Sunday, February 05, 2006

Are We Heading Toward a Religious World War III?

Violent Muslim Outrage Over Cartoons of Prophet Mohammed Is a Clear Warning that Unless Humanity Changes its Beliefs About God, a Global Conflict Over Religion Could be Inevitable

By Skeeter Sanders

Six weeks ago, as the holiday season was in full swing and the world prepared to ring in 2006, I wrote on this blog that I, unlike most people who look for things to get better in the new year, had an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that things would get worse in 2006, rather than get better.

In that Christmas Day posting, I warned that religious extremism was sweeping the planet and was threatening to plunge the world into a global religious conflict, "pitting Christians, Muslims and Jews against each other in the name of God; a war that, I am absolutely convinced, God wants no part of -- and a war that could go thermonuclear."

Connecting the Dots: Religious Extremism On the Rise Everywhere

Do you think that I'm being paranoid for bringing this up? Then connect the dots: In the past 25 years, fundamentalist religious extremism has been rising exponentially around the world. And if you believe that it's limited to Islam, you are being dangerously myopic and naive.

Just look at what's been happening around the planet just in the nearly four-and-a-half years since the September 11 terrorist attacks:

### You have a mostly-Muslim country, Iran, with a fundamentalist theocracy in power since 1979, appearing to be hell-bent on developing nuclear technology -- which could fall into the hands of extremists such as al-Qaida. Only today (Sunday), Iran ended snap United Nations checks of its nuclear sites and said it was renewing uranium enrichment, a day after the being reported to the Security Council over suspicions it is building nuclear weapons. Diplomats warned the move could heighten the dispute over the nuclear ambitions of the world's fourth biggest oil exporter. Tehran insists it needs nuclear technology only to generate electricity.

### You have another mostly-Muslim country, Pakistan, which already possesses nuclear weapons -- and whose president, Pervez Musharraf, is under constant threat of being overthrown by Islamic extremists. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden, his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri and ousted Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, are still believed to be hiding somewhere in Pakistan's northern mountains. And what about the disgraced "Father of Pakistan's Bomb," Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who confessed to having sold nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, Libya and who knows who else on the black market (including, possibly, al-Qaida)?

### You have a mostly-Hindu country, Pakistan's neighbor and arch-rival, India, which has possessed nuclear-weapons capability since 1971 -- but did not begin to significantly test and stockpile nuclear bombs until 25 years later, under the Hindu fundamentalist regime of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By 2003, India and Pakistan were both testing nuclear bombs almost daily -- sending shockwaves, both literally and psychologically, across the planet and triggering fears that a new nuclear arms race was underway between the two countries that already have gone to war against each other three times since gaining independence from Britain in 1947. Thank God, India is also the world's largest democracy -- and its voters threw out the BJP regime in the 2004 parliamentary elections. Since then, tensions between India and Pakistan have eased dramatically.

### You have a mostly-Christian country, the United States, where Christian fundamentalists who exert dominating influence on the nation's governing Republican Party, blatantly attempted a legislative coup d'etat by pressing Congress to intervene in the Terri Schiavo "right to die" case, with legislation aimed at keeping the 41-year-old woman alive on life-support, despite unanimous medical opinion -- backed up by unanimous decisions by courts at all levels, including the Supreme Court -- that Schiavo would never recover from her vegetative state and that it was her desire to not be kept alive through artificial means. The bill was swiftly passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush -- only to be effectively slapped down by both the courts and by American public opinion. Schiavo eventually died March 31, ten days after her feeding tube was removed. Meanwhile, Bush -- a self-described "born-again" Christian -- has been pursuing a drive to spread democracy abroad with an almost messianic zeal, while at the same time endangering democracy at home by becoming increasingly authoritarian; seeking greater executive powers at the expense of Congress and the courts and launching an extensive domestic electronic-surveillance program without judicial approval, clearly beyond what statutory law -- and, more importantly, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution -- allow.

