Initial Thoughts On Boston Bombings

RebrandingWell, the news is still coming in, but it is looking now like we are watching another episode of Muslims Gone Wild.

As I watch this story unfold I’ve been curious about the repeated use of the word “radicalization” in reference to the two Muslims who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon.

As I’ve written here before, words matter, and the use of the word “radicalization” as a substitute for getting too much of a bad religion concerns me.

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On Libya & Great Religions


In response to the murder of four U.S. diplomats by angry Muslims in Libya, Secretary of State Clinton went on record today saying Islam was a “great religion.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant by that.

I wasn’t sure if she meant there were some religions that were not so great. Of course if that were true, it would mean the U.S. government was preferring some religions (the “great ones”) over others (the not-so-great ones).

So then I thought perhaps she meant all were religions were great. But of course that isn’t really worth saying. If all religions are great it doesn’t really make sense to call out one without mentioning the others.

And you know, when The Last Temptation of Christ was released, I don’t remember the U.S. government apologizing to Christians or calling Christianity a “great religion.” Maybe, I thought, the moniker “great” is reserved by the U.S. government for religions whose adherents commit murder in response to criticism of their leader. I don’t know; it’s all very confusing to me.

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Apologies, Muslims, Reagan & Communists

I don’t know if you read Nicholas Kristoff’s op-ed piece in the NY Times Saturday, Message To Muslims: I’m Sorry.

Mr. Kristoff is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, known for bringing to light human rights abuses in Asia and Africa and has been referred to by Jeffrey Toobin as “the moral conscience of our generation of journalists.”

In the piece, Mr. Kristoff correctly states many Muslims are compassionate, peaceful, and altruistic. He expresses regret for Americans equating Muslims with terrorists, suggests Americans should not malign Islam because of the acts of Islamic terrorists, and apologizes to Muslims for those who have done so.

Mr. Kristoff is undoubtedly correct that there are many Muslims who are compassionate, peaceful, and altruistic and that they should be treated like human beings, not terrorist monsters. I’ll go further: Christians should love not only peaceful Muslims but Muslim terrorists.

But Mr. Kristoff is undoubtedly wrong in suggesting–as it seems he does–that the relative goodness of the Muslims he identifies as compassionate, peaceful, and altruistic should exempt Islam from public scrutiny.

First, Mr. Kristoff’s premise is fuzzy. Does he mean by “equating Muslims with terrorists” that he believes Americans are accusing all Muslims of being terrorists? I’ve not heard anyone suggest that. I have heard people say Islam is not a “religion of peace” and question the earnestness of Muslims who say it is. There is nothing persecutory or bigoted about that. It’s a fair question.

Second, Americans believe the public square is the marketplace of ideas. Islam is an idea, just as Christianity is. Ideas can be true, false, good or bad. But the American experiment is rooted in the supposition that discussion is the means by which we arrive at the proper conclusion about any idea. Mr. Kristoff seems to suggest Islam should be exempt from that discussion. (By the way, in a typical Islamic state there is no such discussion).

There should be no surprise that Islam’s stock is currently down in America. It could have something to do with Muslims flying planes into buildings, threatening, in the name of Allah, to kill cartoonists and would-be book burners. Even if that is the impetus for the discussion, it doesn’t delegitimize the argument.

I get the impression Mr. Kristoff wants to make sure people are treated fairly and humanely and that he believes by exempting Islam from the public discussion it is more likely we will all get along. He seems like a good and thoughtful man, and his intent should be lauded. We need men and women like Mr. Kristoff who can talk people off the ledge of bigotry and xenophobia. But at some point Truth matters, and refusing to talk about the underlying idea at issue doesn’t bring resolution or peace; it just postpones them.

I remember the media raging at Ronald Reagan  for calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” I’m sure there were Soviet communist party members who were compassionate, peaceful, and altruistic people at the time, and there were plenty of journalists–probably some who worked for the New York Times–who suggested the answer to the Cold War standoff was to seek a better understanding of the Soviet people and their needs and fears.

Instead Reagan thrust the question into the public square.Does the tens of millions murdered by Stalin, the tens of million imprisoned for their political or religious beliefs, or the hundreds of millions robbed of their freedom by the Soviet empire qualify it for the label, “evil”? It was a legitimate question, and we are all the better for having asked it. GS

Lessons From Threatened Book Burning

2010 (c)iStockphoto/wildcat78

Pastor Terry Jones’s 15 minutes of fame has stretched into a reality tv mini-series. If you haven’t heard the latest, Pastor Jones met with an imam who, Jones insists, promised him the planned Islamic center near ground zero would relocate if Jones would call off the book burning. Jones says he agreed and announced he was canceling, but not long after the meeting, the imam claimed he had made no such promise. Jones responded by saying the imam had lied and that the book burning was no longer cancelled but suspended.

I blogged on Jones’s inflammatory intentions recently and suggested he may have had more in common with Islamic terrorists than he realized. I also blogged on the proposed Islamic center near ground zero, contending the most popular arguments against are missing the point. But I think there is something more significant here than either individual incident.

In response to his plan to burn a Quran, Jones claims he and his people have received over 100 death threats, and there is concern around the world of bloody repercussions by Muslims against Christians, and even the American military. So serious were these threats, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called Jones and encouraged him to call off the book burning. And all of because Jones threatened to burn a book.

But I don’t recall hearing of death threats against Muslims in response to plans to build an Islamic center near ground zero. Many Christians disagreed for sure, but they tried to reason and persuade. They didn’t threaten to kill people.

Or look at the response of the Christian community to Jones. Christians from every conceivable denomination called on Jones not to go ahead with the book burning, and they did so publicly. They went on the record to make it clear what Jones proposed to do was not representative of Christianity or its Founder.

But in response to plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero, Muslim leaders have been silent. I didn’t hear them calling on their fellow Muslims to build at a different place or suggesting love or respect for the feelings of others is required of them by their Islamic beliefs. If they have spoken publicly its been to claim victim status or first amendment rights.

Obviously, there are exceptions on both sides, but my point is there has been a substantive difference between the response of Christendom and Muslims which reveals more about both than the underlying controversies that spawned them.

What do you think? Do you see moral equivalency here or a difference in the responses? GS

On An Islamic Center Near Ground Zero

Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched with interest the controversy surrounding the plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near ground zero in Manhattan. It’s clear Americans don’t like it.  Even those who recognize the relevance of the First Amendment and argue for the right of Muslims to build a mosque there don’t like it.

As a result, the more nuanced opinion at this point in the debate has become, “They have a right to build a mosque there, but I think it’s sensitive for them to do so.”

I think American opposition to Muslim plans near ground zero is more visceral and less intellectual than people let on. In their gut, Americans recognize the brashness of Muslims building a proselytizing base just a few blocks from where Muslim terrorists killed 2700 Americans. They recognize it as a symbol of aggressive Islamic expansion, and that’s a symbol they find offensive.

The problem is an increasingly secularized America is impotent to respond to the spread of Islam. You don’t reply to Islam by extolling the virtues of pluralism and freedom of religion. Muslims don’t convert from Islam to Democratic Capitalism. Democratic Capitalism doesn’t offer meaning in life, instruction on how to treat my wife or raise my kids, or a comprehensive worldview.

Yes, Muslims have a right to build a mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero. And, yes, it’s insensitive that they are doing so, but so what? Making accusations of insensitivity against a faith that has, for 1,400 years, thrived on violent religious imperialism is like accusing Hitler of bad manners.

Islam, like paganism, will eventually burn out, but it won’t happen by merely offering Muslims American citizenship unless we also offer them citizenship in the kingdom of God. GS