I have never used this Blog as a platform for my particular political views (even though I suppose they are easily enough seen by a careful reader) or to convert anyone to them. And I’m not about to start now. But I do have a category of comment on the blog, not used very often, on “Religion in the News.” And a couple of news items appeared this past week that are “close to home” for me – one involving Duke University, which is literally close to home (less than a mile from where I live, move, and have my being) and the other involving Oxford University Press, with whom I have published almost all my academic books over the past twenty-two years and with whom I have a very good personal and professional relationship. Both of these news items involve the relationship of an academic institution to recent developments in Islam.
The situation at Duke is this. In the face of radical Islam fundamentalism and its much maligned jihadist and terrorist element– maligned by Jew, Christian, and Muslim alike – students and administration at Duke had chosen to show solidarity with other Muslims, who are – contrary to what you read in some papers or here on FOX news – not intent on blowing up your house or beheading your loved ones. Most Muslims are honest, sincere, and loving. Considering them bloodthirsty terrorists as a group because of ISIS and Paris makes no more sense than considering Christians bloodthirsty terrorists as a group because of what some Christians have done over the years in the name of Christianity (think: Crusades; Inquisition; IRA bombings – lots of options. Most Christians had and have nothing to do with such things and are opposed to them. So too most Muslims with the current atrocities.)
The Duke solidarity involved something very simple. Every week the Muslim students at Duke gather together for prayer in the basement of Duke Chapel. They requested that the required call for prayer be sounded publicly for all to hear, from the chapel tower (much as the ringing of bells occurs for Christian calls to worship in a variety of settings). The request was granted by those who want to show unity among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of all faith, as a gesture of solidarity.
The administration, after receiving threats from the Christian right, retracted its approval. Here’s the article:
As you’ll see, it was the son of Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, who raised the protest. Here is what he said:
“As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism,” said a post on Graham’s Facebook page.
He urged supporters of Duke to withhold their support (i.e., their money) until the approval was reversed. In other words, he wanted Duke to be held hostage by its wealthy Christian donors. For Graham, it is acceptable to have Christians and Christianity publicly represented at Duke (e.g., in the Chapel that towers over the campus), but not Islam.
Make of that what you will.
The second news item concerns my publisher Oxford University Press (OUP). Here is the deal with this one: after the Paris attacks of last week, OUP issued a directive that authors should not mention pigs, or pork, or sausage, etc. in their books, so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities. Here is an article on the decision.
This decision created a backlash as people found it to be a rather bizarre and crude form of censorship. When protests immediately were raised, a highly placed executive at OUP in the U.K. issued an explanation meant to calm the nerves. Here it is:
This response is clever and witty and meant to be ultra-sensitive. But read it closely. It seems to me she doesn’t answer the question: is it in fact the case that in light of Muslim extremism and terrorism, that Oxford is telling authors of children’s books (we’re not talking about dictionaries here) what not to write about, precisely to avoid offending Muslim extremists? And is this really how a free press in a free world wants to operate? If the issue is sensitivity, pure and simple, why have these decisions not been implemented before? Has anyone noticed that for millennia JEWS, as well, do not eat pork? Were Jewish feelings not important enough to establish a policy? But only Muslim feelings? And only after Paris? Is this response really up front and honest about what is really driving this new policy?
Well, these are some of my questions. You may have some of your own. These are topics on which every thinking human being in our society appears to have very (very, very) strong views.