Americans, consider own sanctification of objects

AFP/GETTY IMAGES A young Pakistani Muslims walk past the closed house, left, of a Christian girl who has been arrested … Continued


A young Pakistani Muslims walk past the closed house, left, of a Christian girl who has been arrested on blasphemy charges, at a slum area of Islamabad on August 20, 2012.

Pakistan’s arrest of a 12-year-old girl for blasphemy has invigorated the worn assertions that Islam is a “religion of violence,” that Islamic countries are barbaric, and that Muslims, on the whole, can’t distinguish between right and wrong.

Details about the case are confused. The girl may be mentally challenged. She may have burned pages of the Koran. Or she burned some pages of some other religious text. Or she merely threw out some pages of something with the rest of the refuse she collects in her professional role as a garbage collector. Or maybe she didn’t do anything at all, but is merely the victim of the exploitation of a blasphemy law in Pakistan that is all too easy to exploit.

Whatever the case, she has been arrested, with her family, and the Christians of her neighborhood have cleared out, perhaps never to return.

The world has dashed toward outrage, with the United States in the lead, and there certainly seems to be little in the way of a rational argument to defend the arrest of this girl for a crime of ignorance and illiteracy, nor, especially, to defend the threats to light her on fire, all for the sake of a book. Surely, flies the indignation across the BlatherNet, a stack of paper and squiggles of ink shouldn’t be more prized than a person’s freedom and right to exist.

Well, maybe so. But we in the United States, at least, might consider our own sanctification of objects and the lengths to which we go to demand acknowledgment of that sanctification before we sound off too loudly about angry Muslims in Pakistan.

Does anyone remember “Piss Christ?”Andres Serrano received death threats from modern, enlightened Americans over the object in his photograph. It’s rather a lovely photograph, actually. Only dismay that an object so sanctified as a crucifix (even only a plastic one) would be desecrated by urine moved some adherents of the religion of peace to call for the artist’s death.

Yes, there’s probably a big difference, even more than one, between an illiterate, adolescent slum-dweller’s unwitting interaction with the Koran (if even this much actually happened) and the intentional construction of an art piece that an adult artist knew very well would offend. My point is: the object. According to the reports, some Pakistani Muslims who sympathize with the girl’s situation nevertheless concede that she will have to face punishment if found guilty in court. The object itself is that important. In Serrano’s case, some Christians could not simply “let it go” as the meaningless conceit of the avant garde imposed on a piece of plastic. The object had been wronged and demanded atonement.

What about the hue and cry over Kevin Yoder’s skinny dip in the Sea of Galilee? What about the fervent resistance to an Islamic presence anywhere in the vicinity of the World Trade Center site?

We all understand the notion of the sanctity of objects. No fewer than seven times since 1990 the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a constitutional amendment forbidding the desecration of the American flag. The amendment is an attempt to elevate the flag protection beyond the reach of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has consistently struck down anti-desecration legislation as unconstitutional. In his dissent to one such ruling in 1989, Justice John Paul Stevens articulated just how well we Americans know how to sanctify inanimate objects and to strain to protect them:

We have come to associate this object, the flag, with the ideals of our national identity. The object, in this case, manifests the fundamental ideals by which we recognize ourselves and each other as fellow Americans—liberty, equality, courage, justice, and so forth. And for some citizens, securing the object is to secure the country against acts defying such ideals as liberty, equality, and so forth. Perhaps we understand better than we admit how in Pakistan “it cannot be true” that the Koran itself is not worthy of protection, at least to the extent that in Pakistan the Koran also expresses, objectively, the ideals of a national identity.

As evident in the repeated appearances of the anti-desecration constitutional amendment before the House and Senate, plenty of Americans would have their fellow Americans arrested for burning the flag. And it may only be this country’s unique balance of powers and the relative prosperity that sustains widespread deference to law here that forestalls an eruption of honest-to-goodness mob violence on a flag burner.

None of the preceding is to defend the intent to lynch a mentally handicapped, adolescent girl for burning part of the Koran or for doing anything else. It’s only to point out that the so-called civilized world may not be so far removed from Pakistan as its collective outrage asserts.

David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.”

David Mason
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  • Waqar Khan

    some writers need to get a life, and stop blaming the whole religion…I can start with acts of other people, who belong to another religion…and between, In Pakistan a 12 years old girl is considered an adult. So get your facts right before you ever consider to write….I think this society has more problems, and hate because writer like you.

  • sanman2

    Waqar khan,
    A little girl is being made to suffer, and all you can arrogantly think about is the precious reputation of Islam. That’s all that matters to you, and your comments show it. That a little girl is being persecuted means nothing to you, and that’s reflected in your comments. People like you and comments like yours are what lower other people’s opinions of Islam.

