Sunday, January 01, 2006

Wafah Dafour (Mark 1.4-11)

If you go to an Internet search engine and enter the name 'Wafah Dafour' you will find plenty of pictures of her, not least because she's the niece of Ossama Bin Laden. Actually, she isn't his one and only niece. He comes from a big family. He has fifty-four brothers and sisters, and countless nephews and nieces. But Wafah Dafour is the only one of Bin Laden's nieces who is a US citizen, and she's the only one who wants to be a singer. Recently, in an effort to kick-start her career, she has been posing for the kind of photographs that you normally find in luxury bathroom catalogues – with her legs and shoulders sticking out of lots and lots of bubbles in a beautiful white enamel bath. She says that Americans have been victimising her because of her association with Ossama Bin Laden, but she can't be too anxious about it because she hopes to cash in on his notoriety by describing herself as 'the sexy Bin Laden'.
Wafah's unqualified enthusiasm for American culture is, of course, the very antithesis of everything Bin Laden stands for. 'I want to be accepted here,' she told the American TV presenter Barbara Walters. 'I want to be embraced by America, because my values are the same as yours.'
I was horrified to discover recently that I feature on a number of websites and blogs that are critical of Islam. There I am portrayed as someone who wants to be nice to Muslims even when they pose a threat to Christians by persecuting them or plotting terrorist attacks. I am also described as a doormat and a deluded fool. One retired vicar – who had worked in the Middle-East in the 1940s and 50s – said that 'I had taken a viper to my bosom.'
Well, of course, that's not true. I'm perfectly well aware of, and deplore, the intolerant treatment of Christians in many Muslim societies and I'm well aware of the threat posed by people like Ossama Bin Laden. But on the other hand I understand why many Muslims cannot bring themselves wholeheartedly to embrace Western values like Wafah Darfour. And that's because – like many other Christians – I too would have difficulty embracing Western values. I guess there are many men who have been immersed in Western cultural values from birth, but who would still feel pretty ambivalent if their daughter, sister or niece posed naked in a bathtub for GQ magazine. Just because we oppose Al Qaida, or other forms of extremism, that doesn't mean we necessarily want to accept Western values at any price. So that leaves plenty of middle ground where moderate Muslims and Christians can meet on equal terms and work together to change society for the better.
In the final analysis there is a radical difference or disjuncture between Islam and Christianity. As Christians, we want to baptise people with the Holy Spirit that was in Jesus. However, we can stand alongside our Muslim sisters and brothers in calling people to 'repentance for the forgiveness of sins'. [1]
[1] Mark 1.4

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