Salman Rushdie’s Home-Brewed Adversaries

Once again, fundamentalist Islam has shown its ugly side in the attempted slaying of Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. After two decades in hiding, he thought he was safe from Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa (1989). He was wrong.

We expect secular regimes to impose imprisonment and death on those who quarrel with their governance. Think Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and, currently center stage, Kim Yong- un, the Myanmar military regime, Xi Jinping, Putin, Maduro, and Ortega.

But religion sponsoring terrorism? For the most part, no; but not when it comes to much of the Islamic world.

Ironically, Islam has remained a largely medieval faith, inimical to change. A PEW Center Analysis (2019) surveyed 198 countries and territories and found that 40% had laws prohibiting blasphemy, defined as irreverence against God and sacred objects. 11% had laws against apostasy. Most of these countries are Muslim.

In 2019, Pakistan sentenced seventeen individuals to death for blasphemy, though the sentences haven’t been carried out as I write.

Iran executes “blasphemers” regularly as public policy, often as means to quell dissent, i.e., to oppose the regime is to oppose Allah.

Iranian execution doesn’t exclude stoning, usually for adultery. Human rights groups report that between 1980 and 2009, 150 people have been stoned to death. Currently, leaked prison documents reveal 51 individuals slated for execution by stoning, 23 of them women, 28 of them, men (

We are, indeed, back to ancient ways.

The publisher, Penguin, kept a stiff upper lip in pursuing publication of The Satanic Verses, despite death threats to its executives. An anomaly in a film-dominated time, books still had power to move the needle!

In 1989, Iran’s supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa and $3m award for killing Rushdie for blasphemy in writing The Satanic Verses (1988).

This is the same holy man who sanctioned the execution of up to 5,000 Iranians accused of conspiracy in 1988. He would die a natural death four months after his fatwa.

What followed the fatwa was a bloodbath, forcing Rushdie into hiding under protection of British intelligence. Though he would apologize, the current Ayatollah, Ali Khamenei, rejected his apology. (Rushdie has long since recanted his apology: “The worst thing I ever did.”)

Subsequent to the fatwa, thousands of Muslims assaulted bookstores, threatening to bomb those selling his book.

In 1991, the book’s Italian translator was knifed, but survived.

A few days later, Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi was stabbed to death.

In 1993, the novel’s Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was shot, fortunately surviving his wounds.

In Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, two clerics protesting the fatwa, were fatally shot.

Riots broke out in Iran, India, and Pakistan. An estmated sixty people died.

Then, as now, many of Rushdie’s writing cohorts came to his defense, among them, Martin Amis, Joan Didion, Ian McEwan, and Christopher Hitchens.

I like how Steven King took on J. B. Dalton, one of three book chains refusing to sell Rushdie’s novel: “You don’t sell The Satanic Verses, you don’t sell Stephen King.” It reversed course immediately (

There were holdouts, arguing we should refrain from offending the sensitivities of others, much like what we hear in today’s cancel culture.

Among the holdouts was John le Carré, who wrote in The Guardian that “nobody has a God-given right to insult a great world religion and be published with impunity.”

In similar vein was former American president, Jimmy Carter, who wrote an op-ed in the NYT: “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important, we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.”

Rather strange, I think, for someone who permitted the detested shah to enter America, commencing the seizure of embassy hostages and the bringing to power a theocracy of repression and terror that remains with us still.

They were not isolated cases. Children’s author Roald Dahl depicted Rushdie in a letter to the London Times as a “dangerous opportunist” who “must have been totally aware of the deep and violent feelings his book would stir up among devout Muslims.”

In a tear-down New York Review of Books piece, “The Salman Rushdie Case,” author Zoë Heller wrote that “a man living under threat of death for nine years is not to be blamed for occasionally characterizing his plight in grandiloquent terms. But one would hope that when recollecting his emotions in freedom and safety, he might bring some ironic detachment to bear on his own bombast” (NYRB, Dec. 12, 2012).

