Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Reciprocity, the Middle East, and America: Contrasts

While the Holy Father and the American president went into the White House for a private meeting this morning, a commentator said that one of the topics that would probably be discussed would be reciprocity.

He didn't specifically mention the War on Terror, but "reciprocity" sheds light on what I think is an important aspect of the conflict.

First, despite the impression that so many Islamic governments seem determined to give, I do not believe that the War on Terror is a war on Islam. I prefer to believe that there are aspects of Islam which will allow the religion to exist in today's world.

I do believe that we're in a conflict between a culture in the Middle East and surrounding areas, whose rules and traditions were ancient when Mohammed was born, and the culture which is making cyborgs, debating the ethics of organ transplants, and whose robots are exploring the outer solar system.

I imagine that people who grew up in a culture which permits men to be executed for wearing trousers, men and women to be stoned for committing adultery, and which accused a British schoolteacher of attacking Islam with a teddy bear might find the post-Magna Carta world a strange place. We do things differently out here.

America is roughly 78% Christian, counting Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons as a group: but there are no no restrictions on building mosques. Apart from the usual issues with building codes and local grouches.

That isn't to say that there isn't anti-Islamic sentiment in America. Some jerks burned a mosque in Tennessee, earlier this year. After the fire was out, local churches started passing the hat to help re-build the Mosque, and providing the Muslims with meeting space until they could get their own place set up again.

A mostly-Christian nation where Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and practically anyone else, can build and use a church, temple, mosque, shrine, or whatever. That's "reciprocity."

That's not the way it works everywhere. For example:
  • Sudan, where the Darfur genocide is (finally) getting a little of the attention it deserves
  • Saudi Arabia, where visitors may not bring dangerous items like
    • Prohibited drugs and narcotics
    • Firearms
    • Explosives
    • Edged weapons
    • Pornographic materials
    • Bibles
    • Crucifixes
    • Statues
    • Carvings
    • "Items with religious symbols such as the Star of David, and others"
      (More, at "Saudi Arabia: Non-Islamic Religious Items Verboten" (August 9, 2007).)
Not all countries in the Middle East are that intolerant. Nina Shea, in Middle East, a speech delivered in 1998, pointed to Jordan as an exception. And, not all Islamic countries are intolerant. The American State Department describes Indonesia as a nation with constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. Indonesia isn't as wide-open as America in that respect, but they don't have the Saudi flavor of Islam, either. Last, year, I wrote about traditional cultures of northern Africa and the Middle East:
"The impression I get is that these are places where men were living comfortably in a mosaic of tribes, living their lives in much the same way that their ancestors had since the time of Abraham. "Then, a few centuries ago, European colonial powers dragged them into the
  • Age of nation-states
  • Age of Reason
  • Age of Enlightenment
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Cold War
  • Space Race
  • Information Revolution
"To people still accustomed to burqas and Sharia, a world of Barbies and sports cars must be terrifying. It's no wonder that they go a little crazy, trying to adjust." (November 28, 2007)
I think that Barbies and sports cars, disturbing as they are, aren't the most frightening aspect of western civilization for traditionalists of the Middle east. It's the idea of freedom: including the freedom to worship, or not worship, based on personal choice.

Reciprocity - giving followers of non-majority religions the same rights as the majority - works in America. Perhaps other cultures can survive exposure to new ideas, too.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.