Over the last few weeks I have looked on with horror and frustration at the way some extremist Muslims have been behaving after perceived “slights” to their faith. First there was the YouTube video that sparked protests, riots, and killing in various cities throughout the Arab world. Distasteful and sad. Then there was the more recent torching of Buddhist homes and shrines in Bangladesh all based on a picture uploaded to Facebook of a Buddhist teen disrespecting the Koran. Words fail to adequately describe how despicable these violent acts are.
I wish to clarify, up front, that I sincerely admire and respect the faith of Islam, the amazing poetry and miracle that is the Koran, and am generally sympathetic to the problems the Arab world faces. The United States, and other foreign powers have not tread lightly there. But I think it also bears mentioning that the West has done good here as well; the intervention in the recent Libyan revolution being an example. So please, before you read further, do not go burning pagan homes over this trifle of a blog.
Burned Buddhist shrine in Bangladesh
When is the Muslim community going to start talking about this violence among themselves? Where are the religious leaders, the Guardians of the Islamic Flame? When are they going to publicly and vociferously decry these kind of acts? I have heard various Muslims say that their faith is unfairly impugned, that the Christian nations have bombed them and committed all kinds of violence against them. There can certainly be a case made to support that point of view. However, you do not see *civilian* Buddhists burning mosques, or *civilian* Christians rioting and burning homes because someone casts aspersions on their faith. And as a pagan, a member of a minority faith, I have one piece of advice. Deal.
I had the pleasure of watching a 30 Days episode recently on Netflix. For those of you who have never seen it I highly recommend it. A 3 season TV show, produced by Morgan Spurlock of “Supersize Me” fame, this show brilliantly puts people of opposing viewpoints in each others shoes for 30 days. Season 1: Episode 3, entitled “Muslims in America” is of particular interest. It gives the audience a genuine glimpse into a Muslim family and their gorgeous Islamic faith. In one scene the head of the household of the hosting Islamic family defends Islam against the stereotype of of the “Islamic terrorist”. His point is well taken.
However, I do feel that Muslims need to stop focusing on what others say about them. Lets be honest about the fact that every single faith on the planet gets made fun of and stereotyped; bar none. What is important is to examine the actions ones religious community takes when faced with prejudice, *not* the prejudice itself. We pagans are certainly no exception.
A California brewing company, by the name “The Lost Abbey” brews a beer affectionately called “Witch’s Wit”. I was recently forwarded the text on the bottle which reads as follows:
Whether you’re a wonder healer, a caller of spirits or a lover of black magic, they will find you. And on that day, they will boil your blood, singe your skin and make a point to burn your soul to the ground. From that lonely stake, you’ll be left to contemplate your life of spell casting, obscure texts and a world operated between the shadows of night and day.
Convicted of a dark art, the crowd will gather to watch as they raze your earthen existence. An intolerable pain is the cross you’ll bear that day as you are removed from this righteous world. No one will summon the courage to save you in fear of their life. It sucks. But such is the life of a witch. In honor of your fleeting existence, we brewed Witch’s Wit. A light and refreshing wheat beer, it’s exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find being passed around the center of town on witch burning day. Say hello to the Prince of Darkness for us.
Viewed “as is” this can be insulting to those of us who call ourselves Witches and Pagans, right? But we have got to stop going off half-cocked and look a little deeper. Their website is chock full of other beers that have obviously satirical descriptions as well. Not only that, but the copywriter explains of Witch’s Wit:
When I imagined this beer, I thought of two perspectives that would make for the best story. The first story could have been told from the Point of View of our Witch (or Heroine depending on the story). Ultimately, I think I like not knowing her story is better. How she got there is a big part of the mystery.
I became more fixated on the guilt of the crowd. There would surely have been people (the faceless souls) who could have/ would have wanted to help. There also would have been some righteous people smug with satisfaction knowing another “witch” leaving their world.
The Point of View for this back story label is about that smugness and righteousness in light of a horrific atrocity against mankind. It’s written in a modified 3rd person Omniscient Point of View (partly a member of the crowd and my own voice). I knew that most people wouldn’t spend the time delving into the mystery of the piece I wrote but at the same time, I wanted a voice of reason (or counter reason) to be present for this beer. Specifically, we knew this to be a thought provoking original art piece.
My point is this. If we don’t take the time of have a good laugh at ourselves *and* look with wisdom and fearlessness on another’s point of view, we are doomed to live a life of conflict and fear.
The power of religion is like a flame; the raw power of the gods and goddesses given to mankind for use by our own free will. We are the guardians of that flame. We can choose to use that flame for warmth, fellowship, love and greater understanding, *or* we can use it to burn, rape, pillage and plunder. (Don’t worry you Asatrú folk I don’t mean you! *wink*) Personally I think the religious leaders of Islam, the Guardians of the Islamic Flame, are failing right now. They need to remember their sacred duty as caretakers of a flame that has been entrusted to them by Allah and the Prophet (peace be upon him). I do not mean take all the generalizations thrown your way, but you *must* start talking about these issues of violence; as a community, in your own Mosques, and in your own way.