Putting tolerance in perspective

You have to read this article by CNN writer John Blake. It's all about how tolerant and respectful Islam is of Judaism and Christianity. For instance:

The Quran teaches Muslims to respect the sacred books of Christians and Jews as well, says Chris van Gorder, a religion professor at Baylor University in Texas.

"To burn a holy Quran for a Muslim is to throw down a gauntlet," he says. "Those who deface any holy book, including the Bible, in many Muslim countries today, will be executed.

"How many Bibles have been burned in the Muslim world in the last nine years? None."

I'm not saying reporters are responsible for the quotes of ill-informed Baylor religion professors. But this quote is left standing, without any differing perspective. And there are so many ways you could critique it. For one, what is "the Muslim world"? Where is this place where all people and governments approach religious freedom the exact same way? It doesn't exist. There is a huge variety in practice among Muslims. In some Muslims countries, you can carry a Bible around no problem. In others, the Holy Bible is illegal to own. They don't get burned, maybe, but only because they're not allowed in the country. Try taking a Bible to Saudi Arabia, for instance.

But there's also the bizarre claim that Bibles have not been burned "in the Muslim world" in the last nine years. Does Afghanistan count? What about Palestine? Saudi Arabia? Never mind the contention that real freedom is realized when you get beaten to death for defacing a holy book.

It gets better:

The Quran doesn't just preach religious tolerance; the Prophet Muhammad demonstrated it in his life, [Emad El-Din Shahin, a religion professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana] says.

The prophet would meet Christian delegations in his mosque.

"He would allow them to perform Christian prayers in the mosque," Shahin says.

First Things' Joe Carter has a relevant question: "Why would Christians need to pray in a mosque? Why don't they just go to First Baptist of Mecca or St. Paul's in Medina. Oh yeah, that's right. Because there are no official churches in Saudi Arabia of any Christian denomination." I mean, how -- in a story such as this -- do you not mention these basic facts about how Christianity is actually treated in Saudi Arabia? It's just journalistic malpractice. One almost gets the feeling that mainstream reporters are just expressing their hopes and wishes in stories about religious tolerance in Islam. We're certainly not concerned about accuracy, if stories such as this are any guide.

After learning that Muslims could not be more tolerant of other religions, no matter which Muslim country we're talking about, we get this very balanced and complete picture of the tyranny of Christianity:

The Florida pastor who has threatened to burn the Quran has unwittingly evoked some of the worst moments in Western history, [Ivan Strenski, a religious studies professor at the University of California, Riverside] says.

When a group of people conquered another, they often sought to destroy their victims' sacred books. The Spanish conquistadors and Christian missionaries, for example, destroyed the sacred books of the Mayans; American slaveholders tried to destroy the African religion of slaves.

Desecrating a people's sacred book is like "destroying their soul; you destroy their sense of who they are," Strenski says.

"It's about controlling memory," Strenski says. "You can oppress people. You can beat them down, but if they can retain some kind of memory of who they were before you beat them down, they can pass that on and when the time is right rise up again.

So if you think about the current global situation when it comes to religious freedom, who matches this better? Is it -- as CNN writes -- the pastor of a 50-person congregation in Florida? Or do you think we should consider other small and inconsequential groups, such as the entire nation of Saudi Arabia?

At this point, pretty much the only service this laughably uncritical CNN piece has served is to encourage me to contemplate other colleges for my children.

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