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Thursday, February 23, 2006

The United Church responds to the critcism around their letter:

February 23, 2006 - Over the past week the General Council Office has received a number of e-mails regarding the United Church's February 16 letter to the Islamic Council of Imams.

Many of the comments we received were critical of the church's position that the publication of the Muhammad cartoons "has little to do with freedom of expression and much to do with incitement to racial and religious hatred." The Globe and Mail also echoed this criticism in an editorial that appeared on February 20, 2006.

The following response to the e-mail correspondence we received was drafted in order to address many of the concerns raised by those who have taken the time to communicate their disappointment and disagreement with the content of the church's letter.

We are posting this response on the church's website, as well as distributing it by e-mail to Conferences, presbyteries, and pastoral charges, in order to more fully contribute to any further discussion of the church's letter regarding the Muhammad cartoons.

The United Church of Canada categorically condemns the violence that has followed the publication of the cartoons and, in particular, the incitement to murder found in the bounty on the cartoon's authors. We do not believe, however, that these responses are indicative of the position of the majority of Muslims.

The church also supports the value of free speech, but argues that with the right of free speech comes responsibility. It is hard to believe that, whatever intention individual publishers might have had in publishing the cartoons, there was no awareness of the results that would ensue.

The United Church has, for many years, worked at building respectful and collaborative relationships with Muslims in Canada and around the world.
We know that most Muslims watch in horror as media images of Islam are again overtaken by radical voices and actions.

While many Muslims have worked hard to build bridges between cultures, the publication of the cartoons has undermined their efforts and strengthened these radical voices.

Why draw Muhammad? Is it not the case that the cartoons were designed to inflame reaction and further accentuate the fear and hatred that already pervades the social context of much of Europe? Published in the context of racial tensions already high and complicated by poverty and lack of opportunities, the response was surely not unexpected.

Some of the cartoons are innocuous by Western conventions. However, to depict Muhammad as a terrorist is not. The "global war on terrorism" is clearly racialized. While Muslims encompass every race on earth, they are uniformly depicted in the media as one race. A racial justice analysis would suggest that controlling images, and particularly racializing images, is one way of containing, diminishing, and in the end demonizing the "other." These images often play into irrational fears for safety and security.

The cartoons are part of a much wider and pervasive pattern of images that in the end categorizes all Muslims as one uniform and feared racial body that is about to overwhelm Western society. To portray Muhammad as a terrorist only feeds this pervasive idea and sends the message that while not all Muslims are terrorists, all Muslims have the potential to be terrorists and need to be feared.

The end result has clearly been an increase of fear and hatred across an increasing gulf of misunderstanding.

We recognize that the intentions of all who published the cartoons are not uniform and most would outright reject any suggestions that their motives were based on racial hatred. However, the issue that we are raising is the broader question of the part these cartoons play in the global context. Looked at from this perspective, we suggest that they are part of a discernable pattern of inciting racial hatred. Publishing them participates in this reality, whether intentionally or not.

We should remember that while the last century of wars were fought over land and resources, the incitement to war was almost uniformly through projections of racial hatred. Enemy images, particularly cartoons, have played a powerful role in this sad history.

Thank you for your message,

Rev. Dr. James Sinclair, General Secretary, General Council
Rev. Dr. Bruce Gregersen, General Council Minister

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

There is more to this than I thought. I went to a talk last night at First United Church in Mount Pearl - a suburb of St. John's. It was given by a man, Desmond Parsons, who had spent three months in Palestine with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme. The talk was a whitewash of the Palestinians ("I met the Hamas mayor of the town and he was a nice man."), and a tarring of the Israelis. I feel that I have to apologize for this thought - but it seems to me that the United Church is either wilfully stupid, or prejudiced against the Jews; that would be called anti-semitic I guess. His trip was financed apparently by the United Church Mission and Service fund which comes out of the pockets of pew-sitters a dollar at a time.

He seemed to think that this was somehow "making positive steps for peace". For me it revealed what happens when you ignore two fundamental principles of peace-making, viz.: you mustn't take sides, and, you must understand both sides of the issue.

The United Church has recently produced a 'Final Statement' (likely just an unfortunate turn of phrase) on relations with Judaism, and another on relations with Islam with a Study Guide.

I will have a close look at these shortly ...

Monday, February 20, 2006

How is it that the Danes are being accused of "racial hatred"? The Danes, who alone in the Europe of WWII saved virtually every one of their Jewish citizens from the Nazi exterminators. Accused by the United Church of Canada no less. Has the Danish national character changed so much in two generations?

United Church of Canada letter: Friday, February 17, 2006

Toronto: The United Church of Canada has sent a letter to the Islamic Council of Imams expressing the denomination's "deepest regret that the name of Muhammad has been so tragically misused in the depictions of cartoons first published in Europe, but now also in Canada."

The letter, which was addressed to Imam Abdul Hai Patel and Imam Hamid Slimi, was faxed late yesterday afternoon. Because the Moderator of The United Church of Canada, the Right Rev. Dr. Peter Short, is currently out of the country attending the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the letter was signed by the Rev. Dr. James Sinclair, General Secretary of the General Council and the Rev. Dr. Bruce Gregersen, General Council Minister for Programs for Mission and Ministry.

The text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Imam Patel and Imam Slimi;

Greetings in the name of Jesus, whom both Christians and Muslims honour.