  • oali

    David Mason is correct about the urge to sanctify Bullcrap, but oh-so-totally at sea when it comes to the art of making a comparison. Years in academia may be responsible for this (so we should not judge him too harshly) but if he thinks that ” the so-called civilized world may not be so far removed from Pakistan as its collective outrage asserts” then he has no idea what is being compared to what here….
    Dont get me wrong. I am all in favor of using this slight outburst of outrage to knock-down some of the flag-worshippin Christians in the land of the free, but go easy on the comparisons, otherwise you risk being seen as a modestly retarded fool and that will take away from the effectiveness of your (otherwise desirable) propaganda effort.
    Just saying.

  • WmarkW

    One cannot destroy the American flag or the Quran — they’re eminently reproducible.

    How can you discuss this subject without talking about the Bamiya Buddha’s, a unique cultural relic destroyed specifically for being non-Islamic? That was a lot more than just protesting by symbolically destroying a copy of something.

  • rober1jf

    Someone who prefaces his criticism by asserting that “years in academia may be responsible” for this author’s allegedly “oh-so-totally at-sea” comparisons might himself easily be pinned as a Limbaugh-loving, “elite”-hating “modestly retarded fool” (although I am reluctant to imply that Limbaugh/Hannity/FoxNews (including Krauthammer) listeners are only “modestly retarded.”) Perhaps you’ve forgotten that lion’s share of Nobel Prize winners in the sciences are products of “academia”?

  • rober1jf

    or about how the US military stood by calmly while the Iraq Museum was being looted in 2003 – even as they made sure to secure the Oil Ministry?


    With actions like these Pakistani Moslems’ actions, you don’t need to make up stuff to condemn the whole religion.

    Pakistani Muslims are savages.


    The Powers That Be (Bremer, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bush et. al.) determined that current oil production was more important than 5000 years of human history.

    You can’t fill up your gas tank with a cuneiform tablet.

  • mrrogers1

    wanker khan is a fine example what pakistanis call a “normal” pakistani citizen’s morality, supposed sense of right and wrong according to their warped twisted minds ( by paki school text books and by the mullahs each friday at the mosque) and their consideration of non-muslims whom they consider “unclean, infidel and beneath themselves”.

  • mohammadakhan

    Muslims who support Pakistan’s blasphemy law,Muslims who support Saudi regime,Muslims who idolize the paper and ink of Quran,are no better then people who opposed Mohammad in his life time.

  • cs9243

    Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are barbaric becuase this girl is just 11 years old,
    mentally challenged , it is not even clear she willfully burnt the book and still she was put in jail and her family and other christian neighbors had to flee.
    This does not happen in a civilized world evn in america where we have rght wing nuts, This girl should not be punished at all under any law.

  • Secular1

    Waqar Khan says, “some writers need to get a life, and stop blaming the whole religion…I can start with acts of other people, who belong to another religion…and between, In Pakistan a 12 years old girl is considered an adult. So get your facts right be you ever consider to write….I think this society has more problems, and hate because writer like you.” Mr. Khan be glad that we blame the whole religion and not all the Muslims. The fact of the matter is there aren’t that many muslims that adhere to that vile, filthy book that is Koran. Likewise there aren’t that many jews who subscribe to the entire OT nor are there christians that buy into all of the bible, OT & NT. These ridiculous inhumane abhorrent acts happe because they find support in those vile books called scripture. Koran perhaps is arguably the vilest of them all. People ordinary peole are sometimes not much different from Bison, or Jackals or you name it, are some times very herd like. All they need is a sociopath, who claims to be some kind of clergy or a bigot to appeal to their jackal in them in teh name of the scripture and they will go berserk to tear whatever that is being blamed. Fortunately it isn’t all that succumb to the internal jackal in them. That is because the human zeitgeist has had greater hold on them. But there is no mistake that the religion is entirel and wholly to be blamed.

    MohammadKhanm you said “Muslims who support Pakistan’s blasphemy law,Muslims who support Saudi regime,Muslims who idolize the paper and ink of Quran,are no better then people who opposed Mohammad in his life time.” You had it right in your assertion up to “no better than”. The rest of the sentence “people who opposed Mohammad in his life time”. Sir you have three words “people who opposed” too many. So in my humble opinion, your statment should have read “Muslims who support Pakistan’s blasphemy law,Muslims who support Saudi regime,Muslims who idolize the paper and ink of Quran,are no better th

  • mohammadakhan

    Thomas Carlyle in ‘Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History,’ 1840

    “The lies (Western slander) which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man (Muhammad) are disgraceful to ourselves only.”
    “A silent great soul, one of that who cannot but be earnest. He was to kindle the world, the world’s Maker had ordered so.”