It seems a strange twist of fate that there should erupt a groundswell of sympathy for perpetrators of violence rather than for a fierce defender of freedom of speech. But such are the times in which we live, trolls abundant and thought police, both Left and Right, ready to pounce and, not infrequently, message death threats to those it deems adversaries.

The climax in sympathy for rampaging Muslims seen as victims occurred in the aftermath of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo being awarded a freedom of expression courage award by PEN America. You may remember that eight of its staff and four other people, including two policemen, were murdered in Paris by Islamic terrorists (January 2015). Some 200 prominent writers wrote to PEN, criticising it for “valorising selectively offensive material” (“Observer Opinion”: The Guardian, 14 August, 2022).

Fatwas need not emanate from distant ayatollahs. They can be home-brewed.

Rushdie got it right in his 1990 essay “In Good Faith,” that “individuals shape their futures by arguing and challenging and questioning and saying the unsayable; not by bowing the knee whether to gods or to men.”

Let us hope that our wounded freedom warrior mends well and soon. Early medical reports say he will likely lose an eye, that nerves in his arm have been slashed, and his liver stabbed.

Freedom of speech defines a vital tenet of civilization as essential as the air we breathe, yet many of us take it for granted. We need voices like Rushdie’s to remind us that it can slip away and one day be gone if we forfeit being its sentries.

As for the repressive theocracy that prioritizes hate over love and its apologists, my sentiments lie with writer Jill Filopic’s eloquent summation:

Religion is a belief system. If yours cannot stand up to criticism, interrogation, and even mockery or insult – if you need to threaten or punish, up to the point of death, those who insult an idea you hold dear – it is perhaps worth asking if your beliefs are as strong as you believe they are. And this is the lesson of Salman Rushdie: it is courageous and necessary to stand up against tyrants and those who would use violence to suppress words and art – even when those tyrants claim to have God on their side” (The Guardian, 14 August, 2014).

Does the Qur’an Preach Violence?

Yesterday came news of the slaughter of up to 300 Sufi worshippers exiting a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai at the close of prayer, among them, twenty-seven children. It isn’t the first time such a murderous attack on unarmed civilians, even fellow Muslims, has occurred in Egypt and elsewhere.

Increasingly, Islamic violence has spread to Europe and North America as well. Thanks to Carnegie Mellon’s interactive platform, EarthTimeLapse, drawing on the Global Terrorism Database, we can even precisely map both its locale and frequency over the last 20-years.

Last year, 2016, Islamic extremists killed 269 people across Europe. In America, we’ve largely escaped since 9/11, apart from several sporadic incidents, the latest occurring in NYC when Uzbekistan immigrant Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov drove a rented truck into a crowded bike lane in lower Manhattan, killing eight on October 31, 2017.

All of this pales, however, when we include the Middle East and Africa, where 19,121 died last year, according to the Global Terrorist Data project, nearly all of them Muslim, which we’re likely to miss in our frequent ethnocentrism.

Consequently, it’s not unreasonable that many have come to associate Islam, “the religion of peace,” with violence. Critics call it Islamophobia.

Feeding into the public’s unease have been the likes of Franklin Graham, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, who have vociferously argued that Islam is intrinsically disposed to violence, both in its long history and the present, posing an insidious threat to our nation’s future, given their rising immigration numbers, high birth levels, and alleged intolerance.

And, of course, there’s President Trump who has seemingly bought into the nation’s anxiety, perhaps for political advantage.

I would personally like to defuse my own unease that erupts with almost daily news bulletins announcing some new, malicious violence somewhere on our troubled planet. Hopefully, its source isn’t Islam, but almost always it is.

I studied in France at the University of Dijon in the summer of 1985 and my best memories are of the friendships I shared with Muslims from Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, Iran, Syria and Israel. What won their affection was my sympathy for the Palestinians in their pursuit of nationhood, something they found incongruous, what with the stereotype Muslims often have of Americans, given our country’s traditional support for Israel.

We never quarreled. In fact, religion never came up at all.

