Friday, November 30, 2007

Force for Change In Western Acceptance of Islam? (Or...Isn't It Just a Teddy Bear?)

I remember my first conversation with someone who was Muslim about Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. It was a person I respected immensely and I was not let down. The person helped me at least manage my confusion about the fatwa on Rushdie's life in part by explaining that Rushdi, raised a Muslim, knew exactly what he was doing. He was not ignorant of the implications of his novel. A liberal Westerner could understand how, while a fatwa may seem extreme, it was internally consistent with cultural customs and therefore--somehow--acceptable. Worthy of tolerance if not support. Fast forward 20 years to a very different situation (if one is to believe the press). A British teacher in Sudan asks her students to vote on a teddy bear name, accepts their overwhelming choice of "Muhammad," ...and is arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to prison time for insulting Islam. Protestors chant for death. A government spokesman says "it's not much of a punishment at all. It should be considered a warning that such acts should not be repeated."

The story has gotten wide coverage, so my goal is not to repeat it. It is to link back to my Rushdie conversation. Open-minded Westerners understand and support a culture, Muslim or otherwise, having strong convictions that differ from their own. And the most open-minded would certainly say that anyone living on foreign soil must understand local customs and beliefs. But I fear that these same Westerners may have a sort of subconscious Kantian absolute standard that draws a line in the sand for acceptability. And a former Muslim writing a blasphemous book is one side of that line and a grade-school teacher accepting her seven-year-old student's choice for a teddy-bear name is very far on the other. And the more teddy bears show up in the press, the more strain Western support will sustain.

I get it that religion is about purity, not marketing. But if mutual understanding and support is any part of the goal, this situation didn't help.

1 comment:

rjjrdq said...

Westerners are generally tolerant of other customs and beliefs. Can you say the same about Muslims?

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