Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Things I do not understand, No 3

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I do not understand why the proposal to establish an Islamic cultural centre in a derelict building appears to be the only thing that any television person in America is talking about this week.

I actually really don't.

I also find it quite hard to understand why it makes me quite so angry. I am an old atheist, after all. (Could never quite square the gods with the suffering.) But I am also an old liberal, and I can't bear to see an entire group of people, one billion in this case, smeared with the actions of seventeen of their co-religionists.

This is a cultural centre. It is going to have a pool hall. It is not a massive mosque with soaring minarets, built in the very place the jets hit, peopled with preachers calling for Death to America. It is two blocks away, on a non-descript street. It is headed by a moderate Imam who worked with the Bush administration. Yet apparently this is 'an insult to the dead'. I keep thinking: were there only Christian dead? I heard a woman on the wireless today say: 'It is about our heroes, the first responders.' I saw a Muslim firefighter being interviewed yesterday on MSNBC; she rushed into the Twin Towers to help the afflicted on that devastating day. Presumably, she does not count.

I find it inexplicable that Chuck Todd, a respected political commentator, says that it is politically dangerous for President Obama to state that America was built on the idea of religious freedom. The President's observation is like saying America is a very big country north of Mexico. The whole point of America is that it was founded by people fleeing religious persecution. Those founding fathers knew well what over-mighty governments could do to those whose gods were not approved. The great genius of America is its separation of church and state. So how could it be controversial that its president stands up and gently states one of its self-evident truths? I understand nothing.

I find it even odder that the people who are crossest about this, who have accused Obama of not understanding 'real' Americans, of not 'getting it', are those on the hard right. These are the people who bang on about the founding fathers all the time. They are always waving their second amendment rights about when they want to carry a loaded rifle in a public place. Yet, suddenly, the first amendment counts for nothing. How does that even happen?

The extrapolation is so crazed that it makes me feel as if my head is about to explode. The argument is: 9/11 was perpetrated by Muslims, therefore anything Islamic within spitting distance of the World Trade Centre is desecrating hallowed ground. This logic means that all one billion Muslims are to blame. If we were to live by this argument, then there should be no Catholic churches in Belfast, on account of the IRA. Come to that, there should be no Catholic churches near a school anywhere, on account on the paedophile priests. Let's take it further. In this country, 93% of the prison population is male. By the anti-Muslim logic, we should not allow any men to gather in groups in any place, because they are all criminals.

I can't help thinking that this has something to do with brown people. I keep thinking: if all Muslims looked like Jeremy Paxman, would anyone be having this argument?

It's also such a stupid argument. There are serious intellectual challenges that should be made to all religions. I get very sad about the Church of England and its refusal to allow women bishops. I do not understand why women may not worship alongside men in mosques. I find the Pope's teachings on condoms baffling. Everyone should have these debates and discussions. But someone can't go around telling people where they may or may not worship, just because it induces an uncomfortable reaction, based not on logic but on some kind of knee-jerk emotionalism.

I would love to ban the burqa. It makes me excessively sad to see a whole human disappeared under an unwieldy mess of heavy cloth, merely because she has ovaries. Some days, all I want in the world is to set the women free with my bare hands. But I can't. If something is legal, and doing no harm to others, then I must let it be.

Without freedom of expression we are nothing. We are North Korea. In a free country where all religions are allowed, you cannot start choosing the ones you do or do not like. Otherwise it's: first they came for the communists, and then they came for the Jews. And we all know how that turned out.


Now, after all that seriousness, some soothing photographs for you:

The lovely lavender (very soothing):



The last of the honeysuckle:


The calm green mint:


And, because one of my very kind readers seemed a little sad that there were no dog pictures yesterday, here are some to make up the omission:





Perhaps if I waved these at the cross, illogical shouty people they would stop yelling, on account of the beauty. This could be an excellent new mission: dogs for peace and understanding. It surely must be worth a try. 


  1. I agree. I was listening to the Radio earlier and there was an "everyday ordinary" Muslim man talking about this. He made a valid point that there is no voice for these normal everyday Muslims who are just as much against the violence as anyone else. He also pointed out that Hitler was a Catholic, but that didn't make all Catholics bad, just the same as all those who follow Islam are not all bad. He also interestingly said that his wife doesn't wear the veil, and he doesn't expect her to.

  2. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Both for articulating my thoughts so clearly, and for the pictures of the dogs. It's just not possible to be cross while looking at her resting her head on the grass so contentedly.

  3. I ALWAYS love dog pictures.

  4. I would wear this t-shirt:

    Stop Yelling (on account of the Beauty)

    An excellent idea indeed.

    Poor old Obama.

    Miss W x

  5. My friend Arlene, just pointed out this rather good piece:

    Miss W x

  6. Getting ready to visit family in Florida and wondering: is it REALLY as crazy in the United States as it looks/ sounds to be from my relatively quiet (peaceful, even!) vantage point in western Europe.
    With each new "event" from America I become more convinced that this is ALL (and almost exclusively) about racism and demonizing the "other".
    (Please post more dog and nature pictures!!!)
    Pat (in Belgium)

  7. I think you're being rather naive about this. Yes, most Muslims don't want anything to do with terrorism or missionary zeal - they want peaceful lives and are much like middle-of-the-road Catholics, and in many ways their family structure is closer and more supportive than ours. But Islamic culture is pre-Enlightenment - it's centred on a belief in a patriarchal god, and
    to quite a large extent on the subjection of women. If this new centre near 9/11 were built, as you advise, in a rather idealistic way, you yourself couldn't go in there as an equal to a man. I know there are many arguments for and against - it could fill a volume! -but I feel sad that Obama has come out in favour of building a vast Muslim centre on this site. There's so much popular feeling against it - understandably, I think - that it might cost him the next election, and then who will we get - another Bush, or someone like Palin?

    I'm not being anti-Islamic - Western Europe and the Christians were much the same in past centuries, with the crusades and the inquisition. I just hope that Enlightenment values in Europe won't be swamped by a retrograde step into a patriarchal god and the basic subjection of women.

    Anyway, thanks for throwing up these ideas - your blog is always uplifting and yet not too Polyanna-ish. Best wishes.


  8. CORRECTION, please...Obama has NOT come out in favor of building a Muslim center anywhere. In fact he has been quite careful in stating he does not want to give any opinion on this particular aspect. What the president has consistently said is that the U.S. was founded on the principle of religious freedom. (It's in the Constitution.) It's either free for everyone or free for no one.

    I don't want to get into a whole debate about organized religion. However, how many religions do NOT have a patriarchal god (the father, as I recall)? How many today are allowing women to fully participate in every aspect of their practice? (In these "post Enlightenment" days the current pope recently compared allowing women into the priesthood as heinous as paedophilic priests.)

    Pat (in Belgium)


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