Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Bogus Buddhist is Bereft of Her Books

As I approach my first anniversary here in Morocco (I'd crack open the champagne but it'll be during Ramadan & I wouldn't want to offend ...), I congratulate myself for surviving the year without the company of my 2 mainstays: my husband (who arrives tomorrow - for good), and my books.

I hope everyone noted that I mentioned my husband first. That was awfully nice of me, wasn't it?

But I do have a lot of books. I don't hoard them - I lend them out, let them circulate, allow them some fresh air, and then apologise profusely to them when they return
invariably far worse for the wear - but since I read a lot, I have a lot. It is - or should be - a law of physics that what you buy things and don't consume them, stuff piles up through no fault of the individual. And what book am I hankering for now: Lebanese novelist & journalist Amin Maalouf's The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, probably the best and refreshing scholarly revisiting of the crusades in print. I wish I had it in hand because I would respond to the whole PopeGate debacle with such eye-raisingly salient points (Maalouf's) and profound insights (Maalouf's), that you would all think me awfully clever. But I don't, so there.

So yes, when I first heard Pope Benedict's rather spine-shuddering comments about Islam, my first thought was what a nob (I calmly await my excommunication). Even if his comments or rather those of his mental & theological contemporary, the 14th century emperor Theodore Khoury - assuming that one can decipher them - are in the least way accurate, why would he give voice to them? I could've understood it if our Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ had wheeled around, redfaced, and said to his cardinal-cohorts, "Omigod, did I just say that? Out loud?" His cardinal-cohorts would then reply, "Yes your Holiness, it would appear that you did." That I'd get. But did it never occur to the Pontiff that employing words like "evil, inhuman and violent" to describe Islam might be inflammatory? Might offend? Apparently not. Infallible but not omniscient. And not very swift.

But Malouf's book wouldn't be the only one I'd reach for. Not only would there be my books on the Crusades, but there would also be (
in no particular order) my books on the burning of the Library at Alexandria, the Gnostic et al. persecutions, the Church's deep-rooted anti-semitism & rousing attempts at Jewish genocide throughout Europe, the religious genocide of the Cathars and other Catholic "heresies"(ironically from the Greek hairesis or "choice"), the Inquisitions, their bloody dealings with the Huguenots and other Protestant groups, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the List of Prohibited Books" whose inductees have included the likes of Galileo, Swift, Hugo and Sartre), the Vatican's dubious scorecard during WWII, "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, systemic sexual abuse against children, Papal bastard children, Renaissance poisonings & power struggles ... should I continue?

Taking a closer look at Vatican City, I now realise that its walls and bricks are made of glass.

Last year (my thoughts are drifting back to my aforementioned anniversary), I was filling out my application for a residency card here, I was angered at having to declare my religion. I stared at that taunting line and considered my options. A baptised papist, I ran walked away from Catholicism around the same time I left the Catholic High School I had attended (coincidence?). A priest might consider me lapsed ("one baptism for the forgiveness of sins", blah blah blah), but I consider myself cheerfully emancipated. So what to write? I had once entered "atheist" on a similar document in Egypt and quickly learned to regret it, so I opted for Buddhist. Buddhism is mainstream enough to be a recognizable faith to the Moroccan bureaucrat/lackey who'd approve or disapprove my application, while being gentle and nonviolent and, hopefully, inoffensive to assuage my sensibilities. I've never heard the Dalai Lama make any disparaging remarks about Muslims or anyone for the matter - not even the People's Republic of China who has branded him a "terrorist". But I'd like to apologise to Buddhists everywhere. As a Canadian, it irks me when non-Canadians abroad claim to be Canucks to avoid any retaliation (perceived or real) that they may receive from others. But do I really want to be associated with the likes of Emperor Theodosius who, a few centuries before the advent of Islam, declared:

We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace t
he name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retributions of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment

Not very Christian of him, was it?

(I calmly await my excommunication. It's always nice to receive something in the mail.)

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