  • mohammadakhan

    Mahatma Gandhi, statement published in ‘Young India,’1924.

    I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind…. I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the second volume (of the Prophet’s biography), I was sorry there was not more for me to read of that great life.

  • mohammadakhan

    Michael Hart in ‘The 100, A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons In History,’ New York, 1978.

    My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the secular and religious level. …It is probable that the relative influence of Muhammad on Islam has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity. …It is this unparalleled combination of secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Muhammad to be considered the most influential single figure in human history.

  • mohammadakhan

    James Michener in ‘Islam: The Misunderstood Religion,’ Reader’s Digest, May 1955, pp. 68-70.

    “No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam. The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts this idea, and the Qur’an is explicit in the support of the freedom of conscience.”
    “Like almost every major prophet before him, Muhammad fought shy of serving as the transmitter of God’s word sensing his own inadequacy. But the Angel commanded ‘Read’. So far as we know, Muhammad was unable to read or write, but he began to dictate those inspired words which would soon revolutionize a large segment of the earth: “There is one God”.”

    “In all things Muhammad was profoundly practical. When his beloved son Ibrahim died, an eclipse occurred and rumors of God ‘s personal condolence quickly arose. Whereupon Muhammad is said to have announced, ‘An eclipse is a phenomenon of nature. It is foolish to attribute such things to the death or birth of a human being’.”

    “At Muhammad’s own death an attempt was made to deify him, but the man who was to become his administrative successor killed the hysteria with one of the noblest speeches in religious history: ‘If there are any among you who worshiped Muhammad, he is dead. But if it is God you Worshiped, He lives for ever’.”

  • umaybritimaybcrazy

    While some morons in the U.S. may call for the death of a person for doing something to a religious icon we, the majority, do not. That this poor girl MUST be punished according to their law is barbaric. If she can’t read how does she know she has broken a law? There is a HUGE difference between Pakistan’s laws and the few fools in the U.S. wanting someone dead. This little girl may lose her life due to a law not a want. Don’t compare us to them. We are so much more civilized there is no comparison. If every person on this planet woke up tomorrow and said “no matter what I’m going to be kind to my fellow man today” peace would break out. What a wonderful thing that would be.


    If your religion requires you to put a retarded 12 year-old girl to death, all the noble sentiments in the world are not going to change the fact that your religion is the kind of religion that would put a retarded 12 year-old girl to death and is a religion that this world would be better off without forever.

    American christians have their own such moment in the Salem Witch Trials. If your religion demands you put emotionally disturbed little girls on trial for witchcraft based on group hysteria, then you should tear down your churches and burn your bibles and abandon that “faith” forever.

    The catholics have the Inquisition – 6 centuries of terror.

    The sad fact of the matter is that there is not one major religion that has not and would not put a retarded 12 year-old girl to death for violating its “commandments”.

  • Secular1

    Mr. Mohammad Khan, I offer my kudos to you for your valiant defense of your namesake. The fact of the matter is he was just another ordinary man. I do not care for the testimonials of others, however great they may be. In fact, i do hold Mahatma Gandhi, in very high regard. Nonetheless, unless you persuade me to believe that my grasp of English language is very tenuous. I will rely on my faculties to interpret what I read, be it be the biography of your dear prophet or it be that vile and filthy scripture.

    Your dear prophet, along with the so called predecessors of his, was a vile narcissistic, ego-maniacal, misogynist. The only difference is that all his predecessors were figments of imagination of bronze age ignoramus bigots. Who created these mythological characters out of the thin air. Just like the ancient Greeks, Romans and Mesopotamians had created Hercules, Achilles,Zeus, Jupiter Romulus, Remus, Gilgamesh and host of others. But as characters go the prophetic characters true to their creators were the vilest of the vile characters in all of literature. Take Ibrahim for instance isn’t he most cowardly and deceitful of them all. When he scared SCATless he tries to pass of his incestuous wife, as his sister (of course she was his half sister was’t she) to not once but twice. I mean he pim ps her off twice for handsome dowry. then he lays the pipe on the slave girl, who is given to him as part of dowry. Then abandons the son Ishmael and does not hesitate to sacrifice Isac or is that Ishmael when voices tell him. Then come steh greatest of all the Musa that blopd thirsty monster, who single handedly ethnic cleanses away what 10 or 20 different kinds of “ites”, and “ines” like Jebusites, Philistines, Amalekites, Moabites. Wasn’t he, Musa Mo’s favorite predecessor? Only difference between Musa and Mo is Mo is indeed a historical figure, whereas Musa was a mythical one. Mo folowing in teh foot steps of Musa decimated all the jewish tribes of Yathr


    All sorts of nice quotes about islam, but they do not alter the fact that muslims want to put a 12 year-old retarded girl on trial for blasphemy and burn her.

