“Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don’t believe it also. But when a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.”
Ishmael, Herman Melville – Moby Dick
This is a familiar, relatively common story of an elder trying to achieve something at the dusk of his life. The ultimately futile struggle of a veteran fisherman was written up by Hemingway in his inimitable style. Hemingway got the Nobel Price for literature; his character Santiago got nothing. Eighty-four days on the sea and no fish to show for it must be disheartening even for a young man. Yet, Santiago, the man, thought – “It is silly not to hope. Besides I believe it is a sin.”
Not far from the scene of the fictitious epic struggle between a man and a fish, lives an old man Jones. Perhaps not old by age; he is sixty, but by experience – he spent half of his life as a missionary. As a cormorant (or a dove) flies, his church, the Dove World Outreach Center is less than a hundred nautical miles away, in Florida, a place known for its rich retirees and richness of rumbustious ideas. In any other place but Florida, USA, one hopes, (vainly, California or Canberra springs to mind) those ideas would be sieved and chaff discarded. Pastor Terry Jones is no friend of Islam so he organized a trial; Islam was found guilty and a copy of the Koran was burned. “It was intended to stir the pot; if you don’t shake the boat, everyone will stay in their complacency,” he said. May God forgive Pastor Jones for mixing metaphors.
The trial was broadcast by The Truth TV, a Californian satellite channel owned by Ahmed Abaza, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity. An imam from Texas was the counsel for the defense. All in all, it was not a case of suppression of culture but a symbolic protest. Tens, perhaps hundreds of American and Israeli flags are burned weekly without a peep from our democracy defending media. As Santiago got his fish, Jones got his publicity.
The delay in the disapproval, in the days of internet and satellite television is interesting. The book was burned on the 20th March, 2011. The act remained unknown or at least unnoticed in the Muslim world until Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president made a speech calling it “a crime against religion and the entire Muslim community”. He also demanded that the United States apologise. After so many years on US payroll the poor man still does not know what democracy and freedom of speech mean. The “riots” started on the April Fools Day in Mazar-i-Sharif, hitherto considered the most stable place in Afghanistan with a crowd waving perfectly printed signs in English. The placards were the usual ‘Down with Obama‘, ‘Down with America‘; so naturally the Muslims killed four Nepalese and three Europeans in the local UN office. The Russian chief bravely pretended he was a Muslim and was unharmed. The orchestrated ‘riots’ continued and some twenty people were killed.
The Guardian wrote that it “provoked anger and revulsion around the world”. No, not the killings; a burning of a book. The sharks smelt blood. In The Economist of 9th April, 2011 the Floridian Christians were described as ‘bigots’. The media tried to outdo each other in condemning this latest provocation of peaceful Muslims. Burning of books is bad, but there are historical precedents. The third Muslim caliph, certain Usman ibn Affan, was unhappy about his fellow coreligionists making personal copies of Koran. An official edition was prepared under his direction and “all the faulty copies people had made themselves were burned”. The ancient libraries of Alexandria and Constantinople are now also just ashy memories of Islamic tolerance. And as every good American knows the Library of Congress, founded in 1800, was located in the Capitol Building until 1814 when British troops put a torch to it and destroyed all 3000 books. The communists, on the other hand, learnt from the public relation hiccups the Holy Roman Inquisition and later the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party suffered, and did not burn books publicly. The inconvenient writings were pulped and recycled into packing cartons, something which even today surely warms every Green heart.
I do not profess to know what was in Terry Jones’ mind at the time. Merciful explanation would be that maybe he hoped to make people to think about Islam. If so, I don’t think he succeeded. Unfortunately, as any politician-not-in-power will confirm, only mindless stunts will get you publicity, the more mindless the better to reach the average journalist’s mind. I’m not sure that it is sufficient excuse or justification for the old pastor’s stunt, but I’m not sure I can honestly blame him. Personally, I think people ought to read the Koran, or at least try to.
