BI 3223 Worldviews, Lipscomb University
Islam (part 2)
“Why they hate us”: the troubled history of Western-Islamic relations
- At a press conference one month after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, Pres. Bush2 said: “I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are. We’ve got to do a better job of making our case.” In another speech he said: “They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other” (Jewett 15).
- Bush assumed it’s all a misunderstanding and launched a media PR campaign, which failed miserably because it ignored the real issues of tension and the centuries-long history of US oppression and interference in the Middle East.
- In 1996 Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, the organization responsible for the September 11 attacks in the United States and many other mass-casualty attacks worldwide, declared war on the US in an official statement outlining the grievances Islam had with our foreign policy. The major issues were US unconditional support of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, US support of dictatorships in Islamic countries when the relationship favors our interests, and American military bases near the holy sites in the Arabian Peninsula. Bin Laden said nothing about hating American freedom (Michael Scheuer, Marching Toward Hell, 2008, xiv).
- “Muslims don’t dislike the United States as such but rather dislike American foreign policy. They believe that the US supports Israel one-sidedly against the Palestinians, and supports Arab dictators … or the Saudi ruling family at the expense of democracy. This is a message that a lot of Americans, and [the Bush administration] have not wanted to hear” (Fukuyama 76).
- Some critics of Islam claim that there are incompatible differences between the worldviews of the Western world and Islam, but our problems have arisen more through a long history of animosity and conflicts. Sadly, most Americans have never learned any of this history.
The Crusades (1096-1291)
- Western suspicion of Islam goes back centuries. European nations called Muhammad the antichrist, driven by lust for power and women (due to his many wives).
- The Crusades were a series of religious wars between European Christians and Muslims, primarily to secure control of holy sites in Jerusalem considered sacred by both groups. Eight major Crusade expeditions occurred between 1096 and 1291.
- Before the Crusades, Muslim rulers of Jerusalem were tolerant of both Christians and Jews (who had been banned by Christian rulers) and respected their holy sites. Muslims placed no restrictions on Christian pilgrimages.
- On the other hand, during the Crusades, Christians massacred Muslims, women and children, turned the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem into a church, the Al Aqsa mosque into a palace, and destroyed most other Islamic holy sites.
Barbary Wars (1801-05)
- The first US war on foreign soil was against Muslim states in Tripoli, when the US refused to continue paying them enormous bribes for protection from their pirates. The Marine slogan “to the shores of Tripoli” comes from this action.
Major changes in the Middle East after World War I:
- After six hundred years of rule, the Islamic Ottoman empire fell with the defeat of their allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary, at the end of World War 1 in 1918.
- The Western nations carved new countries out of the Ottoman territory: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq.
- The Treaty of Sevre gave Syria and Lebanon to France, and Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait to Britain. Iraq gained independence in 1932. Jordan was given autonomy but not independence until after WWII. Britain also had great influence over Egypt.
- The British drew up the boundaries for Iraq, consolidating oil fields, with no consideration for the three hostile groups that made up the new country, Shi’ites, Sunnis, and Kurds, who did not want to be united. During the initial demonstrations against Western control, British air forces strafed Iraqi protesters and killed over ten thousand with chemical weapons (Rossi 83).
- By 1920 only Turkey, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran were independent of Western control. Even in those countries, Western influence was strongly felt and resented. Since 1909 Britain had owned the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, paying Iran only 16% of the profits from their oil (Kinzer 117).
- The discovery of oil in the Middle East greatly changed the dynamics of Western foreign policy in the region. The US has good relations with the ruling rich oil sheiks, who are marginally Islamic but are despised by the rest of the Arab world both for their US ties and their secular values. For many Muslims, oil is seen as both a curse and a blessing. Saudi Arabia is often condemned for its corruption, its leaders viewed as wine-drinking billionaires who repress the poor and do nothing to support true Islam (Rippin 17).
1948: the new nation of Israel
- Jews began returning to Palestine starting in the late 1800s. Britain accepted the idea of a Jewish state after WWI, but little was done until after WW2. The 1917 Balfour Declaration protected the rights of the native Palestinians as well as the Jews, trying to insure peaceful cohabitation of both groups.