At home, while I haven’t had much contact with Muslims, I’ve met several who treated me with kindness when I’ve met them in stores, allowing me to precede them in a line or fetching me a grocery cart.

My experience of Muslim reciprocal kindness tells me that like most human beings, their heart is good and wants to share its goodness, and that their faith has been grievously  maligned.

Now comes Gary Will’s new book, What the Qur’an Meant And Why It Matters (Viking,2017). This a crucial book, since Muslim proponents of terrorism trace what we now know as jihad back to the Qur’an, which they interpret literally, devoid of context or cultural antecedents, doing what fundamentalists generally do whatever their proclaimed religion.

Taken out of context, the Qur’an can indeed be disturbing reading, but so can the Old Testament with its advocacy of genocide towards those of different faith and culture like the Moabites. Wills, on the other hand, persuasively argues that the Qur’an is utterly incompatible with the barbaric atrocities committed in its name by Isis, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and Al-shabaab.

Wills points out, for example, that the Qur’an’s employment of  jihad “striving,” i.e.,”zeal,” and sharia don’t resonate their original nuance for these groups, and that jihad, for example, can suggest “holy war” in modern Arabic.

As for “sharia” with its modern association with complex religious laws, it occurs only once in the Qur’an (Q.45:18) and simply means “the right path.” In fact, no complex system of religious laws even existed in the Prophet’s lifetime.

In Wills’ view, the Qur’an has been grossly abused by militant Muslims, its text supporting peaceable co-existence with Judaism and Christianity and recognizing Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus as antecedent prophets to the preeminent  prophet, Mohammed.

The Qur’an does allow for defensive warfare against militant aggressors opposed to monotheism: “If God did not refuel some people by means of others, many monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, where God’s name is much invoked, would have been destroyed (Q. 22:40).

The one liability for Wills is the Qur’an’s seeming denigration of women as in Q. 4:34: “If you fear bad conduct from your wives, advise them, then ignore them in bed, then strike them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them.”

By the same token, the Qur’an doesn’t assign blame to Eve, who is unnamed, for the transgression in the garden, unlike the Old Testament.

While Wills’ scholarship seems impeccable in its fairness and exactitude, the problem of the Qur’an’s grievously distorted message and misappropriation by radical Islamic extremists and many Western critics, remains. Good as Wills’ book is, it will prove no more effectual in promoting reconciliation with all faiths than a seed by itelf can produce a harvest.

Islam needs to undergo theological and cultural reform, as occurred with Judaism and Christianity to curtail radical extremism.  Though there are reformers trying to do just that such as Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani, and Irshad Manji, they’re all too few and face vehement opposition, if not enmity, among purists and entrenched theocracies like Iran. Islam isn’t merely a faith but a total way of life in which change, if any occurs, will only come grudgingly.

What this book can do for those who read it is expurgate the vast majority of the world’s one billion Muslims, whether Sunni or Shiite, from the shibboleth of violence and intolerance so often impugning both the Qur’an and its practice as a consequence of an extremist minority. After all, Muslims have been by far, terrorism’s victims as yesterday’s Sufi massacre attests.


Islam: The Hi-Jacking of a Faith

terroprismWe are stunned by what’s happened in France. Thursday, twelve people assassinated by two French jihadists at publisher Charlie Hebdo in Paris and a policewoman killed elsewhere. Yesterday, the three terrorists killed, along with four hostages.

In their assault on journalists, their violence poses a threat to not only press freedom, but free speech fundamental to any democracy.

Collectively, like-minded Muslim extremists have bombed newspaper offices, stabbed a Dutch filmmaker, killed writers, and imposed fatwahs, or death decrees, on others like noted author, Salmon Rushdie.  More recently, Pakistani Taliban murdered 132 school children, enraging a government where blasphemy laws are imbedded in the legal system.

Offended by cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, these “defenders of the prophet” were part of an underground cell that may number in the hundreds of thousands across the globe, and thus impossible for intelligence sources to keep up with.

It would seem incredulous that fervent devotees to Islam, which often dubs itself “the religion of peace,” commit such heinous acts, ultimately epitomized on a larger scale in the atrocities of Al Qaeda and Isis.