### You have a mostly-Jewish country, Israel, where Jewish fundamentalists effectively seized control of the governing Likud Party, triggering an extraordinary political crisis that saw Prime Minister Ariel Sharon resign as leader of the party he helped found in 1979, dissolve the parliament and form a new, centrist party called Kadima ahead of elections scheduled for March 28 -- all before he was felled by a massive and near-fatal stroke that has left him in a Terri Schiavo-like vegetative state. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert, Sharon's likely successor who also quit Likud and joined Kadima, is now dealing with the aftermath of violent protests of fundamentalist Jewish settlers forcibly removed from West Bank settlements -- even as Israelis reel in shock to the surprise landslide victory by the Islamic militant group Hamas in last month's Palestinian parliamentary elections.

### And then there's the sideshow of Pat Robertson, an American fundamentalist Christian TV evangelist, shocking Jews and Christians alike with outrageous assertion that Sharon's health crisis was "divine retribution" for Sharon "dividing God's land" by forcibly removing fundamentalist Jewish settlers from Gaza. Robertson's remarks were too much even for many of his fellow Christian conservatives in the U.S. Undaunted by the firestorm of criticism against him, Robertson, during an appearance last Friday on the "Hannity & Colmes" talk show on Fox News Channel, reiterated his August call for the assassination of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

A Global Hurricane of Muslim Outrage Over Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed

Now we have an out-of-control hurricane of violent Muslim outrage whipping across the planet over publication of 12 editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in an unflattering light.

That the cartoons depicted any image at all of the prophet -- which is strictly taboo in the Muslim world and considered even by secular Muslims to be the ultimate blasphemy against their faith -- is bad enough. That they depicted Mohammed in an unflattering -- even mocking -- light made the outrage among Muslims even more heated and ultimately, it boiled over into violence.

As this week's blog was being written on late Sunday afternoon (U.S. Eastern Standard Time) for posting today -- hours later than its usual Saturday-night post time -- all hell had broken loose, as thousands of Muslims rampaged in Beirut this morning, setting fire to the Danish Embassy, burning Danish flags, lobbing stones at a Maronite Christian church and ransacking a Christian neighborhood in the Lebanese capital.

Troops fired bullets into the air and used tear gas and water cannons to push the crowds back after a small group of Islamic extremists tried to break through the security barrier outside the Beirut embassy. Flames and smoke billowed from the building. Security officers said that at least 30 people had been injured in the violence.

The day before, Islamic militants set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus. They also damaged the Swedish Embassy and tried to storm the French mission in the Syrian capital as well, but were turned back by riot police.

About 500 Islamic seminary students marched in protest in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Saturday, chanting slogans of "Down with Denmark!" and "Hang the culprits!" In Gaza City, Palestinian youths hurled stones at the European Union offices, burned tires outside and tried to storm the compound, clashing with security forces, who arrested two youths.

The protesters ripped down the EU flag from the front of the building and replaced it with the Palestinian flag, chanting anti-Danish slogans and pledging to give their "blood to redeem the prophet."

A Dramatic Clash of Values: Respect for Religion vs. Freedom of the Press

Denmark is the focus for Muslim ire, as the cartoons -- which include a particularly inflammatory drawing of Mohammed wearing a turban that resembles a bomb -- first appeared in a conservative Copenhagen daily, in what has become a dramatic clash of values pitting respect for religious traditions against the freedom of the press.

In response to the growing violence, more Western newspapers reprinted the cartoons over the weekend in a defiant show of solidarity for freedom of the press, one of the most cherished tenets of Western culture, with several newspapers vowing that they would not be intimidated. Other Western news outlets posted the cartoons on their Web sites.

The cartoons first appeared last September in the Copenhagen daily Morgenawisen Jyllands-Posten. Following an initial outcry by Muslims living in Denmark, the newspaper apologized.

But then last Tuesday, the cartoons were reprinted in the Paris daily France-Soir, whose managing editor, Jacques LeFranc, was fired the next day. The newspaper's owner-publisher, Raymond Lakah, said he dismissed LeFranc "as a powerful sign of respect for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual."

