This letter is in response to Daniel McDonald’s column “Islamic Violence Justifies Islamophobia,” in the Northern Light’s March 22 issue.
It’s articles like this that exacerbate existing tensions between Muslims and the Western world. There are three claims made in the article. First, that the Obama Administration has handled the Arid Uka incident inappropriately. Second, that moderate Muslims are somehow complicit in acts of terror carried out by Islamic extremists (this is a very bizarre claim to make, given that most of the victims of terrorism have been moderate Muslims living in the Middle East and Pakistan). And third, that “Violent Jihadism” defines mainstream Islam, and thus Islam in the 21st century is a “sadomasochistic religion of the vicious.”
First, if you’re merely using the Arid Uka incident as an opportunity to castigate Obama, I offer a word of caution; Islamaphobia is not a joke. It is prudent of Obama, as a President engaged in two (arguably three) military operations in the Muslim world, to avoid language that stereotypes entire groups of people. This is especially true when we want our military to have the support of those very people. Clearly, the McDonald dislikes Obama and it seems like he would capitalize on any opportunity to criticize him, but I ask honestly: would you write this same article if it was John McCain or Mike Huckabee that was in the oval office and refused to use the word “terrorist” in reference to Arid Uka?
It’s right to say that most of the terrorist attacks in the United States have been perpetrated by Islamic Extremists. It’s wrong the say that this justifies Islamaphobia. It’s also wrong to claim that terrorist attacks undermine claims that Islam is a “peaceful religion.”
Christian militants were responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians during the Lebanese Civil War in the early 80?s. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is a Christian rebel group in Uganda that uses rape as a weapon of war and employs child soldiers. The 2002 Soweto Bombings in South Africa were the work of a Christian white-supremacist group. Pastor Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church has gained international notoriety for claiming that “God Hates Fags” at military funerals. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center has claimed that burning the Quran is the “wish of God.” Individuals associated with of The Army of God, a radical Christian group that believes “God wishes” abortion doctors to die, have murdered medical professionals working at abortion clinics. Most recently, George Tiller, an abortion doctor in Kansas, was shot in the head while serving as an usher at his Lutheran Church. When the police found the murderer, Scott Roeder, he was mumbling bible verses. He expressed no remorse for the killing, claiming it was the “Will of God.” Randall Terry and Wiley Drake, both militant pro-lifers, celebrated the death of Tiller with their respective followers. They called him a “hero.”
By the author’s logic, moderate Christians cannot claim their religion to be one of peace and tolerance. Indeed, by his measure, Christianity would be a “a sadomasochistic religion of homophobia and violence.” Is he willing to accuse moderate Christians of failing to stand up against extremists who use the “word of God” to justify unspeakable acts of terror? Many Christians claim that the best way to protect the sanctity of Christ’s message is to distance it as much as possible from acts of violence committed in Christ’s name. Will he write an article telling them they’re wrong to think such things? If some Christians seem ambivalent about the deaths of abortion doctors, will he write an article condemning them for not doing enough to stop speak out against cold-blooded murder?
Living in a nation with a Christian majority, led by a Christian President, we are unwilling to apply the term “terrorist” to Christians. We understand that extremists who use Christianity to justify acts of wanton violence are misguided and inappropriately employing religious texts. Even when groups like the LRA use quotes from the New Testament, such as “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Matthew 10:34] to justify violence against unarmed civilians, we understand these quotes to be taken out of context, and we accuse the LRA of ignoring other passages from scripture that promote brotherhood and tranquility. Why would we not extend the same courtesy to Muslims?
The article acknowledges that an extremely small minority of Muslims is responsible for acts of terrorism, yet simultaneously claims, “the lie that Islam is a religion of peace crumbles every time the Arab world hits the streets and celebrates the murder of innocents.” First, to claim that the “Arab world” takes to the streets every time a Muslim kills a westerner is untrue. In fact, following the Arid Uka incident, most Muslims denounced his actions and expressed sympathy for the families of the victims. The article accuses Obama of being too “politically correct,” in discussing the Uka incident, yet resorts to conservative platitudes when talking about the “Arab world.” That seems a bit inconsistent.
Moreover, his example of Yusuf Qaradawi as a violent Muslim theologian who is supported by the Islamic “mainstream” was extremely misleading. Qaradawi was loudly denounced in 2004 by 2,500 Muslim academics from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, who accused him in a letter of “giving Islam a bad name.”
Second, and more importantly, when Christian white supremacists took to the streets after the lynching of African Americans in the 20?s and 30?s, we didn’t understand this to mean that all Christians were racists. Only racist Christians were racists. This isn’t some fantastic intellectual leap — it is common sense.
To claim that “violent Jihadism is not a fringe element of Islam, it is the mainstream” demonstrates flagrant ignorance about Islam. “Jihad,” roughly translated, means “struggle.” Jihad can (and does) mean giving up your income to help build a school. It can mean going hungry for a day so that others may eat. The definition of Jihad changes based on what flavor of Islam you adhere to. Most Muslims adhere to the “non-violent” flavor. “Violent” Jihad is indeed a fringe element of Islam.
In regards to the discussion about Palestinians — Abu Zuhri doesn’t speak for all of Palestine. Look at the statements of condemnation for Hamas militants from Salaam Fayyad, president of the Palestinian Authority, then tell me that all Palestinians “take to the streets” every time a Jewish settler is killed in the West Bank. Furthermore, there are tens of thousands of armed Jews that build outposts well outside the established settlements in the West Bank. Even the Israeli government acknowledges that the construction of outposts is illegal. Yet we don’t see moderate Jews standing up and taking a firm stance against outpost building. Does this justify anti-Semitism? Are we to hold everyone in Israel responsible for the racist remarks made by individuals like Avigdor Lieberman? If I believe that settlement activity is a flagrant violation of International Law, am I justified in applying my feelings to the Jewish population writ large? I think not. I understand that there are a large number of peace-loving Israelis who despise settlement expansion just as much as I do. They use peaceful and legal avenues to express their grievances and work towards peace in the Middle East.
In the same way, I understand that Islamic extremists don’t speak for all of Islam. I am willing to listen to, and work with, moderate Muslims who want to work with the West in stopping future acts of terrorism. Maybe it’s time for the author of this article to start listening as well.