The Pope and the USA

I don't normally like to write about religion and politics. Both subjects are difficult to handle and I am not an expert in either one of them. However both do come to prominence every now and then and the last few days, the Pope and Islam has been the focus on every newspaper in the world.

Pope Benedict XVI caused so much anguish in the Muslim world and at first refused to apologise after his lecture at the University of Regensburg where he quoted a conversation between Manuel II, a 14th-century Christian Byzantine emperor and an Islamic Persian; “‘Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’” Though yesterday the Pope finally said that he was “deeply sorry” about the angry reaction to his remarks about Islam, which he said came from a text that didn't reflect his personal opinion. “These were in fact a quotation from a medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought.”

I read his entire lecture and of course when you read things in entirety, you get the bigger picture. His intention to raise the issue of how to confront and combat the religious extremism that gives rise to terror and violence was commendable. Though I would still question his usage of that conversation and given the Pope's background of being a hardliner, I have the feeling despite his apologies, that he did it intentionally. He deliberately provoked listeners as to whether the current Muslim world has the capacity to be critical of itself. Though one can make the same argument over the Christian and Judaism world. Both have also gone through violent stages in the past. Think of the Crusades and the Inquisition.

Though I do worry that the current extremism in the world. The smallest of all words, the slightest of all actions, an eruption will occur. Are we not capable of being rational or self-critical? And at the same time, does religion have to be dragged in all the time when the underlying causes are not religions but something else altogether but fought in the name of the religion?

Yesterday, the Brunei Times led with an interesting article about the US State Department's report on its annual International Religious Freedom Report 2006 which listed Brunei among the 20 countries of 'significant list' of violators. This apparently is the second category. The first category is made up of 'countries of particular concern' of 8 countries including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. The article rejected the accusation and focused on the Brunei constitution stating that '...All other religions may be practised in peace and harmony by the person professing them in any part of Brunei Darussalam...' and arguing that to be placed on such a list was a provocation by the US government.

Given the sensitivity of this, I am not so sure whether this ought to be even highlighted currently by either party or even by me raising it on this post. But I thought this was a particularly apt time to raise this in the context of the Pope's speech. Are we capable of being self-critical? But in this context, do we even have to be? Given that US has in itself been in violation of the things that they have accused of others, think of all the atrocities commited in the Iraq War and the curtailment of freedom of movement and speeches in the USA in their so called war against terror that they are no longer have the moral higher ground to accuse other countries. Given their intransigent nature, it's not even worthwhile to argue with them.

Perhaps the US might want take a lesson from the Pope.


Anonymous said…
man, you are getting more serious. but it is true that the americans are cakap tidak serupa bikin.
p o t a t o said…
I agree that being self-critical is vital for continuous improvement.

I don't know if this is still the case, but when I graduated from Ugama School in 2000, we were still spoon-fed. Yes, this links back to our education system where discussions aren't encouraged and opinions don't matter. during these times of widespread Anti-Islam sentiments and misconceptions about the religion, the Islamic education dept is still doing what they did decades ago. Shouldn't strengthening and reinforcing knowledge begin? Let the students critique the workings of Islam so that we can improve it and they in return, would know more about the religion rather than just take things at face value and not delve deeper. Especially, how to deal with non-Muslim people and with racism. How to cultivate peace and harmony with other religions. Brunei is not a bubble anymore, it's opening up and we have to deal with international issues.

Islam is about moderation and peace, yet we see Bruneians spend more than they could afford. We hear Bruneians looking down on and actually bear hatred for other races and religions.

I thought making Jawi compulsory is a good move. It's becoming a lost language. It should be part of Bahasa Melayu, along with Karangan, Peribahasa, Melayu Klasik, Puisi and the like. But apparently, its not so popular.

Wait. Am I off-topic?

Pokoknya, our education system should be aligned with global issues. Because sooner or later, globalisation will take place, and culture-shock will take another meaning.
Anonymous said…
I read the Preface, Introduction and Executive Summary of the International Religious Freedom Report 2006 (along with the Brunei-centric sections) and it's very... well, American. Can't blame the report though, it was prepared by the US Department of State, by American people who hold their ideal of freedom as dearly as any one of us hold our own beliefs.

We may not all agree with their definition of freedom, how they go about defending their ideals or even why we should allow them to grade other countries on compliance to their set of rules. However a published report like the IRFR 2006 makes available a standard by which any country (or any country man) may gauge itself. Self-criticism can be sparked by a third-party and why not? Business groupings that comprise of the same faces day in and day out are often plagued by an inbreeding of ideas. Fresh blood and a new set of eyes can help spot problems once missed and develop solutions never before dreamed. Given America's current track record I'm sure most people would prefer to just write the report off as 'yankee arrogance' but can we trust ourselves to be justifiably self-critical when the only ruler we use to measure our progress is that which we ourselves have fashioned?

