How Does A Buddhist-Christian Feel About Osama Bin Laden’s Death?

So they “got him.”  As someone who is trying to live by the Gospel of Jesus and the Dharma of Buddha, should I join the general dancing in the streets and jubilation in the media?

I can’t.

Yes, I feel a sense of relief – relief that a source of suffering and of violence is no longer present.  But I’m not so sure that removing this particular source of violence is going to remove others – or prevent new ones from arising.

And that brings me to the dominant feeling that I, especially as a Buddhist, have around the killing of Osama Bin Laden:  sadness.

It is sorrow at seeing how inexorably the law of karma really does work.   In very basic, simple terms, the law of karma tells us that when we perform acts that hurt others, inevitably those acts will bounce back and continue to hurt us.  Evil acts produce evil results.

So when Osama Bin Laden, in his anger at what he thought the United States and its “empire” was doing to him and his cause, responded with violence, he unleashed the law of karma.  Inevitably, the violence that he resorted to caught up with him.  As Buddha tells us, when you respond to hatred with hatred, you only produce more hatred.  This is sad, so sad.

But what makes me even sadder is that we – we Americans – seem to be doing the very same thing. For the most part, our response to the hatred and violence of Al Queda has been the hatred of military violence.

Yes, we have to protect ourselves.  But we have to do more than that. It seems to me that we have never really answered the question that George Bush asked, rhetorically, shortly after 9/11:  “Why do they hate us?”

Until we can find ways to respond to hatred other than with more hatred, the law of karma will continue to produce suffering.

Or, in Jesus’ words, until we can learn to love our enemies, they will remain our enemies.

You Don’t Look Like Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks' mugshot, courtesy

Tuesday’s New York Metro newspaper headline about the Park51 center read “You Guys Don’t Look Like Rosa Parks To Me”. The article was slightly less pugnacious, but the question remained about Ms. Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. King and the current predicament not only of the Park51 center but of Muslim believers in America in general.

Rosa Parks is presently an honored and cherished part of United States history. She was not in 1955. In 1955, Rosa Parks was a trouble-maker. She was not honored by the establishment for her courage, but was derided as disruptive. Why couldn’t she just let the system exist in peace? Why did she have to remind the white citizens of Montgomery that there were black citizens in their midst who paid the same taxes and the same fares on the city bus?

So too, unfortunately, today. Why does Park51 have to be in lower Manhattan? Why can’t these troublesome Muslims just exist somewhere out of sight where we don’t have to do anything more than pay lip-service to the plurality of cultures in our nation? Why indeed.

The why is the same for Rosa Parks and for Park51. The why is because it is hypocrisy to say that those different from the majority can only exist if they are out of sight and do not trouble our conscience.

A Breakfast Conversation with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

I had the privilege of being present for a breakfast conversation with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam at the center of the storm swirling around Park51 – the proposed Muslim Center near Ground Zero.  The conversation was sponsored by, and took place at, the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Our breakfast gathering with the Imam numbered a couple hundred people, so things could not get too intricate or intimate.  Imam Rauf was eloquent and engaging as he explained the pain he was experiencing around the controversy between “the religion that I love and the country that I love.”

But a question, raised by Richard Haass, the President of the Council, touched on one of the main issues that I think are fueling the fire of controversy around the Center.

When the Imam, taking his typical moderate and irenic position, pointed out that 99% of Muslims around the world are not terrorists, Haass agreed, but responded that for many people it seems that 99% of the terrorists who march across television screens or headlines every day are Muslim.

Haass’s statement is overstated and certainly needs refining.  Still, his claim is stark and sobering: Yes, the majority of Muslims are not terrorists. But it seems that so many of the terrorists are Muslims.

Why?  — That was Haass’s question – and I suspect the question that perturbs a lot of people opposing Park 51.

Imam Rauf’s answer was, in my view, right on: The primary reasons driving some Muslims to violence in the name of their religion are not at all religious. They are, rather, economic and political – the anger and frustration of feeling pushed aside, taken advantage of, subjected to oppressive systems which are supported by Western powers.

All this is true. But it’s not the whole truth.  There are also religious reasons, or religious motivations, behind this turn to violence.   And these religious ingredients in terrorism have to be faced.

Here Islam is not at all unique.   One can find justification for, even explicit calls to, violence in all the religions of the world – especially, I would add, in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.   In all of the sacred scriptures of these “peoples of the book,” there are examples of Jahweh,  or God, or Allah approving or endorsing the use of violence against the perpetrators of injustice and oppression.

Muslims, together with Jews and Christians, have to face the fact that the God whom they believe in has allowed violence. And to allow violence is to prepare the ground for terrorism.

Unless religious people own up to the fact that their religious traditions have been violent, and unless they try to do something about this, they will not really be providing an adequate, and an honest, response to the critics of religion.

And that includes the critics of Park 51.

Thank you, Mr. President!

I owe President Obama a thank you — and maybe an apology.

It turns out that I was too quick to criticize and challenge him in my last blog about not really “speaking his mind” concerning the Muslim Center in lower Manhattan. Two days after I posted the blog, in which I quoted from his speech in Cairo and implored him to, more or less, give the same speech here in the States, the New York Times, in today’s edition, announced that the President, at an Iftar dinner at the White House, came out clearly, strongly, courageously in support of the Muslim Center.

Obama explained that he didn’t speak up earlier because he “did not want to weigh in until local authorities made a decision on the proposal.”   I should have thought of that.

In my previous blog, I urged Obama to provide the presidential leadership he promised in his Cairo speech “ to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

He has provided such leadership.  And we are all grateful.

Please, Mr. President, speak your mind!

Dear President Obama,

On Aug 3, your press secretary, Robert Gibbs, speaking for your administration, said that you did not want to take a position on the controversy surrounding plans to build a Muslim Center near Ground Zero.   When asked what was the opinion of your administration, Mr. Gibbs replied that it was “a matter for New York” and that you did not want “to get involved in local decision-making.”

That’s hard to believe.  I suspect – no, I’m quite certain – that you do want to get involved,  but that you, or your advisers, are afraid of the political repercussions from the growing anti-Muslim movement on the right. (It was a Tea-Party group that first sounded the conservative attack on the Manhattan Muslim Center.)

I am convinced that you really do want to come out publicly and defend the rights of our Muslim fellow-citizens to establish a center close to Ground Zero  – a center that is intended to provide space for dialogue between Christian Americans and Muslim Americans and that will show a different and more authentic face of Islam rather than the one embodied in the actions of extremists.

Why am I so certain that you want to so speak publicly on such an issue?  Because you said so!

May I quote for you what you said in your speech in Cairo on June 4, 2009?  And allow me to nudge your conscience on each of these statements:

  • “The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.” –  (Such fear and mistrust are being fostered by the ugly rhetoric of the opponents of the Center.)

  • “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.” –  (You have an opportunity to help end this suspicion and discord by taking a clear and strong stand for the rights of our Muslim fellow-citizens.)

  • “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” –  (You said this in Cairo to Egyptians.  I beg you to now say it now in Washington, D.C. to Americans.)

  • “I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.” –  (Please, say openly these things that you hold in your heart. Call all sides involved in this controversy to listen, learn, respect, and seek common ground.  It is so important, it would be so helpful, for you to pronounce just these words in the midst of this controversy.)

  • “ It is my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” — (Such negative stereotypes of Islam are rampant in most of the public statements of those opposed to the Muslim Center.   Please, carry out your “responsibility as President of the United States.” )

Mr. President, we need your leadership.  Please, speak your mind!