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Vice President Joe Biden listens as Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan speaks during the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 11, 2012.
The Koran – and not the Bible – was featured in a question for the 2012 vice-presidential debate. Moderator Martha Raddatz asked whether the United States should have apologized for “Americans burning Korans in Afghanistan? Should the U.S. apologize for U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses?”
Congressman Paul Ryan responded, “Oh, gosh, yes. Urinating on Taliban corpses? What we should not apologize for…
Raddatz broke in, “Burning Korans, immediately?” Ryan continued near seamlessly, “What — what we should not be apologizing for are standing up for our values.”
Ryan’s stance reflects basic etiquette in a diverse society. Once made aware, Americans respect the basic rules around anyone’s sacred text or objects.
Awareness naturally leads to curiosity. Other religions are curious about a religion with 1 billion adherents worldwide, leading to books like “Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide” and “The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran.” Because of that curiosity, along with the intense conflicts over faith in the modern world and the passion of adherents, audiences can expect to see more references to the Koran in politics and media discussions – and even as a central theme in films, novels and art.
And that could lead to new consternations because rules over the treatment of the Koran are many. Non-believers are not supposed to handle the book, but listen to others reading or wear gloves. Believers are expected to make formal ablutions – ritualized cleaning – before touching the book. The book must be stored in a special place and kept closed – though curators maintain that regularly turning pages of an old book on display assists with preservation. The Koran describes itself as “honored,” “a book that is protected/None shall touch it save the purified ones.” (56.78-79)
Online translations and interpretations from American universities and beyond are plentiful. Perhaps more amazing is how many young Muslim men have memorized the entire book, hundreds of verses, in Arabic – capable of readily reciting passages or confirming instantly whether or not certain words make an appearance in the Koran.
Amid the pressures of a heated vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, vice presidential candidate and congressman, hurried to relay his take on American values – presumably respect for other religions, standing for democracy and human rights and against corruption, solid security for Americans, and a strong foreign policy – before the moderator broke in with a question on Iran.
Another untouted value for Americans is curiosity – the exploring of other cultures and welcoming the other into our midst. The forays into studying, discussing, dissecting the Koran will include mistakes and misunderstandings. Artists of all types will test the boundaries. But that curiosity signals the ultimate desire for empathy, respect and desire for connections.