Friday, September 15, 2006

"Islam" means "peace"

Pope Benedict XVI, the current face of the 2000-year-old institution known as the Catholic Church, was giving a speech the other day. He was relating a story from a book about a conversation between some Persian and some 14th century Byzantine emperor.

On the subject of holy war, the Pope quoted thus: "He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached'."

There are no reports of the Pope quoting books about the Spanish Inquisition or anything, but he did make a point with members of the Muslim faith.

A Turkish political official compared the Pope to Hitler and Mussolini. An Indonesian cleric said that "such words hurt Muslims all over the world."

Oh, I am sorry. I suppose that when hurt so deeply about a conversation that took place 700 years ago, one turns to one's faith for comfort in a very personal, reflective manner.



Or not.

To some, the expression "choose your battles" is interpreted as "choose your battles: all of them."

But what's really going on here? Although "islam" does literally mean "to make peace", it derives from a root meaning "submission to The God (Allah)".

From this outsider's point of view, Islam appears to be a zero-tolerance, nothing-open-to-interpretation kind of religion, much as any fundamentalist religion. Christian fundamentalists are equally lacking in a sense of humor or any sort of self-doubt that can admit even a calm conversation about one's differences with another.

I was brought up in the Southern Baptist church, and in a fairly fundamentalist, rural version at that.

"Either you believe all of the Bible, or you believe none of it." -- fundamentalist Christian

"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." -- George W. Bush

"If you're not with me, you're my enemy." -- Anakin Skywalker

"Only a Sith deals in absolutes." -- Obi-Wan Kenobi

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In my opinion, the most dangerous and destructive weapon of all time is the certain knowledge that one is Right.

"Que s├žais-je?" ("What do I know?") -- Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

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