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All right, here is a quick reply. Unfortunately I am in a rush and not able to answer as comprehensively and carefully as I might have wished, but here goes.

Sirocco, I appreciate your story but I think that your choice to quote from the Koran is wrong in this context.

Wrong in what sense? I hope you don't mean, morally wrong.

We are talking about an ancient text written for a different time. That some Muslims have shaped their religion into one of hate and oppression is an obvious fact, but the text itself is not to blame.

You seem to assume that I am out to bash Islam. Such is not the case; so this point is moot.

However:

The Koran really is seen as infallibly and literally true in its entirety within mainstream Islam. Indeed, it is regarded as equiprimordial with God, having existed from eternity. (Opposing views remain theologically marginal and vulnerable to charges of apostasy. For a primer, see this NYRB piece by Max Rodenbeck.) Although sociologically speaking, different strands bestow varying degrees of cognitive prominence on various aspects of the founding text, if you think the Koranic passages about hell are somehow dormant, disregarded, or even optional within contemporary mainstream Islam, then you are mistaken. You would have to look long and hard to find a reputable Islamic scholar prepared to allegorically reinterpret, let alone reject, these Koranic passages.

Thus you also quite unfairly accuse me of using the "insidious weapon" of "selective theological exegesis," which owing to its "long and ugly history... in the service of fanatical hostility to other religions" is apparently supposed to make me guilty of a sort of hate speech. Not so. I am simply quoting some core doctrinal tenets of Islamic religion as a living tradition.

I also do happen to consider the quoted verses offensive, however fictitious. (If someone asserts that one shall rightfully be tortured forever, the sentiment is no less obnoxious for being absurd; just safer to ignore.) Whether you personally react that way is hardly of relevance as long as you can understand how someone might.

In general, too much pious lip-service is paid to the supposed obligation to respect the religious or ontological beliefs of others. There is no such duty from my unapologetic Enlightenment viewpoint. Instead, there is a duty to respect the right of others to believe whatever they please and to act on those beliefs whenever they don't demonstrably harm others. To quote Mencken again, "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." And that is the sense and the extent to which I respect most religion, including Islam.

I also realize that what you are trying to do is simply point out the hypocrisy of those currently throwing a fit over the cartoons.

Actually, that was not all I was trying to do, though the mention of Sudan was to that effect.

But to do that properly what you need to show is actual words and actions by those protest a bit too much - e.g. sift through remarks by Qardawi, point out the irony of official Saudi clerics condemning religious intolerance while supporting the ban on all non Muslim religious practice, etc.

Yes, in a longer piece I would have done this too, especially the Saudi bit. But sadly, then, as now, I had limited time.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Tue Jan 31st, 2006 at 03:59:50 PM EST
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