Topic: "Dumb As We Wanna Be"(3)
Gandalf was born in Lebanon. When Frodo first sat in his class at the College of the Shire, he knew that he could learn objectivity from one who saw Middle Earth from a completely different perspective. Despite himself, Frodo learned that the institutional make-up of societies halfway around our small blue planet were based on different values than those known to Frodo. Memorizing terms like "Sunni" and "Shi'ia" was something more than rote educational mechanics; it was understanding.
The Times however, were very different. Frodo's perception in those days was that of an "Ugly American," imposing his values on others by the hypocritical support of tyrants and dictators. While preaching "democracy" and "freedom," it mattered not if it were Latin America or Southeast Asia, the American was going to fight the Communist. The Shah of Iran, the Republic of South Vietnam, and someone named Fulgencio Batista all rose to prominence because of the support provided in opposition to the perceived threat of those on the far left. Surely, nothing like that could happen again.
Frodo recalled the term "fatwa" when Christiane Amanpour used it in her excellent production entitled "In The Footsteps of Bin Laden." She reported that many Muslim clerics were angry with, and did not support, Bin Laden because he acted against the United States without the pronouncement of a "fatwa" by an authorized clerical source. For the sake of clarity, a "fatwa" is a pronouncement by a religious leader intended to shape the actions of the faithful on almost any subject, as long as the pronouncement is based on the Koran and the words attributed to the prophet Mohammed. Until a "fatwa" is issued, there is no legitimacy to the deeds of the doer.
The relevance of the "fatwa" is just as important, and just as misunderstood, as were the terms "Sunni" and "Shi'ia" at the time Bin Laden struck.
Approximately 1,000 pronouncements of "fatwa" are issued each and every day. You read that right, dear reader, 1,000. Given the decentralized nature of the Islamic faith, conflicting pronouncements can be issued on everything from sex to politics (which, then again, aren't as different as Frodo intended to imply). Muslims in Egypt, for example, seeking religious guidance, may now turn to satellite television or the Internet for opinions from as far away as Indonesia or Morocco. That is, of course, unless they followed the "fatwa" issued in 2004 by a cleric in India, who ruled that Muslims should not watch TV.
With no patriarch (see "Pope") to arbitrate, clerics are supposed to have religious and legal training on which their authority is based. However, even highly-trained scholars have issued conflicting pronouncements on subjects as diverse as "suicide bombing" and "attacks on civilians." Daniel Williams, a reporter for Bloomberg, wrote that "Dissident preachers fault establishment clerics for what they consider abstruse and sometimes ridiculous judgments. As evidence, they cite recent fatwas from a university banning sculpture, authorizing female circumcision, and one that proclaimed women who meet alone with men ought to breastfeed them in order to create a maternal bond that precludes having sex."
The competition between clerics grows more intense because of the position of influence held by the religious institution in Muslim countries. We all thus better understand the "al Sadr" Shi'ia militia and their influence in conflict with other clerical groups in Iraq. Adding to the tension is a new generation of television preachers, including Amr Khaled, known as the "tele-imam," whose show "Paradise in Our House," appears on several satellite stations (selected by TIME as one of its most influential people in 2007). Amr Khaled acknowledges that he lacks formal theological training and models his style upon that of Oprah Winfrey.
Today Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani. Weyrich, founder of the "Moral Majority," endorsed Mitt Romney.
Frodo doesn't remember much about breastfeeding. It might be a good idea to refresh his memory.