Archive for Islam

How Sacred is 9/11?

Posted in current events, religion with tags , , , , on August 18, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

The biggest news out of any media outlet is the hubbub that has arisen from plans of a mosque being constructed within eyesight of Ground Zero, where over 3000 people died in attacks on the World Trade Center by Muslim extremists. Americans are up in arms about the idea of something so close to such hallowed ground, that it is a slap in the face for those who died and sacrificed themselves to help out in this tragedy.

Then again, so was not passing health care for people involved with 9/11 and are now having serious health problems. But whatever.

Glenn Beck said that the proposed mosque isn’t just a mosque, but a statement: you wouldn’t build a Christian megachurch in the middle of Saudi Arabia, or in the middle of Utah, unless you were trying to make a statement.

This would be all fine and dandy, except what a lot of people aren’t getting is that the mosque isn’t going to be blatantly put in everyone’s face. In fact, there is already a mosque sitting within eyesight of Ground Zero that has been there before the World Trade Center even existed, and yet no one is holding rallies to shut it down.

The heart of the problem, as much as I hate to say it, is a misconception about both the circumstances of the mosque, and also of Islam in general. Doing any preliminary research, one would know that it is a mosque inside of a cultural learning center. The center is probably so close to Ground Zero to make a statement, with the statement being that while, yes, is was Islamic extremists that flew the planes into the towers and killed so many people, there is more to Islam than blowing things up.

Which brings us to the second problem: misunderstanding the Muslim faith. It’s a phenomena called Islamophobia, and it works much the same as homophobia or arachnophobia; you find someone that practices Islam, you project your prejudices upon that person, and then you fear or hate them.

There is no doubt that the events of 9/11 completely shook up the world. There is also no doubt that there is some lingering fear from the 9/11 attacks, and no one is exactly sure who to trust. But blocking someone from building a house of worship, no matter where it is being built, is just wrong, especially when it is a belief system that you don’t agree with.

Another pundit made the point that there is a church near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the same building that Timothy McVeigh, a Christian, bombed. Where is the uproar? Where is the incredulity? Where is the call to arms to shut down this church for the sake of the victims involved?

All I’m asking for is a little consistency, something that seems to be lacking in this day and age. Either we need to go back to every terror attack site, and eliminate all houses of worship related to the attackers, or we can take a deep breath, and look at this new building for what it’s worth: a chance for people to better know a thing they fear so greatly.

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The Dalai Lama’s Message of Peace

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

The Dalai Lama made his first trip to Iowa on Monday and Tuesday. It was a unique experience for those who went. Sadly, I was unable to get tickets to either event (both were sold out), but from what I’ve read in the article and heard from people who went, it was a unique experience.

The Dalai Lama is the political and spiritual leader-in-exile of Tibet. Even though he’s not allowed in the country, he still controls the people. The Des Moines Register described him as “light-hearted,” and even describes an incident where he had to stifle laughter: “When told about a young man who fathered 23 children in high school, he had to stifle a chuckle after hearing the story from a translator.”

But despite the light-hearted personality of the Dalai Lama, what was important about the visit was his message of peace, ethics, and education.

The representatives that we hear about today are all about violence. Their rhetoric is militant: “Don’t retreat, reload,” and fighting new hypothetical wars. There is no room in American rhetoric to be peaceful, and those who do preach peace are soft-hearted pansies, definitely Liberal, and most likely a New Age vegetarian hippy.

The Dalai Lama’s message was refreshing. He called for educating both “the head and the heart,” acting ethically for “one human family,” and not falling into the “traps of violence” that we as Americans so easily fall into. He realized that a lot of the world’s problems are caused by man, and only man can fix them through peace and cooperation.

While the Dalai Lama admits that he would be a terrible professor because he is “kind of lazy,” he is an amazing teacher that knows how to preach a message that all faiths can fall behind. Christianity, Islam, and many other religions get bad publicity because they are perceived as violent religions. And even though many pundits would like to paint “social justice” and “equality” as bad things, it is extremely important to practice exactly those principles.

The “second formation” of Immanuel Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” is, “Act so that, whether in yourself or another, you treat yourself or another as ends and not means only,” meaning that we should be treating our fellow humans as worthwhile creatures, and not just a way to get what we want. American society today practically preaches using people as a means to an end only: drunken women are only good for getting sex, rich men are only good for getting jewelry, and so on. There is no longer any respect for our fellow humans; we are too individualized to see the consequences of our actions. In an “every man for himself” world, we miss the big picture of being a global community.

We can learn something from the Dalai Lama’s visit. As someone who is not jaded by material struggles and being bigger and better, he sees what a lot of the world can’t see: in the end, it’s all about loving ourselves and loving others.

