French riots and a teddy bear named Mohammed, what does it mean?
A second night of riots in France, what does it mean? Actually, it doesn’t really mean much. Riots are a very popular human activity and have been seen time immemorial, almost as popular as wars or sporting events. If it means anything, it means too many people have too much time on their hands. Of course since most of these particular rioters are the children of North African immigrants to France, much will be made of this fact by people who want to demonize immigrants and Muslims for political purposes. The now president of France referred to rioters as “scum” a few years back when he was merely the interior minister, causing much controversy at the time. Then he went on to get elected, showing once again how pandering to the lowest possible denominator is the key to success in the democratic world. Sigh.
Not that I am in favour of riots mind you, rioting is a crime and should be treated as such. The problem I have with so many stories like this in the news is that they provide ample ammunition for people to reinforce their prejudices. And the media not so subtly goes along for the most part. The fact that the only thing most rioters have in common historically is that they were young and poor is irrelevant, these riots will be used by some to bash immigrants and bash Muslims. If you want to bash a particular group, it’s easy to find reasons to do so.
For example a British woman has been arrested in the Sudan and faces a possible sentence of “insulting Islam.” Her crime? She is a school teacher and she let her class of seven year olds name a teddy bear “Mohammed.” I can practically hear Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage raving over this, it is an easy target if one wants to ridicule Islam. Of course this isn’t about Islam, it’s about a European who travelled to a foreign land and mocked their laws and way of life, but in the colonial mind set that seems to underlay the world view of many in the west…our standards of what is right and wrong should be applied world wide. I mean, I agree that whipping someone over a teddy bear‘s name does seem a bit extreme, but she should have had the smarts to realize this would get her into trouble. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is as valid today as it was 2000 years ago.
In France you can be jailed for wearing a swastika, in the USA some students were just suspended from school for using the word “noose” in a conversation. Ridiculous punishments for what would seem to be trivial or non existent crimes are not a hallmark of Islam, they can be found anywhere. But of course no one in Christian countries uses these things as a slam against Christianity in general, it’s only Muslim incidents that get used this way. As if all one billion Muslims were the same and thought the same. And of course some in the Muslim world make the same generalizations about Christians and Jews.
Which leads me to the point I was trying to arrive at, I think this characteristic of judging other people by these standards is a hallmark of the three great co-religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all flawed in this way. I say co-religions because the similarities between these three vastly exceed the differences. They are all branches of the same tree so to speak, all are based on old testament teachings at their core. And all three claim to be the ultimate arbiter of what is right or wrong, no exceptions. And it’s this “God is on our side and our side alone” sort of thinking has poisoned the well and allows extremists of all three faiths to rationalize the the most frightening atrocities.
It allows people of one faith the denigrate and demonise all of the adherents of other religions. For example the Christian thinking being “These people did a bad thing, they are Muslims, therefore all Muslims are bad.” The same logic of course is never applied in reverse of course, if a Christian or a Jew does something bad, it’s an individual failing, not a flaw in their faith. And I am sure there are many Muslims and Jews who commit the same sort of logical error, for it is deeply illogical to condemn an entire faith for the actions of a few.
I’m not saying we should blindly accept what other people do since it’s “their faith.” My point is that we need to judge these sorts of things in a larger context and not simply use them to reinforce our own prejudices. That of course is very difficult to do, and the media and most of our leaders aren’t helping. Tomorrow I will try to deconstruct the unpleasant case of the rape victim in Saudi Arabia who has been sentenced to jail time and lashing, and maybe cast more light on my thinking here.
…and he looked for judgement, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
(The above image of a riot in France is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. It is also a low resolution grey scale copy of the original image, and its use here does not in any way hamper the copyright holder’s commercial use of the original image. Credit: AP Photo. And why rioters would burn a garbage truck is a bit mysterious, but hey, it’s a riot.)