Islam, democracy and Rosie

Readers respond to an interview with Tariq Ramadan, and O'Donnell's coming out.

By Salon Staff
Published February 19, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Read "Tariq Ramadan: The Muslim Martin Luther?" by Paul Donnelly

This interview resonated deeply with me. I was raised in the United States by my divorced parents, my father as a Muslim and by my mother as a Christian. I've been in between so many different worldviews that all have a heavy "us vs. them" component, that it's refreshing finally to hear someone single out that particular element for the incredible mischief it causes in the world.

When a philosophy or worldview forces you either to be "with them or against them," it makes it very hard to choose the aspects of the culture on your own terms in a way that engenders authenticity. It leads to blind adoption of tenets that have not been personally verified in the same way that they were for the individuals to whom they were revealed originally.

I definitely agree that Islam needs to undergo major reforms, but I feel that the West does too. Often, it seems that two cultures quarrel because they suffer from similar shortcomings, and rather than taking responsibility for them, decide instead to project them onto others in the form of hatred.

My personal opinion about the current political atmosphere is that America is about as Democratic as the terrorists are Islamic. In fact, I think Islam and democracy are very complementary, and people are using them for the positive association that they carry with people, which in the end represents form over substance.

Americans know that the biggest loophole in the Constitution exists in the permissible restriction of freedoms and rights when it comes to the military and warfare. As America proclaims its long, protracted struggle (see jihad) against terrorism, the state of perpetual war will likely lead to a diminution of freedom. Also, the tendency of some people to see the truths of the Quran as applicable to every other context leads to a constant longing to look backward and return to the context in which the truths applied most fully. Trying to resist change instead of working with it often seems to lead to violence.

There won't be the next Michael Jordan, until it's not "the next Michael Jordan," the next Prophet until it's not the "next Prophet," or the next Jesus Christ until it's not the "Second Coming." When people start to worship the creative endeavors of others and lose faith in their own ability to achieve the same degree of divine expression, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As I understand it, Islam is about a struggle to surrender to something greater than oneself. In the way that it affords equality to all people, it's similar to the way that democracy provides equal opportunity to all its citizens. It also prescribes that there should be no compulsion in religion, somewhat like the way democracy represents a voluntary association of individuals absent the coercion of a dictator.

In any case, I think that an Islamic country must also be a democratic country, and in order for democracy to work, it requires people that have strong morals and a sense of personal responsibility and connectedness, which Islam, in part, can provide. However, I think that the most important way that both could be redefined to become philosophically compatible is for them to become movements toward peace, love and harmony. They both need specifically to represent movements of people toward a civil and humane society, rather than the justification for further bloodshed.

I feel that the first step is to say that any country or group that wishes to show support either for Islam or Democracy must fly a white flag above any other flag of group affiliation. A democratic country could proactively adopt a white flag and save face against potential aggressor nations, saying that it surrenders to its own people and to other groups that have chosen to adopt a stance of mutual collective surrender. Furthermore, any nation that takes an aggressive stance toward another cannot claim to be spreading either Islam or democracy as long as people associate a white flag with both. If a country itself flies a white flag, it would not make sense that it is attacking others, given how universal a white flag is as a sign of surrender. Finally, since Islam, by definition, means surrender or submission, I don't think it would be too hard to suggest that its official flag should be white. The main difference in this case is the degree to which it's mutual, which love, if it be true, must be.

-- David Jalaluddin Abdullah Thomson

Read "Coming out Rosie" by Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams writes, "It's time to call Jerry Falwell and tell him it's over, because to marginalize gay people at this point in the game is going to be absurd. Rosie's disclosure will be revolutionary by virtue of its ordinariness."

All I can say is, "A-fucking-men!"

But that ordinariness has no consequences beyond itself -- especially in terms of the law. Her coming out will make no real difference.

Rosie's sexual orientation is a no-brainer, you're right. It is also a no-brainer that the number of violent crimes committed against Americans perceived to be gay will continue to rise before it drops, that the lovers and partners of gay Americans who do not have citizenship will continue to be asked to leave and that the majority of states will ban "gay marriage." And legislation will be specifically aimed at denying gay citizens certain protections and rights, even concerning employment and housing, not to mention health benefits.

The stories that aren't being written by the media -- not by Salon or anyone -- are not about Rosie coming out or another gay-friendly straight celebrity patronizingly saying, "I have lots of gay friends, and I think one's private life shouldn't involve the government," but the complete lack of rights for gay and lesbian Americans, even as supposedly gay Americans are so very accepted. Rosie's coming out is a no-brainer. But it also must be said that her coming out will also make no difference in terms of rights and law, in terms of suicide or hate crime rates, for the rest of American gay and lesbian citizens. The part that's "no big deal," is that it's a celebrity -- wealthy and protected by their wealth -- who is coming out. Being gay in America is still a very big deal, and for the vast majority of gay Americans, a very big disadvantage in virtually every aspect of life.

-- Scott Isebrand

Thank you for a positive article about Rosie O'Donnell. I've heard so many negative things in the press, and yet she is so popular with "the little people," myself included. The author has nailed it: She is us. She makes me smile every time I watch her show, and every time I read her words in Rosie magazine. Thank God for that. We need all the smiles we can get these days. I know the article was mainly about her "coming out," but I don't care about that. I'm a married, with an MBA that I'm not using right now, working part-time, Brownie-leading, CCD-teaching, PTA-involved mother of two. I don't know if I fit any "demographic" audience for Rosie but I think she's wonderful. Thanks again.

-- Christine Donoghue

Salon Staff

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