September 11 and Religion

The Los Angeles Times has reported Obama's speech for 9-11, where he claims that it was the perversion of religion, rather religion itself that was the cause of terrorism. This is a challenging statement and whilst politically expedient, it certainly should be subject to scrutiny. After all, it is often in the name of religious justifications that some of the greatest secular crimes have occurred. Would Obama also be prepared to condemn, for example, the Crusades as a perversion of religion?

Probably so, given his own religious outlook. Certainly there seems to be two directions in religious thought. First, there is irrational, that which has an exclusive approach to the notion of God and an absolute moral code. Then there is the rational, which treates the content of deeds rather than piety and is interested in universal inclusion.

Tensions have risen with the prospect of building of an Islamic cultural centre near "ground zero", and an extremist pastor promising to burn copies of the Qur'an to "commemorate" the day. In response to even this threat there has been significant protests in Afhanistan and elsewhere.

These incidents raise significant challenges to the role of religion, the right to free speech and the duty of responsible speech. It would seem that it would be useful, in the spirit of reconciliation and as an example of religious acceptance, to allow the Islamic centre to be built. And certainly, as much as the action is disrespectful and offensive, the desecration of holy books should not be disallowed. This is of course is challenging; but we must never find ourselves in a position where the only speech we allow is that which we approve of. But certainly emphasis should be placed on educating people that free speech and responsible speech coincides.