The Egyptian-born Lakah, a Christian, issued a statement expressing "our regrets to the Muslim community and to all people who were shocked by the [cartoons'] publication."

The fired editor LeFranc, however, was unrepentant, telling reporters at a news conference that France-Soir's readers had a right to know why Muslims were so angry about the cartoons -- and that the only way they could find out was by the newspaper reprinting them, so that the readers could make up their own minds.

LeFranc also said he ordered the cartoons' publication to show that "religious dogma has no place in a secular society."

Meanwhile, two New Zealand newspapers on Saturday also reprinted the cartoons, along with newspapers in Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Hungary, claiming that freedom of the press was at stake and that they would "not surrender to the rule of the mob."

But What Did Mohammed Really Look Like? No One Knows

The ban on any images of the Prophet Mohammed was imposed centuries ago by the Muslim caliphate that ruled the Ottoman Empire that dominated the Arab world -- and even parts of Europe -- until it gradually declined and its final remnants fell at the end of World War I in 1918.

As a result of the ban, almost no one in the Muslim world today -- and certainly no one outside it -- knows what the prophet actually looked like. And few Westerners know anything about Mohammed's life and times. How, then, could the Danish newspaper artist who drew the cartoons know that the images were actually of the prophet?

For that matter, how could the European artists who created the long-familiar images of Jesus know that the Bethlehem-born carpenter from Nazareth was actually a white man with blue eyes, long, dark-blond hair, beard and moustache? Those images of Jesus are clearly inaccurate, for the inhabitants of the Holy Land in Jesus' time could not possibly have been Caucasian.

Crisis Comes 30 Years After Controversial Movie About Mohammed

The crisis over the cartoons comes almost 30 years after Hollywood presented a big-budget notion picture of the prophet, "Mohammed, Messenger of God," starring Anthony Quinn as the warrior Hamza, the prophet's uncle.

In accordance with Muslim traditions, the prophet was never shown on camera. But unfounded rumors circulated that not only would Mohammed be depicted on-camera in the film, but that he was to be portrayed by either Charlton Heston, best known for his portrayal of Moses in "The Ten Commandments," or Peter O'Toole, best known for his portrayal of the British World War II hero T.E. Lawrence, in "Lawrence of Arabia."

The rumors touched off angry protests by Muslim extremists, until director Moustapha Akkad -- a Muslim himself -- hired a staff or respected Islamic clerics as technical advisers. But the clerics repeatedly clashed with Akkad and ultimately quit the production, prompting the government of Morocco to withdraw its permission to film in that country.

Akkad ended up filming on location in Libya under the sponsorship of strongman Muammar Qaddafi -- which presented a whole new set of political and logistical problems for the filmmakers.

When "Mohammed, Messenger of God" was scheduled to premiere in the United States (It was released elsewhere as "The Message"), another Muslim extremist group laid siege to the Washington headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith under the mistaken belief that Quinn portrayed Mohammed in the film. They threatened to blow up the building and everyone inside it unless the film' opening was canceled.

The standoff was resolved without violence or injuries, although the film's American box-office take never recovered from the controversy.

Clash Is a Symptom of an "Us-Versus-Them" Mentality

As I see it, the ongoing clash of values between the Muslim world and the mostly-Christian Western world is only the latest symptom of a far deeper problem that has plagued humanity for thousands of years.

We have tried to solve this problem at the level of politics. We have tried to solve it at the level of economics. We have even tried to solve it at the level of military force. But the problem has resisted any and all attempts at a solution, because humanity has failed to recognize its true cause.

We have failed to recognize that this problem is of a spiritual nature. More to the point, the problem is a clash of beliefs about God and of humanity's relationship with God. This clash is caused by a deeply-ingrained belief that human beings are separated from God and separated from each other.

