Tribune Media Services, May 14, 2003 (Opinion)
The National Association of Evangelicals NAE convened a meeting in Washington last week to urge their mostly conservative Christian leaders to tone down “dangerous” and “unhelpful” remarks about Islam. Concerns were raised over comments by the Revs. Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and others that Islam is inherently “wicked” and violent. NAE leaders worry that such statements endanger Christian missionaries around the world. They proposed new guidelines for churches to follow in relating to Muslims.
Doesn’t the NAE have it backward? The most incendiary language is not coming from Christian leaders in this country, but from Muslim clergy overseas and occasionally from Muslim pulpits and schools in the United States. There is no Christian or Jewish doctrine that mandates followers of those faiths to kill people who disagree with them and to make the state in which they reside subject to their interpretation of holy writ. If one converts to Islam from any religion (or no religion) in the United States, his life is not put in danger. In America, one may take God’s name in vain without fear of temporal punishment, unlike in many Muslim countries where even perceived blasphemy can result in the death penalty. Ask Salman Rushdie, who remains the target of a fatwa calling for his assassination for writing The Satanic Verses, a book that offended some Muslim leaders.
The NAE should be calling on members of the radical Islamic clergy to tone down their rhetoric. It should also be asking “moderate” Muslim clergy to isolate the extremists within their faith and to deprive them of legitimacy if they speak and act outside the will of mainstream Islamic doctrines.
As chronicled in this column over several years, invective against Christians, Jews and all other non-Muslims regarded as “infidels” rains down from Islamic pulpits throughout the world. The harsh rhetoric makes reference to Quranic justifications of violent means to religious ends. These include the takeover of not only the “West Bank,” but all of Israel. Why would such people negotiate with “infidel” diplomats who represent “the great Satan” and settle for less when they believe their God wants them to take it all?
Christianity and Judaism — at least as practiced in the West — believe in separation of church and state. While these faiths see the state as having been instituted by God, they do not universally view the state as a means by which God accomplishes his will. Islamic eschatology is somewhat different. Many Muslims believe the state is an arm of God that he uses to achieve his will. That includes, they believe, forcing those who do not believe to submit to those who do.
Many Muslims are taught that land once possessed by Islam — even if it was taken by force from others — remains holy Islamic territory. Such “lost lands” are to be restored to their “rightful rule.” These doctrines suggest that not only is Israel in jeopardy but also large parts of southern Europe, Spain and North Africa, which were once dominated by Islam.
If these are no longer prevailing Islamic beliefs (as forceful dominance of the Middle East or any other part of the world was long ago rejected by Christians), then let leading Islamic clerics and theologians say so. They should initiate conferences to “tone down” the rhetoric coming from the mouths and writings of their fellow Muslims.
The NAE leaders make a classic Western mistake. They believe that what they say and do shapes the thinking and behavior of those who regard them as infidels. For centuries Christian missionaries have been murdered by religious and political terrorists. That risk goes with the job. They are not likely to be in less danger because of the rhetoric of certain American preachers.
Christians and Jews aren’t declaring war on the world, and they are not hijacking airplanes to fly into buildings or blowing themselves up among civilians. Those who do claim their mandate is from Islam. The shoe is on the wrong foot.