Monday, May 26, 2008

Musings on Memorial Day

Nobody cares about Columbus and the Flat Earth.

A lot of people are passionate about Art. But nobody is going to want to have me killed for saying I don’t particularly like most Modern Art.

Today is Memorial Day, which commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to their country. The holiday was first enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War. It was expanded after World War I to include casualties of any war or military action involving U.S. troops. At present it is largely observed with barbecues. But I digress.

People who disagree with what I’ll write today might want to see me dead. But of course, nobody is reading this blog, so I’m safe.

Salman Rushdie is also alive and well. In 2007, he began a five-year term as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory University. You may remember the brouhaha surrounding Rushdie’s fourth novel, published in 1988. It enraged Muslims around the world. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa against Rushdie because of The Satanic Verses. This was the first time in the modern era that a government publicly called for the killing of a private individual in a foreign country.

Westerners are so used to "freedom of the press" that we can scarcely imagine the uproar surrounding Rushdie’s novel. What was that all about, anyway?

The title of Rushdie’s novel refers to an alleged incident in the ministry of the Prophet Muhammad where verses for the Qur'an were spoken and then withdrawn on the grounds that the devil had deceived Muhammad into thinking they came from God. Muslim writers refer to the delivery and retraction of the two verses as the Gharaniq (bird) incident. The verses form a subplot of Rushdie’s novel, which is about two Indians and their immigration to Britain and subsequent return to India.

These verses would have been in Sura An-Najm, the 53rd Sura, considered a revelation from the angel Gabriel. They would have gone after verses 19 and 20.

Have you thought of Allat and al-'Uzza and Manat the third, the other?: These are the exalted Gharaniq, whose intercession is hoped for.

Muhammad longed to convert his kinsmen and neighbors of Mecca to Islam. The disputed verses allowed for prayers of intercession to be made to three Pagan Meccan goddesses: Allat, Uzza, and Manat - a flagrant violation of the Islamic principle of monotheism. The Meccans were overjoyed to hear this and joined Muhammad in ritual prostration at the end of the Sura.

Islamic tradition holds that Gabriel chastised Muhammad for adulterating the revelation, revealing Qur'an 22:52 to comfort him.

Never did We send a messenger or a prophet before thee, but, when he framed a desire, Satan threw some (vanity) into his desire: but Allah will cancel anything (vain) that Satan throws in, and Allah will confirm (and establish) His Signs: for Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom.

Muhammad took back his words and the persecution by the Meccans resumed. Qur’an 53:21 was revealed, belittling the goddesses. In the Al-Hilali and Khan English translation, the passage including verses 19-26 now reads:

Have you then considered Al-Lât, and Al-'Uzza
And Manât, the other third?
Is it for you the males and for Him the females?
That indeed is a division most unfair!
They are but names which you have named, you and your fathers, for which Allâh has sent down no authority. They follow but a guess and that which they themselves desire, whereas there has surely come to them the Guidance from their Lord!
Or shall man have what he wishes?
But to Allâh belongs the last (Hereafter) and the first (the world).
And there are many angels in the heavens, whose intercession will avail nothing except after Allâh has given leave for whom He wills and pleases.

You’ll probably say that the English translation is not very comprehensible. The Qur’an is a book like the Bible in that respect. Only by devoting many hours to the study of either great book can anyone begin to understand the messages and the meaning of the words.

Muslim commentators do not refer to these two verses as "Satanic", but as the "Bird" (Gharaniq) verses. When the title of Rushdie’s novel was translated into Arabic, "verses" was translated as "ayat," a term applied only to the verses of the Qur’an. Hence Muslims who read that translation assumed Rushdie was claiming the Qur'an was Satanic.

Public opinion is often not very well informed. Al Capp coined the term SWINE: Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything. This could certainly apply to Students of the Qur’an. We westerners read the above paragraphs and roll our eyes and mutter, "What’s the big deal?" We are so constantly inundated and bombarded by messages that are in direct opposition to our fundamental, core Christian beliefs – what we refer to as "entertainment" – that we have become pretty insensitive to the nuances of scripture. How many Americans have even read the Bible all the way through anyway? Most Christians fit the description in Isaiah 29:13, which has been given before in this blog.

Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.

