Monday, February 06, 2006

Jack Straw's stupid comments

The Scotsman is quoting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as saying, "If people looked at these cartoons and were to replace the images of the Holy Prophet with images of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, they can see that, even in our culture, if they were directed at the Judeo-Christian traditions, there would be similar outrage."

Right. And where was he when the films "Hail Mary" and "The Last Temptation of Christ" were being protested? Were the theatres being burned down? Did anyone storm Martin Scorcese's home and burn it down? Did people burn the American flag or threaten the theatre owners or Scorcese or the actors with death? I protested at a theatre in Minneapolis that showed Hail Mary and nothing like that happened.

Here's a note I sent Mr. Secretary via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's feedback website:

Secretary Straw,

You are quoted in The Scotsman as saying, "there would be similar outrage" if the cartoons had been of Jesus or Mary.

How wrong you are. Not only have there been innumerable cartoons, there have been blasphemous films (Hail Mary, The Last Temptation of Christ) and more novels than you can shake a stick at. Were embassies burned? Were flags or books burned? Were murderous threats uttered? No! People peacefully demonstrated, prayed the Rosary in front of theatres, boycotted advertisers, etc. But no violence was ever done or even threatend.

That's because we're talking about two different religions here -- one teaches its followers to love their enemies and forgive; the other teaches its followers to cut off their enemies' heads or to subjucate them.

Please be truthful and don't say stupid things just to placate crowds. The truth cannot be sacrificed for the sake of mere pacification.


Randall said...

As a Benedictine monk, I have been forced to look at some unfortunate truths. True, Christianity teaches love and forgiveness--officially. (Tell that to the people of Northern Ireland, or to those who have died in all the "religious wars" over the last 2,000 years of history). I strongly suspect that Islam is in a similar position. The difference between official dogma and popular piety leaves the institution with a great deal of wiggle room to escape responsibility by saying, "we didn't actually teach that." Christianity has historically made a great deal of that wiggle room.

While it is true that no one has violently demonstrations about The Last Temptation of Christ or The Passion of the Christ, but they are not particularly good examples to make the writer's point. Last Temptation was fiction and did not purport to be otherwise (the novel or the movie). If it were purported to be historical, then it would be heresy (unless one wants to deny the outcome of the iconoclastic controversy in the post-Apostolic era). The Passion of the Christ is a bad example because there was no need to have violent demonstrations--there was more than enough gratuitous violence right on the screen (why it was not restricted to adults can only be explained by politics). What's more, it was gratuitous violence that was based on right-wing popular piety that comes from antiquated, 19th century biblical scholarship not taught except by the religious-right in fundamentalist seminaries for the past fifty years, and Right-wing rhetoric is right-wing rhetoric no matter whether it is Catholic, Protestant, Zionist, or Islamic. And it is outright dangerous.

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz said...

Come now, Brother Randall, let us agree on some things in our discussion. First, let us not use terms like "right-wing," for such terms avoid intellectual honesty and smear our interlocutors as things to be labelled rather than as human beings to be loved.

Second, let us also avoid the intellectual dishonesty and arrogance that says we are better than our ancestors simply because time has progressed ("antiquated, 19th century biblical scholarship"). Or, as the great G.K. Chesterton said, "My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday."

Third, let us also agree that we will fully read and accurately present what the other has written and not put into it what we want to see. For, I did not mention "The Passion of the Christ" at all, hence your comments object to something I never even mentioned. (Unless, of course, you're referring to my interview with Jim Caviezel, which you then should have mentioned.) Nor did I call "The Last Temptation of Christ" or "Hail Mary" films of an historical nature or heretical. I said they were blasphemous, (im)pure and simple.

As someone who has had to deal with much in Catholic life, I too have been forced to look at "unfortunate truths." But we're not alone in doing so, Brother. The Church herself looks at these truths everyday -- and daily repents. There is nothing new here.

Please note also, Brother, that I was not talking of the history between Islam and Christianity from the 7th century to the 20th. I was talking of the recent past as was Jack Straw.

The whole point of the Denmark cartoons is that they are supposedly blasphemous, not historical. I contrasted the reactions of Christians to those of Muslims when faced with the same reality -- people who are seriously insulting those we uphold as having some divine characteristic. When the blasphemous films I did mention were shown, no violence was committed. People protested by praying the Rosary and other acts of prayer and protest. But when someone satirizes Muhammed, riots break out, embassies are burned, people are killed. And this is not in a localized area, but over a great portion of the world.

