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?
While I still prickle a bit at the thought of a mosque going up so near Ground Zero, I wish that the rabid, anti-Muslim rhetoric and activity would stop.
I wish it would stop for two reasons: one, it is not of God or from God, and two, it is fueling anti-American fever amongst those who need but a reason to justify terrorist acts.
I am not surprised, however, that Imam Rauf is largely silent. Silent clergy in times of human bondage and suffering is no new thing.
Terry Jones, the pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, says he is going to go ahead with a mass burning of Korans on the eve of 911. The planned act is brazenly disrespectful and arrogant. Does he not realize that he exposes the tendency of American Christianity to be violent, with people espousing belief in and love for the Christ burning crosses and terrorizing American citizens?
It seems that whenever there has been crises involving disrespect and disregard of human beings, religious leaders have been painfully silent. There was no outcry of outrage by religious leaders when Japanese were interred, nor when Jews were slaughtered, and, of course, when African Americans were terrorized and denied basic rights guaranteed under God and under the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In fact, religious leaders, during the Civil Rights era, urged Dr. Martin Luther King to be patient. This, while people were being murdered and beaten while they fought for their rights as Americans. My idealism begs me to believe that religious leaders are called to be the voice of right and reason when any of God’s creatures are being mistreated.
Which, then, brings me to my surprise that anyone would wonder why Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is not doing more or saying more to “blunt” the power of anti-American rhetoric that is being heard all over the world. He stands in a tradition of silent clerics.
Had the pope denounced Nazism, or Billy Graham denounced racism, perhaps two painful chapters of man’s inhumanity to man would not exist today. The fact is that religions, instead of being proponents of justice and acceptance of all people, are bastions of power representing factionalism, discrimination and, unfortunately, hatred of others.
Why would the imam, or why should the imam, be held to a different standard than clerics throughout history have been accountable to?
It takes courage to be a prophetic cleric. To speak against the Holocaust, or to speak against slavery and discrimination was a dangerous thing, not only to the people in the churches but for the people leading the churches.
A classmate of mine at Yale Divinity School said to me that his dad, a Lutheran pastor, had been against racism and segregation, but said that he could not say anything about it in his church because he would have been fired.
I imagine that was the situation with many religious leaders, and knowing that, I am not surprised that Imam Rauf is silent or, in the words of critics, is not doing more to quell the anti-American sentiment that is growing amongst some Muslims.
All this anti-Muslim sentiment, which reeks of the type of bigotry which has so often characterized “the American spirit” is only fueling terrorists who would like nothing better than to see America with pie on its face. Americans still don’t get it – that bigotry is not of God or from God, and that it only makes hatred of each other sprout and spread.
As for the sentiment that Islam is a violent religion, well, history bears it out that Islam is no more violent than is or has been Christianity. Islam was not founded on violence, but on love; in fact, the Koran teaches and taught that whenever an enemy wants to make peace, Muslims must enter into a treaty, provided that the terms of that treaty are not harmful to Islam. Muslims are also admonished “not to attack first” because “Allah does not love the aggressors.”
Well, perhaps some Muslims feel they were attacked first and that’s why 911 happened. Perhaps as many Muslims as Americans are appalled that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon happened; perhaps they feel that a few hot-heads have made it bad for the vast numbers of Muslims who live by precepts and instructions of the Koran.
Whatever the case, the anti-Muslim sentiment growing in this country is only acting as a spur to young Muslims who believe America to be “the bad guy.” And in the midst of that swirling sentiment, I am not surprised at all that the Imam is too silent for some.
It will take prophets – both Christian and Muslim – of gargantuan proportion to step up and speak up for behavior of which God would approve.
Unfortunately, that type of courage is just not a part of the fabric of religious leaders. We don’t get out of our boats; we long to be dry even as the world around us drowns in seas of discrimination, bigotry and hate