Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ah, the memories

I saw this article in the NYT today and had to share for the benefit of my Pacific Lutheran University friends. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was faced the other day with the question of whether they wanted President Obama to visit the campus. The article goes on to detail how (although they were thrilled, and ultimately accepted), the university struggled with the moral rectitude of offering the stage to someone who was clearly making a partisan political address.

In spring 2000, I was the editor-in-chief of the PLU Mooring Mast... and Senator John McCain, then running for president, decided he wanted to come speak in Olson Auditorium. The university gladly accepted. The problem with this was that PLU policy forbade political speeches on campus. Oops. I wrote an editorial that argued a) the policy should be changed, because it really was cool to see Sen. McCain but b) PLU broke the rules; it shouldn't have accepted the offer, on principle. This led to a note in my mailbox from the university president. Seems he wanted to see me. ASAP.

Evidently it was the first time in his several years of service that he had ever hauled the editor in for a talking-to. Ironic that it was me, the queen of non-confrontation. As it turns out, even when irked, he was an extremely nice guy -- we had a pleasant conversation and ended up talking about my future plans. (And I did it, Dr. Anderson! Ph.D. Now, for that full-time tenure-track position...)

Anyway: fun memories of the day I became a rebel against the system. Pleasantly, it didn't stop us from receiving a really nice place setting of dishware as a wedding gift from the Andersons a few months later...

Lutherans, y'know. We're all about the grace.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reclaiming the American spirit

I thought this was an interesting column by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He argues that the United States is falling behind other countries, not because there is anything wrong with our system of government, but because we spend too much time fussing at each other rather than addressing society's problems.

The man has a very good point.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A plane ride to a stranded pilgrim

This afternoon I came across the following excerpt. It describes actions taken by the U.S. government in response to a need for propaganda victories in the Middle East in 1952:

"When a local airline overbooked and left 3,800 Muslim pilgrims stranded in Beirut, the U.S. embassy arranged for the U.S. Air Force to airlift the pilgrims to Mecca in 'Operation Magic Carpet.' When the airline reimbursed the U.S. government for the face value of the tickets, the government donated the money to charity. Such a story turned on American compassion and respect for Islam. A shared respect for God in the face of godless communism became the default message of U.S. Cold War propaganda in the Middle East."
--Nicholas J. Cull, The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989 (Cambridge, 2008), 74.

Yes, this was an action related to propaganda efforts. Yes, the U.S. government did many far less savory things in the Middle East in the name of Cold War tactics.

Still: compassion and respect for Islam.

A colleague of mine in the field of conservatism studies, Dan Williams, posted a Facebook link to a speech President Dwight Eisenhower made at the opening of an American Islamic center in 1957. It's well worth reading. He speaks of Islam's cultural and scientific contributions to the world, and he defends the right of Muslims to worship. Especially poignant are some of Eisenhower's closing words: "Faithful to the demands of justice and of brotherhood, each working according to the lights of his own conscience, our world must advance along the paths of peace."

Yes, Americans have been mightily tested by those within Islam who do not operate according to their own religion's fundamentally peaceful dictates. That is no excuse for us to abandon our commitment to freedom of expression--or our own charge to advance along the paths of peace.

We need to foster the better angels among us who decided--even with the carrot of a Cold War propaganda victory--to bring a bunch of pilgrims home. We can be the people who help and support. If we do it in the spirit of help and support, there's nothing wrong with reaping the positive benefits of that. And I truly believe that if we do, we will.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Quote of the day

Quote of the day, spoken by ex-Senator Bob Packwood and attributed to his father (but originating elsewhere, I'd imagine): "Beware of the zealots--they have no sense of humor."

Packwood had his (serious) personal problems, as those around in 1995 and beforehand will attest. That acknowledged, I mourn the loss of politicians on both sides of the aisle who could decry extremism and work toward solutions to our nation's problems. Even my man Barry Goldwater, Mr. "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" himself, was generally congenial toward those with differing opinions.

On this day when we commemorate the terribly tragic effects of extremism upon our own nation nine years ago--and deal with the ugly manifestations of home-grown variations in Florida and lower Manhattan in the present--we would do well to heed Packwood's words.

Belief is not the problem. Belief can be undertaken with sincerity and commitment, and still operate within a realm of fellow-feeling, compassion and understanding. But when we lose those latter qualities, we are entering into a world predestined for fracture, hurt and sadly preventable tragedy.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Same Quran

I noticed a revealing (and distressing) quote today in the midst of all the coverage regarding the proposed Islamic cultural center site a couple blocks from the New York World Trade Center properties. "All Muslims read the same Quran," this 45-year-old New York resident stated. According to the Oregonian reporter who interviewed her for today's Sunday edition, the woman cannot believe that while some Muslims interpreted the words of their chief religious text in ways that led them to plow passenger jets into the World Trade Center, others might read the Quran and receive a message of peace.

All Muslims read the same Quran.

All Christians read the same Bible. Have done since it was first consolidated into a (mostly) uniform religious text in the first centuries after the time of Jesus.

How would this lady respond to:

* the violence of the Crusades?

* killings of Protestants and Catholics--by each other--in the decades following the start of the Protestant Reformation?

* religiously sanctioned defenses of chattel slavery?

The people who committed these atrocities read the same Bible as the founders of the pacifist Quakers, the abolitionists who decried slavery... and a young Lutheran man, Matt Sky, who has been carrying out a lone vigil for the past 10 days outside the proposed Islamic center site, holding a sign that proclaims "Support Freedom of Religion."

Humans are flawed, and all books, religious or otherwise, are filtered through human brains. One can hope that through careful attention to spiritual guidance, a religious person might gain the most accurate insight possible into his or her religion's text. But there is no escaping the fact that throughout the centuries, people have read the same exact words and come up with wildly, drastically different interpretations--sometimes with tragic results.

This isn't an Islamic problem. This is a human problem. To suggest otherwise is simply, painfully, ludicrous -- and it demonstrates a lack of historical understanding that cripples our ability to move forward as a nation.

Quotations taken from "Vigil brings a message of tolerance of mosque," The Sunday Oregonian (September 5, 2010), page A9.