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Fred's Views

And Respect for All

If I understand Al Qaeda, and I probably don't, they are protesting American (and the West, in general) support for Israel and general disrespect for Moslems. There is little doubt that nations such as the United States (but certainly not just them) have had a tendency to dismiss so-called third-world states, or anyone that appears too different from the "norm". It seems to be a common human trait. Kids do it. Some adults do it. Usually, as one matures, one comes to realize that there is power in diversity and beauty, and much else to value and learn from. Al Qaeda does not think that America (or the West) has learned this yet. But, of course, neither has Al Qaeda.

I am not an expert - or even a student - of Islam. I haven't read the Koran, although I started to, once. I have read the Bible from cover to cover, twice, I think, but not recently. But I suspect (as I have been told by others) that the Koran does not condone, let alone promote, terrorism, suicide bombing, or other atrocious acts in the name of Allah. Neither does the Bible, although far too many atrocities have been carried out in God's name, fortunately fewer and fewer in modern times.

In the New Testament there is just a hint of woman's liberation, but, for the most part, the Bible reflects its times - when women were largely considered to be inferior and even the "property" of men. It took the Christian world nearly two millenia to finally formally recognize woman's equality - although there are still pockets of resistance and backwards thinking. The Koran is no less a product of its times. Although I understand the Koran teaches to respect women, and that women have certain rights, Islam is, at least, perceived to discriminate against women. Since Christianity is some 600 years older than Islam, it may not be surprising that Muslim attitudes towards women are much less modern (and thus less emancipated) than in the "Christian" world.

It is probably not surprising that Moslems accuse the West of not respecting their beliefs and traditions - and it is no less surprising that the West thinks of some Moslem traditions and beliefs as archaic and invalid.

To be sure, I view many hold-overs from our past as archaic and invalid: the monarchy, the Pope, rules against priests marrying and contaceptives. I don't mean to single out Catholic beliefs, but they are the most obvious. I find little of value in traditional pomp and circumstance, although I treasure Christmas traditions. I fail to understand the logic in "drawing a line in the sand" that allows traditional Mennonites to use certain technology but not other technology.. If I were to visit a traditional Mennonite family, would I honor their traditions and not take or use a radio or CD player? Probably. But what if, for example, my wife were allowed to use these devices but I was not? What then?

That is at least part of the problem. In Saudi Arabia, Western men are asked to make few changes in their normal life styles, but Western women are asked to forgo much more. Female military personnel are understandably upset at being asked to give up some of the rights they joined the military to defend. But if they fail to do so, Moslems may view it as disrespect for their customs and beliefs.

What's the solution? I don't know. I only know that while I believe in religious freedom and tolerance, I have a problem when religion becomes overly concerned with ritual and outward appearance - much the way Christ did with the ancient Jews. Canada is generally considered to be very tolerant. A few years back, Sikh bus drivers were allowed to wear their turbans instead of their normal uniforms. In a recent episode of The Practice, a man was being prosecuted because he performed animal sacrifices as part of his religion. (He was charged with cruelty to animals.) I do not believe that any religion worthy of the name should require animal (or other) sacrifice, unshorn hair, covered faces, or other superficial signs of piety. Nor should any religion reject normal sexuality or technological advances as being, somehow, ungodly.

On the other hand, change takes time, but change is inevitable. I've watched a bit of the new show American Dreams which is set in the early 1960s. In one episode, a Catholic priest threatens dire consequences if a mother of three considers taking "The Pill". In others, we see that the male dominated family was still common in the era. But in another, we see the beginnings of racial integration and understanding. While people are still people, it does seem like a different world, and hardly like the world I thought I grew up in. We humans do make progress, but with excruciating slowness. Some people, understandably, get impatient.

What do you do when two cultures, with very different attitudes, are thrown together? Can you make a meaningful and acceptable compromise? And if you can't? And then consider this rapidly shrinking world. Humans speak hundreds of different languages and follow dozens of different religions. We have culture shock on a global scale. Somehow, we must all find some common ground. How do we respect the rights (and beliefs) of others without losing our own values and beliefs? How indeed.

Copyright © 2002 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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