On behalf of The United Church of Canada we wish to express to you and through the Council of Imams, to the Islamic communities of Canada, our deepest regret that the name of Muhammad has been so tragically misused in the depictions of cartoons first published in Europe, but now also in Canada.

We believe that the intention of publishing the cartoons has little to do with freedom of expression and much to do with incitement to racial and religious hatred. As you have noted in your recent press release, the cartoons suggest that Islam itself teaches, condones and encourages violence, bombings and the mistreatment of women. Furthermore, the implication is that all Muslims believe so as well. This we know to be untrue. The answer to your question of "why publish such cartoons?" we believe is simply racial hatred. In other forms it has been called Islamophobia.

These attitudes should have no place in Canada. Because we all share responsibility for the society in which we live, we wish to offer our sincere apologies that such attitudes can persevere in a country that we believe can and should be a model for the world of racial and ethnic respect.

May God's peace be with you.

For further information, please contact:
Mary-Frances Denis
Communications Officer
The United Church of Canada
T: 416-231-7680 ext. 2016

James Sinclair, General Secretary

Peter Short, Moderator

Globe and Mail Editorial: Monday, February 20, 2006 - unfortunately, The Globe and Mail keep their Editorials for paying customers, but I didn't even have to pick a lock to get at it, here is the text:

The United Church's slur

Last week, the United Church of Canada jumped into the Danish cartoon controversy by condemning the newspapers that published them. That in itself was no great surprise. What is remarkable is the language it used.

"We believe that the intention of publishing the cartoons has little to do with freedom of expression and much to do with incitement to racial and religious hatred," senior church representatives said in a letter to the Islamic Council of Imams.

Signed by Rev. James Sinclair, general-secretary of the church's general council, and Rev. Bruce Gregersen, general council minister for programs for mission and ministry, the letter expressed "deepest regret that the name of Mohammed has been so tragically misused. . . . The answer to your question of 'why publish such cartoons?' we believe is simply racial hatred."

That is a breathtaking slur against the papers concerned. The Danish Jyllands-Posten says it commissioned the cartoons after hearing that artists were afraid to illustrate a children's book on the Prophet Mohammed. It thought that free speech was being damaged and asked cartoonists to draw the Prophet in order to assert the right to do so. The paper did not expect the reaction that followed and says it regrets the uproar it has caused. You could argue that the paper was insensitive or needlessly provocative, but racist?

As for the other papers that published the cartoons, including France's France Soir, Germany's Die Zeit and Canada's Western Standard, all of them argued that they were doing so to either underline the right to free expression or simply to show their readers what all the fuss was about.

To suggest that they were inciting race hatred is to echo the ravings of the extremists who have been burning flags and attacking embassies around the world, claiming that the cartoons are part of a racist assault on all of Islam. That is dangerous nonsense. Shame on the United Church for repeating it.

OK, here's what I think so far:
I looked at the cartoons - I thought they were innocuous. Some people say, 'everyone's the same underneath', some say 'everyone's different'. Truth is somewhere inbetween no doubt, but I don't think I am that different and I doubt that those 12 cartoons are the real issue. Additional cartoons depicting bestiality among other bad stuff were circulated by some Danish Imams with the original 12 to those people in the middle-east most likely to react. The demonstrations (riots is more like it, but let's call them demonstrations) have been pretty well organized - you don't get tens of thousands of people out without some organization. The organizers have various axes to grind aside from the cartoons; we all know what they are so I won't list them here. Maybe the organizers are governments?

I heard an (I believe) devout Bahai explain that God's messengers come in part to update the message, bring it into line with the world-as-it-is; and in part to build the message closer to ultimate truth - you don't learn algebra in grade 5 but you don't call the teacher stupid because he doesn't (seem to) know algebra. What he said seemed to me a sort-of theory of religious evolution. Dangerous ground, because the conclusion would be that each wave would go farthur up the beach so to speak. Nonetheless I admit to having similar thoughts.

There have been a few moderate and reasonable Moslems in the papers (in Canada at least) saying that the demonstrations/riots represent only a fractious and fanatic fringe. But this does not make sense to me because there have been huge numbers of people involved. Nor has there been any general condemnation or shame at the destruction and death from Islam itself (that I have seen). How can any reasonable person equate the publishing of 12 cartoons with the devastation that has followed? Even taking into account the distortion and opportunism mentioned above.

If the west is so Godless then why have all of the provocative language, threats of murder, million dollar fatwa assassination contracts, boycotts, flag and efigy burnings, embassy burnings; why have they not elicited much of a retributive response? Is it fear?

How is it that the Danes are being accused of "racial hatred"? The Danes, who alone in the Europe of WWII saved virtually every one of their Jewish citizens from the Nazi exterminators. Accused by the United Church of Canada of no less. Has the Danish national character changed so much in two generations?

There is something child-like to me in the notion of walking on flags to express contempt. It is somehow silly - like kids in a schoolyard. Which brings me back to the thoughts of my Bahai aquaintance.

Is that it? Are the children of Islam being led by latter-day Hitlers into an ongoing Kristalnacht? Ugly question.

But just a question for now; I am thinking out loud; but I am looking for answers (or something). So I am trying to learn to read the Koran. I dipped into it and found lots of violence and misogyny that the Moslem editorial writers tell me is not there, so the next step is to whittle away at that one. If things settle down I will probably drop the Koran - I have enough trouble with the Bible!

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