Coming of Age checks in

In a brief calm of the storm that is student teaching, I find myself able to post on my blog, which is one of the things I have missed most over the last few weeks.

The topic that weighs most heavily on my mind in the religious department lately is the ridiculous furore over the anti-Muslim movie trailer released a couple of weeks ago by some idiotic, talentless American director.

If the consequences of the rioting weren’t so egregious, I’d laugh out loud at such hair-trigger sensitivity which, some have supposed, must be driven by deeper, more calculated motives from anti-American factions in the Middle East. This is the natural reaction of those living in civilized western culture – those who find it impossible to accept that an overblown violent reaction to a short amateur video clip is motivated by the clip itself. After all, we in these civilized cultures have grown accustomed to shrugging off brazen attacks on our beliefs. The Book of Mormon, a musical I was lucky enough to see a few weeks ago (it is hilarious) even goes so far as to say, with comfortable abandon, “Fuck you, God”.

Take a step back though, and place yourself in a culture that has always shunned criticism of religion, and suddenly the anti-Muslim video appears as a grossly insulting attack on everything you hold deeply sacred.

And this is OK, as far as it goes. There is nothing wrong with taking offence at someone’s cack-handed rubbishing of your worldview.

But there is a deep level of insecure childishness at rushing out into the street and setting buildings (and people) on fire in response to your offense.

Salman Rushdie was recently interviewed on NPR about this whole fiasco, and his analysis was, it seems to me, spot on. He said that only those who are insecure about their beliefs will resort to extreme measures in response to insults.

Daniel Midgley, of the excellent Good Reason blog, makes a similar point. And as a good demonstration of his integrity, he praises none other than his own abandoned faith – Mormonism – as an exemplar of proper behavior in the face of ridicule. Their handling of the aforementioned musical, The Book of Mormon, has been remarkably graceful.

The same cannot be said for the rabid over-reaction of extremist Muslims in the face of an insult so profoundly unworthy of attention. Rather than shrug the video off as the piece of crap that it is, some Muslims turn themselves into the butt of the entire sick joke by bizarrely overreacting to it. It’s almost as if the makers of the video were deliberately teasing Muslims to see what preposterous things they would do – like a rotten child might tease a wild animal at the zoo.

Islam is centuries behind the more tempered, level-headed versions of the religious traditions that dominate western and (far) eastern cultures. As much as I’d like to see people give up religion altogether, as they might give up any failed idea of the distant past, the very least I can seriously hope for is that Islam matures, and matures quickly, before more lives are lost to its deranged factions.





4 Responses to Coming of Age checks in

  1. RuediG says:

    Welcome back! I’m glad you’re surviving student teaching. Which grade level are you teaching?

    Nice blog post. One thing I wanted to respond to is the mistaken idea that salafists are somehow “deranged.” The ones I know are highly intelligent and now exactly what they want: Power! (Accordingly, I disagree with Rushdie’s almost sickeningly paternalistic statement about “insecurity.” That’s a pretty weak attempt at guessing at other people’s motivation.) Salafists will use any opportunity to get power, or display that they have it. They did in Benghazi, and that’s why it was so refreshing to later see the ordinary citizens of Benghazi run the extremist militias out of town: The power play was a total fail, and even backfired.

  2. Keith says:

    Hi Ruedi

    I’m teaching two classes right now – freshman and seniors. It’s fun to see the differences between them!

    That’s an interesting point about power, although I cannot fathom what sort of power they hope to get. They are *displaying* a certain type of power – the type of power bullies have – but they are certainly not going to *gain* any new power by what they’re doing.

    As for being deranged, I think I hold by that claim. I am suspicious of the sanity of anyone who thinks that a violent overreaction to some stupid movie trailer is a good cover for attaining any sort of power. All it does is make them look, well, deranged.

    I agree that Rushdie is only guessing at the attacker’s motives – we all are I suppose, because none of us knows the attackers personally!

  3. Welcome back, Keith… missed your writing 🙂

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