Muslim Global Letter Needs a Rational Answer
[Brian Trent is a professional essayist, screenwriter, and novelist; he is the author of "Remembering Hypatia" and the forthcoming "Never Grow Old: the Novel of Gilgamesh." His work has been published in The Humanist, ePluribus Media, and in last year's National Debate on civil liberties by H.W. Wilson.
Trent has been guest speaker at Yale, and on numerous radio and podcast programs around the country. He currently resides in Connecticut.]
October 28, 2007
On October 11, a letter from the global Muslim community was sent to numerous Christian leaders. This wasn’t just a Hallmark greetings card; in-process for more than three years, it boasts 138 signatures from every branch of Islam in multiple countries. It’s titled, “A Common Word Between Us and You.”
“If Muslims and Christians are not at peace,” the letter observes, “then the world cannot be at peace.”
One sentence later, we have this: “With the terrible weaponry of the modern world… no side can unilaterally win a conflict.”
Also true, but that won’t stop the fanatics from wanting to try. But let’s return to this point in a moment; for now, let’s simply talk about the fact that a single letter, written as a single voice, has been dispatched to the Christian community… with rumors that this same cabal is planning on writing letters to other groups as well. Whatever else we may speculate on, this letter is certainly an invite to talk.
Will it do any good?
Quite simply, it depends on who gets together to do the talking. We’ve all had experiences with pathologically irrational people who are incapable of true discussion, and there isn’t a subject on Earth which brings these types to the surface quicker than religion. It isn’t like ice cream, where an assorted crowd of sugarholics can feel comfortable ordering vanilla, chocolate, or Cherry Garcia without worrying that they’ll be put to death over a matter of taste.
Let’s not even talk about peace yet. There are people who define “peace” as “submission to Allah’s will,” or the “conversion of the world to Jesus by any means necessary” as the Requerimiento and numerous papal bulls endorsed. Let’s just limit ourselves to open dialogue between religious crowds, something which this Islamic letter purports to spearhead. And the question must be posed, does everyone want that?
In a word, no.
The torches-and-pitchforks crowds of both religions want an excuse to destroy, pillage, covert by force, and exploit. Yet these people don’t speak for the majority of the peoples of the world. Global society is in mid-evolution, taking to heart Enlightenment ideals that first spawned the United States as the great modern example of
a)A nation founded not on monarchy or theocracy, but on a secular Constitution.
b)A nation which values liberty protected by that Constitution.
Global society is outgrowing its medieval adolescence, and has come to accept progressive values of which freedom belongs, of which plurality is kin, of which an informed republic is possible. Information and knowledge, and the power both put in our hands, is the resource of a new enlightenment.
Honest dialogue, then, between Christians and Jew and Muslim is only possible if the fanatics are removed from the room. Forcibly. And if necessary, violently. You can’t talk peace with someone wearing a C-4 cummerbund. You don’t offer such a person an olive branch – you shoot him dead. And the same goes for the bloodthirsty apocalyptophiles who try systematically to remake America, and the Middle East, in the image of Biblical “prophecy.” Just as the Bible is no proper guide to morality (see God and Mass Murder in Virginia and Beyond) it is also no compass to the future.
Some in the Muslim world seek to engage in enlightened dialogue? Then they must condemn, root out, and destroy the fanatics in their midst.
The Christian world seeks to participate? Then it must condemn, root out, and destroy their own fanatics. Christian leaders who readily distance themselves from the Westboro Baptist Church must also put James Dobson, Jonathan Falwell, and other Western religious zealots in the same category.
Quite simply, humanity has always been able to choose, collectively, where it goes. We could have stayed in the trees and caves, but we ventured out and made ourselves masters of the world. We could have allowed ourselves to be prey to every whim of nature, ever disease and disaster, and instead we ardently cure ailments with medicine.
Even as scientists churn out these cures, there are those who shun such “secular” discoveries by simply appealing to God. We read about these stories in newspapers and shrug: Another diabetic child was killed by fanatic parents who chose prayer over insulin. Such people are “crazies,” we say. They don’t represent Christianity in general.
Muslims have told me, too, that suicide-bombers don’t represent Islam in general either. They are a grotesque minority, I’m told. Osama Bin Laden doesn’t speak for Islam.
Fine, I reply. Then as a majority, start doing some house-cleaning. They must begin to introduce the progressive values of individual liberty, pluralism, and a secular state that, while granting religious freedom, does not condemn people to die for blasphemy.
And that’s just it. In progressive civilization you have the freedom to believe what you will… just not always the freedom to practice those beliefs. If you believe in the End Times or Ragnarok, you’re free to believe that. You’re not free to push for war based on Biblical or Koranic upsells.
You can believe in Adam and Eve or that the world is stacked on the backs of infinite turtles, but you are not free to impose this view on educational institutions which teach true scientific findings that have actual evidence behind them… which Creationism of any sort does not.
You are free to believe that women should cover themselves with a burqa. You are not free to force a woman to do so.
Religious freedom offends fundamentalists, because they’re convinced they’re right. Not only are fundamentalists enemies to American values (link here to American Challenge) they are direct enemies to progressive civilization.
The Islamic world has largely been an immense affront to progressive civilization, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 1100s, it was the brightest point of intellectual inquiry the world had seen since the fall of the classical world.
What happened? The fundamentalists took over. They grabbed the reins of their society and derailed the Islamic world into a violent, brutal, backwards era. It was something that happened to Europe as well, though the successive eras of a Renaissance and Enlightenment helped us slough off much of that medieval mindset. America is hardly out of the fundamentalist woods... but we've come far.
The Muslim letter appears to be heartfelt and genuine, and if I don’t care for its “there’s only One God” tone, I certainly am willing to salute its single voice from the divisive Islamic crowd, and wondering if this is a first step not just for dialogue with us, but between each other. It's possible that a first letter rife with too many progressive values would have been rejected out of hand at this stage.
Speculation aside, the letter is here.
It should be answered by the rational, and should be a first step toward a new age of rationality.
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