January 10, 2007

In the Land of the Small

There are days when I am, simply put, petty. I am perfectly willing to admit it. Best way to tell? I actually write Letters to the Editor of one the local weekly papers. Yep, I'm one of THEM.

In any case, I exchanged opinions recently with a columnist who wrote a bit of blather about how if we didn't win in Afghanistan (and the Americans likewise in Iraq) that our nations would instantly succumb to Sharia law. I countered that this was blatant fearmongering out of ignorance and little else. His opinion was that any critics of his had their "heads where the sun does not shine". So I replied again. This time, I didn't get published. As Mr. Seibring only writes a column every two weeks, it was a very distant argument.


There's this amazing little thing called "the internet", and a little something else called "a blog", and a reminder that on occasion I am a petty, petty man.

As I couldn't find the offending column on said internet, you'll just have to infer what I'm responding to; but I'm sure you'll recognise the arguments that he made...

Dear Editor:
I'd like to publicly apologize to Mr. Siebring: I did not realize he was actually writing a parody on November 19th, which I then responded to. Clearly, he was using his forum to encourage questions about people of other faiths and in other parts of the world, but I was simply too stupid and naive to understand that, so he makes his point more clearly in today's (Dec. 31) column.
First, he updates his earlier (Nov. 19) column by changing what it was about: it didn't claim that if we pull out of Afghanistan (and the U.S. from Iraq) then our daughters would somehow all be wearing shadors and Canada would come under Sharia law after all! No, what he was really doing was gently reminding us in a calm, logical, and very funny way that there are terrorists out there, and they are connected to an extremist branch of Islam. He didn't deliberately overstate the possible results of failed nation building as a scare tactic to cow opposition to his view, just like he's not doing this time. That would be wrong, as well as a logical fallacy and poor debating strategy to boot; hence, it must have been humour.
After all, with his clear understanding of Islam, he can explain how terrorism has a unified religious approval despite the enormous variety in it's worshippers around the globe. The 700,000 Muslims who signed the "Not in the Name of Islam" petition were clearly lying; as was Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah (the spiritual leader of Hezbollah) who accused Osama bin Laden of perverting Islam; likewise the Grand Ayatollah Sistani Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi when he published a statement with many other Muslim spiritual leaders in July 2005 condemning everything bin Laden stands for. And obviously al-Jazeera commentator and former preacher to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt proclaiming a fatwa that the duty of Muslims was to fight alongside the allies in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda was some kind of joke, something Mr. Siebring understands far better than I.
And Mr. Siebring's call for "objective evidence of any other faith or worldview where adherents are told they'll get into heaven if they kill people specifically for holding to beliefs that are different than theirs" is simply his way of getting people to read up on their history. I mean, you don't think he actually meant that there were no other people who made such statements, do you? That, and his no doubt deliberate misunderstanding of istisyhad, or martyr's death, is just going to encourage people to actually try learning a bit about Islam. Like where Allah condemns suicide, or killing people for any reason outside legal retaliation, i.e. the death penalty (al-Maidah 5:32).
And when they find out that it comes from a single story about a supposed companion of the prophet Muhammad asking if he dies in battle would he go to heaven ("Yep!"), and they compare that to the Pope's exhortations to the Crusaders that any who die defending the holy land from heathens will go to heaven; and the Irish Republican Army killing civilians to drive the Brits away; and both the Aztecs and Mayans building vast holy empires based on the elimination of those who didn't hold to their beliefs,;the Sikhs using terrorism to try creating a holy homeland (like the Jews did, according to Golda Maier's biography; and the Palestinians are doing now); and the (hate to use it, but...) Nazis creating their own "Christian" church to justify their own acts; and the Communists who had a "convert or kill" attitude towards expansion; and the countless other smaller squabbles that have used faith in their own beliefs as justification to kill people; then perhaps people will realize that this is not perhaps a question of Islam, but a question of fanaticism. Using such a subtle humour to raise a very earnest point is a difficult thing to pull off, and I'm filled with admiration for Mr. Siebring's abilities.
His quiet, near-hidden mocking of President Bush's overly-simplified "wit' us or again' us" stance is another masterpiece. That anyone could have the ability to differentiate Afghanistan, Iraq, Islam, terrorism, and immigration should be obvious; except of course to the strange, binary world view that the more strident of war's supporters can manage. By emphasizing that people must be for or against all of these immensely complicated problems, he really underscores what kind of damage to debate and understanding can occur. The common attack that anyone who opposed terrorism was blindly racist is just as foolish as saying someone opposed war didn't know what terrorism was, and he's quite right to point that out to us: his foolish, foolish audience.
Clearly, my own New Year's resolution should be to read his words with more care, and with the proper sense of humour.

So why wasn't this published in the paper? Too many words, or too many long words that Al Seibring just didn't understand?


posted by Thursday at 8:14 pm


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