The Mosque in Tennessee Revisited

Last summer we followed stories about the controversy surrounding the proposed mosque in Lower Manhattan, and about the proposed construction of other mosques in America. As a  follow-up, this piece of news appeared recently, regarding the proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It’s a piece of good news for all of us who value religious diversity, openness towards others, and elemental justice: a lawsuit– brought by opponents of the construction of the mosque– has failed:

MURFREESBORO — Chancellor Robert Corlew III ruled that plaintiffs suing the county for approving construction of a mosque just outside the city limits have failed to prove they’re being harmed.

“We must note that, under the law, the Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a loss different from that which is common to all citizens of Rutherford County,” Corlew wrote in his ruling issued this week. “That Islam is a religion has been proven in this case. That the county ordinance allows construction of a church or place of meeting within a residential planning zone as a matter of right in this case is further undisputed.”

via Court decides plaintiffs not harmed by mosque | The Daily News Journal | dnj.com.

Follow-up: US Envoy to Raise Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law for Discussion on Official Visit

This item is included here as a  follow-up to my earlier posts on the assassination of a provincial governor in Pakistan, Salman Taseer:

WASHINGTON: The United States is not asking Pakistan to change or repeal the blasphemy law but is encouraging the government to prevent possible discriminations and potentials for abuse, says Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Michael H. Posner. “We are reluctant to prescribe changes and alternatives,” said Mr. Posner when asked what changes he believed Pakistan needed to make to prevent discriminatory applications of this law. “But we do believe that people should be free to practice their religion.”

via US seeks end to discriminatory applications for blasphemy | Pakistan | DAWN.COM.

Violence and Fear– Religion Unbalanced

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, condemns the assassination of Salman Taseer. Unbalanced religion proudly claims to own the one right path to God; balanced and faithful Muslim (and Christian, and other) religious approaches embrace inter-religious co-existence.

First, here’s the story in a nutshell: Pakistan has an anti-blasphemy law, which makes it a crime to blaspheme God. Problematically, this law has been invoked in such a way as to target religious minorities: Christian belief in the Trinity, for example, is considered by many Muslims blasphemy against God, whom they understand as One. Narrowly interpreted, then, any Christian could be charged as a blasphemer. Aasia Bibi is a Christian woman who was charged, convicted, and sentenced to death under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, defended Bibi and called for reform of the law; Salman Taseer was then assassinated by his bodyguard– who claimed to be doing a good thing by killing a blasphemer.

Condemnation of the assassination of Salman Taseer has come from Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (photo above), as well as Pope Benedict. Each leader is pushing back against a narrowly “religious,” life-denying  possessiveness of God:

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has called those who celebrated the murder of a liberal politician who sought changes to the country’s blasphemy laws “the real blasphemers.” via Bhutto’s son: Pakistanis who praise Taseer assassination are ‘covert blasphemers’ – CSMonitor.com.

For his part, Pope Benedict XVI called for repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy law this past Monday.

Zardari’s remarks may be intemperate, but they do point to the struggle in religion– Christianity not excluded– and within whole societies– between those who will accept the challenges of a plural modern world without fear, and those whose fear lead them to kill those identified as Other.

It’s Pakistan, but there are analogies to the US.

The Pluralism of Modernity and the Pushback of Reactionary Fundamentalism

Taseer (right) supported the amendment of a blasphemy law under which Bibi, centre, was convicted

Two sad stories from the Middle East this past week: one, the assassination of Salman Taseer, in Islamabad; two, the bombing of the Coptic church in Alexandria.

Both stories underline societal tensions in Egypt and in Pakistan– tensions that manifest as conflict between religions but are, more fundamentally, between forces of tolerance and forces of fear; between forces of modern pluralism and forces of reaction. Both stories also– in their sensational violence– serve to deflect attention from the less dramatic, and rarely reported, efforts of people in positions of no formal authority, whose work is an affirmation of life.

Salman Taseer was critical of a blasphemy law in Pakistan, a law that was used to convict a Christian woman (Aasia Bibi) and sentence her to death:

Mumtaz Qadri, the member of the elite force of the police deputed to protect Taseer who shot and killed him in a market in Islamabad, boasted to officers that he was proud to have killed a “blasphemer,” according to security officials.

via Deadly warning to Pakistan liberals – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Such violence comes from fear.

A Holiday

From the Boston Globe we find that Cambridge schools will be closed for one Muslim holiday each year, beginning in 2011-2012. This follows school districts with similar policies in Dearborn, Michigan, and Burlington, Vermont:

The school will either close for Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, depending on which holiday falls within the school year. If both fall within the school calendar, the district will close for only one of the days.

In communities with a significant Muslim population, this is appropriate school policy. Of course, the larger questions are about religious pluralism in America today, and more specifically about our cultural perception of Islam:

“At a time when I think the Muslim population is being characterized with a broad brush in a negative way, I think it’s important for us to say we’re not going to do that here,’’ Cambridge School Committee member Marc McGovern said.

Cambridge schools already close for some Christian and Jewish holidays, and McGovern said he believes Muslims should be treated equally.

“The issue that sort of came up was should we celebrate any religious holidays, but there was not the will to take away Good Friday or one of the Jewish holidays,’’ he said. “So I said, if that is the case, I think we have an obligation to celebrate one of the Muslim holidays, as well.’’

He’s right. In a city with significant Muslim, Jewish, and Christian populations, this kind of policy is fair. Bigots and others who are in the thrall of fear will be incensed. But this is the right way to go– it is in the spirit of recognizing the Other (in this case, the Muslim community) as part of us.