The contrast is clear and unmistakable. I did not exhonerate those in the past who did not follow the Church's "official" teaching, as you call it (which, if I am not mistaken, comes from the command of the Lord Himself), to love one another the way Christ loves us. Now, as then, no one follows the command perfectly, nor will we ever.

But at least there is the command, something which is lacking in Islam. We Christians can at least say we have failed to do what our Lord commands. Since Muslims have no such command, there is nothing to hold them back from doing what they did.

Hasina Ghani said...

Please visit the following site:

This has some very interesting information about the Virgin Mary from the perspective of Christianity and Islam.

I pass no comment on what has been said here due to the belief that all religions are paths to God -- I believe that there is no one way to God, if there is one at all. It doesn't make sense to have one world order, when we are all rational human beings who (mostly) think independently -- no one doctrine can dominate the planet... look at what Alexander the Great tried to do, and look at the histories of the various world religions. Peace be with you.

Hana said...

Thomas, I stumbled upon your comment on Islam and was thoroughly disgusted by the unreasonable generalisation that you made. Surely you are very much aware that there exists both good and bad christians and, in the same way, good and bad muslims. Only a uneducated, narrow minded person would truly believe that the unreasonable (and perhaps stupid) actions of a comparatively small proportion of muslims could be evidence of Islam as a religion lacking the "command" to which you refer. Just because there have been a significant number of Catholic priests involved in paedophilia should not and does not alter my perception of Catholicism as a religion. It is important that you regard the religion, not those who profess to be religious and yet abuse the laws of their religion. And yes, indeed, hundreds of muslims rioted, but there are around a billion muslims in the world: the majority either stayed at home or peacefully expressed their opposition to the cartoons. You must also bear in mind that there are different interpretations of the same religious texts - I assume your contextual awareness of Islam as a religion and philosophy is ridiculously limited - the religion does not advocate the cutting off of heads. Those who cut off heads are not muslims, they are murderers; please do not confuse the two. The peaceful opposition of Christians in response to blasphemy that has appeared in a number of forms over the years is truly and unquestionably admirable; your shallow and closed-minded comments on Islam, on the other hand, are not.

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz said...

I will ask you, Hana, as I asked Brother Randall, O.S.B., and as I ask all readers and those who wish to comment, to refrain from calling me or anyone else names. Slinging the terms "uneducated," "narrow-minded," "shallow" and "close-minded" around do nothing to contribute to an honest discussion. They also happen not to be true.

Please note that I did not say that the presence of bad Muslims who cut off people's heads connotes the non-existence of a command to love one's enemies. I said plainly that there is no such command in Islam at all. Hence those Muslims who do not yield to rioting and violence are actually fulfilling a higher law than that of shari'a.

However, those Muslims who do take those actions are not violating Islamic law. How can they be when you have passages like this: "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful" (Surah 9:5) So, pagans, repent or die.

Or for Christians and Jews, "Fight against those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe in neither God nor the last day, who do not forbid what God and his messenger have forbidden, and who do not embrace the true faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued" (Surah 9:29) So, Christians and Jews, repent or be subjugated to us for the rest of your lives.

Yes, I know there are varying intepretations of Islamic law around the world, hence the existence of the Wahhabi, Sunni, Shia and numerous other parties in Islam. But if Islam is so peaceful, why would its founder command that pagans be killed and others be subjugated? This is not the way to peace.

Interpretations don't argue for anything that you're saying, either. All it says is that there are varying interpretations. And if there are varying interpretations, then there is no authoritative interpretation of Islam. All of the Islamic parties are on a par with each other. All of them have certain claims on being the most pure form of Islam, but there is no definitive authority to say which one really is. So one imam's interpretation of Islamic law is just as good as another's.

Hence, while those Muslims who cut off people's heads are murderers, they're also still Muslims. No imam or ayatollah has pronounced those men who have committed such barbaric acts as no longer being part of the Muslim religion. And even if one did, another could just as easily reinstate them.

Perhaps I pushed things a little bit when I said that Islam teaches its followers to cut off their enemies' heads. Maybe it doesn't say to cut off their heads, but it certainly does say to kill them and in my book, that's not loving one's enemies.

Hana said...

Thomas, I thank you very much for your reply, but once again beg to differ and am saddened by the literal way in which you regard the Islamic text. Whilst I do not have enough time tonight to fully explain to you and put into context the meanings of those particular verses you refer to (I very much hope to do so over the weekend), I wish you to re-read and prevent yourself from deliberately misunderstanding what I have said:

"Only an uneducated, narrow minded person would truly believe that the unreasonable (and perhaps stupid) actions of a comparatively small proportion of muslims could be evidence of Islam as a religion lacking the "command" to which you refer."

