Ted Koppel: Nine years after 9/11, let's stop fulfilling bin Laden's goals
From CNN today:
(CNN) -- This is no ordinary week. Take a look at the calendar.
If you follow developments in the arena of religion and public life, you have probably noticed.
Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the High Holy Days for Jews, falls this week, as does Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration of the breaking of the monthlong Ramadan fast for Muslims -- two special times of holiness for many Americans. Then, at week's end comes the ninth anniversary of 9/11, a day commemorated with sober religious and secular observance.
These important days have overlapped, coincidentally, during a time of heated religious controversy and discourse, and an upwelling of spiritual support, as well, centered largely around Islam.”
“In Washington on Tuesday, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Union for Reform Judaism declared that it is no longer an option to be silent about growing animosity toward Muslims in our society.”
The article documents an apparent realization by genuine religious leaders of organized and recognized religious groups. These leaders, by and large, are educated, holding degrees from accredited universities and serving populations that do not champion illiteracy and bigotry. Given the polarization of the times, this is a welcome occurrence. I doubt, however, that it will truly bring much of import to the nation.
The polarization is being driven by the religious fanatics who refuse to see that the 1st Amendment’s freedom to practice one’s religion does not provide them the right to prevent anyone else’s practice. Nor, do they realize that the same Amendment provides our citizens with the freedom to avoid being required to practice anyone else’s brand of religion.
The Christian fundamentalists and demagogues are demanding no mosques be constructed until Christian churches can be built in Saudi Arabia. In their ignorance, they fail to understand that such restrictions are made in some Moslem nations precisely because Islam has become the state religion. Yet our own Taliban are all too ready to create a theocracy with their particular brand of bigotry as the new state faith. They are ready to re-write our Constitution in order to force all US citizens to follow their own narrow-minded, practices that would be as restrictive and dangerous as anything ever demanded by the most reactionary Muslims.
Due to the nature of Islam and many nations without laws prohibiting state religions, their governments are dangerously intertwined with a single religion. Many Muslims, living in such nations, are unable to understand why our government does not stop the actions of a small town, small church, and hatemonger using false credentials to reach the illiterate. Likewise, many of our citizens are unable to understand the tenets of Islam and will never be able to do so. Our reactionaries are taught their faith by people like Terry Jones. They are told that Islam and the Quran are evil by a man who admits never having read the Quran. They are taught that education is not essential, that women should be subservient, that they have some mythically-given authority to convert the rest of the world to their faith whether it wishes to be converted or not.
The poor and illiterate in Afghanistan, in Yemen, and in other nations live lives not much different from those of peasants during the Dark Ages. They are proscribed any efforts to better their lives not justified by interpretation delivered by an Islamic authority, who, like Terry Jones, may never have read what he is proclaiming evil or good.
Sadly, we’ve created a populace of militant Christians who believe that they have a deity-given right to convert the world, to prevent the practice of any other religion, and to force their interpretation of their religion on all citizens of this nation. They have been told that this is a “Christian nation” by leaders who lack the intellectual capacity of desire to understand how rare and how important our 1st Amendment is. They reject science for mythology because they have be fed distorted information for decades by local and national religious leaders who’s incomes depend upon the contributions of their congregations. They are content to be led by those who milk them for income and feed them repetitive doses of intolerance, bigotry, and lies. They are taught to believe in witches, demons, devils, and other hold-overs from the days when there was no scientific explanation for any physical happening. They can’t correlate the mental illnesses that generate bizarre and dangerous behaviors and delusions with medical causes as they lack the intellect and education required to understand mental illness. They don’t trust doctors in many cases. They allow children to die of easily treated diseases while they pray for healing at the insistence of a holy demagogue or local preacher. During the last Presidential election it became known that Sarah Palin believes sufficiently in witch craft and curses to undergo an exorcism-like procedure. She also believes that angels and demons actually fight over her. That is about as Dark Ages as one can get. The thought of someone who believes she is chosen by a deity to rule a nation is frightening. I no more want her to have control of a nuclear arsenal than I do the Mullahs of Pakistan or Iran.
We cannot afford to have religious fanatics of any cult to begin wars that would reduce the current civilizations on this planet back to the Dark Ages. We know now that a Nuclear Winter is possible and that it would destroy civilization as it exists. We are not likely to remove nuclear weapons from the arsenals of those nations that have them now or those that are willing to risk war to gain them. The religious nuts who would use them are all too present and many have the funds to secure such warheads.
The religious leaders mentioned above who met and agreed to cooperate have taken only the easiest of steps to avoid a religion-caused return to the Dark Ages. They need to work collectively to deter the crazies in their ranks. As in previous reformations, such changes will have to come from internal sources. The men and women who sit in big offices and earn good salaries proclaiming their faiths to the educated must now talk to the mobs that disdain education. The breeding ground for desolation is ready. There is enough ignorance and bigotry to destroy nations if left unchecked to grow. Men and women like Terry Jones and fans need to be reined in by members of their own faith. Islam needs to be reformed by Muslims. No one should be sending missionaries to convert those of other faiths.
What is needed is for the silent moderates in all faiths to find their courage and drown out the shouts of the illiterate with calm recitations of reality and facts. There is no war on Christianity, no war on Islam. But there are lots of lunatics willing to start both wars if they can. They may be the closest thing to demons most of us will ever see.