As I may have mentioned before, I have a friend (former work colleague) who is what I would call a "right-wing Christian." She would call herself simply a Christian. (Of course, she calls me a Liberal - and not as a compliment!). She is a lovely woman and as long as we don't talk about politics or religion we get along fine.
However, back when we worked together, we did make a tradition of occasionally meeting for lunch (along with another person whose political/religious views were in the middle between the two of us) and discussing polarizing subjects such as abortion, gay marriage, evolution and other topics. We did this to try to explore our viewpoints and understand what the "other side" was thinking about those subjects.
She retired six or so years ago, and we still met for lunch on occasion but didn't discuss the forbidden topics anymore. More recently we've only been in touch on e-mail. I have sent her a couple of pictures from the old days when we worked together and a note from time to time. She, on the other hand, has taken to sending me some of the "right-wing" e-mails that get forwarded to her. More and more, these e-mails pertain to Islam, and the threat it poses to Western Civilization, America, and of course, Christians.
Sometimes I just ignore these e-mails. If something is particularly egregious, however, I have felt compelled to respond. And what I've learned is, no matter how conciliatory a Liberal may be in dealing with a Right-Winger, and no matter how many concessions a Liberal may make (e.g., "you have a good point about X, but I do disagree with Y"), the Right-Winger only sees things in black and white and makes no concessions.
I am using my friend as an example of this, and am not trying to make her seem like a bad person. She is sincere in her beliefs and I respect her belief in Christianity. I am writing about this because I am interested to hear others' opinions about some of the points being made, and to share my reaction to them.
One of the key issues that seems to be irking the Right these days is Islam: the religion; and Muslims, the whole group of people who believe in any form of Islam.
Most recently, my friend sent me the following video, which talks about the proposed mosque and community center that will likely be built near Ground Zero. If you listen to it all the way through, it basically says, based on a few quotes from the Qur'an, that Muslims are two-faced and we shouldn't trust them if they want to build a mosque at this site.
I wrote back and told her that if they own the land and are not violating any zoning laws, they have every right to build the mosque there, as one of this country's founding principles is freedom of religion. I told her if we were to ban a mosque there, we would need to also ban any other religious buildings near Ground Zero (i.e., zone them out).
Her response included the following:
"Destroying the American culture and allowing a foreign culture to move in is dangerous – especially when groups like the Muslims refuse to assimilate and begin to demand that they be given the right to govern themselves outside our constitution and laws. This is what is occurring as they more and more demand that Sharia Law be allowed and supported by the politicians. Look at England, France and Spain."
She also forwarded an essay comparing Muslims to the Nazis during World War II, in that the silent majority of Germans did not stand up to the Nazis when they still could have:
"A German's View on Islam
A man, whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II, owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism. 'Very few people were true Nazis,' he said, 'but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.'
We are told again and again by 'experts' and 'talking heads' that Islam is the religion of peace and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant.
It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the spectre of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.
The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honor-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. It is the fanatics who teach their young to kill and to become suicide bombers.
The hard, quantifiable fact is that the peaceful majority, the 'silent majority,' is cowed and extraneous.
Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China's huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.
The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet.
And who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were 'peace loving'?
History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason, we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points:
Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence.
Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.
Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late. As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts--the fanatics who threaten our way of life."
First of all, my question is, is it true that the peaceful Muslims don't speak up? Or are we just not hearing about them since the media control what we hear and see, and stories about scary Muslims get a lot higher ratings? I'm guessing the latter explanation is the case.
I found a site that quotes a number of "moderate Muslim" sources that speak out against terrorism. Just one example of many:
"Using the concept of Jihad to justify harming the innocent is contrary to the letter and spirit of Islam. We condemn any violence that springs from this misguided interpretation."
Islam, like Christianity, has many different denominations, some more fundamentalist than others. There has been an Islamist Revival in the last 100 years or so, resulting in the more radical religious movements that are taking place. However, there has also been a movement of Liberal or Progressive Islam.
So to lump all Muslims into one group and tar them with the same brush is as silly as saying that all Christians believe the same thing. Most Christians would certainly condemn the bombing of abortion clinics or even some of the hate speech coming out of certain churches such as the Westboro Baptist Church. So why would conservative Christians believe that all Muslims approve of the hate speech and violence of just some of the denominations in their religion? It's like comparing Westboro Baptist to the United Church of Christ, which ordains gay ministers, both men and women, looks at the Bible as mainly symbolic, and has a very liberal outlook. No comparison! You wouldn't even know it was the same religion.
My friend also forwarded the following comparisons, obviously cut and pasted from elsewhere, into one of her notes to me:
"Mohammed was the prophet of war; Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Mohammed's disciples killed for the faith; Christ's disciples were killed for their faith (Acts 12:2; 2 Timothy 4:7).
Mohammed promoted persecution against the "infidels"; Christ forgave and converted the chief persecutor (1 Timothy 1:13-15).
Mohammed was the taker of life; Christ was the giver of life (John 10:27-28).
Mohammed and his fellow warriors murdered thousands; Christ murdered none but saved many (compare John 12:48).
