Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Going up that river...

Well, it's been too long. I've been trying to get back to blogging for months, but adult life being what it is, assignments and appointments and taxes always seem to take precedence over sharing my personal thoughts on issues that matter. Having said that, there are some things that seem to bring the background to the foreground of necessity, and with that in mind, I'm near tears as I begin this. How many people have to die before we're allowed to have an honest discussion about Islam? One would think, this most recent event in Florida, when an I. S. supporter opened fire in a gay bar on the weekend, resulting in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, that this might be enough to stimulate a discussion that went beyond what the Westboro church has to say about gay people. I can assure you after a morning spent online discussing this event with secular minded individuals, that thus far in my experience it has not.

That worries me, and I'll be very honest about why that worries me. I think that our over-confident, secular dominated culture does not realize, firstly, that the western world is not above decline if not outright attack and eventual usurpation by the historically Muslim world. Nonsense, you think? I don't think so, with a western world that has been teetering on bankruptcy for years, so much so, that we've needed public bailouts to avoid complete meltdown of markets, near zero interest rates and influxes of spending to sustain our economies. I also take a historical view of this conflict, and I know enough to know, that what we are seeing is not new. It is simply a new stage of an old war, in which for much of post 7th century history, what began as the Arab empire was a considerable world force, if not outright dominant on the world stage.

With that forgotten history acknowledged, this seeming lack of ability on the part of mainstream media to call a spade a spade and acknowledge that this has nothing to do with the Westboro church, and everything to do with political Islam, also worries me for another reason, human rights. When one observes the general, lesser regard for human rights in the Muslim world, the rights of women, the rights of non-Muslims, the rights of homosexuals, even with an emerging cultural influence that suppresses ideological opposition to Islam, where could all this be taking us in 20 years, 50 years, or 200 years, in an economic world that is dominated by dwindling energy reserves, presently supplied largely through the Muslim world?

Think I'm crazy, fear-mongering? I don't think so, and I'll tell you why. I honestly did not start out with a negative view of Islam. I really didn't. I'm Canadian after all, we're nice, doncha' know? We place such a high esteem on being nice that we don't like to criticize anybody, and this has been so drilled into us. Don't judge, lest ye be judged, right? That's almost as high up there as don't kill somebody in this country. But being a Protestant minded Christian as I am, and when I say that I mean, an emphasis on getting back to the scriptures, I naturally thought, if I want to understand Islam in our post 9/11 world, I need to read Islamic sources. I can honestly tell you that in so doing, for the most part that has been a very dark, tunnel like experience. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but studying Islam for me, has reminded me both of my own mentally abusive background, and of reading the novel, "Heart of Darkness," when I was in university as an English Lit. major years ago. And yes, I'm aware that I'm making a reference to a novel that is often spoken of in terms of western imperialism. Part of the problem on that note, I think, is the modern myth that somehow imperialism began with the modern western world, when in fact conquering and oppression are as old as human history.

If that is true, and I think it undoubtedly is, is it really that surprising that Conrad's novel would remind someone of another empire's horrors, and the darkness of the human imagination? But like my impression of Conrad's novel, the question becomes, how far do you want to go up that river? Do you dare? What will you find when you do? Do you want to know? And yet I continue to try to do just that, to trace and to read the earliest and most authoritative Islamic sources, as hard as I often find that to do, emotionally. And as much as the optimist in me keeps hoping that somehow I'm misreading this history, I can honestly tell you that my fears concerning Islam have not come from a news outlet or a political pundit, they are coming from an honest surveying of sacred Islamic materials, as a student of theology. Having said that, I'm no expert, and this is not my culture, I know that too. If I am misunderstanding something, please tell me, and I will consider new information. But I think what we need to do is to have an honest discussion that is based on Islamic sources and history, and not based on worldview assumptions.

I think that what we are seeing with hugely powerful western political leaders and media outlets in their pat statements and bland generalizations, refusing to call Islamic extremism what it is, Islamic, we're witnessing the failure of a cultural paradigm. You know, everyone is good, we all just need more hugs and a good liberal education, and people won't do this anymore. If you're like me, and you grew up hearing that all world religions are the same, over and over again like a mantra, well, how do you know that? How do we really know that?

I think that little slogan was said during a time when the differences we were dealing with in the western world, amounted to a Catholic church on one corner, and a synagogue or a Protestant church on the other. 30 years ago, right? Well, when I was a kid in grade school in the 80's, that was about it, are you Catholic or Protestant, and what's your father's name, with rare exception. In my case, most of the Catholic students went to religion class, and the few Protestant exceptions went to the library. I wondered at the time where they were going, being in grade three and being Catholic. Until of course, they took out religion and the baby Jesus from the Christmas pageant a few years later, and lo and behold, we still called it Christmas, and talked about something else.

