Monday, August 16, 2010

A Mosque Too Many

I have delayed commenting on the matter of the mosque proposed for the general neighborhood of what was once New York's World Trade Center for a number of reasons. First, I hoped the whole notion would go away. Second, in case it didn't go away, I had little if any influence to stop it. Third, and certainly not least, I did not want to be in any way perceived as supporting views of the likes of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. It seems to me that whatever they touch, they twist to generate fear for political purposes.
But it also seems to me that in the case of the mosque proposal they have their historical facts, and even historical inferences, right. I have been grieved to see would-be opinion makers take the lead in propounding tolerance and ridiculing those who oppose a new mosque in the neighborhood of the 9/11 tragedy. Do they know anything at all about the history of Moslem-Christian relations? I guess they don't, so I am going to try to get their attention and tell them. (Note: I learned to spell the word "Moslem", not "Muslim". I intend to go on doing that, since I cannot see how it could offend any person.)
Let me begin by saying that tolerance is a high value and a noble goal. But there is no sense in propounding values and goals to people who do not share them. I am sure there are millions of Moslems who DO share our values to some degree, and who would like nothing more than to live in peace and quiet. But, if they really exist, they do not feel free to express their views.
Let's go back to the history that has been enacted between Moslems and Christians. It's been lamentable
The death of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, had the effect of unleashing Islamic armies from Arabia on the known world. One of the directions they surged was westward--across North Africa and into what became Spain, Portugal, and the South of France. There, in 732, they were stopped by a Christian force led by Charles Martel. But they retained control of much of what is now Spain until 1492, and their cultural influence can be seen there until this day. So large is the Moslem population of Europe these days that they may well reclaim control of this lost territory someday. Maybe someday soon.
The incursion of the early 8th century, the first large-scale encounter between Islam and the West, was a Moslem invasion. It's interesting to note this, because much criticism has been leveled at the West for the series of Crusades which began in 1095, and which were indeed brutal. Seen in perspective, they had a significant self-defense element.
After the initial Arab-Christian collision, the Turks became the big Islamic threat to the West. In 1453 they conquered Constantinople and what was left of the Byzantine Empire--long the unappreciated eastern bulwark of Christendom. They then took over Greece and most of the rest of the Balkan Peninsula, and threatened Central Europe for several centuries. Only in the 17th century were they staved off at the Siege of Vienna and the great naval Battle of Lepanto.
These were the beginnings, then, of the relationships between Islamic culture and our own. There has never been any rapprochement, either. In the 20th century "our side" has been able to establish temporary dominance with our technology, our need for oil, and the materialistic culture we have been all too eager to share with the world.
Under these circumstances, does it not at least seem possible that a new mosque in the neighborhood of Ground Zero is an attempt to flout us? And that our high-minded advocacy of tolerance is earning us ridicule in certain circles?
After all, if the propounders of the mosque--which, by the way, is planned for several blocks away from the Ground Zero site, not across the street from it--were interested in tolerance, they could have had it. All they needed to do is say, "Since this disturbs you, we will move it further away." And especially since their religious freedom IS guaranteed. They may practice Islam anywhere in the country they like. They are only asked to have the sensitivity not to practice it near this tragic place.
But they did not say the words that would have healed.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Two-Inch Universe

Growing up when and where I did, there seemed little chance I'd ever be able to get out and see and experience much of the world. In fact, the first indication I had that I'd beaten the jinx came when I found myself riding into the ancient city of Petra, the "rose-red city half as old as time." That experience I recorded in my recently-published book "Jerusalem Journal".
But it didn't happen until I was nearly middle-aged.
Meanwhile, a lot of years went by in which I had to make do with second-hand experience. Books and reading were basic to this, of course, as I freely roamed the globe and the ages of history in my imagination.
So were movies, of course. The technology of the wide screen--which I thought was the cinematic wave of the future--enabled me to travel the Middle East with Lawrence of Arabia years before I got there in person. Less spectacular but still engrossing films took me to the Greek Islands, Rome, Paris, and other desired destinations I did not expect to see in person. In the end, the technology of the airliner took me to some of these places in the flesh.
So it was modern technology that contributed, more than anything else, to the opening of my previously closed world. And it is with dismay that I note the tendency of modern technology to close us off from the universe around us.
Think about it. The size of the screens on which life is presented to us has dwindled--in some cases to two inches or so. No broad vistas here. And nothing natural to listen to, either--not with ear buds to stick in our ears. We are insulated, not only from bird song, but from potential conversation with other humans. Possibly even from the sound of the out-of-control automobile that, unknown to us, is careening toward us to flatten us.
Is there a cure for this insulation-by-technology? That's a no-brainer. Time to take a break from our gadgets. Turn off. Unplug. Tune out. Time to learn to do something real with your hands: learn to knit, learn to draw, learn to play the harmonica. You can come back to the technology later, when it can really help empower you. In the meantime, "grow" yourself. Use the gadgets as aids; but otherwise, run your own intellectual and spiritual life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Against the Ad

While I believe in freedom of speech, I was surprised and dismayed to find an anti-Israeli ad on this blog. This strains my commitment to free speech to the limit, although I do understand Blogger's philosophy on the matter.
For those of you who would like to understand the Israeli position on news out of the Middle East, I recommend the Honest Reporting site,