Spiritual texts revered by many people

There was an international media firestorm regarding the stated intention of a previously unknown Florida pastor, Terry Jones, to burn copies of the Holy Quran on September 11, 2010. He had the opportunity to air his views on CNN where he made some statements which were revelatory in exposing the mindset and opinions driving his choices and actions. When he was asked why he would want to anger 1.5 billion people who regard the Quran as their sacred text, his reply was, “Well, for one thing, to us, the book is not sacred.”

Well, indeed, it might not be sacred to him personally. And if it isn’t, then what does his statement show about the implications of how he sees it?  It seems he thinks that, if the texts are not sacred to him, he has the right to desecrate them and simultaneously insult all those who revere the Quran. He confirmed this conclusion by subsequently saying, “…It’s our right. We live in America!”

This extraordinary comment reveals a parallel perspective of his, namely, that those who live in America believe in their right to insult the Islamic faith and would want to do so. Many Americans in high standing, including the President himself, have denied that this is true.

The first good reason for developing the habit of trying to see things differently, therefore, is that the way I see it might not be how it is. Assumptions and prejudices tend to develop over time and lurk as unrecognised filters of information I receive and choices I make. Shining the spotlight of enquiry into the dark places of my hidden thinking habits takes a deliberate effort and a lot of honest self-insight.

Jones went on to say that his religious group was saying “stop” to Islam, to Islamic law and to “brutality.” Christian extremism can be just as extreme as Islamic extremism. It certainly is a puzzle how Jesus’ messages about the peacemakers being blessed and praying for one’s enemies are interpreted by him as the right to erect public notices proclaiming “Islam is the devil,” and host “International Burn A Quran Day.”

What might be his motivation to undertake these acts? Would it be reasonable to expect that he is seeking some kind of pay off?  Well, if instant notoriety were his aim, he succeeded in stupendous fashion. If he hoped to attract the attention of other like-minded individuals (potential recruits for his movement?) that probably happened too.

Our mindsets, attitudes and opinions trigger what we say and do, even if we don’t realise it.

If, on the other hand, he genuinely believed Islam constituted some kind of threat to himself and his movement (I don’t think it could be argued that he is the protector of anybody else), would it be true to suggest that his only – or at least, his best – option, was to hold a televised burning of the holy book of Islam? How about:

  • Getting a handle on the basic tenets of Islam and exploring mainstream Muslims’ own views of Islamic radicalism?
  • Going out to meet some members of mainstream Islam? (For example, Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, who was ultimately instrumental in getting this inflammatory project cancelled.)
  • Finding a constructive and peaceful way to engage with members of different faiths?
  • Re-reading the Sermon on the Mount?

Around the world millions of people, including Muslims, lead spiritually aware and responsible lives even though the texts that inspire and guide them have diverse origins.

So a second good reason for trying to see things differently is that how I see it might be preventing me from recognising other options which are immediately available. They are invisible behind the screen of my current viewpoint.

It is so easy to become fixed in one’s thinking and to blame everyone else for the world’s ills rather than take responsibility for leading an exemplary life. Jones and his adherents assert that Islam teaches idolatry and pagan rites and rituals. Surely this Quran-burning débacle itself smacks of fanaticism and rites and rituals?

So, therefore, a third good reason for making an effort to see things differently is that the views I hold of a situation or of other people might cause me to act quite inappropriately.

Of course, Jones is far from alone in the entire upheaval. Doesn’t it seem that our mass media world is out of balance if it is possible for one person, prejudiced and spreading hate-filled ideas, to manipulate events to the extent that the President of the United States as well as General  David Petraeus (at the time Commander, ISAF security mission in Afghanistan and Commander of the US forces in Afghanistan) personally asked him to desist; when his stated intentions caused rioting and the deaths of two people in Afghanistan; and his every word was broadcast for 3 consecutive days on the world’s TV channels?

Maybe you and I could also ask ourselves whether our demands for an up-to-the-second, graphic and blow-by-blow depiction of anything controversial, tragic, salacious or dramatic, have fuelled the development of a media monster. It seems massively out of proportion to have satellite dishes, mobile media centres and dozens of reporters camped out on the street outside the Dove World Outreach Centre. I can’t help thinking the name, “Dove,” usually associated with peace, comes across as incongruous in this context …

Or – should I see this differently?

Did I miss anyone saying that violent agitators around the world who choose to express their emotions and views by means of burning, looting and carnage could consider choosing instead to shake their heads in pity at the events in Florida, to recognise that each of us also carries our own prejudices and misjudgements, and to look within to see what we personally could do differently to enhance peace and co-operation in our own spheres of influence?

By experimenting inside my own head with seeing things differently, I can learn how to release myself from my own mental prisons, from my unquestioned assumptions and from my blaming of everyone else. If each of us learns how to do this for ourselves, we can help others to release themselves also.

3 comments

  1. Great post, I’m waiting for another!

  2. Excellent post! There’s no doubt that developing the habit to see things differently is of crucial importance for understanding between people and races and for peace in the world.

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