“You have the truth,” he says. “Be patient and do your work.”

Thoughts on Islam

Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , , , on April 28, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

I previewed Monday’s post on a website I frequent called The Young Writers Society. It’s an excellent website where writers aged 13-25 can post works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, scripts, photographs, and other forms of art to be critiqued by the members. It’s a “peer-review” sort of website, and one that has helped me improve my writing immensely. I’m doing my part as a member to promote the site, if only because I see it as really beneficial.

What I was hoping to find by posting Monday’s entry on my YWS blog was a few replies, if any, from other South Park fans. What I didn’t realize was that there were some strong sentiments on either side, each being played out in the comments of my blog.

The point of Monday’s post (which on this blog has a different ending than the YWS version), was that it is wrong to censor yourself out of fear. I was in no way attacking the Muslim faith, and I was in no way meaning to offend anyone. But the topic of offense and censorship is another post. This post will focus on the religion of Islam, its beliefs, and my personal opinion about the religion.

The beliefs of Islam are fairly straightforward. Muslims believe that there is only one God, Allah, and that Muhammad was his prophet. They acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, but not the Son of God, as they believe that worshipping Jesus is akin to polytheism. God does not beget, nor is he begotten.

The Prophet Muhammad, in the Muslim faith, is not the creator of a “new religion,” but rather resurrecting the faith of Adam, Abraham, Jesus, and others. In his life, Muhammad converted many people to Islam, and peacefully and successfully took over Mecca. He died at the age of 63.

Only God knows when He will return to Earth and save His people, and only He knows who will be saved and who won’t. Muslims believe that everything that happens in the world happens for a reason, that it has all been planned out, and we must go with the flow and accept the consequences as the way life is supposed to go.

The Five Pillars of the Islamic faith are testifying that there is only one God worthy of worship and that Muhammad is God’s prophet, praying five times a day facing Mecca, the giving of alms, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca if you’re able.

As far as jihad is concerned, there are many different forms. The most common form is the “greater jihad”, the inner struggle in dealing with sin and cleansing one’s self. However, unless otherwise defined, jihad is a militant struggle, using violence to defend and expand the religion of Islam.

While this information was found on Wikipedia, examining the sources cited showed that this information is as accurate as can be. Looking overall, the Islamic faith is one that is fairly peaceful. The beliefs are similar to the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity. And overall, the religion appears peaceful. However, just like with all social groups, there are extremists, and it is the extremists that make a bad name for the group as a whole.

Many times, the only exposure people have to the Muslim faith is through the extremists: 9/11, the Fort Hood shootings, and any shot of Iraqis in the mainstream media. So it’s not surprising that the common perception of Muslims are violent, humorless, miserable people who want nothing more than to pick a fight.

One of the comments on the YWS version of Monday’s post from a user named “Snoink” struck me as purely common sense:

Although definitely not Muslim, I am Catholic, so therefore I believe in Eucharistic transubstantiation…. So doing bad things to the host is really really really bad. And yet, if someone used the host in art, even in a way that is horrifying to me, I’m rather limited. I mean, I can and will defend the host… but murder? No.

Is South Park art? Well… if it’s creating this much of a fuss, then yes. After all, art is a revolution.

The point of this post is to show that I’m not “anti-Muslim,” but rather am looking for an explanation. The Muslim community’s reaction to the South Park episode aired last week was unwanted and intimidating, but to them, it is part of their faith.

A Muslim man, the one who runs the website Revolution Muslim and posted the threat to Matt Stone’s and Trey Parker’s lives, is quoted in a CNN interview saying that Qur’an explicitly states that non-believers should be terrorized for believing the wrong thing.

This man openly praises the acts of Osama bin Laden and the Fort Hood shooter, and it is because his faith says that the lesser jihad of violence and militantism is a group effort. The whole must support the one. And to me, that is disgusting and wrong.

I don’t hate Islam. I try my best to be open to all things, even those things that offend me. And in America, you’re going to get offended, no doubt about that. Don’t let religion throw you into a blind rage because you found something offensive. Don’t become violent and threaten murder because of something that offended you. Rather, be calm, civilized, and state your case. It could be the difference between life and death.

Islam v. South Park: Who Went Too Far?

Posted in opinion, pop culture with tags , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

It’s a well-known fact that I’m a huge fan of the show South Park on Comedy Central. Of all the shows on television, I feel that this show is spectacular in that it is a no-holds-barred look at anything and everything in the world. Nothing is off-limits: religion, pop culture, even celebrity deaths are mocked every week. South Park says what no one else will, making it the most hilarious and honest show on television.

