Buddhists are building the Grand Mosque of Tlemcen

The Grand Mosque of Tlemcen, Middle East Online, 2-29-12

After the shooting high school in Ohio nothing seems very important, I feel kind of empty.  There are no answers and no solutions, senseless things just happen.  The world, of course, goes on; voters vote in Michigan; killers kill in Syria; and NASCAR cars NASCAR at very high speeds.  But in the light of the senseless killing of three high school students and injuring of others by a student from another high school those other things are more difficult to consider seriously.

Although, Syria is an exception on that list.  People killing each is always important and always worthy of our attention; and the events in Syria are reaching a climax.  It looks like the resistance in Syria will be broken soon and the situation will return to something like the pre-2011 era.  The Arab League, the United Nations and national leaders from most countries have protest and threatened, but those fighting the Syrian army needed more than votes, promises or tears.  They need weapons, air support, food, medicine and money.  They will not get it.  In a week or two or three in will be over.  Assad will declare the referendum a success and probably make some other concessions.  But he will still be the head of state and the army will still enforce his will.  Syria will become one more lesson from the Arab Spring.  All of the countries Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria illustrate a basic principle, although each did it in a different way.  The principle is simple, each country marches to its own drum, for its own reasons.  None of the events were driven by western agendas or expectations; and none of the resolutions will meet western agendas or expectations.

When enough time has passed to get a more objective perspective, I think we will see that only three outside countries will have gained prestige and furthered their economic and political agendas in the region; Turkey, Russia and China.  And today, it looks to me like China’s strategy will prove to be the best of those three.  All along in the region and in Africa, China has attempted to maintain normal relations with all countries regardless of the type of government or civil disturbances; China just wants to do business and maintain a diplomatic relationship.   This week a Chinese construction company is partnering with Algeria to build the third-largest mosque in the world.  It will cost $1.6 billion, hold 120,000 people, cover 49 acres and have a minaret 900 feet tall.  It will have a library with 1 million books and have seats for 2000; only the two mosques in Saudi Arabia are larger, one in Media and one in Mecca.  The Algerians think the mosque will become a major destination for pilgrims, scholars and tourists.  The company has been doing business and building major projects in Algeria for 30 years.   As difficult as it is for us to believe, it does not take a true believer to build a mosque for a true believer – a Buddhist can do it.  We define every person in the Middle East in terms of religion and often suspect  any Muslim.  The Muslims in the Middle East define us in terms of religion and often suspect any Christian or Jew.  The Chinese seem to have found a middle way, one that apparently is acceptable in an Islamic context.  In the long-run that is the right answer; we don’t need to teach anyone to be democrats, or convert them to capitalism or Christianity – we just need to get along with them.


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