- After WW2 British control ended. Palestine, renamed Israel, was divided into Israeli and Palestinian sections, which the latter rejected, protesting that their land had been taken from them. Palestinian dreams for their own independent state were ignored.
- After the seven month Arab-Israeli war in 1948, Israel gained control of more land. Palestinians now said, “OK, we’ll take what the British gave us,” but Israel said “too late.”
- Israelis own ¾ of the land, while Palestinians have ¼. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refuges now live in Jordan and Syria.
- Zionism (the claim that Israel was given this land by God) remains a major irritant for Muslims around the world, due in part to envy of Jewish prosperity with its influence in the West.
- The editor of the Islamic media company Al Jazeera: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nations with 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.” (Tennessean 12-25-06)
- US support of Israel continues to be one of the major reasons why Islamic nations distrust American foreign policy.
- The Six Days’ War: Israel led a surprise air-strike against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, taking control of the Gaza Strip, Sinai, and the Golan Heights. They now controlled all of Jerusalem.
- At this time, some Jewish zealots wanted to tear down the Islamic Dome of the Rock (built in 692 AD) and rebuild the Temple (which the Romans destroyed in 70 AD), but the government decided to let Muslims control the Temple mount area to maintain the peace. (There have since been a few unsuccessful attempts to blow up the Dome.)
- The US has sided with Israel in part due to conservative (premillennial) Christian influence on US foreign policy (the restoration of Israel seen as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy and a sign of the end times), and the emotional reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust.
- The enthusiasm of many evangelical Christians over the modern nation of Israel is unfortunate and misguided. Old Testament prophecies refer to the restoration of God’s people in a spiritual sense when they return faithfully to Him, not simply taking control of the land. In contrast, modern Israel is predominantly secular with a majority of Israelis claiming to be atheists or agnostics. This is not the restoration of God’s people as envisioned in the Bible, or a sign of the End Times.
1979: The Islamic Revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran
- The Shah of Iran came to power in 1925 with British support. His son, also called Shah, succeeded him in 1941, but was run out of the country by the popular Prime Minister Mossadeq, who was demanding British oil companies share more of the profits with Iran. America interfered, and a CIA-backed coup defeated Mossadeq, returning the Shah to power in 1953. The US gained a 40% share in Iranian oil (Hertz 76).
- In 1977 President Jimmy Carter described the Shah as a great leader who had the “respect and the admiration and love” of his people. In contrast, Amnesty International reported that the Shah had the highest rate of death penalties in the world. “No country in the world has a worse record on human rights than Iran.” The US helped the Shah create the SEVAK, a brutal secret police force (Rampton 17). But as long as he was our ally, and kept our oil supplies going, we overlooked his atrocities. Iranians still remember Americans as the supporters of the Shah’s dictatorship.
- In 1979 a people’s rebellion led to the Shah’s exile. The Shi’ite leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to Iran. He directed the elected assembly to rewrite the constitution, submitting all laws to the Sharia rule of Islam. Khomeini claimed his rule was something God had ordained (Viorst 193-5).
- Iranian students took over the American Embassy and held 56 hostages for 444 days. Pres. Carter’s failure to resolve the situation probably cost him re-election in 1980.
- For an interesting and surprising view of modern-day Iran and its people watch this video: link
1980: the Iran-Iraq war
- Saddam Hussein assumed power in Iraq in 1979, after being head of “security” (i.e. the secret police) since 1968. Saddam was of the Sunni faction and oppressed the Shi’ite majority in his country. Iraq attacked Iran in 1980, starting an 8-year war (Kepel 33).
- In the 1980s the US saw Saddam Hussein as an ally against Iranian extremism. In 1982 Pres. Reagan removed Iraq from the State Dept’s list of countries supporting terrorism, although there was no significant changes in their support of terrorists against Israel. He also authorized new trade and bank loan agreements with Iraq, which aided their war efforts (Galbraith 19).
- In 1983 Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld to shake Saddam’s hand, pledging US support. That year the US established full diplomatic relations with Iraq for the first time since 1967.
- Almost two decades later, as we were preparing for war with Iraq in 2002, in a press conference Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense, denied any memory of the event until he saw the video: “Well, there I am.” It was crucial for the Bush2 Administration’s argument for war with Iraq to paint Saddam Hussein as the ultimate villain, another Hitler and world menace, and inconvenient to remember that we had once been allies with him when it served our purposes.
