Friday, August 06, 2010

Can Muslims be good American citizens?

I published a link to this article some time ago, but it seems appropriate again now in regard to the plans to build an Islamic Mosque and community center a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.

Most of us know that there are many who oppose the plan, considering it an insult to those killed on 9/11. They also usually associate all Muslims with terrorism, and believe that all or at least most Muslims are bound by their religion to kill "Christian infidels," and that therefore Islam is an inherently violent religion. Therefore, the reasoning goes, Muslims cannot be good American citizens.

That reasoning is wrong at the level of its premises, and this article (Muhammad’s promise to Christians) demonstrates that fact quite well.

Muslims have historically treated Christians very well. The fact that some Muslims now have radicalized is due to other factors, not to the Quran, not to Muhammad.


10 comments:

Gary said...

Chip, I'm not particularly persuaded, though I'll freely admit I've not read but two pages of a Koran myself.

One great example of how radical Islam is acting could be found here.

I feel that this post is incomplete, Chip. Why do you believe the Koran is not one of the causing factors of radicalization?

From what little I know: Mohammed started out nonviolent, but later became a soldier. Also: (chronologically) later parts of the Koran overwrite (chronologically) earlier parts. And if the parts about being buddy-buddy with Christians happens to be in the earlier parts, then...

chip said...

Gary, I'm certainly not an expert in the Koran. Recognizing that, I think we have to rely on the scholars who are -- on the Muslim scholars, the vast majority of which would agree that Islam is not an inherently violent religion.

Granting that there are radicals within Islam, we must also grant that there are radicals within Christianity who are just as violent. Outsiders may judge all Christians by the actions of, say, a David Koresh, but most of us Christians would say, "Wait -- Christianity isn't really like that!"

That's how the Muslim scholars, for the most part, act when we judge Islam by it's most violent adherents.

You know as well as I do (perhaps even better) that there are parts of the Bible, both OT and NT, that can be read as justifying violence. But most Christians would claim that would be the result of misinterpreting the texts.

So, though you can cite real examples of how radical Muslims act, I don't think those can be taken as truly representative of "Islam" as a whole.

On the later parts of the Koran overwriting the earlier parts, I just have to punt. I don't know about that. Ask the Koran scholars.

Gary said...

Honestly, I'm as much an outsider as you are when it comes to the Koran. I know of an essay off of Answering Islam about it, written from (apparently) a Muslim viewpoint, but that's about it. It's definitely ground I'm not familiar with.

But Chip, I think it may be possible that the nonviolent Islamic scholars are corrupted by postmodern tolerance. While I don't necessarily disagree with you (because I would hope that Islam is peaceful), in my current ignorance I think there's still the possibility that nonviolent Islamic scholars are to Islam what Brad Braxton is to Christianity.

That guy makes me shudder. Especially the heading "Reconsidering biblical authority: helping the Bible behave." For all I know, nonviolence in Islam.

That said, I've only known one Muslim and he was a great guy. Very honest and peaceful, a loving father. He's a driver at Papa John's and he'll eat pizza so long as it doesn't have pork in it. That makes him something of a minimalist with regards to what is halal. But he was an honest guy, so I can't say Islam is inherently the worst thing ever.

In fact, it's a great ploy. The most effective thing for Satan to do about those who want to worship God is to create a religion that allows them to do that -- and even acknowledges that Jesus was a prophet to be revered -- but denies the atoning work of Christ. It's terrible genius at work.

I'm not out to demonize Muslims or anyone else. Since there are scholars that interpret the Koran in a peaceful manner, it is clear that it can be done. But you and I both know that the Bible can be stretched and molded quite easily, and it's hard for outsiders like us to figure out which side is doing the stretching.

While I'd prefer the peaceful Islam, my question for you is this: where are the peaceful Islamic scholars from, and where are the radical ones from? If it just so happens that the peaceful Islamic scholars tend to be from Western postmodern countries, then that should be a red flag. You know way more about the political-religious climate than I do, though.

On a side note: if I know better than you about violent interpretations of the Bible, it's only for one reason: I used to be hyper-conservative and voted for Bush. I know the delusion because I was stuck in it once upon a time.

Gary said...

P.S.

George W. Bush. Great president, or the greatest president?

daniel said...

Let us pretend that it were allowed to build a Church in Saudi Arabia (it isn't — the open practice of Christianity is punishable by death). But let's pretend that it's possible. Now let's pretend that in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, two key building were bombed to the ground by Christian radicals. Fast forward — On the site of the bombing, a christian church is being built, set to open on the exact day that the bombing took place. The opening day is later changed to avoid a media controversy. Many Saudi Arabian's are distraught and find this move offensive. Which side would you take? Would you make a post on your blog, championing the right of the Christian to build there, or would you find the building of the Church offensive, unthoughtful, and provocative?

daniel said...

I've read the Koran, but as you know that is only half the battle. Reading something and fully understanding it are two separate issues. Therefore, I won't try to interpret it. In my opinion the Koran could be read as either violent or non-violent, depending on what you wish to emphasis. Most Muslims are non-violent.