Mohammed's method was COMPULSION; Christ's aim was voluntary CONVERSION (Acts 3:19).
Mohammed practiced FORCE; Christ preached FAITH (John 6:29, 35).
Mohammed was a WARRIOR; Christ is a DELIVERER (Col. 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
Mohammed conquered his enemies with the sword; Christ conquered his enemies with another kind of sword, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; Acts 2:37).
Mohammed said to the masses, "Convert or die!"; Christ said, "Believe and live!" (John 6:47; 11:25-26).
Mohammed was swift to shed blood (Romans 3:15-17); Christ shed His own blood for the salvation of many (Ephesians 1:7).
Mohammed preached "Death to the infidels!"; Christ prayed "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
Mohammed declared a holy war (Jihad) against infidels; Christ achieved a holy victory on Calvary's cross (Colossians 2:14-15) and His followers share in that victory (John 16:33).
Mohammed constrained people by conquest; Christ constrained people by love (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Modern terrorists derive their inspiration from Mohammed and carry out their despicable atrocities in the name of his god; Christians derive their inspiration from the One who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9).
Modern day disciples of Mohammed respond to the terrorist attacks by cheering in the streets; Modern day disciples of Christ are deeply grieved at past atrocities carried out by those who were "Christians" in name only (the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, etc.)."
My reaction to these statements is that it is very interesting that the Christian beliefs show their sources in the Bible; there are no corresponding sources for the alleged beliefs of the Muslims from the Qur'an. So are any of these comparisons valid?
First of all, it is ironic that the "modern day disciples of Christ" are said to be deeply grieved by past atrocities carried out by "Christians" in the past. I'm sure those past Christians thought they were carrying out the word of God at the time. Plus the generalization that all modern disciples of Mohammed cheer for the terrorist attacks is equally disingenuous (see point #1 above, that there are many Muslims who condemn the attacks).
As for the beliefs of most Muslims, this link debunks the ten most common myths about Islam and also has other interesting links to follow with further explanations. Based on this information, guess what? Islam does not promote terrorism! Here are some verses from the Qur'an that are quoted:
"If anyone slays a person
- unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land -
it would be as if he slew all people.
And if anyone saves a life,
it would be as if he saved the life of all people.
Invite all to the way of your Lord
with wisdom and beautiful preaching.
And argue with them
in ways that are best and most gracious...
And if you punish,
let your punishment be proportional
to the wrong that has been done to you.
But if you show patience, that is indeed the best course.
Be patient, for your patience is from God.
And do not grieve over them,
or distress yourself because of their plots.
For God is with those who restrain themselves,
and those who do good.
Oh you who believe!
Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God,
even against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin,
and whether it be against rich or poor,
for God can best protect both.
Follow not the cravings of your hearts, lest you swerve,
and if you distort justice or decline to do justice,
verily God is well acquainted with all that you do.
The recompense for an injury
is an injury equal thereto (in degree),
but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation,
his reward is due from God,
for God loves not those who do wrong.
But indeed, if any do help and defend themselves
after a wrong done to them,
against such there is no cause of blame.
The blame is only against those who oppress men
with wrongdoing and insolently transgress
beyond bounds through the land,
defying right and justice.
For such there will be a penalty grievous (in the Hereafter).
But indeed, if any show patience and forgive,
that would truly be an affair of great resolution.
Goodness and evil are not equal.
Repel evil with what is better.
Then that person with whom there was hatred,
may become your intimate friend!
And no one will be granted such goodness
except those who exercise patience and self-restraint,
none but people of the greatest good fortune.
It is also explained the Qur'an must be taken as a whole and understood in the context of its times. Interestingly, that is something most Biblical scholars would say about the Christian Bible as well. Sure, there are some bloodthirsty verses in both books, if you take them out of context; in fact, the Qur'an and Bible share many of the same books and stories, so that is not surprising.
This fear of Islam seems to be coming here from Europe, where the Muslim communities are much more widespread and evident in day-to-day life. Some countries are outlawing certain symbols of Muslim religious belief, thinking that by doing so they will send a message or quell the growth of Islam. For instance, Sweden banned the building of any more minarets in their country at the end of last year.
France has passed a bill banning the wearing of the burqa in public spaces, which is expected to be approved. Similarly, Belgium is also in the process of passing such a bill, although it may have trouble passing in their Senate.
Spain recently voted down a similar bill that came before its Parliament.
Syria has joined the list of countries that are putting limitations on the wearing of the burqa (full body coverage) or the niqab (face veil only). Syria has now forbidden the wearing of the veil in schools. Similarly, in Egypt, students are not allowed to wear the veil during exams.
As the article linked above points out, this is symbolic of the deeper rifts within Islam itself.
"But Syria's struggle with Islamists and visible symbols of Islam is part of a wider clash, a clash within Islam itself. Political Islam is gaining ground across both the Arab world and Muslim-majority countries. What happens in this debate matters profoundly, because the same debate is taking place within Muslim communities in the west.
The debate, crudely put, is over the space between the personal and the political. Secular-minded governments have tried to keep faith out of state institutions; Islamists want their faith to guide those institutions. Personal space has also increasingly been politicised, with a rise in the wearing of the headscarf and the veil in Syria and in most Muslim-majority countries.