So, what I am driving at here? I am simply asking, in an increasingly post Judeo-Christian western world, how do we really know that all world religions are the same? How do we really know that all worldviews lead to the same place? Have we in the far western world lived in Eastern societies? Have we visited Muslim societies? Have we lived under communism or other secular regimes? So, how do we really know that put any ideology in, any influence into the mix -and out comes the same product? When we look around the world, is that what we see?

I'm not trying to bash anyone here, folks. Please don't misunderstand where I'm coming from. Of the time I spend talking to people these days, a fair bit of that time is spent talking with Muslims online. They are probably becoming some of my best friends, in terms of the people I actually speak to on an in-depth level on a daily basis, and they tell me all sorts of things. I hear their wants, I hear their opinions, I sense their outrage at western involvement in the Muslim world and I seldom if ever defend that involvement. I am not out to get Muslims here, or anyone for that matter. I am truly trying to understand the world I find myself in.

But where do we go from here? Can I make a suggestion? Can we talk a little less about the nutbars at the Westboro church, and talk a little more about the Quran? Can we begin to talk about Islam in it's historical context? Because you see, if Islam was simply the product of a 7th century and onward dictatorship, centered around an empire's control and advancement, but dressed in a cloak of religiosity (which serves a dictatorial purpose) -a product of its time, then it all starts to make sense, doesn't it? Rape, pillaging, desecration of minority cultures and points of view -hey, what would one expect from a 7th century empire?

And I am not attacking Muslims personally when I say that, anymore than I am expressing solidarity with individuals and concern for individual rights, when I speak of the abuses and horrors of communism. So what's the big deal? We're all adults here, we can learn to separate our personal sensitivities from a discussion of worldviews and their implications, correct? As a theologically conservative Christian, I can tell you, that I have had to learn to separate my most precious beliefs from the right of other people to disagree with my beliefs. I've had to learn to develop a sense of emotional detachment in discussing sensitive issues with people who do not share my beliefs or my values.

And so, I empathize with Muslims as human beings who feel like they are being personally attacked here, because it's how I often feel myself. I understand that it is easy to feel personally attacked when people criticize what is to us: everything. It's our hope, it's our future, it's our treasure, as people of faith. But even as I think of a dear Muslim friend, who quotes passages from the Quran online, even as he tells me day after week after month, how he does not want to live in a Muslim country, and desperately seeks any way he can find to get to the western world. I say this for him. I say this for the people who tell me that they are/ were abused, even as they tell me that they hate Israel and they hate the west and they hope we get what we deserve, as one Muslim said to me after the Paris attacks. I'm no longer friends with that person, but even the experience of losing friends, has not kept me from believing that honest conversations between people can make a difference.

With that honesty in mind, I don't hate you, Muslim friends. The west does not hate you, nor do Jews and Christians, as the Quran seems to imply. I feel compassion for you, and that is why I challenge what you have been taught to accept without question, because I want better for you. And though it is a topic for another time, you are not just seeking entry to the western world, you are seeking entry into the historically Christian world. It is not a coincidence that a concern for what have been called inalienable rights came out of the historically Judeo-Christian world. For my secular friends, what fixed point of reference does not change, in an ever changing natural world, to provide such an intellectual and social foundation for something that we claim does not change? For my Muslim friends, the Bible has very different points of reference that have shaped our societies differently. I leave you with these thoughts to consider.

I was reminded on the weekend, when I was struggling to put my thoughts into words, upset and unable to walk away from what I was seeing on the screen. A former Muslim whom I respect, Nabeel Qureshi, wrote "truth in love." We are called to speak truth in love as Christians, and that continues to be my goal, even as political correctness continues on the broken wing of a failed paradigm. I said this recently to someone close to me, "I think we are watching the failure of a paradigm," and he responded, I think we are watching the collapse of Europe.

In closing, yes there are risks, and opportunities in this new world, but my hope is that we can dig beneath the surface together, to have the courage to confront the unknown and the uncomfortable and the sometimes disturbing. As fellow human beings from different backgrounds and perspectives, can we move toward a deeper discussion, a more honest dialogue, centered on a mutual respect for our differences, and our right to disagree? Can we have the courage to travel to places that we wouldn't want to go to again, and shouldn't have to travel to alone?

Thanks for listening,

Margaret Harvey

"Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine."

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. 

Image result for heart of darkness river image

Image result for heart of darkness river image

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