But they kill each other as well. In Iraq, Sunni and Shiite factions wantonly blow-up each other every day.

For too long, we’ve heard very little from the wider Muslim community on the subject. Some Muslims, in fact, have made it known that they’re offended that when such events like those in France occur, they must speak up, indicating a public view of them as a subversive presence.

And I can understand their sensitivity about having to continually prove themselves. Still, I think they’re wrong in taking this stance, as I’ll explain in my close.

I know from my own contacts with Muslims, particularly in France where I was once a student, just how wonderfully decent they are. My friends came from Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Syria.

They were universally kind to me and I was invited to Jerusalem, though I never went. To this day, I rejoice for having fellowshipped with them daily.

Religion never separated us, for we shared a common humanity of sensitivity and compassion.

They were surprised to come across an American championing a free Palestine. As one of them said to me, “C’est historique!”

In all of this, we do well to remember that being zealous, whether religiously or politically, is inherently dangerous, often giving away to rancor and intimidation, and in heated moments, violence. In short, we can forfeit our humanity.

But zealots aren’t confined to any one faith. Religious totalitarians, they represent the voice of Passion, and not Reason.

I remember when one Israeli shot more than 50 worshipping Palestinians in Jerusalem many years ago.

Here, In the U. S., we have evangelical Christians who have not only maligned homosexuals, but continue to conspire against their fundamental rights.

A few have killed abortionists.

And then we have history’s testimony as to how bloody Christianity could be, whether in crusades against Muslims, or against one another during the Reformation.

As for Judaism, its sacred scriptures–or what Christians call the Old Testament– are hideously bloody, sanctioning genocide.

I had thought for many years that Buddhism was spared from all of this, but alas, it just isn’t so, as we see in places like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, where they constitute a majority.

But I want to return to Islam and point out features that characterize its scripture, the Qur’an, unwittingly, providing kindling for jihadists to fuel their violence.

Make no mistake about it, the Qur’an is foundational to Islamic law, theology, and daily life as Allah’s completed revelation via the angel Gabriel to his prophet, Mohammed. Its opening verses are recited daily in mosques all over the world. Radio and TV quote it daily.

Many Muslim children begin early to memorize the entire Qur’an.

It has its own style, often employing contrasts, and doesn’t feature a chronological or thematic ordering.

Unfortunately, it’s a sacred text subject to the limitations of all written language isolated from the immediate feedback of spoken discourse.

Fraught with ambiguity, its classical Arabic is complicated by idiom and dictional features that can allow for multiple nuances, perhaps most notably in a critical word such as jihad often being translated as “fighting,” rather than as “struggle,” its more appropriate meaning.

Because the Qur’an is essentially intra-textual, or self-referencing, it demands astute readers consider context and align verses for accurate exegesis,

Passages can have a concision, which when isolated from context, obscure the wider intent. This, in turn, often leads to non-Muslims and Muslim extremists employing isolated texts to exploit their views and debasing a noble faith.

The Qur’an doesn’t sanction violence against unbelievers, for example, though one might be led to think so based on a verse such as 2:191: “Slay them wherever you find them.” The “them” here refers to the previous verse and its “those who attack you.” (The Qur’an does permit Muslims to defend themselves if they’re under physical attack.)

Nor does the Qur’an exclude “People of the Book, ” (i.e., Jews and Christians) from salvation. In fact, it encourages them to practice their faiths (5:45, 47).

Consider this passage, for example:

We have assigned a law and a path to each of you. If God had so willed, He would have made you one community, but he wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good: you will all return to God and He will make clear to you the matters you differed about (5:48).

Yes, there are Muslim exegetes who take isolated passages to buttress their fundamentalism, denying the full amplitude of other Suras (chapters) and of cultural contexts no longer extant. But such doings aren’t confined to Islam, but a trademark of Jewish and Christian fundamentalism as well.

Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbigloo, responding to the tragedy in France, has articulated the barbarism that accordingly takes place whenever fundamentalism runs rampant and seeks to impose its dictates through force:

Fanatics and fundamentalists have always rejected and struggled against each other. When fundamentalism seeks to enforce sectarianism through coercion and violence, it invariably leads to terrorism. When people believe that they have the absolute truth, they end up denying other people’s existence. Then they can no longer distinguish the good from the evil and are thus unable to establish a modus vivendi among different values

Finding a common ground can only work if we share enough to behave civilly. It goes without saying that though some Jews, Muslims, Christians and Hindus may be terrorists, no religion in the world, much less Islam, teaches terrorism or inspires anyone to kill innocent people.

And he’s right. I like to call such parochialism “tribalism.”

Accordingly, what’s happened in France and happens daily in the Middle East isn’t Islam, but its distortion.

This, of course, is why Muslims must come to the forefront and speak out against those bent on hijacking their faith.

And many are doing so, along with the French Muslim Council and, here at home, the Council of American-Islamic Relations. Even the Iranian government has condemned this violence.

Terrorist ideologues such as these and their wannabe counterparts who pollute Twitter with their hate constitute the true blasphemy and not the slaughtered cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.
















The New Martyrdom: Christians in Peril

NewsweekLogo-1 [Converted]

What do these nations below have in common?  Quick answer:  they all persecute Christians.  What’s more, thirty-seven of them are Muslim nations:

  1. North Korea
  2. Somalia
  3. Syria
  4. Iraq
  5. Afghanistan
  6. Saudi Arabia
  7. Maldives
  8. Pakistan
  9. Iran
  10. Yemen
  11. Sudan
  12. Eritrea
  13. Libya
  14. Nigeria
  15. Uzbekistan
  16. Central African Republic
  17. Ethiopia
  18. Vietnam
  19. Qatar
  20. Turkmenistan
  21. Laos
  22. Egypt
  23. Myanmar
  24. Brunei
  25. Columbia
  26. Jordan
  27. Oman
  28. India
  29. Sri Lanka
  30. Tunisia
  31. Bhutan
  32. Algeria
  33. Mali
  34. Palestine
  35. United Arab Emirates
  36. Mauritania
  37. China
  38. Kuwait
  39. Kazakhstan
  40. Malaysia
  41. Bahrain
  42. Comoros
  43. Kenya
  44. Morocco
  45. Tajikistan
  46. Djibouti
  47. Indonesia
  48. Bangladesh
  49. Tanzania
  50. Niger

This shouldn’t come as any surprise.  As the Skeptical Inquirer reports, Islam currently poses the world’s greatest threat to human freedom, or to think for oneself.

You’ll note that this is a gradated list, with the worst offenders coming first, among them North Korea, a non-Muslim Stalinist holdout that persecutes Christians vigorously.  Estimates have it that between 50,000 to 70,000 Christians languish in prison camps, with few survivors likely, given the brutal conditions.  An unconfirmed report, says that  80 Christians were executed in November, 2013.  Change the regime, however, and the persecution will cease, as happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Ironically, today’s Russia is the one nation that has vigorously denounced the persecuting of Christians.

Not so for Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan–all former Muslim constituents of the Soviet Union–where persecution of Christians continues.

You’ll see that the list also features some U. S. allies like Saudi Arabia and even Kuwait, a Muslim nation we saved from Saddam’s incursion.

And, of course, we all know about Pakistan with its endless duplicity, a nation outraged by our killing of Osama bin Laden who had taken refuge there and a free haven for the Taliban.  Persecuting Christians is almost a sport in Pakistan, with Christians often accused falsely of violating blasphemy laws by those seeking their property.

But Kenya, a nation with a predominantly Christian population, is also on the list.  This is because Kenya also has a minority Somalian population.  Bombings are frequent as in the recent terrorist insurgency from Somalia itself, resulting in the Nairobi mall massacre in which Christians were deliberately targeted and Muslim hostages let go.

Meanwhile in Egypt, several hundred Coptic churches have been ransacked and many of them burned by deposed President Morsi supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood.