But the two most recent episodes of South Park (creatively titled “200” and “201”) were frustrating to me, because despite the fact that the show and its creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, pride themselves in making fun of everybody, Comedy Central dropped the ball on redefining the culture.

A quick synopsis of the situation: In honor of their 200th episode, South Park decided to call back every celebrity they ever made fun of. The story goes that Tom Cruise comes to South Park to go “fly fishing” (which is actually working at a candy factory in the fudge department). Stan, while on a class trip to the candy factory, sees Tom Cruise and observes that he’s a “fudge packer.” Cruise gets upset and decides to sue South Park along with the rest of his celebrity friends.

In an effort to drop the lawsuit, Randy pleads with Cruise, promising to bring anyone he wanted into South Park to drop the lawsuit. Cruise calls for Muhammad, prophet of the Muslim faith. The next two episodes follow the saga of trying to give Muhammad to the celebrities (to get his “goo” so that they can no longer be made fun of), while at the same time trying not to have the town destroyed by the Gingers, and finding out who Cartman’s father really is.

The two-part episode went out of its way to make fun of everything and everyone, and the first episode went off without a hitch: a few censored images of Muhammad here, a few shots of the townspeople looking up to the sky for bombs there, and a perfect cliffhanger for next week.

It was only when a message on the website Revolution Islam (now not working) did things start to get a little scary. Coupled with the picture of Theo Van Gogh, the filmmaker who was shot and nearly decapitated on the streets of Amsterdam after making a film about Islam’s mistreatment of women, the message for Matt and Trey said, “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”

It was after this threat that “201” became completely different. Every mention of Muhammad was censored. Even at the end, when the show goes into its formulaic “I’ve learned something today” section, the entire moral of the story was bleeped out. The last few minutes of the show was one gigantic tone, interrupted with, “I’ve learned something today,” “That’s right, Kyle,” and “Absolutely.”

At first, watching it, and digesting it for a while, I figured it was some huge joke, a commentary on doing whatever it takes to not offend anyone. I had no idea what was behind the huge bleeps, but I figured it was nothing important, and laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Then, on the front page of the South Park Studios website, was this message from Matt and Trey (emphasis mine):

In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker were doing what they do best: mocking the world around them. And Comedy Central, the station that supported this behavior for 14 years, suddenly didn’t want to offend anyone.

The situation reminded me of an article I read a few weeks back called Nothing is Exempt from Criticism. It’s a short article about how nothing is so special that it can’t be criticized, but the point of the article is expressed in these two paragraphs:

Furthermore, why should anything be exempt from criticism? Criticism is the most important pillar of modern society. Without criticism, how would we sort the good ideas from the [bad] ones? Without criticizing the inane…, how do we ever improve anything?

If you criticize an idea, and it stands its ground against your remarks, then it’s probably not too bad of an idea…. On the other hand, if you have an idea and it falls apart in the face of criticism, don’t get indignant and claim that your idea deserves special treatment. It’s a stupid idea…. Trash it already.

Islam, like any other religion, is not exempt from being made fun of. If it is part of the world, it is able to be made fun of. What should be interesting to note in all of this is that in 2001, South Park showed an image of the prophet Muhammad, a member of the religious superhero group “The Super Best Friends.” He was fully seen, spoke a few lines, and showed off his power of fire. Nothing happened, and no one was offended.

It appears that the religion of Islam is one of the most vocal and violent religions when they get offended. The threats and the violence are over the top and not necessary. Christians and Jews get mocked constantly, and the level of offensiveness with these mockings know no bounds. Yet there are very few instances of Christians or Jews getting so offended that they explode in violence, and the wide difference between these two worlds is striking. Make a few Holocaust jokes, and the Jews are upset. Mention Muhammad in an off-color joke not even about Islam, and people are brutally murdered on the streets.

This post isn’t to tear down Islam. Rather, this post is about not being fearful of speaking your mind. To paraphrase Jon Stewart in the opening of Thursday’s episode of the Daily Show: The Muslim extremists that are in America are free to practice their religion, praise Osama bin Laden, celebrate the anniversary of 9/11, and nearly anything else they want to do, because they are given that freedom in the Constitution. However, that freedom is a two-way street: sure, they can say or do whatever they want, but they must also respect the fact that the rest of America has the freedom to mock them, and not use fear and intimidation to inhibit those freedoms.

If you want to have limited freedom of speech, stay in the Middle East.

Kudos goes to Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and everyone who works at South Park, for continuing to push the envelope, and for not going with the flow when your art is compromised. Keep up the good work.

Coming soon will be separate posts about Islam in general and Censorship. Keep watching, and thanks for reading.