This separation belief has bred an "us-versus-them" mentality, which, in turn, has bred much of the prejudice, hatred and violence that has plagued humanity for millennia. It has taken its firmest root in organized religion -- particularly in the world's three major monotheistic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

For centuries, our religious leaders have perpetuated and reinforced this "us-versus-them" mentality by preaching that there is only one true pathway for humans to relate to God, that all other pathways are false and that those who follow those other pathways are wrong -- even "evil" -- and must be opposed by whatever means necessary.

"Us-Versus-Them:" What's God Got to Do With It?

This is rubbish. Pure, unadulterated trash. I don't know where this "us-versus-them" mentality came from, but it most definitely did not come from God. To the contrary, it is the height of religious and spiritual arrogance -- and arrogance is not part of God's character.

It is this "us-versus-them" mentality that is the root of all of our most intractable problems.

It is this "us-versus-them" mentality that lies at the root of our religious turmoil.

And it is this "us-versus-them" mentality that is killing us.

It is killing more of us than any disease epidemic. It is killing more of us than the even the most catastrophic natural disasters. It is killing more of us than fatal accidents. And if this "us-versus-them" belief system isn't discarded -- and soon -- it will ultimately destroy us all much sooner than we think (Hint: the Mayan calendar that ends in 2012).

We fight over what the Qu'ran says and what it means. We fight over what the Bible says and what it means. We fight over what the Talmud says, over what the Veda says, over what the Bhagavad-Gita says -- and over what a host of other holy writings say, including the Lun-Yu, the Pali Canon, the I Ching, the Book of Mormon, the Upanishad and even the Dead Sea Scrolls. The list goes on and on.

This "our-religion-is-better-than-your-religion" nonsense would be downright childish if it wasn't so deadly. We're literally killing each other over who's God is the "One True God." Is it Eloi? Is it Yaweh? Is it Allah? Is it Jehovah? Is it Krishna? Is it Wakan Tanka? I find this utterly maddening. Yet we have done this to each other year after year, decade after decade, century after century, millennium after millennium.

History has shown time and again that wars over religion have been -- and are -- the longest-and most savage of wars.

Our Diversity Is God's Will

Contrary to everything you and I were ever taught by our religious leaders, God does not play favorites. No single group of people is superior to anyone else. No single nation is superior to any other nation (Political leaders' claims to the contrary notwithstanding). Likewise, no single religion has a monopoly on Ultimate Truth -- and, therefore, no single religion is superior to any other religion.

The reason there are so many different sacred writings from so many different religious and spiritual traditions -- indeed, the reason there are so many different religious and spiritual traditions in the first place -- is because humanity is diverse. God made us that way. If all of us were created in the image and likeness of God, then our diversity is truly the will of God.

Therefore, it makes no difference to God what religious or spiritual pathway you follow. It doesn't matter one whit to God if you're a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu, an Animist, a Baha'i, a Shinto, a Pagan, a Unitarian Universalist, or whatever, for every pathway leads ultimately to God. And if God doesn't care what religion or spiritual pathway you follow -- or if you don't follow any at all, for that matter -- why should anyone else care?

After all, if you read my January 15 blog about the debate over "intelligent design," you may recall my posing the question, "Has the thought ever occurred to anyone that God and the universe -- and everything in it -- are one and the same?" I believe very firmly in this.

Think about that for a minute. If God and the universe are one and the same, then every star in the night sky is God. Every galaxy is God. Every planet -- including our Earth -- is God. Every tree on Earth is God. Every plant on Earth is God. Every animal on Earth is God. Every insect on Earth is God. Every microorganism on Earth that we cannot see without the aid of a microscope is God. And it goes with saying that every man, woman and child on Earth is God.

It's Time to End the Insanity of "Us-Versus-Them"

So why are we humans -- created on Earth in the very image and likeness of God -- killing each other "in the name of God?" This is insane. It is not God's will that we treat each other like this. How do you think all this killing makes God feel?