The proper English spelling of the name of the book is Koran, not Qurans, Qur’ān or other fanciful variations. It won’t be long before the book is called ‘Kitabullah’. Remember that all that re-naming is done by lefteratti, the same people who bent over backwards when their hero Pol Pot ‘baptised’ Cambodia Kampuchea in a sea of blood. Those very same infallible people now tell us we should tolerate Islam in all its forms. According to them, anybody who disagrees is an ‘islamophobe’. [This, in itself shows the Lefts’ mediocre command of the English language on the one hand, and the damage the Chomsky’s harebrained linguistic theories caused to the language as a means of communication. ‘Phobia’ means ‘fear’, not dislike. It is them who are afraid of Islam, and who are thus cravenly hedging their bets.]
We certainly tolerate the Islamic lifestyle more than Islam tolerates ours, but which Islam ought we to tolerate more? Sunni or Shia? (Omitting for a moment a few other sects, no less peaceful.) Whichever version we choose, we are in trouble, especially when we say both. We will be beheaded twice; and our media will explain it as just a mildly regrettable misapplication of the peaceful teachings of the Koran. A few extremists a religion do not maketh, some would say. True. So please tell me, where are those moderate ones? Millions and millions of Muslims suffering in silence the unfair opprobrium of the Western world opinion, and the religious persecution, because a handful of the heretics whose actions are forbidden by the Islam anyway? Really? It was not much of a consolation to the dead that there were almost no true Nazi believers left in Germany at the end of May 1945.
Someone could say that now is the time for the Muslims to wake up (before the Middle East oil runs out) and critically examine their religion. Their teaching explicitly forbids that and thus it is unlikely to happen. Mohammed Arkoun in his book – Islam: To reform or to subvert? (Saqi Books 2006) halfheartedly tries to convince western readers that it would be somehow, somewhere, maybe one day possible. I read the book and remained unconvinced. Even the title is not exactly in accordance with its content and tenor; indeed the earlier edition of the book was called “The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought”.
Furthermore, we are being misled. For example, the first chapter has a quotation, 59,2 from Koran – “Therefore, take heed (fa’tabirū), you who have eyes.” This seems wise and unobjectionable. However, the whole verse, in my 1956 Penguin edition is as follows:-
“It was He that drove the unbelievers among the People of the Book out of their dwellings into the first exile. You did not think that they would go; and they, for their part, fancied that their strongholds would protect them from Allah. But Allah’s scourge fell upon them whence they did not expect it, casting such terror into their hearts that their dwellings were destroyed by their own hands as well as by the faithful. Learn from their examples, you that have eyes.”
This refers to the Jews, so even The Guardian would like it. But it does not sound too merciful. Just to be sure, I borrowed a book, which I thought to be the sole source of the Islamic knowledge of our journalists – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam. (After reading it, I changed my mind. Too many too long words for journalists) It also contains quotations from the Koran – and also sanitised. It would seem that the more modern the translation is the more peaceful Islam becomes. If it goes like that, soon there will be no difference between it and Buddhism.
It is being explained to us that everything we may dislike or are suspicious of in Islam is actually against the ‘authentic’ Islam. Nothing to worry about, just our prejudices. We are not reminded that the authentic Koran allows and encourages lying to us non-believers. The British ex-Prime Minister, but still a politician Tony Blair reads the Koran (sorry, apparently not Koran, but Qur’ān) every day, and claims to find it peaceful. One wonders; is it because for a socialist, words mean what he wants them to mean, as for the Queen in Alice in Wonderland or does he have a Ninety-eighty-four translation?
Amusing development is that Arab youths seem to be more aware of the Islamic danger that our own politicians, journalists and, needless to mention, pre-emptively soiled pants academia. For example, the young organisers of demonstrations in Morocco set a condition – no Islamic signs or banners, no chants of “Allahu akbar”, and no segregation of the sexes. (The Economist, 24.06.11,p.51) So perhaps as to the title of Dr Arkoun’s book; a third alternative could be added – to reject Islam in toto.
The Hemingway readers may recall that the sharks ate Santiago’s record size fish because he happened to be alone in his boat. Nobody was there to help. Is there any moral in this sad story of the Florida pastor or any other old man? It could be - don’t tangle with a pack of sharks when there is nobody to help you. Or is it a sin not to hope?
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