- During this war between Iraq and Iran, the US actually aided both sides while remaining officially neutral. We helped Iran through the illegal sale of military equipment (surface-to-air and antitank missiles) in order to gain release of hostages in Lebanon held by pro-Iranian groups (only three were released). The funds from these illegal sales went to the Contras fighting Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua (Kepel 52, Cleveland 424). These dealings became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, of which Pres. Reagan denied all knowledge.
- The US military provided intelligence to Iraq, helping them to target Iranian sites with chemical weapons (Galbraith 19).
- In 1988 the Iran-Iraq war ended with an estimated 1 million deaths and 3 million injuries. Khomeini died one year after the ceasefire.
1990: the Gulf War with Iraq
- By giving Saddam our support in the ‘80s war, he assumed that his prize would be the neighboring country of Kuwait, which he wanted to take over. The US ambassador to Iraq quietly assured him that we would not object: “we take no position on these Arab affairs.” She was apparently out of the loop with the White House’s real plans, who never expected Saddam to win the war with Iran (Friedman 20).
- Pres. Bush1 thought that the first Iraq war, in response to the invasion of Kuwait, would be supported by Islamic countries. “Bush expected gratitude. He never anticipated rage.” (Friedman 17)
- The US encouraged Iraq’s Shi’ites (a majority but oppressed by the Saddam-led Sunnis) to rise up against Saddam, but when they did, Bush1 didn’t support them militarily, and many were massacred by the retreating Iraqi army, while American troops, massed nearby, did nothing. “The Bush Administration sacrificed the Shia uprising to its own global interests in the region,” i.e. the fragile coalition and oil interests held by the Sunnis in other Islamic countries. After the war Kuwait and Saudi Arabia signed generous contracts with US oil companies (Kepel 38, 230-1).
- The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 altered the balance of power in the Middle East. During the cold war, America was willing to support some dictatorial regimes to stand against the USSR. After 1991, the US abandoned most of these.
- For example, the US worked with Pakistan’s military government against the Soviets. “America has declared that it promotes democracy only to help other people, not itself. But the record with Pakistan (and with quite a few other states critical to national security interests) shows that America will only promote democracy if it does not harm American national interests” (Mahbubani, Beyond 32).
- “Non-Westerners do not hesitate to point to the gaps between Western principle and Western practice. … Democracy is promoted but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power. Banning nuclear weapons is preached for Iran and Iraq but not for Israel [or India and Pakistan]. Human rights are an issue with China but not with Saudi Arabia” (Huntington 184).
- The three attacks on September 11 were carried out by 19 terrorists, most from Saudi Arabia, trained in Afghanistan by Al Qaeda. No Iraqis were involved, and no evidence exists that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the attacks or with Al Qaeda (Saddam and Osama bin Laden hated each other). Yet the Bush2 Administration quickly prepared for war on Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam.
- Bush2 described America’s counter-offense to the 9/11 attack as a “crusade,” an unfortunate term raising the image of a religious war between Christianity and Islam in the minds of Muslims (Kepel 117).
- After 9/11 the world rallied around America, but by June 2003, two months after the US invaded Iraq, a BBC eleven-nation survey said that more people thought America was a bigger threat to global security than China, Iran, Syria, or Russia; we tied with North Korea (Micklethwait 223).
The US-Iraq war (2003-11)
Please note: in the discussion that follows, any questioning of the wisdom or political motivation for the US invasion of Iraq should in no way be taken as criticism of the brave and honorable men and women who served their country in this effort, too many of whom gave their lives. Soldiers do not get to choose the wars in which they fight.
Preparing for war
- Neoconservatives in the Bush2 administration (VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Defense Policy Board Richard Pearle) envisioned America’s role as the last superpower in the world with the goal of creating democracy by force in the Middle East. One political commentator has described the Bush/Neoconservative agenda for a democratic Iraq as “the most daring experiment in imperial idealism in the whole of human history” (Anderson 186).
- Both Cheney and Rumsfeld believed Bush1 had erred in 1991 in not overthrowing Saddam Hussein at the end of the Kuwait war, and encouraged the new Bush administration to make plans to do so from the beginning.