    Just like last year, when a 14 year-old girl was raped by an older man and a sharia court sentenced HER to death by stoning for adultery.

    All of the nice words about islam don’t mean a thing if you are killing little girls. Time to abandon that religion.

  • Preach Humanism

    Step back. Look at the big picture. You’ll see a common thread. Religion. The baseless concept that has pitted human against human since it was invented. Toss religion out of the ring and then people can talk to each other equally, without the hideous results you get when you hold some objects as “sacred” and trying to prove whose imaginary being is real. None of them have proved their case. Until they do, they must step aside and let the adults handle the conversation.

  • Rongoklunk

    THey call it the religion of peace, when it’s the religion of intolerance, violence and nastiness. And it’s growing all around the world – enabled by Christianity and all other religions of the supernatural.

  • Rongoklunk

    Religions are scams. They are all selling a god who nobody gets to see until they’re dead. That’s got scam written all over it. Ditto the afterlife, which Carl Sagan called “merely wishful thinking” in his book “The Varieties of Scientific Experience”.
    It’s only through childhood indoctrination that a person becomes religious. We have to stop doing this to our kids. I raised five nonbelievers by NOT indoctrinating them into any religion. They are now adults, raising their children the same way they were raised – god free. The least we can do for them is to be honest, and truthful, and help them get 21st century educations.

  • mohammadakhan

    Religions are part of human history.Religions were the outcome of human settlement,and they gave birth to the modern social order.

    Just like without monkeys,there won’t be humans.There is no point bad mouthing religion.Try to understand them and don’t over or under value them.

  • Secular1

    Mr. MohammadKhan, you wrote this “Just like without monkeys,there won’t be humans.There is no point bad mouthing religion.Try to understand them and don’t over or under value them.” and also this “Muslims who support Pakistan’s blasphemy law,Muslims who support Saudi regime,Muslims who idolize the paper and ink of Quran,are no better then people who opposed Mohammad in his life time.”.
    You believe in evolution and also believe that Mo was preaching the right religion as well. Do you think Darwin was correct and also believe that Koran is teh last spoken word of the sky daddy?

    Do you believe that Religion of Zeus, Zoroastrian, Isis, and plethora religion of the yester eons are as deserving of respect as your Islam? After all they are also were oitcome of human settlement. I bet you don;t. All religion like the above religions i mentioned, must be left behind on the dunglhill of history.

  • mohammadakhan


    I believe all religions deserve respect as they are a window into our past.

  • mohammadakhan

    Decay sets in social orders.Look at US constitution.The second amendment has created schisms.Corporation and lobbyists use first amendment to buy the politicians.Voting is becoming a ritual.

  • Secular1

    MohammadKhan your comment about US constitution is non-sequitur. Nothing deserves anyone respect, especially religions. They are vile decrypt institutions based on ignorance and power hunger. If they cannot earn respect then they should whither away. They are nothing but obstacles to reason and morality.

  • Secular1

    MohammedKhan, I appreciate our conversation here. I browsed through, the url you posted. I submit that Spenglers ruminations are a bit dated. Nearly a hundred years later his projections haven’t come to be. perhaps we should wait a few more hundreds of years. Although Egyptian civilization itself had lated more than a 1000 years.

    That said, it is really incorrect to say that two equally opposite propositions within uncertainty are equally probable. Such as if you were to hold the position that “there are no unicorns or there never were any unicorns” is just as probbale as my position that “the unicorns exists or they existed at one time in our natural history”. Though opposite, they are not equally probable, just because neither of us cannot bring concrete evidence to prove our positions. In fact there is enough evidence to show that your position is far more sustainable than mine. In fact I would add by several orders of magnitude. In short an open mind isn’t a gaping doorway for any rubbish to be allowed entrance. Open mind does not excuse you from subjecting the proposals to critical analysis and weigh against the best knowledge we presently possess. The best knowledge we possess points to the fallacy of the god hypothesis and definitely even if the god hypothesis were to be granted, it still automatically point to Yahweh, or JC, or Allah, or Vishnu, or Shiva, or Apollo, or Zeus, or Jupiter, etc etc.


    No one, no concept and no thing DESERVES respect.

    Respect is conferred upon people, concepts and things voluntarily.

    There is not a religion on this planet that can DEMAND my respect. As proven by your histories, all you believers are superstitious, murderous barbarian scum and the world would be a better place without you.

  • mohammadakhan

    Staying engaged is important,I believe.