Friday, September 10, 2010

Assitance for Terry Jones

Wanting to do my part to rid the world of outdated religious mysticism, fanaticism and hypocrisy, not to mention help heat the atmosphere with some badly needed carbon, I thought I'd perhaps consider a few bibles to burn while Rev. Terry Jones rounds up Qu'rans in Florida. (Please take the time to click on that link, where you can see how many people "like" this hate page.) After a quick 'Net search I came up with several bibles that the world could surely do without:

1. The Shooter's Bible: "Stoeger Publishing has released the 97th Edition of the Shooter's Bible, a 578-page reference volume featuring contributions from GUNS Magazine contributing field editor Sam Fadala." Then again, maybe burning is the wrong way for this book to meet it's maker. Perhaps death by firing squad would be more appropriate?

2. The Bootstrapper's Bible: "Available to you once again! There's never been a better time to start a business with no money. This manifesto will show you how." A financial suicide manual by any other name is still a financial suicide manual, right? Let's burn the damn thing and get it over with!

3. The Idiot's Bible: Hey, if the Wall Street Journal says it's the idiot's bible it can't be all bad. Or can it? According to pundit Mary Anastasia O'Grady, this is the name given "in free-market circles" to a book by "Uruguayan Marxist Eduardo Galeano" entitled Open Veins, which dares to blame the developed countries and multinational corporations for plundering resources in Latin America and contributing to the economic underdevelopment of the region. An unthinkable proposition, which has nevertheless been thought and documented in thick volumes by several authors since the 1970's. Commit it to the flames, as Hume said, for it contains nothing but lies, distortions, and unpleasant claims about the primary audience for the WSJ.

4. The Swing Trader's Bible: And I never even realized that Wall Street was so enamored of bibles! Here's a Wiley publication by Matthew McCall and Mark Whistler, which putatively "provides traders with different strategies to capitalize on market fluctuations". Funny, I always heard that market timing was a sure path to self-destruction - sort of on a par with starting an uncapitalized business. Somebody tell these guys about dollar cost averaging, and let's send up some smoke signals with this tome.

5. The American Patriot's Bible: Here's a book for all patriotic Americans who would like to replace the current, outdated Constitution with one that discards the principle of separating Church and State. All in favor say "Oy!" Not that the book says explicitly to dump the old James Madison text, as far as I can tell from perusing the web site, but since its premise is that "It's impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible" one is hard-pressed to put any other interpretation on it. Perhaps Rev. Jones would agree. But I thought the biggest issue with Islamic culture was its tendency to do exactly what this book counsels, albeit with the Qu'ran rather than the Bible itself: Shari'ah law is precisely a religious foundation for criminal law based on the Holy Qu'ran and the alleged sayings and doings of Mohammed. If you're going to burn Qu'rans, certainly you'd want to throw a few of these into the bonfire.

Now I know that some of you will be disappointed at the absence of a particular bible that is a bit more like the Qu'ran than those I've mentioned. The problem is, they're not flamable. Don't believe me? Open up one of them and read about Shadrack, Mishack and Abednego and then tell me you can just throw gasoline on a stack of Bibles and watch 'em burn. Ain't gonna happen. Wait, isn't that story in the Qu'ran too? I think it involves the prophet Abraham there. Oh, Rev. Jones, you'd better think twice about this. God might just take it the wrong way!

P.S. - L'Shanah Tovah, Rev. Jones. Er, ‘Eid Mubārak.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mosques, Communities, Domes and Minarets

This letter was sent via carrier parrot to the NY Times following the Imam's Op-Ed piece on Wednesday:

In his Op-Ed column "Building on Faith" (9/5/10) Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf repeatedly refers to Cordoba House as a "community center", referring to "a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children." Thus he avoids characterizing it as a mosque.
But the term "community center" seems far more neutral than is justified. It was earlier reported that Imam Feisal is already holding worship services at the site; and one rationale offered by Cordoba House proponents is that the existing mosques in downtown Manhattan are overcrowded. Cordoba House will now have a "separate prayer space" for Muslims; presumably it will continue to feature services led by the Imam. It is not clear how this would differ from a mosque, albeit with various secular spaces attached.
There is another reason to be skeptical about the inclusiveness of Cordoba's "community". One of the "two fundamental commandments" that Cordoba House will be built on is "to love the Lord our creator with all of our hearts, minds and souls". Imam Feisal more than once appeals to "our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians, and fellow Jews". Indeed he now refers to "separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and women of other faiths", though he previously spoke only of a "meditation room, where people of any faith can pray or meditate" ( The building sounds increasingly like a religious institution, with a clear bias toward specific faiths and an overall Islamic function. It is not like the 92nd Street Y, which has no specifically religious spaces or functions at all.
Whether or not you believe that Cordoba House should be built at a greater distance from the site of the 9/11 attacks, the issue should not be decided by misrepresentations regarding the nature of the project.

Probably too long for their sound-bite aesthetic, but who knows.

I do have a word on one other looming issue, of perhaps more obvious aesthetic import than some others I've discussed in previous posts on the mosque issue. It has been vociferously denied that the non-mosque-to-be would have any cupola domes or minarets, thus attracting attention to its Islamic function. But I want to propose that it also should not have a prayer hall facing Mecca, or be constructed on the symmetircal model, or use any ceramic tiles, or indeed stones or other building materials typical of Islamic architecture. In fact, I think Park51, the developer, should be required to go to the Wikipedia page on Islamic Architeecture, page down to the section on "Elements of Islamic Style", and make a checklist of all the features to avoid so as to make the building look pretty much like a New York office building, or, say, a Burlington Coat Factory store. That would take care of the problem.

Or, alternatively, they could do what I suggested before: build a secular building with no religious function at all, make it a strictly educational shrine to the more historical, humanistic and inclusive features of Islamic culture, serve some of that great middle eastern cuisine in their restaurant, set their beautifully tiled pool in a typical mosaic pattern, and build all the minarets and cupolas they want.

As I've said before, Osama bin Laden is a despicable human being, but a great architecture critic. Nothing Park51 could build could possibly be more offensive to the eye than those two featureless obelisks that ruined the NY skyline. As far as I'm concerned they can build cupolas and minarets into the design of the new WTC as long as it's appealing and blends well enough with the environment. 

All of which is to say: neither the presence nor the absence of Islamic architectural features moves this issue one way or another. It is an aesthetic issue, but not primarily that kind of aesthetic issue. It is a matter of the feeling associated with knowing the function of a building. It could apply to building a new British Petroleum office tower on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, which would be pretty offensive even if it didn't look like... hmmmm... Salisbury Cathedral? (Well, there is no British architectural style, so there goes that analogy!)

BTW - Please try to ignore the ridiculous Google ads at the left. The idea of Google's AdSense software is to automatically match the ad to the content of your blog. But it is so far from doing that that I expect to remove it shortly. Meanwhile, try to pretend it's not there.

(Update 12:03 a.m. 9/10/10: Removed link to NY Times article from title link and put it in the post; minor text change.)