Our entertainment is certainly not conducive to our spirituality. The things we actively pursue to titillate and excite ourselves are to a large extent diametrically opposed to our Christian faith. We find humor and take delight in wickedness. See Isaiah 5:20 or 2 Nephi 15:20 Perhaps I’ll devote a future post to a discussion of What’s On TV Tonight?

I’m sure there are Muslim backsliders, and even a Muslim or two somewhere who have not read the Qur’an all the way through. But those people don’t go very far in Muslim society. Muslims take their religion VERY seriously. For example, consider this requirement at the International Islamic University Malasia.

In order to identify and classify the students, all students are required to sit for Fardu ‘Ain oral and Qur’anic reading test, conducted during Ta’aruf week. Students who fail this test are required to register for Fardu ‘Ain classes and the attendance is compulsory. The classes are conducted by Assistant Religious Officers under the supervision of Leadership and Training Department. The students have to attend classes once a week for 10 weeks per semester. The classes are from Monday to Friday between 8.00 am to 4.00 pm. At the end of the semester, a centralized examination will be conducted for the students.

Of course my Alma Mater required students to take and pass religion classes as undergraduates, and the same might be true of other Christian universities here in the United States. I don’t know about that. Somehow, I doubt it.

In one of my posts I said that when I start writing I’m not always sure where I’m going. This is one of those posts. My original intent was to talk about the Iraq war, but then I got sidetracked on the misconceptions surrounding Salman Rushdie’s novel – which, I’m sure, were very remunerative for him. That devolved into a consideration of some differences between Christian and Muslim lifestyles. I guess I should get back on track.

As of today, Memorial Day, says 4,080 American men and women have died in Iraq. More than 29,000 of our troops have been injured. The United States remains engulfed by the underlying military conflict, the battle for political control, and grinding civil strife. Since January 2005 there have been nearly 7,000 deaths in the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), and over 42,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. Were conditions really any worse under Saddam?

I’ve questioned U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq since the very beginning. There seemed to be a lot of misinformation about WMDs, Saddam’s threat to our National Security, and the connection between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. A lot of articles I read claimed that Al-Qaeda doesn’t even exist, but that the Bush Administration invented it so the gullible public would have something to focus on. According to the Center for Public Integrity, President Bush's administration made a total of 935 false statements between 2001 and 2003 about Iraq's alleged threat to the United States. Both proponents and opponents of the invasion have criticized the U.S. and its allies for not devoting enough troops to the mission, not adequately planning for post-invasion Iraq, and for permitting and perpetrating widespread human rights abuses. As the war has progressed, critics have also railed against the high human and financial costs. And I’ve been one of those critics.

The situation in the Middle East is so incredibly complex, and I’m so incredibly simple, that I admit I don’t know squat about what’s going on "over there". All I know is what I read, and I’m convinced much/most/all of it is misinformation. What about Paul Wolfowitz and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC)? What about the New World Order conspiracy theory? What about the purported shadow government represented by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group? Frankly, I don’t think our politicians are smart enough to keep a secret of this magnitude.

Another thing that bothers me is that in recent years we only seem to get involved in conflicts where large amounts of oil are involved. I could probably come up with a list of worthy causes that we’ve simply ignored, but I won’t. This is already long enough.

Then there is the subject of "terrorism" itself. For several years there we heard about Al-Qaeda every time we turned on the TV, opened the newspaper, or looked out the window. But what about all the other terrorist organizations out there? (Also see the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism list and the State Department’s list.) Why have we focused almost exclusively on just the Taliban and Al-Qaeda?

Wow. I don’t have any answers. On most of this stuff I have no information and no opinions. Well, I always have an opinion. Sorry.

I’ll end this meandering post by relating to you a conversation I had with a young friend who was home on leave from Iraq. I won’t tell you his name because he probably wouldn’t want it included in an article questioning U.S. involvement in Iraq. He is a Marine, and this was his second tour of duty in the country. He believed 100% in our involvement in Iraq. He was well informed. He expressed a very positive outlook about what he was doing.

Patriotism by John Slobodnik

I can read and read and then read some more and I’ll never be as close to or as intimate with the situation in Iraq as this young man. And he was convinced that what he was doing was good and proper and necessary. How can I argue with that? I can’t. Happy Memorial Day!


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