“Get Yer Free KO-Ran, Right Here!”

The Dutch Reformatorisch Dagblad, a Christian newspaper closely tied to the Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) Church, nevertheless features a short piece about the information-spreading ambitions of a certain American religious organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): Free Koran for leaders in US. Inspired by President Obama’s speech in Cairo of last month, the CAIR has begun a program (called “Share the Koran”) designed to distribute a supply of 100,000 copies of the Muslim Holy Book among prominent American leadership personalities, meaning governors and other politicians, judges and other criminal justice officials, educators, and journalists. Naturally, one is reserved for the President himself, and a lottery will be held among those contributing money to support this CAIR effort to choose the lucky person who will get to present it to him. Presumably that Koran will include the bookmark with sayings printed on it about social justice and tolerance included with all the others, although in Obama’s case this will be slightly redundant in that they are his own utterances on those matters.

This effort follows the CAIR’s earlier (and still on-going) campaign, called “Discover the Koran,” whose aim was to distribute a smaller supply (a couple tens of thousands) but to ordinary Americans. Presumably the CAIR calculates that the narrower but higher-status target-group of “Share the Koran,” headlined by the President himself, can attract more contribution-money out of the woodwork to enable it to actually meet its numerical ambitions. In any case, all Korans from the CAIR come with the original Arabic text, an English translation, and supplementary explanatory materials. That itself is a little problematic: Muslims are a bit uncomfortable with any Koranic translations since the real divine book is only supposed to be the original version in classical Arabic. (The prophet Mohammed transcribed that flawlessly from the archangel Gabriel’s dictation, you see, whereas any translation must necessarily be the work of fallible human beings.)

No matter, though, there they are, and if you reside anywhere within the US it’s clear you should be able to get your own free copy of the Holy Koran (Arabic/English/supplementary materials/Obama bookmark) without too much effort. The real question is how many people will really be interested. Most public officials who need votes to gain and keep their jobs won’t be able to turn the offer down (except perhaps, one imagines, in certain regions more red of neck). But it’s likely that what most Americans think they know about Islam, after the September 11 attacks especially, is neither particularly complimentary nor open to being changed by some free “religious book” on offer.

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