I'm not one to champion America especially since after the Guantanamo incident hit I've felt the US was little more than a global bully. But I remember about a year or so back Time magazine published a couple of editorials back-to-back. America's popularity was on the down swing with their policing Iraq dragging on far longer than they had expected and even the American people were getting fed up. The two editorials formed a proposition-opposition debate each arguing their case. The editorial that opposed America's continued interference in global issues was no different from the rhetoric going around at the time. The editorial that supported continued US action however asked one question that has stayed with me ever since: if you don't want the US policing the world then who will? What other country has the financial means, the military might and political clout to do so? What would happen if countries with more dubious agendas took the task upon themselves with a hair-pin trigger on their nukes?

The US isn't the perfect saviour for the world's troubles (maybe we need a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-gender Superman?) and perhaps it is simply time and history that has brought them into their current position. But is there any one country that we'd all prefer to do the dirty work?

Ah, life. No easy answers.
Anonymous said…
"I don't normally like to write about religion and politics. Both subjects are difficult to handle and I am not an expert in either one of them."

Glad to read that. =)
FlyBoy said…
I'm glad our scholars are rejecting these accusations because if they don't, who will.

And since when have the Americans become the foremost authority of religious freedom. What about the fredom of the inmates of Guantanamo bay and what about the civil liberties of their own citizens who are constantly being watched? I think they should practice what they preach before writing any list.

The American Empire. The Sheriff. The Supercop.
History repeats itself once again. Like all empires, they rise in ascendancy with their might and money, moving and policing the world with their rules and their way of life.

Remember the British Empire, remember the Romans and the Byzantines and not to forget the Greeks. All once mighty men who ruled the world but lest we not forget, nothing in this world lasts forever and all empires come and go. And so will the American one. Allah knows best.

The so-called democracy that the Americans are trying to sell and manafacture isn't working in Afghanistan nor is it working in Iraq. It's true September 11th 2001, was a tragic day for the Americans and it changed the world forever. But the United States foreign policy isn't helping but hindering the world towards stability.

Maybe they should for a second, consider humility and ask themselves what went wrong with their foreign policy. Rather than shoot first and ask questions later, maybe they should be self-critical.

Brunei may be a tiny nation but we must be united and more so under the leadership of His Majesty. May Allah protect him and his family and help him guide us through this time of global uncertainty.

We are a muslim country and Islam believes in tolerance with other religions provided they do not wage war against ours.

If we are really restricting religious freedom, tell me why is Christmas and Chinese New Year considered a public holiday in Brunei.

In my own personal opinion, no single country in this world should be a Supercop. Any country would have their own agenda and interest at take. That's why we have the United Nations for. Now it's up to those men at the UN to sort themselves out.
p o t a t o said…
The Chinese Empire will strike back.
Anonymous said…
On the surface it seems like folks can freely and openly practise their religions. But what the report is trying is trying to indicate, perhaps, is the institutional bias against other faiths.

It is much easier for mosques to open and operate then Chinese temples or churches. These communities have to jump thru many more hoops to establish places of worship.

And with MIB, Islam is propogated widely and vigourously but other religions are not afforded the same privelege.

This is often at the expense of our own culture. Bruneian culture has been influenced by a diversity of beliefs, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and the animism of the indigenous peoples. Elements of Bruneian culture that are seen as "un-Islamic" are pushed into the background; the rich heritage of our culture forgotton by today's youth.

Brunei is, in fact, quite a pluarisitc society. And we all get along for the most part. But to the outsider, it seems that Bruneian soceity is dominated by a state-propogated religion, and all other faiths fade into the background.

Minority faiths are not so much in the public conciousness. We, as Muslims, take our position of privelege for granted, and perhaps cannot grasp the hardships other faiths experience in our society.

I think the question is how much do we value diversity of belief in our society? Enough to protect the rights of others?
Anonymous said…
If you are interested, you can check out this link for what a vatican official have to say.
Anonymous said…
we can complain whatever we like now, but if a US official comes here you can bet your body organs the issues will never be discussed.

and on what unharm said- I doubt that religious education can ever change to include debate. Malaysia has the same problem, which reached up to parliamentary level where it was shot down, Malay style= "It will only create tension."

People, tension is what is necessary to create new ideas. It seems Malay culture cannot tolerate any kind of threats or tension.

Protectionism and ignorance of other perspectives is not a Muslim point of view; it is cultural, from Brunei to Bangladesh , from India to Iran.
We must rethink our oh-so-precious cultural views if they promote ignorance in the name of Islam. Don't be afraid to dump what your ancestors did or thought; the Prophet did that, even with secular things like travel regulations-because he thought some Arab customs were outdated and some thinking outmoded.

We need that in Brunei.

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