- In Jan. 2001, months before the attacks on 9/11, the first National Security Council meeting dealt with plans to overthrow Saddam. The Bush2 administration was determined to go to war with Iraq from day one of his presidency, as Richard Clarke (National Security Council) testified to the 9/11 commission. Clarke admitted that 9/11 was used as an excuse to unleash a “war on terrorism” in which the hunt for Osama Bin Laden (who masterminded the attacks) was a secondary goal (Kepel 207).
- The Defense Department’s inspector general Thomas F. Gimble reported to Congress that the Pentagon purposely manipulated intelligence in an effort to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida to support the US invasion of Iraq. Pres. Bush took the country to war in Iraq based in part on intelligence assessments that were biased and did not fully reflect the views of the intelligence community, according to Gimble (AP 2-9-07).
- Voices of concern in the CIA, who questioned the validity of the data used to identify Saddam’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction were ignored. The administration heard only what information backed their predetermined policy.
- After US forces had taken Baghdad in a relatively brief time, Bush flew onto an aircraft carrier to proclaim “Mission Accomplished,” and announced that we had “removed an ally of Al Qaeda,” despite no evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden; in fact, Osama hated Saddam for compromising the faith (Chomsky 19; transcript of presidential comments, NYT 5-2-03).
- In interviews before the war began, Pres. Bush admitted that he was unfamiliar with the centuries-old divisions between Sunni and Shi’a, naively believing that all Iraqis would unite once Saddam was gone. “It underscores how little the American leadership thought before the war about the nature of the Iraqi society and the problems the US would face after it overthrew Saddam” (Galbraith 83, 112-3).
American double standards
- America promotes democracy and human rights in the Middle East only selectively. “Democracy in Saudi Arabia … would have seen the end of the pro-American rulers and the probable election of political parties with greater sympathy to the worldview of Osama bin Laden. Hence … when America was busy preaching the virtues of democracy, it simultaneously created a political bubble around the Gulf region to protect the sheikhdoms from the pressure of democratization.” The US has military bases in Uzbekistan, north of Afghanistan. This country has a reputation for human rights abuses “every bit as bad as Saddam Hussein’s regime” but the British ambassador was dismissed for raising the issue about our ally in the war against the Taliban (Mahbubani, New Asian Hemisphere, 109-110). “The West is not alone in having double standards. All governments, without exception, are guilty of them. However, none of the governments outside the West pretend to be as virtuous as Westerners do” (166).
- Before the election in 2000, Bush2 said, “If we are an arrogant nation, [the rest of the world] will resent us. If we are a humble nation, but strong, they will welcome us.” Three years later, the Bush administration invaded Iraq to force regime change, acted against UN council, and defended unilateral action without the support of other nations. The US-Iraq war began after Saddam failed to comply with numerous UN resolutions, although the US rejected UN resolutions against the war as well. The Bush administration said, “We have the authority to do what we believe is necessary… We don’t need their permission” (Chomsky 30, 32). Bush chose not to follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” (Stelzer 3).
- Until 2003, international law accepted that the use of military force was legitimate only under two conditions: self-defense, and if authorized by the UN Security Council: “The American-British decision to invade Iraq could not be justified on either count.” The US proposal for a UN resolution supporting the invasion (eventually rejected) was evidence that America knew they needed clear legitimization under international law for going to war, then proceeded without it. “This created enormous problems. Hitherto, both the US and the UK have been among the main custodians of international law … and provided the political will and drive to have the law accepted in practice. … Since 2003, both nations have made frequent calls to Iran and North Korea to implement UNSC resolutions. But how can the violators of UNSC decisions also be the enforcers of them?” (Mahbubani, New Asian Hemisphere 177-8)
Results of the war
- An April 2006 poll asked Iraqis the three main reasons for the US invasion. From their perspective they were to control Iraqi oil (76%), to build military bases (41%), to help Israel (32%). Only a few said it was to bring democracy to Iraq (2%). (US News 8-28-06, 30)
- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked if taking Iraq by force would give the impression of imperialism: “Well, I’m sure that some people would say that, but it can’t be true because we’re not a colonial power. We’ve never been a colonial power. We don’t take our forces and go around the world trying to take other people’s real estate or resources or oil. That’s just not what the United States does. It never has and it never will” – despite many examples of America’s overthrowing governments in the Pacific and Central America over the years.
