Blasphemy Beynd Borders

While upholding the individual right of citizens in all countries  to express their views on any religion or on any aspect of any religion as they wish, I have only the utmost contempt  for any speech or writing or supposed work of art that springs from hate and whose goal is to denigrate and desecrate what others deem sacred. Therefore like countless other Non-Muslims in the United States and all over the world, I abhor any intentional and provocative desecration of the religious symbol of other people. In particular, I join millions of others in  condemning in the strongest terms this utterly disgusting, unwarranted, and hate-filled You Tube creation called Innocence of Muslims. It is an abominable provocation, an inexcusable affront to a billion and a half members of the human family. As I see it, contrary to the phrase often used in the media, this is not an American film, but the work of a bunch of malicious or demented individuals who happen to have American citizenship.

Practically all traditional religions have or have had strict rules on blasphemy. The idea behind this is to honor the sanctity of what the tradition regards as sacred. It is appropriate that one demand of the faithful more than a modicum of reverence for the scriptures and symbols of one’s religion. Given that in all societies and at all times there have always been skeptics and unbelievers who did not care to respect such demands it seemed appropriate for religious establishments to impose severe penalties on those who desecrated in one way or another, in public or in secrecy, whatever was regarded as sacred. Lack of respect and overt insult to the sacred in a religious framework is what one calls blasphemy.

In ancient times punishment for blasphemy used to be severe, certainly in the framework of Abrahamic religions. These ranged from excommunication and exile to hanging, decapitation, and burning at the stake. Shocking as such treatments might strike those who have been awakened to enlightened values and modern worldviews, they seem(ed) perfectly normal to those whose love for or devotion to their god is (was) so intense that they feel (felt) it was their moral and religious responsibility to protect God’s honor by bloody means, if necessary,  not only to punish the impious but also to teach the rest that they better beware of what they say or write about what is proclaimed as canonically sacred.

Now one point needs to be noted here: In olden times, by and large,  only the followers of the religion were held accountable for acts or words of blasphemy. One not belonging to the faith was not meted out the same punishment as a believer who blasphemed, perhaps because they were not within reach. This point must be stressed, because now things have changed, at least for some of the followers of Islam. For the first time in history – perhaps since the publication of the cartoon in a Danish newspaper – Non-Muslims are also subjected to Islamic laws of blasphemy. This is an ominous turn and its consequences, actual and potential, can be devastating to civilization at large, both within and beyond the Islamic world. Furthermore, in the good old times, only the perpetrator of blasphemy was answerable to his or her behavior. Now, as we are seeing, people who are utterly innocent of the theological crime, and even those who publicly condemn such behavior, are considered fair targets of the rage of the so-called believers. Islamophobia in the USA is wicked and pernicious, and so is USA-phobia in the Islamic world.

I am quite sure that the vast majority of modern Muslims are appalled by this development which brings undeserved ignominy to their great religion with a rich tradition of scholarship, science, poetry, and magnificent art. Many of them are nauseated by the extremist reactions and  mind-blind bigotry of their some of their co-religionists.

We may hope that more leaders in Islamic countries, both lay and religious, imams and ayatollahs, will proclaim to their people that violent reactions to blasphemy perpetrated by foreigners is contrary to the teachings of their faith, and also enjoin their followers to show the same respect to other faiths, including Non-Abrahamic, as they rightly expect for their own. We may also hope that the United Nations will pass a resolution to the effect that every member nation repeal medieval blasphemy laws from their books.

In this harsh context in human history, let us pray and wish for peace, understanding, and mutual respect among the peoples and religions of the world, even between believers and non-believers. After all, we are all siblings in the eyes of God.


September22, 2012

Clint Eastwood and the Non-sitting President

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012 everything seemed to be going well: Ann Romney gracefully and lovingly introduced her husband. Condoleezza Rice spoke passionately about the state of the U.S. Paul Ryan made interesting digs at the President’s accomplishments. There was Chris Christie too.

Then came the surprise guest: Clint Eastwood from Hollywood, a man of great screen credits, eminent actor and great director, a celebrity of enviable stature. At 82 he should probably have been sitting on a rocking chair, watching TV with a glass of red wine.

Instead, he flew all the way to Florida to tell the world that not everyone in the Hollywood crowd was a bleeding heart liberal. He could have simply extolled the Republican nominee for his many virtues and strengths in a serious and dignified manner.

Instead, he chose to deride the sitting president  by addressing a chair where the President wasn’t sitting, except in Clint’s imagination, He rambled on and on for more minutes than had been  allotted to him, sometimes incoherently, it seemed, apparently taunting Mr. Obama in his fanciful interview.

Depending on one’s political persuasion and level of intelligence, Clint’s farce was rated variously as brilliant, hilarious, silly, embarrassing, stupid, unbecoming, pathetic, mindless, inappropriate, unfortunate, and such. Obama probably murmured at the end of that show from the East Room, “You made my Day, Eastwood!”

The actor of Dirty Harry fame will one day be forgotten from the public mind. But not this performance from the pulpit which was  watched by millions. It is now  part of American history. The poor man, with all his outstanding cinematic successes, probably never expected this anti-climax for his career. He certainly did not deserve to inflict this on himself. It just shows how one act of wrong or no judgment could have a serious impact. It was a sad spectacle. But it  showed the world that Democracy means that everyone in the country has the Constitution-given right to blurt out whatever nonsense he or she wants, especially about politicians in power.

Mr. Romney spoke well and with dignity. Clint’s clowning  was even more tragic because  it stole Romney’s thunder in a needlessly inane way. Soon after the awkward episode, people’s attention was riveted to Clint’s dialogical soliloquy. After all, gossip is more entertaining fodder than politics.  That is what politics come to.

August 30, 2012