We try to understand events which seem strange to us, especially when they are part of a cultural fabric in some other part of the world, because we are trying to understand the underlying idea of life. The specific events are interesting, but more important is the cohesive worldview of which they are all a seamless part:
* Two high-profile cases within the last year in Saudi Arabia speak volumes. In the first, a brother killed his sister, named Fatima, because she had become a Christian. In the second case, a father cut out his daughter's tongue to prevent her from discussing Christianity; finding this insufficient, he then burned her death. In both cases, there was no legal action against the killers, in part, because they were male relatives of the victims, and in part, because they were motivated my anti-Christian hatred. In a final layer of shocking detail, the father in the second killing was a high-ranking official in the Saudi government, whose career in "The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice" was helped, rather than hurt, by the killing. To be sure, these were not the only two cases of Christians being murdered because of their beliefs, but they are two cases that were leaked out to the free press in western countries.
* During President Obama's recent visit to Saudi Arabia, he bowed to the king, something never before done by the leader of a free nation. Normally, when heads of state visit each other, they do so as equals, and therefore they do not bow. During the preceding eight years, when President George W. Bush visited Saudi Arabia, he did not bow to the king; President Bush and the king are personal friends, and the Bush family and the Saudi royal family are friends. Obama's action has been interpreted variously; there is no clear consensus about what he was intending by this violation of protocol.
* President Obama issued an invitation to the leaders of Iran to open diplomatic discussions; the Iranian government has indicated that it is not interested in negotiating about nuclear weapons, or its regional ambitions regarding Iraq.
* Obama also issued an invitation, asking to speak with "moderate" elements of the Taliban. A Taliban spokesman replied, in a press release, that "there are no moderate Taliban."
* The five prisoners who had been the support team for the nineteen terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks have issued a statement in court; delivered by their lawyer, and released by the judge, their statement says that they are dedicated to "kill all infidels, including Christians, Jews, and atheists;" that they consider themselves "terrorists to the bone;" and that the 9/11 attacks are "a badge of honor in our religion." Although we can dismiss these five men as merely extremists, and not representative of a larger group, we must remember that they are still celebrated in posters, T-shirts, and bumper stickers in Arab world; we must remember the spontaneous celebrations in the streets of the Middle East on 9/11. This is indicative of something larger.