Thursday, November 20, 2003

No sooner has gay marriage come before the Massachusetts legislature than it goes
onto the back burner for about 45 of the 180 days mandated to facilitate the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling. Holiday recess. Presumeably, at least some of our elected legislators will avail themselves of a little down time to consult their constituents as to their views on the matter. Said constituents are reported in the polls to be 54% for gay marriage and 35% opposed, with the remainder in the gray area of indecision. So if put to a popular vote right now, gay marriage would pass without problem.

The destabilization of the Near East caused by our invasion of Iraq continues with a cluster of serious bombings in Istanbul following the big one in Saudi Arabia. I stand
firm in my belief that our government has no in-depth understanding of Muslim culture, history and belief. During some of our Democratic administrations, most notably Jimmy Carter's, there was some productive interaction with the Muslim world. But I now fear
we are hastening the progress to a major conflict, and we are perhaps even crystalizing the process by which many Muslim countries could be transformed into theocratic Islamic Republics.

Therefore, I was surprised and pleased this week to be invited to attend a lunch by MIT's Arab Student Organization. The teaching I do summers in connection with the travel/study program that includes the topic of the Muslim/Jewish/Christian collaboration in Medieval Spain apparently has gotten me on the ASO's list of friends of the MIT Arab community. They have also asked me to give a talk during the January term (our IAP or Independent Activities Period) on what I teach and how I structure the program. It consists of core lectures, visits to historical sites relevant to the study, and a Practicum (hands-on art studio) where students explore classic Islamic arts like calligraphy, text illumination and mosaic. The lectures focus on various aspects of the history, music, arts, the incredibly advanced science (much of which was later appropriated by "western" scientists without attribution), medecine and quality of life in Moorish Spain that never gets taught in our schools. One example: while Christian Europe lived in disease and squalor, Moorish Spain provided subsidized pharmacy services and advanced hospital care for its population.

I think people need to know this. I think they need to know what Islam has actually stood for in history and why the ultra-fundamentalist factions are really a perversion
of the basic message of the Qoran. The Muslim world and we need to stop knee-jerk
demomization of each other if we are to create any safety and peace for ourselves..

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