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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Larry Simoneaux
Bio: Larry Simoneaux
Date:  February 12, 2006
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Strong Voices Needed.

Want an example of the power that religious leaders have? Try this one.

I was born and raised in New Orleans.

From kindergarten through high school, I attended Catholic schools. Priests and nuns were a daily fixture in my life and an important, though sometimes (if you got out of line) painful, part of my education. Bishops and Archbishops occupied rarified air.

In 1956, as the Civil Rights movement was gathering headway, Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel wrote a pastoral letter to the members of the archdiocese of New Orleans. In it, he said:

"Racial segregation is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity and solidarity of the human race as conceived by God in the creation of Adam and Eve."

That, my friends, caused a stir.

In 1962, however, he ignited a firestorm when he said that all Catholic schools in the archdiocese would be desegregated.

Several prominent Catholic political leaders fought that one hard. In fact, they fought it so hard that Archbishop Rummel excommunicated three of them.

These days, it’s difficult to understand what that meant. Back then, though, the entire archdiocese basically gulped. Archbishop Rummel had told his flock: "You’re going to do the right thing or else," and meant it.

By 1964, Catholic schools in the area had all been effectively integrated.

Fast forward.

Many Muslims are outraged because a Danish newspaper recently published several cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Apparently, Islamic law forbids any depictions of the Prophet.

I’ve seen the cartoons in question and, by today’s standards, they’re pretty mild. Still, if Muslims believe the cartoons are blasphemous, I understand the anger. That’s because, not so long ago, some "artists" (I’m really stretching the term here) in this country tried to pass off a crucifix in a jar of urine and a painting of the Virgin Mary with a clump of elephant dung on one breast as art.

Christians were, rightfully, outraged.

That outrage, however, was tempered by moderation and reason – terms not readily understood by the "wing nut" faction of any religion. That outrage was also tempered by an understanding that the price of living in a free society occasionally includes being offended by what others may say or do.

Here, despite the anger, the norms of civilization remained in place. No one was beaten. No one was killed. No buildings were burned.

Minor aside: As regards the above-mentioned works of "art," I remember thinking that, if this was the level "art" had reached, the results of my dog’s morning walks might soon be on display in the Louvre.

Given what’s now going on, I think reasonable people worldwide would like to begin seeing some strong manifestations of Muslim moderation. That’s because, when they see all of the carnage caused by a dozen or so cartoons, they begin wondering.

Wondering because, for several decades they’ve watched fanatics blow up churches, synagogues, buildings, trains, buses, cars, planes, schools, restaurants, marketplaces, reception halls, lounges and wedding parties.

Wondering because they’ve watched fanatics form governments and call for an entire nation to be "wiped off the map."

Wondering because they’ve watched fanatics deny women (for you reason-impaired fundamentalists out there - approximately half the human race) the rights to education and work, and institute penalties for transgressing in these areas that fall somewhere beyond gruesome.

Wondering because they’ve long harbored a niggling suspicion that barbarous behavior is neither virtuous nor approved of by any deity.

These same people want only to live their lives in peace, don’t mind that others call their God by a different name, and tend to shun religious loons who believe that everyone must worship a certain way or die.

Many of these people are now beginning to wonder if Muslim religious leaders will ever stand up to the fanatics and basically read them the "Riot Act."

Personally, I’d like to see the Muslim counterpart of Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel drum a few fanatics out of the fold. Who knows? The threat of losing out on the seventy-two virgins might finally get their attention.

However they decide to go about taming the fanatics, I think it’s best they do it before a world grown weary of bombings, beatings, and beheadings begins to take a somewhat jaundiced view of what might otherwise be considered a legitimate grievance – the caricaturing of a religious figure.

In simpler words, if nothing changes, many reasonable people might begin responding to Muslim "outrage" in a manner best described by the words of an old country song.

You might remember them.

"Here’s a quarter. Call someone who cares."

Larry Simoneaux

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Biography - Larry Simoneaux

Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.


Read other commentaries by Larry Simoneaux.

Copyright © 2006 by Larry Simoneaux
All Rights Reserved.

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