A 9/11 challenge

Healing takes time. I’ve lost a member of my immediate family (although not to violence), so I understand some of that first-hand. Grieving takes time, and it’s never enough time. I’m glad that in some ways the pain of Sept 11 2001 is starting to fade, at least enough that my day today was mostly normal.

That doesn’t mean forgetting. Going on with life, even in a permanently changed world, is a sign of healing. In many ways I’m just glad that a mostly normal day today is a sign that perhaps we’re not so vehement about taking to the barricades of some of the (conflicting) superstructures we’ve built on top of September 11th.

So I think about right remembrance, and tonight that leads me to a challenge. I cannot remember the terrorist attacks without remembering the events that came from them, which led to hundreds of thousands (millions?) more deaths, to war crimes and the dismantling of some of the American values I hold most dear, and to cycles of bloodshed, blame, and vengeance that threaten to endure for the rest of my life and beyond.

I am challenged to hold all those things in my heart tonight in remembrance. I’m challenging you to widen your circle of remembrance just a little bit.

Even if some of the deaths that followed from the US response to September 11th were right or justified or necessary – and I’m willing to accept that some of them might have been at least necessary or appropriate, although those numbers have to be a tiny proportion of those who have actually died, at home and abroad – they were deaths, and I am sorry that they were necessary.

How many more, though, have died and suffered? I refuse to limit my mourning to just some. I refuse to limit my response to death and suffering to certain circles of the “good,” especially when “good” means “like me.” I refuse to limit the actions I take to try to help and heal.

What challenges do you find in remembrance?

Protected speech: Ur doin it rong.

Slacktivist recently argued that

If [groups spouting anti-gay diatribes] have been arguing in good faith all along, then they will be gladdened by yesterday’s decision. They will be happy to learn that they need not fear any abridgment of their rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion just because they believe that homosexuality is a sin. They will be joyously and genuinely relieved to see this confirmed, unambiguously, by the highest court in the land. And they will stop making this argument, stop spinning scary scenarios of pastors getting arrested by the Gay Police, stop arguing that legal protections for others must entail a loss of legal protections for them.

But I don’t think they will stop making this argument.

News today shows that Slacktivist was half right. Notably execrable anti-gay bigot Bryan Fischer said that while he disagreed with the ruling, he was glad that because Phelps’ speech is allowed, “it certainly must be okay for students in a classroom, for public officials, and for radio talk show hosts to express reasoned and rational criticism of homosexual conduct without any kind of penalty whatsoever.”

First of all, it’s pretty rich for someone to say this when he works for an organization labeled by the SPLC as a hate group precisely because they use misinformation, distortion, and outright lies in their “rational criticism” of gays. Second, this statement looks to me like an outright declaration that Fischer intends to use the Phelps decision to continue to peddle his hateful falsehoods in support of the idea that recognizing gay rights is harmful, especially to the military. The SPLC is right, and Fischer cannot be arguing in good faith. He’s right that his freedom of speech is protected, but he is doing it wrong.

Shame, Arabs, Pagans, and Politics

There is an excellent op-ed in the NYT about the current wave of Arab revolutions, “How the Arabs Turned Shame Into Liberty.” It is a good reminder of some recent history for those of us who don’t follow the Arab world closely. The author compares the current situation to the revolutions of 1848 in Europe. But of particular interest to me is this paragraph:

In the tyrant’s shadow, unknown to him and to the killers and cronies around him, a moral clarity had come to ordinary men and women. They were not worried that a secular tyranny would be replaced by a theocracy; the specter of an “Islamic emirate” invoked by the dictator did not paralyze or terrify them.

This presents a particularly poignant contrast to a recent post on the website Pagan+Politics, called “Human Rights vs. Religion Deathmatch.” First of all, that title is simply an embarrassment. The idea of a deathmatch, even an intellectual one, makes me want to puke, and it is certainly the wrong metaphor for the delicate and complex interactions of human rights and religion that modern societies have to navigate. The author was trying to investigate some interesting areas, but in so doing, created strawmen left and right, and oversimplified history and religions, and created a false opposition, summing up with a possibly interesting concept about religion but no real insight into the intersection of society and religion. (The potentially interesting concept of a “doctrinally minimal” religion, by which I think the author is trying to say a religion that is tolerant or supports religious pluralism, isn’t fully explained or investigated, and seems to be the default conclusion because the author seems to be approaching the idea from an American point of view, assuming rights of free speech and dancing around the interplay of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment.)

In the comments, I tried to address one commenter who posted a long reply that viciously mischaracterized Islam and then went on to assert his sweeping world-historical theories based solidly on colonialism and covert racism. I allowed myself to get sidetracked onto the world-historical confusion, because that’s where my personal academic training lies, but I recently came across a fantastic refutation of the claims and mischaracterizations of Islam: Stephen Prothero’s book God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter. This book was Prothero’s response to the stunning religious illiteracy found in America today. The chapter on Islam describes the religion’s basic tenets, its history and evolution over time, and the wide range of ways Muslims today interpret their religion, not just from Sunni to Shi’a, but also Sufis and, yes, radical Islamists, as well as Muslim feminists and Muslims who work in interfaith dialogue and promote religious tolerance and pluralism. Muslims are struggling with human rights and how to understand their religion in today’s world just as much as people of any other religion are. To say otherwise is a grave insult and a reflection of deep ignorance verging on maliciousness. We can no longer have the luxury of that ignorance given the major upheavals in the Arab world today.

Recent events in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and, of course, Libya, have caused me to wonder whether the author of the post and that commenter are paying attention to the sweeping changes in the Arab world. The uprisings have been characterized by demands for human rights, and although some US commentators have been frothing about the dangers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, there has been relatively little sign of an impending Iranian-style theocracy taking over the current momentum. I think there is genuine hope for the rise of societies and governments that support and defend human rights in the Arab world, and I think that hope doesn’t depend on people turning away from Islam (as the commenter implies) and doesn’t necessarily depend on the majority of people subscribing to the most liberal, “doctrinally minimal” forms of Islam, as the author implies. If I turn out to be wrong about that, I will eat my words, and I will weep for the people whose rights are denied them, and I will work to restore those rights.

But I hope the author of that post and that commenter are watching. And I hope they’re learning something. I hope we all get to learn something amazing about people claiming their rights and creating a new, freer, safer society for themselves, regardless of their religion.