As you might imagine, over the past four days I've gotten several angry, pitiful emails urging me to read the Koran. If only I could interrupt my dhimmitude long enough to read the Koran, the argument goes, I would see the insidious master plan that the Muslims have for us. And if I possess the barest shred of intellectual integrity, I would reconsider aiding and abetting the stealth jihad of exposing Islamophobia inside FBI counterterrorism training.
"Read the Koran!" has become such a ubiquitous and self-righteous exhortation of the Sharia-Panic circle that it's easy to overlook exactly what it means. At its heart, it presumes that a religious text sacred to almost two billion people around the world for 1500 years is... easy to understand.
Put aside for a moment the additional presumption that the Koran is a blueprint for war, something like Mein Kampf. That's noxious enough. But just consider that for centuries, theologians, scholars and believers have grappled with the meaning of the Koran -- constructing reconciliatory arguments about its contradictory passages, incorporating counterevidence, arguing with others who give slightly more weight to this-or-that textual nuance. Whole schools of thought develop -- often heatedly -- about the correct understanding of Islam.
And none of that matters. Because after 9/11, a group of Americans with minimal prior exposure to Islam figured it all out, for all time. They discovered the plot that lurks within the heart of the Koran. They can even quote you passages, like real scholars. The quest for meaning and understanding has reached an endpoint.
I am an agnostic. I'm not an atheist for the same reason I'm not religious: I simply cannot presume to possess any certainty about the largest metaphysical question humanity confronts. But I learned enough at East Midwood Jewish Center to know that only a fool believes s/he has an ageless religious text figured out. After my studies there ended, I learned enough about the world to understand that the wo/man who makes that presumption exhibits a basic disrespect for the intelligence of billions of people who struggle with those texts for their entire lives.
Those who tell you, in an accusatory tone, to "read the Koran," will never have read the Koran. They will perhaps have scanned words that the Koran contains. But they will never have read it. What a shame that they don't understand the difference.