The world of Islam and Muslims is no more singular and uni-dimensional than is, or was, the world of Christianity. This needs repeating given the immense and, quite rightly so, the intense focus on Islam and Muslims since 9/11.
This is also worth repeating — and not as polemic or apologetics: There are more than 1.6 billion Muslims located almost entirely in what is geographically defined as the Third World, or the less-developed countries of Asia and Africa.
This fact has a bearing upon the explanation of the politics, culture and sociology of the Muslim world.
There is no one authoritative centre of Islam for Muslims. There is also no one religious head, or sovereign monarch with religious authority or secular power, who may impose on the dispersed population of Muslims, divided among some nearly five dozen countries, a common purpose and punitive measures for wrongful conduct.
The sad temper of our times is that none of the above matters, since we have become experts in lumping things together. The consequent loss in this overload of information in a crowded world, as the poet T.S. Eliot had noted, is the knowledge and wisdom necessary to see and understand things distinctly by recognizing differences.
Yet no explanation, however subtle or complex, can exonerate those Muslims who indulge in wilful violence and outrageous criminal acts such as those we have witnessed recently in Afghanistan in reaction to the Qur’an burning in Florida.
About the Florida pastor Terry Jones and his Qur’an burning theatre, all that need be said has been said in describing him as an example of a moron. If I were to put him in some context of the history of book burnings, it would be unfair to name him as a descendant of Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98), the intellectually gifted monk of the Dominican order and radical preacher in 15th century Florence, Italy.
There were other zealous Christian preachers before Savonarola, as there would be after him. But he was the most colourful, gaining notoriety with his “bonfire of vanities,” including book burnings.
Savonarola had his faithful followers, but he overreached politically — resulting in his excommunication by Rome and death by torture and burning at the stake.
That was a long time ago and the Christian world since is well-reformed and secularized. The Muslim world remains stuck in the age of Savonarola and before him.
The Afghans, once stirred into a mob by half-mad and ignorant mullahs or imams, did what Muslims mobs in recent times — as in the Danish cartoon controversy — have done in torching, maiming and killing intended victims or those who get in their way.
But the villain in this lethal theatre is President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
He is the swine or — as in Franklin Roosevelt’s description of similar despicable western allies — “our son of a bitch.” Karzai malevolently set the Afghan mob in motion by broadcasting Jones’ moronic act.
Why — after what is now known about this dreadful man — must Canada and other NATO allies remain in that wasteland, investing blood and treasure to secure Karzai’s medieval fiefdom?
This is the only question we need to insist our governments answer following the murder of innocent aid workers in Afghanistan.