Jaez is quite correct. Islam is a religion that preaches peace. Islam began as an upstart religion, and early Muslims found themselves fighting to survive as a community. While there are violent passages in the Qu'ran, such passages also exist in the Christian Bible and the Torah. Psalm 21 is a very good example, and Leviticus is full of vile stuff. The more militant passages in the Qu'ran are immediately followed by more peaceful passages. The message is, yes, fight people who are trying to kill you but the moment they ask for peace you must make peace and sacrifice for it. Over 90% of all Muslims are ordinary people who just want to take care of their families and enjoy a good life. Sure they don't like Ariel Sharon and much of what Israel does, but they are not suicide bombers.
It is true that Islam is a peaceful religion. But that truth may be irrelevant.
Religions are judged more by the actions of their believers than by the creed. Many Christians have never read the entire Bible, and most Pastors return again and again to the same familiar passages. For most people, depth of study involves pouring over the text itself, often losing the scope of the whole book in individual passages. A real discussion of context and history is rare outside the seminary, monastery or the other places where Imams and Rabbis are trained. For many, faith is whatever their spiritual leader says it is.
Today the entire Catholic church is on trial and under shame because a tiny minority in the priesthood forgot their vows to serve God and celibacy because they could not control their lust. Many people who seek truth in America would never turn to Christianity because of the work of Fred Phelps, Richard Butler and Pat Robertson. Intelligent design is proof enough to them that religious belief is ignorant. Christians have turned Jesus into a tool of hatred. A few Christians seek to cover their moribund theology with ignorance. They have not forgotten that the Church once held that the earth was flat, that Christians have burned people as witches, and tortured those who would not follow the prevailing dogma. But they argue that this time is different, that they are somehow to wise to repeat the ancient sin of arrogance. Overzealous and self-righteous Christians have given their faith a bad name. I remember the day a friend of mine, a man of conscience, reacted to my declaration of faith by saying, "You're one of them!?"
As a Christian i live inside the church. I know the stereotype is innacurate. Even the fundamentalist Christians I know are honest, generous people, not abortion clinic bombers. But I stand inside my faith, and so my view is complex. From outside Christianity appears different. For many, the public face of Christianity consists of hypocrites, Jerry Falwell weenies like Ned Flanders.
Islam too will be judged by outsiders, and the basis of that judgement will be the actions of those who call themselves Muslims. Today the loudest Islamic voice comes from those who proclaim their faith with violence. I recognize that much of the anger directed at the West in general and the United States in particular comes from long frustration felt by a people whose governments are almost uniformly bad. The Islamic world has some legitimate grievances. None justify even a fraction of what happened on September 11, 2001. Nothing justifies the genocide being committed in the Sudan.
The stone-throwing boy or the peacefully disobedient represent a mindset that Westerners understand and sympathize with. We honor Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We honor the soldier who fights bravely and honorably, even in a losing cause. The suicide bomber and his sixty-seven virgins in paradise represents something bizarre and impossibly evil. By choosing this path, a few Muslim terrorists have placed themselves outside what we consider human. By association, Islam and those who practice it also fall under suspicion.
The challenge for Muslims is not to convince Westerners that Islam itself is not evil, it is to convince more radical Muslims that their ways will lead to disaster. If dirty bombs go off or airliners are rammed into public buildings, no protestations of innocence will suffice. Enraged people do not easily make technical distinctions.
The day I wrote this NPR reported that an al-Quaeda spokesman declared that another attack would soon come, and "it would not be less than we have already done". He claimed that Americans have caused the death of thousands of muslims, "so we are entitled to kill at least four million". He specifically claimed a right to kill one million American children.
Already anger toward Muslims is growing among ordinary Americans. It is well contained and quiet, but another attack of similar scale will bring it out into the open. It won't matter what George W. Bush or Tom Daschle say. There are many Muslims who live near my home. The Columbus office of al-Baarakaat was literally down the street before the FBI raided it. Women wearing the chador are common.
If another attack occurs, Muslim women will remove their veils. The chador will make them targets for harassment. A couple more such attacks and you will see mosques burning. Firefighters will remember their brethren who died in the twin towers and not respond swiftly. Policemen will stop to finish their donut before responding to calls. Harassment will become violence, and the attackers will draw more sympathy than their victims.
Osama bin Laden and his compatriots are teaching Americans to hate. To hate Muslims and Arabs. We may come to reject the freedom and openness that are America's true virtue. But for Muslims the question becomes more serious, for America is not a weak country.
In his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has a chapter called "Hama rules". The title refers to an incident that occured in Syria when the Muslim Brotherhood chose to challege the secular, Ba'athist leadership of Hafez al-Assad. Assad massacred over 20,000 people in Hama, a good size city that was nearly deserted when Friedman visited it. Friedman's thesis was that to some in that part of the world, restraint is seen as weakness. Only a massacre demonstrates serious intent.
Many Muslim radicals do not think the United States serious. They recognize our power and technology, but to them Americans are weak, effete people too fat and spoiled to resist violence. You hear this in their refrain We love death as you do life! They think that because Americans do not spend our soldiers' lives readily that we are a cowardly people. They think that of all the West, which is seen as a decadent and corrupt society.
I invite them to read some history. Read about Gettysburg, Antietem, The Wilderness, Bastogne, Iwo Jima and the Ia Drang Valley I have visited the Somme battlefieds and seen the acres upon acres of crosses lined up in rows. I have been to the beaches of Normandy where the tank traps still rust in the low tide. Every day unexploded shells are still dug up in Europe. Westerners make war with a singleminded ferocity matched by few cultures.
Soon after September 11 I remember Terry Gross asking one Arab reporter what America could do to satisfy the muslim radicals. He replied, "Move to another planet." Western civilization isn't going anywhere. A few Americans have already started to ask themselves if it is possible to live in peace with Islam. I have heard suggestions that America kill "half of them" to get the message across. With each bombing more will suggest such extreme violence. I think America can tolerate maybe two more 9/11 level attacks before we start going nuts. Killing a million American children will bring a new crusade. One where we play by Hama rules.
I would like to remind Jaez that the non-believer's tax makes for a very useful evangelical tool, as conversion is financially rewarded. And that Christians too are required to tithe. Do all muslims tithe? Are all devout? We both know the answer to that is no. .