Sunday, September 27, 2009

Obama in Afghanistan: An Unprecedented Show of Uncertainty

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 9/27/09

There was a problem in Italy at the end of Ramadan last week when thousands of Muslims wanted to pray outside at Rome's Piazza Vittoria. Like they do in Tehran. The Italian government said no, they had to pray in mosques but they did it anyway. What, are the Italians going to arrest them for praying? Despite the ban thousands of Muslims left their shoes by the side of the road, lay down their prayer rugs and participated in the Eid al-Fitr ceremonies.

The French and Spanish imperialists were said to be clever when they sent the priests in right away with the invaders. Once a Catholic always a Catholic, it was said years back about something else, but looking back it did indeed make an imprint in the Philippines, Vietnam, everywhere. To the point where the war in Vietnam identified “ours” as Catholic and “theirs” as communists. Gandhi hated missionaries. They just disrupt the indigenous cohesions, he said. But of course, that was the point. Even in the territorial disputes between Texas and Mexico, when Anglos moved into the northern territories one of Mexico’s few demands was that these Southern Protestants “turn Catholic.” And he may strike people as rigid in his thinking today and stuck in the past, but Pope Benedict is aware of these things as the broody 1000 year rise of Europe in the Eastern Church in the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople became a mosque for almost another thousand years in the second part, leading up to us today. And there they are now praying in the Pope’s own streets.

Probably everybody inherently knows about this. No one told the Irish Catholics in Toronto, Ottawa or Boston to team up together to oppose the French Catholics. Part of being an Irish Catholic was not being a French Catholic. Or Catholic and Protestant among the working people in Manchester and Liverpool.

When my grandparents left from those ports most of the eyes were blue, RC or C of E. Today, judging from the images that come through on Daljit Dhaliwal’s world news, a good percentage appear to be Muslim, like it is a today second religion in England. As Catholicism was a second religion then; the religion of the working class and the common people. And as in much of Europe, these are the people who are doing the real work. The same work that my grandparents did there in Manchester.

In a vast march across the world and into the universe, my neighbors who are in their 100s up here in the White Mountains, and there are a few of them, can trace their ancestors in their time and not long before passing from Anglican, to Puritan, to Unitarian to hippie Buddhism. My people changed too. But only one of my generation has “turned Muslim”: Cat Stevens.

We happened to be in Michigan around Ann Arbor during the 9/11 tragedy. My boys were young teenagers then. There are large Muslim groups in that region and in the elegant and well-maintained state parks that serve as beaches there groups of families gather. You could clearly see the generational differences. The old women dress all in black, in chador. The next generation of women with babies in American style dress but with a head scarf. The third generation in jeans listening to Kurt Cobain like my kids. When we would go into stores in the little local cities where the community is more coherent and strict, the girls at the counters would commonly then be wearing veils. After 9/11 many of the veils came off but the scarves stayed on and the girls would talk to my boys. It was their secret generation way of saying we belong here. We belong with you.

But I think in the world where they play soccer, the veils started going back up. Not after 9/11, but after the invasion of Iraq and on and on with it. It is in the nature of people to separate by difference, often between head and heart. That is why the French and the Irish fought on ice and why when they built the big cathedral in Ottawa, they named one tower after a great French saint and the other after St. Patrick. To keep, as one commentator said, the Irish and the French working people, “ . . . from killing one another.” But the base is wider in this contention. Between the 78 million who watch the Super Bowl and the 2 billion who watch the World Soccer Cup, likely more than half of whom are Muslim. Lining up now in the unemployment lines in Manchester and praying together in the Piazza Vittoria.