- “The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not an isolated episode. It was the culmination of a 110-year period during which Americans overthrew fourteen governments that displeased them for various ideological, political and economic reasons” (Kinzer 1).
- We preach democracy but support dictatorships when it’s in our interest. In the early 1900s, we sent troops in multiple times to prop up dictator regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. In 1893 US diplomats backed by the US military and in the interest of US sugar business overthrew the rightful queen of Hawaii, and claimed the islands as a protectorate. We established the Batista dictatorship in Cuba which Castro overthrew in 1959.
- “American solutions in the region have been simplistic: bring in democracy, we say, ignoring the fact that the most organized parties are those of Islamists who don’t want democracy; they want Islamic rule. We ravage entire countries to eject one man, and then seem surprised at the mayhem and rage that follows” (Rossi 7).
- In one of his last TV interviews in 2008, Bush said that he came to office “unprepared for war” and that his “biggest regret” was the US intelligence failure on Iraq. “A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is [sic] a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington DC, during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence,” Bush told ABC.
- By April 2011, 4450 Americans had been killed in Iraq, over 32,000 seriously wounded. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians (non-combatants) have died by US estimates (Iraqi estimates are much higher).
- The violence continues in Iraq long after the war is “over” and the Americans are gone, but the Western world doesn’t seem to notice. On July 3, 2016 the ISIS terrorist group detonated several suicide bombs in a crowded shopping area in Baghdad, killing over 215 people, more than the death toll of 130 in Paris in Nov. 2015. Yet, as one reporter noted, the slogan “Pray for Baghdad” didn’t trend on Twitter, and Facebook didn’t give people the option of overlaying an Iraqi flag on their profile picture as it did for France after similar attacks in Paris in 2015. It’s as if Iraqi lives are not as important as American or European lives. We have moved on from this forgotten war while the people there continue to feel its effects.
- One former student in this class whose family was from Iraq and lived in Baghdad during the war shared these comments: “I was very young when I was there, but I have asked my father about this many times. He explained to me that Iraq lost its power once the US invaded us. We all knew it was not for freedom’s sake. Iraq was in its best years before the war. We had security, great education, and everyone lived in harmony. People had jobs, and if not, they were given food stamps and healthcare. The world does not picture the time of Saddam that way. However, we lived in Baghdad and saw with our eyes how much he tried to make our country better. We thought of the United States as the enemy, not as liberators, and we mourned the loss of our city Baghdad and the whole country. I personally remember when the US army took over Baghdad on 4/9/2003. Everyone knew that Iraq was never going to be powerful again after Saddam was gone. The way people were divided due to religious differences ruined our country. Saddam wanted to unite the country and create a secular government, not a theocracy of any kind. He made education free for everyone and provided universities with the latest technologies. We had brilliant scientist, engineers, doctors, and scholars. However, while all of this sounds so great, we cannot dismiss his awful mistakes. This becomes very complicated when we talk about the Kurds.” This is one Iraqi family’s reaction to these events, but one worth considering.
- Some American Muslims disagree with the premise that Western and Islamic worldviews are incompatible. In his book What’s Right with Islam (2004), imam Feisal Abdul Rauf argues that the American way of life established by our constitution mirrors many principles of sharia law, such as all individuals being created equal, and all having inalienable rights of speech and worship.
- “Many American Muslims regard America as a better ‘Muslim’ country than their native homelands. This may sound surprising if not absurd to many Americans and Muslims outside America [admitting that his views do not represent Muslims everywhere], but it is founded on the argument that the American constitution and system of governance uphold the core principles of Islamic law” (86). “The model of governance that historically prevailed [in the Muslim world] was the dynastic empire … a paradigm of governance that did not display Islamic religious values” (81). Rauf believes that most Islamic states today do not represent the ideal Islamic state as taught in the Quran.
- “Muslims around the world believe in the principles that undergird American governance and want these principles upheld in their own societies.” These principles include the separation of powers, especially an independent judicial system, freedom of the press (many Muslim countries have state-controlled media), and a non-governing military (not a police state). “Their gripe is that America has historically acted in a way that gives the strong impression that America seeks to deprive Muslims of their inalienable rights in their natives lands” (80).
