Keeping the Real Threat in View

By: Michael Kessler

September 11, 2010

So Terry Jones won't "today, not ever" burn a Quran. I guess the media can now move on to sensationalizing some other previous unknown willing to say ludicrous things and get us all talking about it for a week.

Jones suggested he doesn't need to burn the Quran because his goal all along was "to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical."

Actually, I think that Islam had a radical element was abundantly clear when four planes were hijacked nine years ago and thousands perished--Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, and every other stripe of humanity--at the hands of militants wrapping themselves in their own version of Islamic ideology and decrying the West and its perceived hegemony.

It was abundantly clear when, all over the world, planes have been hi-jacked, bombs detonated, human rights leaders assassinated, and fatwas issued for all manner of supposed violations of Allah's justice, as interpreted by the radicals.

We didn't need Jones and his hate-filled stunt to expose this. It was already in plain, bloody sight.

However, the constant refrain for the past few months coming from those who are, like Jones, trying to "expose the radical element of Islam" has been transformed by some into a tune that all of Islam is inherently militant, its roots are political and not religious, and every Muslim is a potential terrorist. Read the blog comments of most any article, or some politicians' statements, and you'd think every Muslim was hellbent on destroying every non-Muslim. The problem, so they say, is not how the Quran is interpreted, but the Quran itself. It's not "radical Islam," but "all of Islam."

These blanket statements, however, ignore that the vast majority of Muslims seek the same peace and tolerance that everyone else does. It ignores the vast reflection of the commonalities among religious traditions--particularly those from the common Abrahamic root (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Catholics can turn to âŽNostra Aetate, in which Pope Paul VI declared: "The Church...has a high regard for the Muslims, who worship one God, living and subsistent, merciful and omnipotent, the Creator of heaven and earth."

And one need only take the "Islam is inherently evil" plank from one's eye and read the daily world news to see that one other primary target of terrorists operating in the name of Islam are "moderate" Muslims. These sweeping assertions ignore the many, many Muslims who have died at the hands of terrorists (including the significant number of Muslim-Americans who perished on 9/11). Muslims trying to shop in markets, ride on buses, and go to prayer are regularly blown up by radical Muslims. Osama bin Laden and his ilk don't just hate us; they hate those who could be their brothers-in-arms but instead embrace peace, love, harmony, and modern values. Osama bin Laden's henchmen would blow up the Cordoba House or President Obama as readily as they would want to blow up President Bush's house in Texas. And they target many Islamic governments throughout the world. Those who are against bin Laden's vision--whether "liberal Muslims" or the US Commander-in-Chief--are equally their enemy.

As much danger as Jones' bonfire posed to our military interests--and that realization did apparently did shake him to come to his senses--the greater danger was to our own character as a nation. Jones and his cheerleaders would have incinerated both the religious holy book of many who embrace peace and love, but also our nation's core duty to embrace and work toward tolerance and justice. This is an aspirational goal, and requires much hardwork, but it defines our national project. Those who burn books have, instead, always been on the wrong side of history. Freedom-loving people, instead, pursue critical dialogue and, when necessary, force to defend every peace-loving citizen--Muslim, Christian, or non-believer alike.

And the real material danger of this callous and counterfactual lumping together of all Muslims as terrorists is the simple fact that it is a diversion of attention and resources of epic proportions. It takes our collective eye off the ball, the real threat can go stealth under the immense fear and hate that is building in our culture.

Besides the myriad constitutional problems for violating Muslim-American civil rights, in many cases our precious and limited resources would be diverted needlessly if we thought it necessary to monitor every American doctor, lawyer, engineer, or gas station owner who happened to be Muslim. Efficiency, prudence, and reality demand that we pursue those who display a propensity to radicalism, and collaborate with the many others who seek peace and hate violence as much as "we" do.

Of course, the much harder work for Christians like Jones is not exposing the radicalism in Islam (or in other religions). The hard work is keeping in public sight the immense diversity of the Islamic world and making distinctions between those intent on harming innocents and those hellbent on destruction of peaceful peoples everywhere. We should continue to devote (and increase exponentially) every available resource to stopping, arresting, or eliminating those who will seek the destruction of peace and stability. At the same time, the demands of calm reason--and Christian love (and similar notions in the other world religions)--require us to embrace those different from us, so long as they work toward peace and security.

Missiles for bin Laden, peaceful dialogue and collaboration with those seeking peace.
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Keeping the Real Threat in View