You think God doesn't grieve whenever a suicide bomber kills himself and dozens of people with him "in the name of Allah?" You think God's heart wasn't broken when thousands of people accused of witchcraft were burned at the stake "in the name of the Lord" during the Inquisition? You think God didn't cry when Catholics and Protestants in northern Ireland battled against each other?

The insanity of human beings killing each other in God's name must cease. And for that to happen, the insanity of "us-versus-them" must cease

In God's eyes, there is no "them." There is only "us."

###

Volume I, Number 10
Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rigths reserved.


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READERS' FEEDBACK

From: John Long, Plattsburgh, N.Y.

YO!

I don't have time to comment on everything in your blog -- that would take all day -- so I'll reserve my remarks about your ugly and simplistic comparisons of "Christian" and "Jewish" fundamentalists with the Muslim type.

First of all, the Muslims invaded the Christian countries first.

Second, Christian fundamentalists have nowhere near the power the Muslims do. Nowhere can you say that [Jerry] Falwell or [Pat] Robertson have the type of influence of the level that [the] Muslim Imams do in Iran, or Saudi [Arabia], or Pakistan, or other Muslim hell-holes.

Third, the ideology and beliefs of "fundamentalists" of the Jewish or Christian stripe are not seriously adhered to by a majority of their populations. However, in Muslim countries, a large minority -- even a majority -- support those beliefs. This is why whenever they call for such things as jihad, or the extermination of Jews, or the burning of Christian churches, or conduct widespread rape campaigns of non-Muslim women in non-Muslim nations, such as Norway, Sweden and Australia, you [hear] little or no reaction from so-called "moderate" Muslims. Those Muslims (and they're in the extreme minority) don't speak out because they'd rather stay quiet and keep their heads. And the same leftists who get all bent out of shape and scream that their freedoms are under threat when real Christians and Jews speak out against their agenda say nothing when the Muslims threaten to kill anyone who says or does anything they don't like. No, they whine like the the appeasers they are for "dialogue." They make me sick! You've probably noticed that no U.S. media outlet will print those [Mohammed] cartoons -- which, by the way, are pretty mild compared to the vicious spilling from clowns like Ted Rall or [Jeff] Danziger.

Fourth, Christians and Jews don't react to the ongoing slander and vicious ridicule of their beliefs by the leftist media -- who, by the way, have [had] little to say so far about the worldwide Muslim pogroms and rioting now taking place. Yes, they may ask for economic boycotts, or even restrictions on its [the Mohammed cartoons] airing or display -- something the left does all the time to [expletive deleted] it don't like-- but I haven't seen them burn down mosques, destroy embassies of Muslim countries or kill and rape non-Christians. The best you can do is point to [expletive deleted] the Christians did years ago --which the Muslims are also doing [now] . Show me in what countries [where] Christians and Jews are rioting or killing people over cartoons or [TV and stage] shows that ridicule them. And if they did do anything violent, that reaction is rare, while violent Muslim reaction seems to be the norm (In the case of the Jewish settlers [in Gaza and the West Bank], I'd riot, too, if the government was going to come in and take my home and give it to Muslim terrorists).

Fifth, you can say what you want about your special homosexual rights being restricted or ended in some theoretical Christian/fascist/clerical dictatorship, but I guarantee you'd have more rights in one of them then you would in some real-life Muslim dictatorship governed by Sharia law. Yes, your rights might be restricted under a conservative regime run by Christians (And by the way, where is it written in the Constitution that blacks, women and [gays] should have more rights than everyone else?) You'd have no power, but you'd at least be able to run your mouth. But under a Muslim regime, you'd be running for your life.

These five reasons should show you why your ugly comparisons of Robertson, Falwell and [Benjamin] Netanyahu with [Ayman] al-Zawahiri, Osama [bin Laden], and [Iranian President] Admanijad don't quite hold up.... The Muslims must be recognized for what they are: An enemy that needs to be confronted, combated and destroyed. [Expletive deleted] their Moon God and their [expletive deleted] prophet. And the left, once again, should be called out for its hypocrisy and appeasement to these [expletive deleted] characters.

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