Friday, December 25, 2009

minarets and steeples in the living room

Al-Fateh Mosque, or Grand Mosque, in Manama, Bahrain. One of the largest mosques in the world.

Today, while I was jumping on the rebounder in front of the tv screen, after watching the biography of Lady Diana as told through her jewels (it was not an expose of how some of the jewels of the Royal family are colonial booty), Christmas messages from Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan came on. As one of the soldiers addressed her young children via the tv screen, saying she has sent them their Christmas package, I wondered about what sort of gifts we have been giving the Afghan people? I wondered how much Canada's contemporary military presence in the Middle East is a neo-con version of the Crusades?

Editorial from the Daily Star of Lebanon, Dec. 22, 2009.

Why Minarets Shouldn't Matter

"A key event on the “clash of civilizations” front this year was Switzerland’s referendum on building minarets, which was voted down in November. People here have complained about European discrimination, and in today’s issue, The Daily Star is publishing a Western reply, in the form of a complaint about our behavior, namely our intolerance.

Tolerance and discrimination are important issues, but we shouldn’t focus on the building of a mosque, or the raising of a church steeple.
And moving the debate further back in history diverts us from the immediate context, and why mosques and minarets are being built in Switzerland. Over the past 50 years or so (or even longer), Muslim communities have been growing and coalescing in Western countries.

During this period, Western countries exploited the resources of countries in the Middle East and wider Islamic world. The decades-long stranglehold on the oil industry has led to a fairer order, but the massive profits of oil companies haven’t receded. There’s the Western-generated arms trade, which affects countries of the south in general. Presumably, some of the money generated by these practices ended up in countries like Switzerland.
In return, what have Switzerland and the West done in return? There’s development assistance, but also massive defects, such as the billions of dollars wasted in Iraq, money that was supposed to help the country rebuild.

For the most part, Western countries have been in cahoots with the regimes of our region, and resentment builds up, compounded by our inefficient states, which end up exporting their people to the West. Getting into controversies such as “minaret versus steeple” is a dangerous course, due to the asymmetric nature of the struggle. It’s not played out with ICBM, tanks and F-15s; all you need are a few angry young men, both at local regimes and the West.

Whether people are complaining about Sykes-Picot, or the IMF, the West has had a spotty record in robustly promoting development in this part of the world, and the more aggressive aspects – like blind support for Israel, the arms trade, and bombing of civilian areas – convince people here that they’re the ones being threatened.
When Westerners feel threatened by Islam and its minarets, they should remember two things.

One is the comment a few years ago by the dean of European foreign policy, Javier Solana, who said it was no longer a case of Muslims being in the building, or the stairwell – they were now in the living room [of Europe].
Thus, how we actually interact with each other, in what is becoming our global living room, is of paramount importance, and not who is building a mosque or a church down the street. When the geopolitical relationship is healthy, no one will raise a fuss when such events take place."

a convent I visited in Lebanon, just outside the city of Tripoli, on top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean. There are a lot of villages and towns just outside the city of Tripoli and a person would need a lifetime to visit their unique glory.


Ari said...

What is freedom of religion in islam countries. It is an unknown term there. I think that it is not very easy to build a christian church for ex. in Saudi-Arabia and it is not very easy for a muslim to convert to christianity there. You can do that but your life time is very short after that. In Europe and in America a christian can freely convert to islam or to atheism. Why must western countries have more freedoms than muslim countries ??? Anyhow the restriction of minarets is not very civilized. Perhaps it shows that the fear of islam is getting bigger and bigger all the time and Switzerland is on the way to a closed society like North-Korea.

tasteofbeirut said...

I was born and raised a greek catholic in a muslim neighborhood in Beirut; I love both religions and think they are both wonderful; I feel that forbidding minarets is a symptom of the deep-seated racism of a lot of Europeans not just for moslems but for jews as well, although now they are in a repenting mode towards the jews. I am against intolerance wherever it might be; I am eagerly awaiting the renovation of the synaguogue in Beirut. It is beneath us as humans in the 21st century to be bigotted.

northshorewoman said...

unfortunately, the corporate Western media continues to produce the basest stereotypes of the Middle East, and in doing so especially contributes to the rise of Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, neo-orientalism, and the homogenizing of complicated, contradictory diversities into one blob. Especially the blob of lack of so-called freedom, which is somehow the preserve of the West as we go kill innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq with no sense of hypocrisy.

Unfortunate. Indeed, I believe it is a deliberate strategy of power. I felt this very strongly when I was in Lebanon and realized how narrow is the perception of someone raised in the West. How narrow it has been made for us. So much of what the so-called Middle East is, is made invisible to the West. It's depressing that one has to smash the simplest stereotypes over and over again.

Ari said...

Western media tells us what our political leaders want us to believe.
Every article about Africa or Middle-East is more or less negative. Some news for the last few days: Taliban blow up a girl school in Pakistan; Why ? What is the reason, who understands ? Masses of people are demonstrating in Iran. Should our media be quiet or not. What is the reason to demonstrate there or is it only terrorism. Are these articles true or not or are they only bluff ???
It is a common belief of finnish christians about Gaza that some bad muslim boys have shoot missiles and rockets towards Israel just for terror purpose and of course Israel has right to revenge. Media has given very little attention in Finland that palestinians have been banished from their homes to ghettos like Gaza, abroad and to Jordania.
If you disagree with public opinion you get a stamp of a troublemaker or terrorist. Our media can write whatsoever still I don't understand why finnish (and many other) soldiers are in Afghanistan.

northshorewoman said...

ari, of course there are 'true' reports of happenings such as the current protests in Iran. The problem emerges from the framing of issues, who does the reporting, the language used, what gets left out, how nothing is contextualized, and why so much is left out as "news".

Is it 'true' that there is honor killings in Palestine or other places in the Middle East? Yes, that is true. But what we need to ask of what gets reported on and talked about in the west is why always the same issues about women --honor killing, hijab, passivity, and all those markers that we use to define "us" as "not that".

The big problem is that we don't get enough news, we don't get different perspectives, and we don't hear from those who have things to tell us that we don't want to hear.

Rockets into Israel are not terrorism. Resistance is not terrorism. When the occupation and oppression, killings and dispossesions, uprooting of olive trees, building of walls, bulldozing of homes stop, there is no need for rockets.