For the Syrian government this increased religiosity is a serious challenge to its secular, authoritarian rule. Those who look to faith to guide their lives want it to guide their leaders too. Islamists comprise the main opposition in the region: if there were free and fair elections tomorrow, the Islamists would win."
The article goes on to say:
"This is a complex, unfolding argument, with deep roots, but it is one we are scarcely attentive to in the west. Yet it matters, because the same currents affect Muslim communities in Europe and North America. What shape Islam in the west takes, how liberal, how participative, how beholden to faith identity Muslim communities become will be affected by this debate. (And not only Muslim communities: a rise in faith identity will be felt across the political spectrum.)"
How effective is it for any country to ban the wearing of a certain religious symbol in order to try to contain the power of that movement? Not very, in my opinion. Usually banning something just makes those who support it want to do it more and to strengthen the opposition to the law.
And, in an ethical sense, how can any country in all good conscience ban something that is part of a person's religion? How would this differ from banning Jewish men from wearing a yarmulke? Of course, in France, they already did that as part of a ban on any religious symbols being worn in schools. Here we wouldn't do it, so I hope the United States would never consider a ban on wearing the veil. Here's a test to anyone who thinks we should: Would you forbid nuns from wearing habits?
So, back to my original question: Islam: True Threat or Right-Wing Bogeyman?
From what I have read, it seems that most Muslims are indeed peace-loving and their beliefs are not all that different from Christians in terms of how to treat other people. However, some factions of Islam are definitely misusing their religion to resort to gaining political power through violence, and to such a degree that even countries like Syria and Egypt are concerned.
However, my main conclusion is, yes, there may be a threat from the politically-driven Muslim extremists, but certainly not from Muslims as a whole. And some of those who are suicide-bombers are troubled people who used Islam as an excuse to blow things up, much as Timothy McVeigh used Waco as an excuse to blow up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City when he obviously had other issues as well.
Many others are part of politically motivated groups whose purpose in blowing things up is not religious at all but intended to drive out what they consider invaders from their territory. Then they link it to obscure passages in the Qur'an in order to justify actions that go against their religion. But these terrorists cannot be considered in the least bit representative of what Islam is.
In the linked article, Robert Pape of the University of Chicago states:
"I've studied 462 suicide terrorists from around the world since 1980 who actually completed the mission. Over half are secular. The world leader is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka: A Marxist group, a secular group, a Hindu group.
Instead of religion, what over 95 percent of all suicide terrorist attacks since 1980, all around the world have in common is a specific strategic goal, to compel modern democracies to withdraw combat forces from territory the terrorists prize greatly.
The Jordanian attack that we have just witnessed is a prime example of this strategy logic. Here we have four Iraqis leave Iraq in order to attack western targets that Zarqawi's group described as the rear base camp of the American army in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula."
My take on the whole controversy is that here in America, as long as we keep separation of church and state at its current (already too fuzzy) level, it is unlikely that Muslims will impose Sharia Law on the U.S. Our Constitution would prohibit that. Therefore, it is unlikely that we will become a Muslim nation any time soon. That said, I think we will be subject to occasional terrorist attacks by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Most will be limited and hopefully thwarted.
Yes, it's a danger, but in a free country we cannot go around limiting the freedom of people just because they "refuse to assimilate." Haven't we heard this somewhere before? Oh yes, about the Hispanics. Oh, and the Germans, the Japanese, the Jews, the Irish, the Italians...in fact, any immigrant group that has come to the United States at any point in its history has been blamed for various ills of society.
Right now the bogeyman is Terrorism and the Muslims are getting the blame for it. The funny thing is, back when the IRA was blowing up the English right and left, and some Americans were funding them, there was no big backlash against the Irish in the United States just because some Irish people were blowing up innocent civilians. Why? Well, hey, the Irish Americans look and sound just like us! How could you blame them for what a few bad apples were doing? Or, you could just conclude that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter and maybe many Americans secretly - or not so secretly - supported the IRA's cause.
The Muslims have a harder row to hoe with the U.S. citizenry, much like the Japanese during WW II. Many of them don't look like us, some of them don't speak English, and they're easy to identify and blame for stuff.
The solution to the problem? Communication and understanding between people. So go ahead and build that mosque and community center near Ground Zero. Maybe some non-Muslims will go in there and actually get to know some Muslims and we will be one step closer to peace.
Leonard Pitts had a good op-ed piece about the mosque at Ground Zero, and I think I will end this post with his words.
Pitts points out that that our "blanket antipathy" to Islam and Muslims is
"...antithetical to what we claim to believe as Americans. How shameful was it that candidate Obama had to keep reassuring voters he wasn't a Muslim, and that no one - not the candidate, not the pundits - thought to say the obvious: What if he was?
Are Muslims not Americans, too? Is that what we're saying now?
Yes, I fear terrorism. But I find I fear even more what my country has become in response to it...
So yes, putting that building in that place might be painful and provocative, but it would also be a reminder of the very values the terrorists sought to kill.
And we seem to need that reminder more every day.
They want to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero? Let them."