Sunday, August 23, 2009

Obama welcomes Ramadan

It's pushback-against-Obama season. And where I think he's full of it (letting torturers walk, warring on Afghans, weaseling on health reform, for a non-exhaustive sampling), you'll find plenty of pushback here. But when I think our President is doing something good and right, I do want to highlight it.

And that's how I feel about his message of good wishes to Muslims on the eve of their Ramadan month of devotion, reflection and fasting. You can view it here:

[5:04] It is worth watching, even though it contains nothing earthshaking. Some highlights:

On behalf of the American people -- including Muslim communities in all fifty states -- I want to extend best wishes to Muslims in America and around the world. Ramadan Kareem.

Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, beginning with a simple word -- iqra. It is therefore a time when Muslims reflect upon the wisdom and guidance that comes with faith, and the responsibility that human beings have to one another, and to God. ...

[Ramadan's] rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam's role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings. ...

Seems like kind of trite stuff -- just pro-forma courtesies about someone else's religious observances -- unless you hear off to one side the cacophony of voices trying to gin up the United States (and Europe) for a war to the death against Islam and its adherents. I've been noticing a lot of these voices lately in some likely and unlikely quarters. Here's a random sample of a few:
  • One Christopher Caldwell, a U.S.-citizen who is a columnist for the British Financial Times, has a new book promoting fear that Europe is being overrun by Muslims. (Muslims are 3 to 4 percent of the population of the European Union.) This hardy perennial fear taps into the historic reality that, half a millennial ago, European Christians were at war with an advancing Islam. Today it is hooey, but it gets the phobic adrenalin flowing and leads to stupid policies. Caldwell will be widely discussed. There is no reason for the United States to adopt Europe's ancient enmities and Obama knows it.
  • Meanwhile, a Brandeis University professor is enduring a small re-igniting of the 2005 controversy over the Danish cartoons depicting and defaming the Prophet Mohammed. The story is complex, but political scientist Jytte Klausen apparently tried to write a nuanced account that focused particularly on how demagogues in Libya, Nigeria, and Pakistan used the cartoon flap to pursue local political quarrels. Now the respected scholar finds herself re-visiting the issues of disrespect v. free speech that were the original flash points.
  • Jim Naughton has chronicled how breakaway Episcopalians (they style themselves Anglicans) not only are building a pure refuge from gay cooties, but also are turning to promotion of fear of Islam. This accords well with the concerns of their right wing funders. Having left their church of origin, perhaps they needed new enemies to keep their coherence?
This anti-Muslim junk thinking around the edges of our social and political scene make me thrilled that we have a President who knows it is his role to say polite things to welcome Islam's holy month. If this is to be a secular democracy, we need a civic discourse that not only prevents any group from imposing its religious precepts on anyone, but also respects the faiths through which people orient their moral compasses. Finding a right balance isn't easy on this topic; it never has been.


Ronni Bennett said...

Sometimes it's the small things that matter. Obama did good on this.

An even smaller item that interests me this Ramadan (and points up how ignorant some of us - me, for example - are about other cultures:

This year, the beginning of Ramadan on the Shiite and Sunni calendars fell on the same day. Who knew (not me) that like Judaism and Christianity, there are different calendars in Islam.

With all the differences plaguing Shia and Sunni, I wonder how their calendars affect their disagreements.

Muslimah said...

We appreciated Obama's message.

You may find more information on Muslims and the month of Ramadan at the Ramadan Blog.

Start with:
Basic Facts on Ramadan

Darlene said...

Thank you for posting this, Jan.

I am trying to withhold judgment on Obama's handling of health care reform until a final bill emerges. If he threatens a veto if the Public Option is stripped from the bill I will laud him. If not, her deserves the wimp title that he will get.