* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11, Ten Years Later: The Hypocrisy of Demonizing Islam Is Still Alive and Well in America

It has been a decade since terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The events of that day transformed life, not just for Americans, but for the entire world. This weekend, many people are honoring those who lost their lives, either as innocent victims or as courageous first responders. I deeply respect that heartfelt mourning, and I am profoundly grateful that no one in my closest circle of friends and family was at either scene of violence on that day.

Even beyond those sincere statements, I find it prudent to preface what I am about to write with the assertion that I do not condone the actions of terrorists, regardless of their religious or national affiliation. I’m not a Christian, and I’m not a Muslim. However, I do sympathize with Muslims who unnecessarily bear the brunt of persecution because of their faith, and I am both angered and saddened at the willful misrepresentation by which some American Christian spokespeople have attempted to villainize nearly a third of the world’s population.

I earnestly believed Americans had moved past the wholesale demonizing of Islam, but just this week I have heard Americans who claim to be devout Christians asserting that Islam is a violent faith which encourages the destruction of innocent (Christian) lives. I have heard people fostering the perspective that Americans/Christians are hated for their beliefs by Muslims in general. Perhaps it is not the willful propagation of misinformation. Perhaps these people (who have some measure of influence, by the way) are truly ignorant. My skeptical side would suggest that they know exactly what they are saying.

The strange thing is that some of these people are happy to use a single verse from the Quran to justify their judgment of Islam. If it says in one place that it is a religious obligation to kill infidels, then that closes the book on the subject so to speak. They never seem to remember that the Judeo-Christian Bible says pretty much the same thing. In fact, several times in the book of Deuteronomy, God is quoted as commanding that people be put to death if they don’t agree with the strictures of Israelite culture. After leaving Egypt and wandering around in the desert for a couple of generations, God commanded the Israelites to burn cities of people of other cultures and kill innocent women and children.

I’m not suggesting that this is in any way right, or that people should judge 21st-century Christians based on what people did thousands of years ago. I’m simply saying that there are some pretty violent actions condoned in the holy text of Jews and Christians, and we do not typically think of Judaism and Christianity as intentionally violent faiths. I suppose if the Christians who believe that Islam is a violent faith also acknowledged that Christianity is a violent faith (when the same standards are applied), it wouldn’t seem so deceitful. As it is, their accusations come across as manipulative and underhanded.

It makes sense, though. For hundreds of years, Christians have read and been told that they would be persecuted for their beliefs. When someone treats them poorly, it’s natural for some of them to think: That’s just religious persecution. It not only strengthens their resolve, but it also exonerates them from examining their own actions. To claim that an entire group of people hates you because of your beliefs may seem fantastical, but I’m sure it makes a certain sense in the minds of some Christians. It also makes sense that people unwilling to examine how their actions impact how they are treated as individuals would also be unwilling to consider how an entire group’s actions impact how they are treated by other groups.

I don’t believe that the terrorists were in any way justified in their actions. I also don’t believe that the whole of Islam hates America because of a belief system that not even everyone in this country espouses. It makes more sense that a small group of people were reacting to the actions of the American government and military, actions that had a direct impact on their lives. I don’t even want to get into whether the actions of the American government and military were right or wrong. I just want to be a voice of clarity about what actually happened ten years ago and what continues to happen today.

Innocent people lost their lives at the hands of violent men committing atrocious acts. The men were affiliated with an extremist group who identify with a particular religious tradition. These people and people like them are no more representative of Islam than the Ku Klux Klan is representative of mainstream Christianity. It’s easy to get people riled up when it comes to hating an entire group of people. I don’t know why we’re wired like that, but we’re very practiced at generalizing and stereotyping. It isn’t honest, though. It isn’t the truth that sets anyone free. It is a deception which keeps people in chains of anger and resentment. And it isn’t appropriate behavior for people who claim to follow a new command to love one another.

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