Here Thar Be Monsters!

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Contumely I Offer Thee

JAKARTA - The plea of leadership this year is for a peaceful Ramadhan.  What few realize, even those who adhere to the tenants of Mohamed, is that violence and destruction is hypocritical of the teachings of the Prophet and the Words of al-Quran.

The Quran exhorts its followers to live peaceful and measured lives.  The Golden Rule shows up in many forms, even in the teachings of Buddha, Christ and Mohamed.  The Quran teaches that those who desire peace should be offered peace, regardless of whether they are Moslem or not.

Why is this an issue?  Well, Ramadhan started this week...Wednesday to be precise, with the New Moon.  Ramadhan is a time of quiet contemplation and soul-searching by those who follow the teachings of the Prophet.  It is a time to deny the body's cravings and strengthen the Spirit's resolve towards Enlightenment.

Of the three Great Jehovah religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - Islam is the least evolved.  Now don't get your panties in a twist.   Islam grew out of an offshoot of the Hebrew religion.  Of the three, it is the least reformed for modern times and sensibilities.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is an inconvenient one when it comes to co-existence with other branches.

There is nothing inherently "wrong" with Islam, just as there is nothing wrong with any other faith.  To each his own.  When things become wrong is when they turn to violence to impose one set of beliefs on others.  The most successful political systems in history have realized that the best way to rule is to allow all faiths the freedom to practice their beliefs.  That's why the US Constitution gives wide latitude to religion.  The Indonesian Constitution recognizes four official religions.  Genghis Khan allowed several religions.  Rome gave space for a number of faiths.

In other words, if you monopolize religion, you end up with the Vatican whose citizens even today commit financial crimes, torture young children and condemn people to Hell for nothing more than denying that a loving God could conceive of something like Hell.

And so, in the nation of Indonesia, which is 75% Moslem, and which has groups such as Front Pembela Islam, or FPI.

The FPI is a radical group who thinks that running around beating people and destroying private property is a virtue that somehow defends their faith.  I have news for you're about a millennium behind the times.

The way to convince people that yours is the better way is not hurting innocent people, but respecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I have to tip the hat to Jokowi (governor of Jakarta) who has called for toning down the rhetoric and demonstrations, and to the imam at the local masjid who are echoing that call.  There is no need for PA systems blaring at 3am, or drum corps marching through the neighborhoods at the wee hours, or violent gangs attacking individuals or businesses that cater to the non-Moslem.  We do not all fast at the same times or for the same reasons.  You do not make a good impression by forcing your beliefs on others.

I brought certain customs with me.  Thanksgiving is something I have written about for several years now.  The Indonesians in my circle love the custom and eat copious amounts of food at my feasts.  I do not force anyone to take part in my custom.  Those who join and enjoy it do so because it is a feast of thanks and peace and enjoyment of the good things in life.

There is nothing wrong with Islam and I respect it as far as it does not intrude on my habits and customs.  I am not fasting at this time.  Come Buddha's birthday, I will do my own fast and I do not expect others to follow.  In fact, I do not expect anyone to follow any of my customs.  I perform them for myself.  If they appeal to others, all the better as I have someone to share with.

What the FPI and its ilk doesn't seem to understand is that their actions make their religion despicable at best.  People naturally shy away from groups that use violence and harm to press a point.  After all, didn't the FPI participate in the overthrow of Soeharto?  They obviously understand the desire to be left alone to pursue one's own course in life.

I am all for folks enjoying their customs and the certain feel and flavor that those customs bring to a place.  If I didn't appreciate them, then I wouldn't have kept the ritual of Thanksgiving here in Indonesia, nor would I have won over so many folks to enjoy the holiday with me.  I tempt with fun rather than force with pain.

Yes, I fully understand that Moslems fast at this time of year.  I fully respect you right to do so, so long as you respect my right not to partake.  I have my own rituals and I win converts by carrot rather than stick.  Frankly, I respect a man much more when he can keep his beliefs in the face of overwhelming distractions.  Those who need to resort to violence obviously don't have the strength of their own convictions and must force everyone around them to participate in order to feel justified.

I respect Ramadhan and all that it stands for.  I believe that any man who can pass through the test of a month without swallowing his own spit 12 hours of each day deserves my respect, and that's the meaning of Ramadhan.  It is not forcing others to participate, but showing that one's depth of commitment goes beyond constant temptation.

If a man dare demonstrate that his force of will can overcome temptations of the flesh, then I give him my deepest respect.

If, on the other hand, he must beat people unconscious, detroy businesses and private property, and demand submission at the point of a gun, then I have no respect for your views.

Force, according to al-Quran, is only justified when the opponent uses force against you.  I ask the FPI, when has anyone used any force against you?  Drinking a bottle of water on the street doesn't count, even if you are Moslem.

As a former Catholic monk, I know that the church allows for the health and well-beng of the individual.  You are allowed to perform as much pain and torture on yourself as your body can medically endure.

Having watched three people die because they strictly adhered to the strictures of Ramadhan doesn't dispose me to being patient.  Drawing blood is only justified when others draw yours first.

I, for one, can not believe in a religion that preaches hate, death and destruction as a means of recruitment.

FPI - your time has past.