Recently I featured the New American Bible as a banned book, which was a shock to many and garnered some fairly strong opinions in the comments in the discussions that followed.
But would that outrage be just as strong if it were someone else’s sacred text? I’m about to put that theory to the test.
Just as with the Christian Bible, governments around the world have officially banned, or attempted to ban, the Holy Qur’an.
Soviet Russia banned it from 1926-1957, along with the Bible and other religious and “socially deviant” texts.
The Calcutta Qur’an Petition is a book by Sita Ram Goel and Chandmal Chopra published in 1986. The subject matter of this book is a call for the state-authorized banning of books, specifically the Qur’an. The authors demanded that the State ban the holy book, and the publication of the Petition polarized the country. Some people even tried to enact the ban, which incited riots in India and Bangladesh in which at last a dozen people were killed and 100 were injured.
In 2007, the leader of the Netherlands’ right-wing Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, called for a ban on sale of the Qur’an and also outlaw its use in Mosques and private homes. He said the Qur’an “is a fascist book which promotes violence” and likened it to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
However, the proposal didn’t stand a chance of being approved by parliament, as the Freedom Party held only nine seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.
The sale of Mein Kampf is outlawed in the Netherlands, but owning or trading old copies is permitted. By contrast, had the proposed ban on the Qur’an succeeded, it would have been more severe because it would also outlaw the mere possession of the book.
The United States has long had a practice of xenophobia toward widely-different religious, political, and social views. Those old enough to remember the uproar over Boxing Champ Cassius Clay’s changing his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964 and subsequently converting to Islam in 1975 can attest to the nation’s issues with change. The very personal matter of his faith was taken as an insult on the entire country. The Islamic faith, however, continued to flourish in the U.S. throughout the end of the 20th century, and the Christian majority, the holders of the status quo, felt endangered.
The public misinformation campaign against the Islamic faith was deepened after the events of 9/11, with many calling for actions that paralleled the incarceration of citizens of Japanese decent after the attack on Pearl Harbor. So much for learning from history.
In 2005 the Qur’an was banned from schools in Gate City, North Carolina as anti-Semitic hate speech.
In 2009 there were several attempts to criminalize the practice of Islam in the United States, and possession of the Qur’an considered an instrument of sedition, punishable as treason.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock lately, then you’re at least somewhat aware of the most recent incident surrounding Terry Jones and his controversial crusade against Islam. The Florida Pastor has made headlines by holding public burnings of the Holy Qur’an outside Mosques; the dispute hit very close to home this past month here in the suburbs of Detroit.
Dearborn, Michigan has the largest Muslim population in the United States, and as such is home to the nation’s largest Mosque as well.
Jones planned to hold a public protest against Islam and burn the Qur’an in front of the Dearborn Mosque on April 22, 2011, Good Friday to followers of Christianity. Citizens and religious leaders from several different faiths came together as one to publically denounce Jones and to ask him not to come to Dearborn. The protest attempt was thwarted and the debate over his rights to free speech was covered by news organizations around the world.
He even tried to spread his message by traveling to the United Kingdom in February, but because of his extremist views he has been permanently banned from entering the country. He said that this is a clear violation of his right to travel and the right to express his own opinion.
“Just as a human being, I believe it is restrictive, against my right to travel, against my right to my opinion, to express my opinion, against the basic principles of freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” Jones said. One has to question if he hears the duplicity of his own words.
The word war against different cultures and religions has always been a tried and true method of political maneuvering, but if one is upset that there are book burnings and banning of the Bible here and abroad, then one should be equally upset over those of other faiths being persecuted as well. To do otherwise is the very definition of hypocrisy. I am reminded of a one liner by comedian Billy Connolly, “Hypocrisy is the Vaseline of political intercourse.”
If a small group of diverse religious leaders can come together as one in a small Michigan town to extinguish the torches and pitchforks of hate, then why not on a global scale? Freedom of religion means ALL religions, after all. Basic human rights are not on a list that we can pick and chose from a la carte like a fast food menu. Nevertheless, if that is what we have been reduced to, then it is no wonder that our minds are as malnourished as our bodies.
**UPDATE: After this article was submitted for editor approval, Terry Jones held his protest outside the Dearborn City Hall. The protest and counter-protest crowds quickly swelled. The protest became just as much a rally on the rights of free speech, as it did as a battle cry to ban Sharia law in the United States and anti-Islamic rhetoric. The mostly-peaceful crowd was being controlled by Dearborn police, Wayne County Sheriffs, and Michigan State Police, when all it took was a bottle being thrown as Jones walked down the Hall steps to incite a panic in which at least 3 people were arrested. You can see local video coverage here: http://www.wxyz.com/subindex/video#
I would like to point out that the protesters’ call to ban Sharia law in the United States is a moot point, seeing as how that is a religious code and not a set of state laws as defined by the United States legal system. Therefore, it has no legal binding because of the First Amendment. Which is why the 10 Commandments can not be posted inside a municipal court house. The Guardian newspaper (UK) describes Sharia as: “a religious code for living, in the same way that the Bible offers a moral system for Christians.” It refers to both to the Islamic system of law and the totality of the Islamic way of life.
Sources: Washington Post, Detroit Free Press, Canada Free Press, Guardian (UK), American Library Association, WXYZ- Channel 7 Detroit
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions