Tuesday, May 17, 2005

How much should religion be respected?

As a hopefully religious person myself, I can sympathize with those who are offended by the desecration of their religious symbols. I would not purposefully do anything to disrespect any religion, and I think it is reasonable to expect others to do the same.

But three things strike me about the discredited Newsweek story saying that US soldiers flushed the Koran down the toilet, causing deadly riots in Afghanistan.

One is that the level of respect that Muslims demand of the Koran cross the line from reasonable requests into bigotry. Check out what US policy really is in Guantanamo on how to handle a Koran:

The three-page memorandum, dated Jan. 19, 2003, says that only Muslim chaplains and Muslim interpreters can handle the holy book, and only after putting on clean gloves in full view of detainees.

The detailed rules require U.S. Muslim personnel to use both hands when touching the Koran to signal "respect and reverence," and specify that the right hand be the primary one used to manipulate any part of the book "due to cultural associations with the left hand." The Koran should be treated like a "fragile piece of delicate art," it says.

The memo, written a year after the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo from Afghanistan, reflects what U.S. officials said was a specific policy on handling the Koran, one of the most sensitive issues to Muslims. The Pentagon does not have a similar policy regarding any other major religious book and takes "extra precautions" on the Muslim holy book, officials said.

The Pentagon memo, among other directives, barred military police from touching the Koran. If a copy of the book was to be moved from a cell, the memo said, it must be placed on a "clean, dry detainee towel" and then wrapped without turning it over at any time. Muslim chaplains must then ensure that it is not placed in any offensive area while transported.

Sorry, but while these rules may make sense in a Muslim country, they seem way excessive for detainees. It would be more reasonable to ban the Koran altogether from Guantanamo than to force the US to act with such dhimmitude. And beyond that is the explicit bigotry that no non-Muslim can even touch a Koran - what is that about? Would Islamic law say that my hands be cut off if I pick one up in a bookstore of library? It appears to me that Muslims are using Western sensitivities to assert their own superiority over the West, when things like this are demanded.

The second thing that is glaringly missing from this story is how much Newsweek is being blamed, and how little Afghani Muslims are being blamed, for the deaths in the riots. It appears that personal responsibility does not apply to the Arab world, and this is hardly the first time this has happened. It echoes the many news stories blaming Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount for the outbreak of the intifada - do Muslims and Arabs not have any ability to choose right and wrong for themselves? Are they animals who only act by instinct, and therefore the blame goes to the person who got them angry? The willingness to overlook actual acts of terror and murder by the left-leaning media and indeed the rest of the world is, in my opinion, one of the leading factors in the spread of terror itself.

The third point that is the jaw-dropping hypocrisy of the Muslim world, the absolute lack of symmetry between how they expect and demand to be treated and how they treat other religions. Is there any other religion that has such a varied history of desecrating other religion's holy places and symbols more than Islam? Look at the Buddha statues, the many Hindu temples destroyed, the destruction of Joseph's Tomb and Second Temple artifacts, the Church of the Nativity - the list is endless.

It seems to me that a religion that has no concept of how to respect other religions is in no way, shape or form in a position to "demand" that their own religion be respected to such an absurd extent.



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