Today is Independence Day in Tajikistan. And, I sit in my hotel room, avoiding the festivities. My mind drifts to celebrations in other countries and I consider the times when I have chosen to stay away and the times when I have gone out into the streets to celebrate with my new home and my new friends. I wonder what Independence Day means to the Tajik citizens. Unlike most other former-soviet states, Tajikistan fell into a 6 year civil war after independence. Like to many of the other countries, they have struggled to maintain their social structures and their livelihoods. I also wonder what Ramadan means to the locals who, while many are Muslim, lived under a soviet regime that did its best to undermine religion. I have never lived in a non-former-soviet-Muslim country, but I imagine that in some fundamental way, they are different.
Tajik independence, this year, falls the day before the end of Ramadan and two days before the anniversary of 9/11. It falls less then a week after a bombing in Khojand (in the north) and another altercation in Dushanbe (the capital). It falls 2 days before man in Florida plans to burn the Koran.
I am in the hotel and much of the news coverage is talking about this man—I can’t think of him as a preacher because his actions and words contradict his faith—who plans to burn the Koran and all the people who have condemned his plan of action. The news circles on questions of increase violence in the Muslim world if he fulfills this horrific act and limits of freedom of speech. Discussions circle around if Petraeus’ comments or comments of other prominent Americans and Europeans brought the piece increased attention.
I respect the 1st amendment. I respect the right of people to burn the American flag and speak out when they believe their government is in the wrong. I respect the right of people to protest. And, I respect the right of people to believe. I may not be a religious person, but I think that people in their personal lives should be allowed to practice whatever religion feels right to them as long as they do not harm others. But, this… this is not a religious act. If anything, it feels closer to a hate crime.
A hate crime against Muslims, against people who I consider friends, against four young women who I studied with and who attended Christmas mass at my parent’s Catholic church so that they could learn about a different faith tradition, against colleagues, against someone I used to date and still care for, against strangers who I don’t know, and against a country that I am living in.