Friday, October 12, 2012

Title - Ye must be born all over again

Thanksgiving table centrepiece - arranged by Cynthia

Thanks for nature's bounty - arranged by Cynthia's dad
I suspect that most of us are baffled by the mob demonstrations in the Middle East, responding—at least so we're told—to a You Tube amateur film ridiculing the prophet Muhammad. It's hard to imagine similar demonstrations by Christians in Ottawa, Washington or London in response to an unfavourable depiction of Christ in, say, China or Malaysia. And because we can't imagine the one, we are flummoxed by the other.
            A group of us talked briefly about this a few days ago and I suggested that there must be a continuous, hot resentment brewing just below the surface, waiting for a  trigger that will allow the mix to boil over. It's happened in the Middle East and North Africa before—remember The Satanic Verses?
           Most certainly, there are forces waiting also for the opportunity to foment mob rage, specifically against the United States; the USA was no more implicated in the production of this latest insult than was Iceland but the irrelevance of that fact was successfully propagandized out of the equation by whatever forces were fanning these latest flames, apparently.
            It's unfortunate. The degree to which North Americans equate terrorism with Islam is bound to escalate as a result of these demonstrations; it's already a big problem, particularly for Muslims who have settled in North America and become productive, civic-minded Canadians and Americans. They can protest all they want that the violence is not sanctioned by their faith and is certainly not endorsed by Muslims who have immigrated in order to live a better, safer life in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for human rights. But see one terrorist in a head covering and human nature easily generalizes it to all people wearing similar symbolic clothing.
            The history of civilization as we know it has demonstrated over and over again that human rights progress can be easily undone by a very few events. One has only to recall the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Towers in New York to realize how much freedom of movement and right to privacy have been compromised as a consequence. How much more may Muslim Canadians feel the tightening noose as a result of the current upheavals?
            I've recently kept informal track of the web comments generated by news articles on the current anti-American violence in the Middle East, North Africa, the Philippines and Malaysia. It's not a true test of general opinion, but the anti-Muslim comments outnumber the tolerant comments about 5 – 1. You might well say that the internet attracts bigots, and that's likely mostly true, but the “bigots” writing these vitriolic comments are also walking our streets, waiting—as it were—for the coalescing of a retaliatory mob through which their hatred can be released on the nearest representatives of that which they hate and fear. In North America, that happens to be a highly visible minority.
            Working in Europe in the '80s, we had occasion to spend time in both Irelands and to talk to people there about the “troubles,” which were going full force. “North Americans don't get what's going on here,” they told us. “This is not a Catholic/Protestant conflict at all, it's a pro and anti-colonialism struggle! The independence people—the native Irish—just happen to be mostly Catholic and the pro-Britain faction just happen to be mostly Protestant. Solve the colonialism question and the two religious persuasions will get along just fine!”
            To apply this paradigm to the Middle East holus-bolus might be oversimplifying it; I'm no expert on all the details, but considering that the West has recently sent armies and/or lethal weaponry to enforce its will in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Libya, might it not be reasonable to suggest that there could be deep anti-colonialist resentment driving the outbreaks—and with good reason? It's that curious kind of a world, after all, in which it's perfectly logical that Israel should have nuclear weapons and massive military power to defend itself, while for Iran to possess these capabilities is considered unthinkable.
            Inequality always breeds resentment and factionalism; that's a literal truism by now. Nations that feel equal to their neighbours, and are respected for that fact, don't produce terrorism aimed at these same neighbours. (Local vandalism is a form of domestic terrorism, also identifiable as a response to perceived inequality; it works at all levels.) President Obama seemed to get this at the beginning of his first term when he made some noises to indicate that we might have precipitated some of the resentment that led to 9/11; he very soon learned that American presidents don't admit to error and don't apologize . . . ever.
            John 3:1-21 is a narrative about Jesus' encounter with the pharisee, Nicodemus. At the core of the story is the phrase that has become the centrepiece for the “born again” focus in North American Christianity: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (NIV).” Using metaphors of wind, darkness and light, Jesus tries to explain to Nicodemus that he can't possibly grasp what the Kingdom of God is about until he commits to starting over, this time seeing the world through the “spirit” as opposed to the “flesh.”
            But this proves to be yet another metaphor that Nicodemus has trouble following.
            Can nations be “born again?” Can the Israeli/Palestinian conflict be resolved unless the principals (and their principles) are “born again?”
            It seems unlikely.


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