As in Kenya, a nation needn’t have a Muslim majority for Christians to be singled out.  Take, for example, the Central African Republic, which has been in the recent headlines.  Following a recent seizure of power by a Muslim in a county overwhelmingly Christian, the Muslim minority immediately began to kill Christians.  Here, Christians formed their own militias to wade off the attacks, successfully driving the usurpers from power.

Some of the worst scenarios for Christians are playing out in war-ravaged Syria, whose Christian community dates back to the first century and St. Paul, who was converted on his way to Damascus.   In 2013, 2,123 Christians died, representing a 100% increase over the previous year.  Assad, by the way, didn’t persecute Christians.  In some Christian towns, insurgents have given Christians the option of converting or being executed on the spot.  Priests have been killed; nuns taken hostage.

It’s conceivable that soon there will be no Christians left in the Middle East.  Consider Iraq:  Before our incursion in 2003, there were some 2 million Christians in Iraq.  Only about half now remain.  According to the UN Committee for Refugees, 850,000  Christians  have left at last count.  There may even be as few as 250,000 remaining.

Before the rise of Islam in the 7th century, the Levant and North Africa were actually largely populated by Christians.   St. Augustine, in fact, was a North African bishop. Then came the Arab invasions, spreading “the religion of peace” by the sword.  The truth is that Islam hasn’t changed very much across the centuries, in doctrine or behavior.  Unlike Christianity, it’s rooted in a fundamentalism that has stubbornly resisted reform.  It’s as though time stood still.  It’s questionable whether Islam can ever reconcile with the tenets of democracy, for what Islam fears most is divergent opinion.

But I also want to be fair.  I studied in France a number of years ago and came into contact  with a good many Muslims.  My politics, not my religion, was what mattered.  In fact, not once did faith enter into our conversations.  Additionally, I frankly sympathize with the Palestinians in their quest for nationhood and a return to 1967 borders.  I haven’t any quarrel with secular Muslims, whom militants place in the same company as Western “infidels.” I cherish the several friendships I developed that transcended religion and homeland, whether Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, or Iran.

Unfortunately, where persecution of Christianity does exist, it often generates from a perception of the West as anti-Muslim.  We give billions to Israel annually, much of it employed to buttress Israel’s military might.  Think, for a moment, how you would feel were your people strafed and bombed by Israeli pilots flying American fighter jets, or your lands appropriated by Israeli settlers feverishly supported by many American evangelicals.  We don’t have a good footprint when it comes to the Middle East.  I would even argue that our disregard for the Islamic culture and faith has made groups like al Quaeda possible, feeding on aeons of resentment.  Unfortunately, Christians are caught in the exchange.

Religion, like politics, can prove violent in absolutes giving no ground.  I despise the lingering animosities of every political and religious faction.  True progressives move past ideology to an embrace of the human family.  I also distain religionists who fashion deity into a human assemblage, or composite of ourselves, incumbent with our prejudices and capacity for malevolence.

I likewise dislike the silence of governments with regard to the assault on Christians in their pursuit of  the political game of expediency.  I find this as unsavory as militant Islam’s historical penchant to impose religious and socio-political hegemony.

I yearn for the day that moderate Muslims disavow the sword; that Israelis cease their apartheid; that the U. S. commits itself to genuine justice for those long denied.  I think of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

But do I wake or sleep?


Two sides of a coin: conservative politics and militant Islam

I think all of us would like to take our yesterdays back, correct our missteps and, with the lucidity afforded by hindsight, retake the high ground.  In fact, our nostalgia for what’s past defines the tragedy of our present, manifesting itself in the emergence in the last 50-years of two primary forces, political and religious, warring on the present in the guise of conservatism.

Ironically, their genesis began at about the same time, with the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran (1979) and the political ascendancy of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and America’s Ronald Reagan.  Most revolutions soften, or give way to human inertia, or to inherent entropy that characterizes Natural Law as with the collapse of the Soviet hegemony and the transition of Mao’s China into a market economy.

