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Fatwa On Joy

It's that time of year again when supposedly "Muslim" trouble-makers run around the country destroying private property and claiming Indonesia is an Islamic country.  By that I mean that certain groups claiming to be "defenders of the faith" decide that Christmas decorations and costumes are offensive and take it upon themselves to harm others in the name of God.

Not that it is all that unusual.  Private holiday displays are attacked even in the US.  A bunch of Texas busybodies tried to ban a poster featuring Charlie Brown's Christmas images.  A court had to rule that it was OK as long as it was clear that the poster was produced by a private individual and not a public organization.

In the case of Indonesia. the Ministry of Religion (MUI) issued a fatwa (religious edict) banning private companies from requiring their employees to wear Santa hats and other festive items.  This led the police chiefs in several regions to issue circulars claiming the fatwa was law.  Based on that, the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), a quasi-official bunch of busybodies, marched into malls in Surabaya (large East Java city) under police escort to confiscate and destroy private property.

This, in turn, led to the National Police Chief ordering the regional police to stand down, while at the same time sending a representative to the MUI to ensure that fatwas are not issued as law, but only guidance for Islamic followers.

The FPI is notable for destroying bars and entertainment businesses during Ramadhan and extorting money and food from Christian churches to stop them from interfering with services, especially during Christmas time.  They are, in effect, a radical enforcement group for Shariah law, which has no legal standing in Indonesia.  The nation's constitution recognizes five religions as having equal protection under the law.

Anyone with any sense knows that Santa hats are about as religious as Charlie Brown cartoons.  As I wrote yesterday, most of the icons and traditions of Christmas are actually based on very ancient Roman and German festivals.  Most holiday displays, especially in malls and other business establishments, are little more than enticements to spend money and are as far removed from Christian dogma as one can get.

At the root of all this is the belief that dominant groups of people have the right not to be offended, or in the case of political correctness, that overly sensitive and highly vocal minorities have the same right.  The fact is that if the world tried to ameliorate every possible offense, the world would simply cease to function.

Numbnuts, such as the FPI and the ass that drove a truck into a crowd of holiday shoppers in Berlin obviously don't read their own book.  It states quite clearly:
“There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.” (Holy Quran: 2/ 256)
In other words, mind your own business and leave everyone else alone. There are plenty of Christians, atheists and what-nots who could take this to heart, as well.

The frequent reader here knows that I have no truck with organized religion.  I find the history of violence, dogmatic mind control and division to be offensive to a Waking Life of Reason.

By the same token, I find religious holiday displays fascinating and a great opportunity to enjoy and learn from a variety of cultures and histories, from Dia de los Muertos to the ogah-ogoh during Nyepi to the anamatronic Christmas tableaus in the windows of Sakowitz in my youth.

In the end, it is the rich diversity of cultures and traditions that make life worth living.  The ability of one to one's own holidays is predicated on allowing others the same courtesy, and in so doing seize the opportunity to find the kernels of truth that lie at the heart of all traditions.  One doesn't have to be Christian to enjoy a cute salesgirl wearing foam-rubber antlers, or the bizarre Hindu art of an ogoh-ogoh, or the intricate display of an ofrenda, just as one doesn't have to be Muslim to enjoy the flowing calligraphy of Quranic verses or the geometric pleasures of mosaic panels.

In an ideal world, people are not only allowed but encouraged to put up their holiday displays.  But more to the point, the rest of us should be open to the pure enjoyment of the festivities and use the opportunity to expand our knowledge and experience of the world's cultural wealth.  The mindless destruction of others' traditions achieves nothing but hatred and belies the weakness of one's own culture and beliefs.

Live and let live is a simple yet profound philosophy.  In granting others the room to enjoy their lives, we receive in turn the room to enjoy our own.  Denying any one group's right to enjoy their culture forces all of us into a life of prolonged paranoid defensiveness and removes the possibility that any of us can experience joy.

Is that any way to live?

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