way - with the Muslims who burned and murdered in Gojra, Pakistan. I was, and am, very angry about the blasphemy which my tax dollars indirectly supported.

But, I'm not allowed to hate the professor: and I'm certainly not allowed to kill him because he offended me.

I'm pretty sure, based on correspondence I've had with Muslims and Muslimas, that quite a few Muslims wouldn't believe that they were allowed to kill the professor or torch buildings on the University of Minnesota, Morris, campus, either. I've gotten the strong impression that Islam is at least as heavily influenced by the local or regional culture as Protestant Christianity - but that's another topic. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (November 26, 2007))

Tolerance: Eventually?

Some Christians in Gojra are peeved that local police, despite pleas to do something about the looting, arson and murder, didn't.

The picture isn't all bleak.
"...Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, said that the paramilitary troops were sent after police and the local administration failed to control the situation...."
(Times Online)
That won't bring back the dead, but eventually Pakistan may become an Islamic country along the lines of, say, Indonesia: instead of the more familiar and lethal Middle Eastern pattern.

Tolerance as Practiced, on Average, in America

I'm not a jingoistic 'America-is-always-right' American, but I do appreciate living in a country where a family whose members follow a minority religion can live in comparative safety.

I'm also aware of America's history, and have some idea of how little it would take to start another period like the ones that made burning crosses and blacklists part of America's cultural landscape.

Annoying - sometimes maddening - as it is, I think tolerance should be cherished.

I suggest you consider praying for America's leaders. I've put together a few lists, if you want to focus on people by name or state. (July 2, 2009)

As often happens during an abrupt, violent event, body counts have changed a bit. Now it seems that seven people were killed in Gojra.
"About 200 people have been arrested in a flare-up of anti-Christian violence in Gojra that left seven dead, a government minister said Monday.
Christians in Karachi, Pakistan, on Monday protest the slayings of seven Christians in weekend violence.

Rana Sana Ullah, Punjab's provincial law minister, told CNN that the paramilitary Rangers force was helping police and maintaining law and order.

Seven people were killed and 20 injured Saturday when Muslim demonstrators set fire to houses in a Christian enclave and fighting broke out, authorities said. Police said the Muslims were protesting an alleged desecration of pages in the Quran, the Muslim sacred text, at a Christian wedding.

"At a news conference in Islamabad carried on local TV, Shehbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities, said an investigation determined there was no desecration of the Quran in village 95 Gill near Gojra City, and the allegations were baseless. He also said the government will rebuild all the burned houses...."
I think that it's quite nice of the Pakistani government to say that it will rebuild those houses - and that the promise, as well as the 200 arrests, is a smart move in terms of public relations and/or diplomacy.

I'd be more impressed, if leaders in that part of the world didn't have a somewhat spotty record when it came to keeping people locked up. (November 27, 2007, May 5, 2008, January 23, 2009 in another blog) Still, those arrests and the promise of rebuilding are nice gestures. I rather insist on being hopeful that Pakistan's leaders want to do the right thing.
Related posts: In the news: Background:
1The holy book of Islam is, I have good reason to think, spelled "القرآن". I'd pronounce it "al-qur'ān" with an American accent you could slice with a knife. My understanding is that it's a phrase meaning something like "the recitation."

Older English-language references to the book call it "The Koran." That's the wrong spelling, of course. Nowadays, it's supposed to be Qur'an, or Quran, or something else. They're all wrong.

The correct spelling is القرآن.

So, why don't I write out القرآن in this post?

This blog is written in English. That's because I speak American English, and it's the only language I'm tolerably fluent in. Happily for me, English is spoken (generally as a second language) in more countries than any other that I'm aware of: 115. (French does pretty well, too: If you speak French, you'll be understood in 35 countries.) (Apathetic Lemming of the North April 4, 2008)

That means that, as long as I stick to a language I'm familiar with, people in roughly half the nations on Earth will understand what I write.

Just one problem: Sometimes I refer to things whose names come from a language that doesn't use the Latin alphabet, like Arabic, Chinese, or Japanese.

That's a problem because writing systems were developed independently, and aren't standardized.

In American English, the first sound in the word "should" may be represented by "sh" (should), "s" (sure), or "ti" (revolution).

It gets more interesting when you try to take a word out of one language and use it in another. Not all languages use the same set of sounds, and don't always use the same letters or combinations of letters to represent particular sounds.

And that's among languages that use the Latin alphabet when writing.

There are conventions, of course, but they change.

When I was growing up, the capital of China was Peking. Now it's Beijing. The name of the place didn't change: but the generally-accepted way of expressing it for people using English and the Latin alphabet did.

The book that's called القرآن is written in Arabic, and the name is a phrase in the Arabic language, written in the Arabic alphabet.

The good news is that the Arabic alphabet is, like the Latin alphabet, a more-or-less phonetic code for recording spoken words.

The bad news is that you probably don't have an Arabic font or two installed on your computer. If you don't, القرآن comes out looking like gibberish.

More bad news: There's more than a little debate about what the 'correct' spelling of القرآن is in English, using the Latin alphabet.

I realize that, no matter what I do, I'll deeply offend someone: so I've settled on using one of the more common misspellings of القرآن for this and other blogs.

At least this way, most people who read English will understand what I mean.

More about languages:

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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.