In America, the vestiges of the past are prominent in the rise of Tea Party and neo-conservative Republicans advocating reduced government in a slashing of taxes, sealing our borders, deregulating the market place, and a bent toward imperialism in foreign policy.  It too has a religious scent in its hostility to gays, embrace of creationism in the classroom, and strident opposition to abortion and death with dignity legislation.  While it has no Sharia law it can impose, it finds its corollary in pursuing legislative edict.  It hasn’t any qualms about imposing its views on others.

Thankfully, in most places, it can’t muster a majority, although evangelicals and catholics turned out in record numbers to oppose Obama (78% and 67% respectively) in last November’s election.  Unfortunately, this faction has seized the reins of the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, driving its agenda, making it easy to forget that it was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who founded the Occupational Safety  & Health Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration.  It’s conceivable that even Reagan couldn’t muster the Republican nomination were he running today.

As for conservative religion, militant Islam has replaced communism as the new global threat, with tension and violence often in play, not only in the Middle East, but universally:  Africa (Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia); Asia (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, India).  Terrorism has been its weapon of choice, with bombings and assassinations even in Britain, France and the Netherlands.

As for my own America, I had placed my bet on our legacy of assimilation to keep us safe from the tribalism of places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq where it isn’t sufficient to make Jihad against the Infidel, but Sunni and Shiite must slaughter one another.  I have been wrong, as scarcely a day passes that I don’t hear of immigrant Muslim youth conspiring violence here at home.  While their numbers are few, their threat is palpable, as witness the Boston’s Patriot’s Day bombings and the Ft. Hood massacre by a member of our own armed forces.

But I’m also aware of media hype and its distorting perspective and its conflict with my own experience.  I studied in France in 1985.  My dearest friends, all of them, we’re Muslim.  They came from Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Palestine.  They rejoiced in finding a rare American supporting the right of Palestinians to a homeland.  “C’est historique,” one of them delightfully said.

Not once did the subject of religion intrude.  Humanity and justice were our priorities, melting away creed and origin.  I have memories here at home of Muslim immigrants in my classes.  Again, the same: an abounding rapport and absence of religion’s strictures.

In short, Muslims, the vast majority, abhor the violence of a fundamentalist segment that does injury to Islam, “the religion of peace.”  Let me offer the following:

As American Muslims and scholars of Islam, we wish to restate our conviction that peace and justice constitute the basic principles of the Muslim faith.  We wish again to state unequivocally that neither the al-Qaeda organization nor Usama bin Laden represents Islam or reflects Muslim beliefs and practice. Rather, groups like al-Qaeda have misused and abused Islam in order to fit their own radical and indeed anti-Islamic agenda.  Usama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s actions are criminal, misguided and counter to the true teachings of Islam (Statement Rejecting Terrorism, 57 leaders of North American Islamic organizations, September 9, 2002),

The truth is that conservative politics and religion are forces latent with danger when employing divisive appeals to self-interest rather than the collective good or utilizing scape-goating, straw-men methodologies designed to manipulate and secure power.  Such modalities, on the increase, mark a return to the volatile past with its animosities fostered by fear.

Politics should be about human community and addressing its needs; religion, about abandoning the barriers of distrust for the balm of love.

The earmarks of an unhealthy conservatism, whether political or religious, is one of parochial or ethnocentric interest, fueled by distrust and unthinking servility to the past, adumbrated by insecurity posed by change.

Sometimes I want to throw my arms up in despair.  I muse on how better a world devoid of the heat of political and religious passions; but as a devotee of the Enlightenment with its predication on Reason as the future’s arbitrator of a better world, I retain faith we can do better to reduce the disparity between entrenched custom and social amelioration.

I also know that the way of progress is sometimes in feet, not miles, and that injustices like slavery weren’t conquered quickly.  I believe there exists a resident Good in most people that will ultimately prevail.

In the interval, conserving those best values of the past while embracing the promise of the future’s kinder, more tolerant dispensation to humanity, is the proper synthesis for abounding peace and good will.


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