Ignorance Hits the Fan: Florida, Afghanistan and Moderation

Teknaf MohI have a brother who is a Christian minister.  He is one of the hippest guys I know, especially when it comes to relating religion with modern-day life.  He has always cringed at some of the excesses that some Christian leaders live.  I have always teased him about it through the years by saying we should get him on television.  That’s where he would make the most money.

Of course for him and rightly so it is not about the money but about the Lord’s work.  He has told me that some of these big-name preachers should hold the hand of a relative of a dying individual or feed the hungry, some true Christian ministry.  I have always remembered those words as they have always held true meaning to me.  Remembering the plight of our common man is so much more important than putting on a big show.  So when I recently heard about a Florida preacher burning the Quran, I asked him what his union was up to.  Of course, he was appalled.

My brother was appalled because the burning of the Muslim holy book was obscene and at the same time stupid in his mind.  How could he be taking seriously as a Christian minister when people who purport to believe the same thing are overtly burning symbols of another religion, causing much angst in the Muslim world?  It even caused the deaths of several people last week in Afghanistan, as mobs attacked a UN compound.

It is all so stupid.  Ignorance can sometimes be a very dangerous thing.  Our American friends are no different than us in Canada with regard to being ignorant about some issues.  However when you mix in a constitutional amendment of free speech and religious freedom, sometimes the discord about Islam in the states can be a bit messy.  The Florida preacher was just one example of the many acts of Islamaphobia, which is taking place in the United States since 9/11.

At the same time on the other side of the world the same type of ignorance is meeting You Tube, Facebook and Twitter.  What once would’ve been written off just past the gates of the church is now reverberating into the far reaches of the world.  Information transfer is a good thing but in this case it’s about as bad as they can get.

I have seen this myself in my many trips to Bangladesh.  When I move in Bangladesh it is almost like a rock star is on the street.  They are not used to seeing a 6 foot white guy among the throng in downtown Dhaka.  So when people approach me many other Western stereotypes regarding what they’re looking at are on display.  I’ve often been asked about religion, what country are you from and a whole host of other things.  It is understandable, especially in a society where most people are illiterate.  Our modern society with access to digital technology, exasperate Western stereotypes.  So when a Florida preacher burns the Quran it doesn’t take long to be misinterpreted among those who don’t understand.

The problem is it works both ways.  When you listen to the words of the Florida preacher, I often recoil on his words.  I have a great number of Muslim friends who recoil at the excesses of Islamic extremism.  At the same time when I hear those words from the Florida preacher I do the same.  Of course if I could bring Jesus back, he’d be shaking his head or worse.  Deliberately hurting people’s sensibilities is never a growth industry.  It causes misunderstanding, hurt feelings and when you ignorance into the mix very bad things happens.

A few years ago I was on a ship in Barisal, Bangladesh.  When the ship reached port a few of us had time to lean on the railing and talk about life.  For whatever reason the ship started to unload cargo from the Canadian mint.  It was just a coincidence that they had a Canadian on board but the specter of boxes of money leaving the ship was delicious.  I made a few jokes, one about Osama bin Laden.  At that point, a Bangladeshi gentleman turned to me and said, “Listen Mr. White man, he didn’t cause the problems, the Americans did!”   Putting two and two together rather quickly, I knew this was not the setting for a political debate.  I told the man I wasn’t an American and I left that conversation as quickly as I could.

The point being everybody sees things differently and sometimes we need to set those differences aside for the common good of everyone.  The Florida preacher Afghanistan example is one of those things.  Moderation in everything is a virtue.  Thinking twice is another one.  Taking the high road is always job one.