By Chez Pazienza: If you're one of those people who's always dreamed of going back in time, I've got some terrific travel advice for you today: plan your next vacation to the Middle East; it's still the second century over there in some areas, or at least 1979.
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but yesterday it was reported that separate angry mobs had descended upon U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt, burning one to the ground and killing an American diplomat stationed there and scaling the walls of the other and hoisting a black flag emblazoned with the Muslim declaration of faith in place of the American flag. The reason for the attacks is as familiar as it is infuriating: Apparently a real estate developer and would-be independent film producer here in the states has put together a movie for an Egyptian Christian, an anti-Muslim extremist -- promoted in part by Koran-burning asshole Pastor Terry Jones of Florida -- that denigrates the prophet Muhammad. And we all know how calmly and rationally many Muslims, particularly in Middle Eastern countries, have traditionally responded to their prophet being depicted in any fashion, let alone an insulting one.
But that was really just the beginning of the bloodshed over a perceived religious slight, because last night, as you no doubt know by now, it was confirmed that the American ambassador to Libya and at least two others were killed in a rocket attack -- a criminal act that President Obama is calling "outrageous" and the first time a U.S. ambassador has been murdered since the glory days of Middle Eastern political turmoil back in the 70s.
And again, all over decades and centuries of religious resentment and sparked by somebody saying something mean about a guy who lived around 1,900 years ago. It's insanity -- indefensible insanity -- pure and simple. And if we weren't inexplicably forced to take Islam seriously and defer to it and its followers, our outrage wouldn't have to be tempered with delicately worded admissions that intolerance and a lack of understanding may have played a role in this madness.
Now before the PC police come banging on my door, know that I'm not going all "Islam Is Evil" here. It's crazy and misguided, mind you, and its fundamentalist adherents are especially dangerous -- argue with that and you're simply trying to deny reality or keep your liberal moral relativist card from being pulled -- but it's no more evil than any other faith-based religion. It just happens to be the biggest threat to the civilized world at the moment when it's practiced by those who have perfect faith.
The Middle East/Northern Africa is one of the most bustling and thriving regions of the world -- and it also happens to be one of the most culturally stunted, thanks in large part to a nearly absolute devotion to ancient superstition that's been allowed to dictate, typically with a governmental mandate, every facet of the lives of those who live there. In many Middle Eastern countries, Islam is a meal that's force-fed -- and it's a fact that's held an otherwise vibrant point on the globe stuck in time while putting those outside its purview in the unenviable position of having to walk on eggshells and gush ridiculous platitudes in an effort to make sure the often barbaric beliefs that rule the lives of its people are never shown anything less than the utmost respect. Because if they aren't, well, you get what we're witnessing right now in Libya.
But to claim that Islam is a faith that's somehow more insane than all the others is almost laughably absurd. It's one thing to approach a civil criticism of devout Muslims from the understanding that all faith-based religions are equally dubious, but it's quite another to say, as fundamentalist Christians here in the United States often do, that one unproven and unprovable belief system is superior to another. It's certainly true that, these days at least, Christians often don't, en masse, rise up and execute infidels in the street if they feel that somebody has insulted Jesus, but it hasn't always been that way; the difference between modern-day Christians living abroad and modern-day Muslims living in concentrated areas like the Middle East is that Christians have, for the most part, been forced to bend to changing times, to adapt to a civilization that no longer allows them to behave like primitives in thrall to myth and magic and to react violently when challenged.
Yes, there are still plenty of heinous acts committed in the name of Jesus and plenty of backward-ass thinking deferred to and permitted to influence the lives of believers and non-believers alike, here in the U.S. especially. But despite the designs of what some have cleverly and ironically referred to as the "American Taliban," the Bible-thumping would-be theocrats who believe the United States is the Christian god's administration on this planet, in large part the Middle East doesn't have a vital and assertive secular society to intrude upon its reliance on the spiritual, fanciful and antiquated.
So this is what you get: living, breathing men and women killed in 2012 because the Koran says they have to die for the crime of apostasy, for insulting the great prophet of Islam. Thousands of men and women dead in a suicidal plot involving commercial jets and some of our most iconic buildings in the year 2001 all because of religious resentment, manifesting itself in a frustrated culture, and the lunatic belief that Muslims are being subjugated by our presence on holy land. And then, on the flip side of the same coin, equally devoted Christians claiming that their invisible god can beat up the invisible god of Islam. If there weren't sanity in numbers -- if we didn't, for reasons I'll never understand, simply accept that an utterly irrational belief should be respected simply because enough people believe it -- we would call it what it is: insanity. Absolute insanity. Just another case of the implementation of an unwavering faith in magic and superstition, handed down from a time when people literally knew nothing about anything, doing far more harm than good.
At some point it has to stop. But I can't imagine that point will come anytime soon. And that means the bodies will continue to pile up, chaos will reign and the madness at its core will continue to be treated with unnecessary reverence.
Update: The U.S. government is now saying that it suspects the Libyan attack was planned in advance and may have used the anti-movie protest as a diversion.