People are making a difference for both good and evil

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 15, 2010

Last week a Florida pastor and a few followers came close to igniting a firestorm of extremism with his threats to publicly burn copies of the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book – a horrendous act he backed off from only at the last minute.

But if a handful of misguided zealots can have such a profound influence for evil, so too can small groups of people have a profound influence for good in our world.

Cochrane just happens to be blessed with many of the latter kind. Some of these role models will be front and centre this fall at a Cochrane and area men’s gathering.

But more about that in a minute. First I’d like to share some of the many responses I received to my open letter to the Florida pastor in last week’s column.

Words readers used for describing the Qur’an-burning mentality include: “foolhardy,” “ludicrous,” “provocative,” “vile,” and “another Kristallnacht” – or, as Raj Patwardhan, of Mumbai, India, put it, “the pungent fumes of intolerance.”

“The world is quite quickly going mad,” wrote Saskatoon scholar Don Cochrane. The pastor and his small congregation “are resolutely bringing on a social and cultural Armageddon.”

Former Cochrane newspaper editor David Forbes asked, “Why do some people who generally do good works do such foolish things in the name of God?”

Cochrane Eagle carrier Jake Gotta accused the pastor of “making Christians look bad.”

Don McNaughton, a professor at Cochrane’s Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary, agreed, adding he was praying that the pastor would “realize that his actions will not accomplish the work of Christ nor demonstrate His love and compassion for this world.”

Local writer Richard Maillet saw in the pastor’s plans proof that “ignorance is the root of all evil.”*

While a Canadian Forces officer in the Middle East, Richard developed great respect for his Muslim hosts around tea and laughter. “Knowing Muslims is friendship and trust,” he said. Even the morning chants from the mosque “will take your breath away and bring you closer to your own soul or to God, regardless of its flavour.”

Sultan Mahmood, whose Ahmadiyya Muslim community held its annual convention in Cochrane earlier this summer, sent me a statement by its London-based head. Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said:

“Religious extremism, be it Christian extremism, Muslim extremism or any other kind is never a true reflection of the religion. . . . There is nothing wrong with intellectual or theological debate but this should be conducted within the bounds of decency and tolerance. Instead what we are seeing is hatred being spread.”

Writing from Oakville, Ontario, Helen Hare said she was “appalled at the possibilities of what one man can do; it is not even as if he represents a large group.”

About motivations and reactions, Springbank reader Ralph Dubienski, a dentist deeply committed to global humanitarian outreach, asked: “What are the roots of the fear and concern” underlying the planned burning?

Alluding to the unexpected response of Amish forgiveness and compassion following the murder of five Pennsylvania school children four years ago (see my column of Oct. 18, 2006), Ralph added about the Florida pastor’s plans, “Let’s hope that the world responds in an unexpected and responsible way.”

Or, as Okotoks reader Tami Ali put it, “It is so much more important to offer Light.”

Which brings me back to the light that will be shared at the Cochrane RancheHouse Oct. 15–16, dates I hope all my male readers will circle on their calendars.

Those are the dates for “Men Making a Difference,” an event I’ve helped organize. The goal of the gathering is for us men to see ourselves in challenging new ways through keynote addresses, workshops and informal times together.

Featured presenters include: Everest climber Dr. Bill Hanlon; authenticity author David Irvine; Cochrane’s “marathon man,” Martin Parnell; renowned Morley artist Roland Rollinmud; community development specialist Michael Bopp; Capt. Walter Martin of the Canadian Armed Forces, back from Afghanistan; and Luc Bouchard, a leader in the Alberta Father Involvement Initiative.

Classical guitarist Martin Russell will keep things on a pleasant note.

For only $40.00 per person, meals included, here’s an opportunity for Cochrane-area men to dream together about starting fires, not of evil, but of goodness.

To pre-register (required), phone Cochrane Family and Community Support Services at 403-851-2250.

As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world” – and in this case, change the world very much for the better.

*Richard Maillet’s entire letter, sent two days before the planned Qur’an-burning and wonderful in its imagery, is as follows:

Warren, well done! Definitely your best column.

Ignorance is the root of all evil.

To me a Muslim is a good father taking his family to the Mosque on Friday, a caring and loving individual who strives towards its realisation through the personal relationship he nurture between himself and God.

To me Muslims are those drivers at the desert tour we did in Dubai, all the tourists were gone, and there was only our group left, and around the fire under that beautiful moon that only those Arabic countries arbour, we shared life experience, laughed and enjoyed the presence of one another until late at night.

To me Muslim are people who above else will try to get to know you, develop friendship, mutual respect and trust. Once that trust is established, you are brothers for life. You break the trust, you break the respect, never will it come back. You honour the confidence and their generosity is boundless. Your given word is your given word binding you in a much stronger fashion than any written contract would.

To me Muslims are those shop owners who will sit down with you and share a cup of tea. They will want to discover who you are, what is the name of your son, where are you from all about you. They are also merchants, they have been for millennium. They will negotiated, they will haggle, but they do it with so much class, you cannot but admire their skills. They will ensure that when you go home that night with your new treasure, you will feel good about the whole experience.

To me living in a Muslim country is hearing the morning chant from the Mosque, how beautiful. When you take the time to listen to it, most people were too busy cursing at being woken before sunrise, they were not listening. The chants will take your breath away and brings you closer to your own soul or to God regardless of its flavour.

To me knowing Muslims is friendship and trust.

Pastor Jones, should stop, listen. Unfortunately, he represents that part of our humanity we should keep hidden. He will not open his heart and the spiral of hatred will grow a little further on Saturday when he will bring back the autodafé.

—Richard Maillet, Cochrane, Sept. 9, 2010

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

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