- When some Muslims say that there cannot be separation between religion and the state, Rauf argues that for Muslims “religion” in this sense refers not to enforcing Islamic belief but mostly to the ethical values of respect and concern for others, especially the needy, in our society, the promotion of which should be a central role of government. In this sense the state cannot separate itself from religious values.
Christian responses to “Islamophobia”
- Islamophobia, the fear and/or distrust of Muslims, has been part of Western culture for centuries as seen in the history notes above, but it has significantly increased in recent years with the rise of independent Islamic nations in the middle east, the increasing threats of terrorism, and anti-Islamic rhetoric by American politicians.
- While fear of terrorism itself is a rational response, prejudice toward all Muslims is not.
- Hate crimes against Muslims (and those suspected of being Muslims) rose in 2016-2017 to their highest rate since a peak after 9/11, up 32% according to one source. Authorities admit that these numbers are deceptively low, based only on reported cases; many victims do not come forward, afraid of further reprisals (source).
- The news media focuses attention on acts of terrorism by Muslim radicals around the world, but rarely depicts Muslims as good citizens involved in humanitarian efforts or working for human rights in their own countries. On TV and in movies, Muslims are often portrayed as the villains, taking the place of Nazis and Communists from earlier decades.
- Americans are quick to jump to the conclusion that terrorism = Islam. In 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 people, reporters at first assumed that it was Middle Eastern terrorism, whereas in reality it was perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, a white American veteran who claimed to be a Christian.
- Islamophobic attitudes are based on several misconceptions. (1) The idea that Islam is a monolithic religion in which all followers believe and act the same. We should not assume that because some Muslims resort to violence or oppress women, that all Muslim are like this, or that these behaviors are representative of central Islamic beliefs. (2) The idea that Islam shares none of the core values of other religions such as Christianity and Judaism or the values of Western civilization such as freedom and tolerance, another false assumption. Islam shares many of the same ethical teachings as found in the Bible such as loving family relationships and compassion toward the needy. (3) The idea that Islam is aggressive and bent on world conquest; this attitude may characterize some radical sects such as ISIS but not the majority of Muslims (Green 12-14).
- Unfortunately, some prominent Christian leaders have helped to spread these unfair prejudices. Franklin Graham (son of the well-known Billy Graham) has described Islam as a religion of hatred and war, intent on killing Christians and Jews (Green 26). Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, called Muhammad a demon-possessed pedophile (Lean 86). Jerry Falwell, Jr., former president of Liberty University, suggested that if more “good people” (presumably Christians) had gun permits, then “we could end those Muslims before they walked in” (source). Pat Robertson of the 700 Club said, “And to say that these terrorists distort Islam? They’re carrying out Islam!” (link)
- According to a Pew Research Center survey, 75% of white Evangelicals supported Pres. Trump’s 2017 travel ban of people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, saying they are “very concerned” about extremism in the name of Islam around the world. In contrast, a majority of those surveyed opposed the ban (source). The ban, still in effect to this date, has separated some American citizens from their families now for several years (read their stories).
- In 2012 some residents of Murfreesboro, TN, including local pastors and nearby churches, protested against the opening of a mosque. One political candidate argued (falsely), “Islam does not claim to be a religion but a social and political system that intends to dominate every facet of our lives,” and as such, Islam should not be protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of religion (Green 301). Some claimed that the mosque was only a front for terrorist training. Tennessee state senator Mae Beavers said (without any evidence) that Muslim terrorists were infiltrating churches and planning jihad (holy war) in the Bible Belt. After the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Muslim community to have their place of worship, it continues to suffer acts of vandalism and racial slurs.
- In contrast, Christian writer Jim Wallis tells of one church in Memphis which responded in a positive way to the building of an Islamic Center next to them. Instead of protesting, the church put out a welcome sign for their new neighbors and began cooperating with them in benevolence programs for the poor in the area. Wallis applauds this unusual response: “I don’t advocate a bland interfaith pluralism that blurs the significant differences between religions, but I believe my religious tradition calls me to be a peacemaker and to love my neighbors, especially when I don’t agree with them.” He insists we must ask ourselves: as American Christians, do we truly believe in freedom of religion or just freedom for our religion? (Jim Wallis, On God’s Side, 2013, 142-3)
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