Do Not Fear Islam

The following is an op-ed piece I wrote a couple of years ago.  My local paper would not publish it, but I think my readers might enjoy it.  The footnote links were included because the newspaper editor insisted on them.  Some of them might be of interest.


Do Not Fear Islam

               On September 11 this year my college classmate Laurie walked the ten minutes from her loft to Ground Zero to witness the demonstrations going on that day.  She writes, “I spent more time in the anti-Park51 crowd than the pro- side because I wanted to talk to people, try to educate and to find out why they thought what they did so strongly as to come to NY to demonstrate. I got the feeling that many of them are extremely misinformed and many are unfortunately genuinely very scared because of all that they do not know and the misinformation they’ve been fed, and of course plain old fashioned fear of people not like themselves,…”   A recent Pew poll shows that people who know Muslims are less likely to fear and hate Muslims.  Since Islam is a minority religion in this country (population percentage is estimated at one to two percent) most Americans have never met a Muslim let alone have any personal or work relationship with one.  More than half of Americans say they know little or nothing about Islam.[1]

               In my bachelor days I had a landlord who believed that the Jews were in cahoots with the Chinese to take over the world and destroy Western civilization.  He was a Bosnian and the first Muslim I ever knew socially.  Not that he was a very religious Muslim.  He liked a drink from time to time.  Once he lent me a book by Henry Ford called “The International Jew.”  This was the source of my landlord’s information.  Ford bought a newspaper (The Dearborn Independent) expressly to serve as a medium for his anti-Semitic writing.  Every Ford dealership in America gave away booklets from these writings and Ford sponsored the weekly radio “sermons” of Father Coughlin also attacking the supposed Jewish subversion of America.  He had about a third of the national radio audience and was the Glenn Beck of his day combining paranoid politics and religion.  Among American supporters of Hitler in the 1930s were American hero Charles Lindbergh and Readers’ Digest Magazine.[2]   Even after World War II, when the extent of the horrors committed by the Nazis was known, there were politicians in this country who tried to block visas for Jewish refugees on the grounds they might be subversives.[3]  To this day you can find these same anti-Jewish rants all over the Internet.

               When I read, see, or hear the Islamic faith accused of trying to take over the world or “Islamicize” America I see the same ugly forces at work.  We’ve been here before.  The ravings of extremists in the early 20th century led to the Holocaust.  I shudder to think what the current anti-Islamic rants might lead to.  This is so especially because the fear and hatred of Muslims is being actively promoted by politicians and media stars for their own purposes.  Let me be clear: I see Islamophobia as a bigotry that relies on the ignorance of most Americans about Islam and the people whose faith is Islam.

Who are America’s Muslims?  As with all large groups of people there are all kinds: religious and secular, liberal and conservative, smart and not-so-smart, open-minded and prejudiced, law-abiding and not.  Public opinion polls show that the vast majority of Muslims here want to fit in and be accepted. [4] They are seeking ways to practice their religion as a minority.  Islam teaches a moral life and its social values are the same as those of any religious tradition, by which I mean they teach the Golden Rule.  Do they have a vision of all of humanity being Muslim?  Some do, but then some Christians want to see every human soul within their faith.  Both have a history of bloodshed in pursuit of such goals.  The Koran is essentially a book of sermons preaching morality and kindness.  Some pick out verses that have ugly implications, but the same could be done with our Bible.  Some Muslim fundamentalists take verses from the Koran out of their contexts to give them violent applications.  Some Jews and Christians have done the same with the Bible.  Contrary to the common impression terrorism is against what Islam teaches about war and many authorities around the world have said so without reservation.[5]  The question is why those decrees have received virtually no acknowledgement in American news media.

               America’s Muslims are facing the same kinds of prejudice that immigrants have faced throughout American history.   The American Muslims I have known personally hope that they will, in the end, be accepted as a normal, accepted part of the American people.  Our great national tradition of pluralism which makes us a beacon of hope to the whole world requires no less.

[2] and (note that Prescott Bush, father of George H W and grandfather of George W, was among Hitler’s admirers)

[4] and  the latter reference is to a site that deals with a variety of issues and both of these sites are excellent resources for your writers.

[5]  This is another good source and it covers many issues.



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