Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Good news from Gainesville

It's mighty discouraging to see how quickly bad news, even fake news, travels, and gets reported again and again and again, while good news gets at most one chance to be noticed. Case in point. An ignorant and self-appointed religious leader in Gainesville, Florida, leader of a small conventicle of like-minded losers, thought he'd get publicity by encouraging people to burn the holy book of Islam on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Unfortunately he was right. The US didn't pay much attention, but the Muslim world has been hearing about it for weeks. In the end, after a media apotheosis and appeals from the President of the United States and military leaders, he desisted - though he reserves the right to resume his crusade. His tiresome and disengenuous equivocations came too late to spare the lives of the many people who've been killed and injured in protests about supposed American desecrations of the Qur'an in Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan.

But forget about him. He's a nobody, though a nobody heard 'round the world. The real news from Gainesville is that, in response to his odious plan, the city of Gainesville officially denounced him. And - far more significantly - leaders of twenty other Gainesville houses of worship read from the Qur'an in their religious services that weekend. This is big.
(Here's one reader at the United Church of Gainesville.) The passage read was Aal 'Imran 3:64, the same passage which forms the center of "A Common Word Between Us and You," the most significant recent ecumenical statement from Islamic leaders: Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him).

The inclusion of a text from the Qur'an in the scripture reading in churches (in the South, no less!) was a rare and a beautiful thing. But had I not heard about it from someone at Sunday's interfaith rally, I wouldn't know about it. I've looked in vain for press reports online. Any search for Gainesville/pastor/Qur'an just gives you the thousands of articles on the nobody. (One of the organizers of the Sunday rally sent me a link for one report, on a CNN blog, and others - both from local new sources - about similar readings in Michigan and California.)

It's often alleged (by Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens especially) that religious moderates are to blame for not condemning extremists. But when they do - and they do, all the time - nobody listens. (Have you heard of "A Common Word..."?) Given the hoopla about the nobody's hairbrained scheme, even if a report of these Qur'an readings in churches did appear, it would merely seem the exception that proves the rule. Sigh.

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