Last night I had the amazing privilege of sitting audience for Salman Rusdie. Salman Rushdie is like a rock star in my world. His book Haroun and the Sea of Stories (in which the Shah of Blah is a character) is the first book I read in college and on the list of things that I forcibly make everyone I know read. It was especially wonderful because he wasn't really there promoting a book, but was just speaking his mind as the first lecturer in the "Voices of Reason" series of the Center for Inquiry here in NYC. I cannot express how awesome it was to be able to sit and listen to him.
Mr. Rushdie is a bold man. He spoke at length about the crises in the Middle East and the relationship of Muslim communities to the rest of the world. He spoke of how sometimes respect for a culture can turn into fear of or intimidation by these cultures, citing acts of terrorism by people using the Islamic faith as their justification. And when we address things in the cautious manner that we often do, so that we will not anger a particular group to action against us, it becomes unclear where the problem truly lies. "The point is to call things by their name. To avoid naming them properly, avoids thinking of them properly." I think it's interesting to think about, the fact that so many things have been deemed a product of individual culture and are therefore off limits to discussion.
Mr. Rushdie is decidedly anti-religion, as apparently most of the crowd there last night was. And I feel like it is understandable for him to feel this way. As an adult, he began to criticize Islam, which had been the faith of his family. And as a result, a fatwa was proclaimed by the Ayatollah, and millions of Muslims were instructed to kill him for a hefty reward. And this was not condemned by most of the religious world, even outside of the Muslim sphere. Imagine if GW had put a price on the head of Dan Brown for insinuating in The DaVinci Code that Jesus had married, and that Mary Magdalene was an apostle, and not a prostitute. And then Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, and the Pope all stood in agreement that this should happen. It's pretty frightening, isn't it?
A friend and I have been talking alot the last few weeks about the tragedy of the way Christianity is viewed by much of the world. And this was very apparent to me last night. Mr. Rushdie talked at length about how he felt when people live their lives by the principles of a religion, any religion, disastrous things tend to happen. Or as he said it "When religion gets into the driving seat, all Hell breaks loose." And from the state of our World, I would say this is true. The principles of Christianity and Islam, and many other religions, have been skewed in such a way that GW is seen by many Americans as the divine liberator of the people of Iraq, when in fact their "liberation" has brought them to the brink of civil war.
As I sit at my work desk, I am still trying to process it all. It has given me alot to think about.
P.S.--I think that I saw Tyne Daly of Cagney & Lacey fame watching off to the side.