American religious freedom real and enviable

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said that anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is bad news … Continued

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann said that anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is bad news for anti-terrorism efforts: “We are handing al Qaeda a propaganda coup, an absolute propaganda coup.”

By many accounts, the man who could blunt the power of that coup is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the religious leader behind the planned Islamic Center near Ground Zero. The imam has been surprisingly mum on the issue while he travels in the Middle East. What message of faith could he offer to Muslims and non-Muslims alike that could turn this moment of division into a time of healing?

I was once idealistic enough to believe that in the United States we could all disagree about religious belief without being disagreeable. I’ve lowered my expectations considerably, and not just because of the furor over plans for the Islamic Center near Ground Zero. But if disagreeable we must be, let’s at least be non-violent.

It would be presumptuous for me, an atheist, to advise Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on messages of faith. However, I would advise him to speak to the Muslim world about the real and enviable religious freedom we have in America. He can say that our Constitution prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another, or religion in general over non-religion. He can point out that while the U.S. majority might be Christian, our government affords the same rights to Muslims as to Christians. Imam Rauf can mention that people in this country are free to say that Jesus, Mary, Appolonius of Tyana, Elijah, or Muhammad ascended bodily into heaven. People like me are also free to say that all such beliefs are ludicrous.

The imam should note that bad speech is allowed, but not violent acts. An American Christian like Newt Gingrich was free to equate Muslims placing a center near Ground Zero with Nazis placing a sign near the Holocaust museum. Gingrich was wrong to imply our government would not allow such an offensive sign even on private property. Free speech allows both Gingrich and Nazis to express their opinions. And it allows me to call Gingrich an ignoramus.

If I were a Christian, I’d be embarrassed by the tactics of Christian pastor Terry Jones at the mega-church Dove World Outreach Center. He’s organizing an “International Burn a Koran day.” His “outreach” seems to be to “bigots.” Shades of “God hates fags” Christian pastor Fred Phelps.

The imam might want to tell Muslims that America is a country with good and bad Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists. If Muslims want to show America that Islam is a peaceful religion, they can best show it by being peaceful, themselves. Threats of violence in an attempt to curb free speech is counterproductive. Countering bad speech with good speech is productive. The pen can indeed be mightier than the sword. People are free to martyr themselves in the name of their religion, but not to harm others anywhere.

Herb Silverman
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  • LorettaHaskell

    Dr. Silverman makes wonderful points that Imam Rauf would do well to consider. I would like to include an admonition to Rev. Franklin Graham who just added fuel to the fire this past week with his comment to CNN’s John King in speaking about President Obama that “…the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim, the seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name.”Why would Rev. Graham who has prayed with the President, and knows that his father, Rev. Billy Graham, holds an iconic position within Christianity in the United States, emphasize our President’s Muslim heritage, knowing that Obama has chosen Christianity? Certainly Rev. Graham knew that his comment would promote more division, rather than healing, over the hate rhetoric that arose last week regarding the mosque in NYC.

  • jonesm2

    Once again, a very thoughtful post by Professor Silverman and I agree with his arguments. One thing that I find lacking in many faiths is that the moderates of these faiths don’t seem to want to criticize the extremists within their own groups. A little “self-policing” might improve relationships between different religious factions since those of other faiths would not feel as threatened.

  • dangeroustalk

    For the last few weeks now the Religious Right have been using the planned Islamic Community Center as a way of getting their flock angry and soliciting donations. The Media in typical fashion has eaten it up.When Evan Kohlmann said that anti-Muslim rhetoric in America is bad news for anti-terrorism efforts, what he is really saying is that the Christian Right’s anti-Arab racism is bad for diplomacy. This isn’t about being critical of Islam, it is about racism. You can read the rest of my response to this topic:I will be responding to every issue posted in the ‘On Faith’ section. If you would like to be notified when my new response is up, please subscribe.

  • Secular

    LorettaHaskell, answer to your question is simple, because Mr. Franklin Graham, like his father Mr. William Graham is a bigot. These bigots are such authorities on genetics and how it is intertwined with the religious dependencies. It does not matter to them at all if there is any validity in fact. They are ready spout out anything, they pull out of the north end of a south bound mule. These B#%(@s do not hesitate to say anything.

  • kuratowa

    The World Dove Outreach Center is not a mega-church. It has at most a few dozen congregants.