Buddhist Books Blog

Readings and writings on Buddhism, yoga, and contemplative science

A Challenge To Muslims

Unless you’re living under a rock you’ve heard about the California-made anti-Islamic film The Innocence of Muslims and the torrent of unrest it set off around the world. This “sacred rage” has led to many deaths (I’m not keeping track of the numbers), the destruction of property, the upsetting of international relations, lots of hand wringing, spastic editorials, and many other things you can think of.

Incidentally, we have the riotous multitudes to thank for knowing about the movie that set it off. The film’s screening was attended by something like a half-dozen people. It was, by all accounts, awful. Hardly anyone went to see it. Nobody famous (or infamous) had anything to do with it until the nutty Florida pastor who likes to burn books got involved and promoted it. He set a snippet loose on the internet and a short while later the shit, as they say, hit the proverbial fan.

Granted, the vast majority of Muslims did not go out and protest or do anything untoward. Probably they rolled their eyes, groaned, or made some other gesture of disgust and futility. And that is how it should be. Unfortunately, those people are not driving international discourse these days; it only takes a few hundred thousand maniacs threatening to behead anyone who disagrees with them to alter the dynamic of the international body politic. Too, the demagogic ejaculations of powerful people–most notably Iranian officials with their inevitable fatwahs and bounties–do not do anything to engender moderation.

Where am I going with this?

Here’s where: I want to toss out a challenge to every Muslim everywhere. Consider just this once that the offenses you undergo, be they real or imagined, heavy or slight, are the same things you have doled out to non-Muslims. Look at the Bamiyan Buddhas. Well, actually, you can’t. There’s nothing left of them but big holes in the cliff. Or consider the recent smashing of Buddhist statuary in the Maldives. Please ask yourselves–and answer in all honesty: How many Buddhists assaulted your embassies, burned you flags, or lynched their Muslim neighbors? I’ve searched to find something about the Buddhist reaction to these things, but Google has nothing to offer. If you can find something, drop me a line.

The very things Muslims get so upset about are the very things they routinely inflict upon others. If we compare, for example, the Muhammad cartoons to the Bamiyan Buddhas, the pettiness of Muslim rage clearly reveals itself. On the one hand we have the senseless annihilation of irreplaceable religious art. Those statues were 1,500 years old, the largest Buddha statues in the world, created by the once thriving Buddhist-Afghani culture of Gandhara. They are now gone forever.

By contrast, the cartoons were ephemeral depictions of a man dead 1,400 years. I can assure you, Muhammad did not suffer any mental angst as a result of the cartoons. But for some reason millions of people who call themselves Muslims thought they had to be insulted on his behalf and then went out and killed human beings–mostly fellow Muslims–who had nothing to do with the cartoons. (Note: No such orgy of outrage, either in the Muslim world or anywhere else, has greeted the Syrian regime’s massacre of its own people. Apparently, insulting one dead man is a much worse crime than killing countless of the living.)

I don’t understand this. When the Bamiyan Buddhas went down, I was disgusted. I knew barbarism was alive and well in this world. But I was not then inspired to behave like a barbarian. On the contrary, every time I read about a call to rebuild the statues, I say to myself, “No, that’s not a good idea. Impermanence–as the Buddha taught–is a fact of life, and the millions that would be spent on the statues should benefit the people of Afghanistan.”

So my challenge to Muslims is this: If, as it has been said, Islam is a religion of peace–please, behave peacefully. It’s that simple. If you want non-Muslims to honor the Prophet and his message–please, behave honorably. Again, it’s that simple. Forgive the nutty pastors. Forgive the incompetent film makers. Forgive the insensitive cartoonists and novelists. Do not seek violence and revenge. Be better than those who taunt you. This is what is meant by peacefulness and honorableness. Instead of shaking your fists, try instead to create a world where you can shake the hands of those same people without cynicism or hatred or fear. All the alternatives, I am sorry to say, are very ugly and very hurtful–to you and to them and to everyone else.

Thank you.

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