This does not specifically refer to you; on the contrary, I was under the impression that a religious man, such as yourself, would not truly hold such prejudices. Equally, I would venture to call anybody who insults Christianity as a result of the disgraceful actions of a comparatively small number of paedophile priests "narrow minded" and certainly "uneducated" in terms of comprehending the nature of the religion. Secondly, it was your ARGUMENTS, and not your arguments that I dismissed as "shallow" and "closed-minded". Have you forgotten the title of your blog: “Jack Straw’s stupid comments”? If I were to say "Christianity advocates paedophilia" would you not be entitled to call my arguments "shallow" and "closed-minded"? Of course, I am sure we can both agree that this right would be yours.

On that same note, I urge you to consider the deep offence that you have made to many muslims by bluntly declaring that Islam "teaches its followers to cut off their enemies' heads or to subjucate them." I would argue that this is far more insulting than that which you describe mistakenly as my "name calling". However, I wish not to bicker with you on such trivialities when there are many more important issues at hand that I am sure we would both prefer to discuss.

Hana said...

Sorry, just to clarify a mistake I made whilst typing. I meant to write:

"it was your arguments, and not YOU that I dismissed as "shallow" and "closed-minded".

hana said...

There was an old lady who lived at the time of the Prophet Mohammad and was a staunch enemy of him. This old lady would collect thorns from the nearby bushes and throw them on the path that she knew the prophet travelled down every day. Arabs in those days wore only sandals and so these thorns would easily have wounded Mohammad’s feet, cutting them and making them bleed. She would sit there watching him pass through her window.

Day after day, Mohammad would go down this path, and everyday it would be covered in thorns, but he made his way anyhow. One day, the Prophet realised that there was no sign of the thorns and no sign of the old lady. He was sad. For three days there was no sign of the lady, nor the thorns. Muhammad began to get worried. He asked people whether they knew the whereabouts of this old lady. He spoke to her neighbours and they informed him that the old lady was ill. And so the prophet Muhammad decided to go and pay her a visit.

When the old lady sees the prophet at her bedside, she believes that Muhammad has come to take revenge on her. Instead, he tells her that he hopes she will make a full recovery and that she will be feeling better soon. When she realised why he had actually come to visit her, she was overcome with guilt. She begged for forgiveness and it was not long after that she became a dedicated follower and lover of Muhammad.

There is clearly a moral behind this story. Muhammad is of course the embodiment of the Muslim faith. If he was able to humble himself, forgive and accept opposition (that was essentially expressed in the form of a violent/malicious act), then it follows that other Muslims should act in a similar way. The story just goes to show the degree of freedom that people were given to express their opposition under Mohammad’s rule.

hana said...

The second story is also about an old lady who lived at the time of Ali. One day Ali saw an old lady walking in the boiling heat of the Arabian sun, carrying a heavy jug of water. He offered to help the old lady by carrying the jug for her. Because Ali always wore modest clothing like the other poorer people in the village, though he known throughout the village, he was not recognised by the old lady. She accepted his offer to carry her heavy jug of water. As they started walking, the lady began to tell him about how much she hated that man named Ali and everything his stood for and believed in. Throughout the entirety of the journey, the old lady cursed and swore about that person named Ali, all along not knowing that it was him that she was actually walking with.

Ali listened to the old lady throughout the whole journey. He did not utter a word. He refused to defend himself from the accusations the woman made. He listened to her curse and swear, without uttering a syllable. Instead, he was greatly saddened that anyone should be so upset with him. He was not for a moment defiant. He accepted all the criticism and blamed himself for having ever upset or offended the old lady, in any way that he may have done so. When they got to the old lady’s house, Ali realised she had wanted to use the water to bake bread to feed her family. He offered to help her and told her to prepare the dough while he used the hot furnace. While doing this, he looked into the fire and said to himself “Ali, remember God will not be happy with you if are unfair to the people around you and if they are upset with you”.

Ali gave full freedom to the old lady to say what she wanted and did not even assert his right to defend himself. Later, the old lady’s neighbours saw Ali leave the house. They told the old lady who he was. The old lady was shocked. She was overcome with guilt and regretted all that she had said. She instead changed to a great and lover of Ali. This moral of this story is that people should confront criticism, whether seen as fair or unfair, by examining themselves and asking God to guide them in becoming better people. If people as holy as Muhammad and Ali could humble themselves and do this, surely ordinary must follow their example.

Does this not show that a fundamental tenet of Islam is forgiveness and the notion that one must not only "love thy neighbout" but also "love thy enemy"?