The difference between Islamic radicalism and Christian radicalism is that a much larger amount of Muslims are radical. From what I understand it is roughly 7%. About 90 million. That is quite a large amount of people. In Christianity, there is no such radical demographic. In Christianity, the percentage, averaged out, would be roughly 0%. That is the key difference. There are individual Christians who do terrible things, but there are not whole factions of Christians who do such things.

In other words, I don't think we should try to make everything look the same. There are true differences in life. To try and suggest that radicalism in Christianity and radicalism in Islam are on equal planes, as some people seem eager to suggest, though I don't want to put those words in your mouth, seems a stretch to me. It is born out of good intentions, but to me stretches reality a bit too far.

Now, a slight tangent:

I would make the case that the civil rights records for governments run under the banner of Shari'ah Law have been on the whole quite poor, though some not as poor as others.

Homosexuality is punishable by death. Women cannot vote or have positions of any real authority. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot even drive. The unequally in the justice system, as you know, can be gut wrenching. Yet, what is to be done about this?

Women had equal rights under the Shah in Iran, which was heavily backed by the United States, yet when the Shah was overthrown, they lost that equality. Should the United States allow this sort of subjugation? Is it our role to do that? Was it our role to have ever been involved in the first place? These are difficult questions to answer.

Was it our role to step in during World War II, when the Jews were being persecuted, or should we have stayed out? Are our classical liberal ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and gender and racial equality to be spread across the globe, or are we merely to sit by and watch, like a man who watches the next door neighbor abuse and beat his wife until she is dead. All the while the man does nothing to help her, even as she cries out for help. Is this the right thing to do?

I believe you tend to look unfavorably on American patriotism, assuming you are equating it with nationalism. Do you also look unfavorably on patriots from other countries, nations, tribes, sects, creeds? Should we respect their nations, even as we are called to largely disregard and downplay ours? Or are we to hold disdain for all patriots, all nationalists, equally?

If, for example, a group of French patriots, all muslims, marched down the streets of Paris in pride for their country, would you look unfavorably upon them? If a group of americans were concerned, and stated that they didn't support the French patriots, who would you support? Would you support the French muslim patriots, or would you side with the naysayers?

What about if those patriots were predominately white American christians, championing America, and marching through Washington? Would you have a foul feeling, watching them march? Would you find it hard not to judge them, to assign motives to them which you could not prove?

In other words, do our beliefs dictate our opinions, or is it our opinions which dictate our beliefs? If we shift our perspectives, will we see things differently? Are people who feel offended by the building of the Mosque ignorant, obtuse, or racist? Are they misinformed ? If they had all of the facts would they see things differently? Or are they more informed than we think.

chip said...

Gary,

The Koran no more causes violence than the Christian/Jewish Bible does. Many read the Bible as a violent text and as promoting violence. You can’t read Joshua and not see that. But if Christians used it to justify violence of any sort, we’d simply say they were misreading it. If critics of Christianity said those texts proved Christianity is a violent religion, we’d want to do battle against that interpretation. It’s no different with the Koran.

The question would be this: who would you want to be considered the “official interpreter” of Christianity? If you don’t want it to be the KKK or the Branch Davidians, then we can’t legitimately interpret Islam based on the “radical fringe” and consider ourselves as fair judges.

Daniel, citing percentages of the “violent” of Christians vs. Islam isn’t a bit persuasive to me, since most Christians, including the vast majority of American Christians, feel violence is acceptable if one’s nation has been threatened. As I’ve said repeatedly: the precise moment American Christians are willing to “pick up the sword” is the precise moment they realize they’ve run out of ammo. I think the case can be made that more Christians are violent than Muslims. So claiming that within Christianity there are not “entire factions” that are violent is not true: the entire American “faction” is violent.

Gary, since you believe in non-violence, and since historically (since Constantine) Christians have been all too willing to justify and participate in violence, one could easily argue that your own non-violence is just a product of postmodernism. Of course, you would want to argue that it’s inherent in the Christian faith (and I agree). So we’re up against the same question as before: who gets to be considered the rightful interpreter of any religion? But, to answer your question in that paragraph: no – it is not possible to mark a geographical divide among Muslim scholars who are violent vs. those who are non-violent.

Daniel, your point about the church in Saudi Arabia is, I think, beside the point. First, it would likely depend on the spirit of the attempt to build the church. If it was an attempt to be provocative or to rub their noses in it with a claim to our “rights” to build wherever we want, then no – it would not be appropriate. On the other hand, if it was an attempt at reconciliation, and a statement of sorrow and repentance and apology for the radicals among us who acted evilly, then it might indeed be appropriate.

It seems like many who argue against nonviolence do so on the basis of it’s impracticality. Since it “won’t work,” therefore they cannot imagine that Jesus would want us to do such a “foolish thing.” In other words, since we recognize that others will not be true to Jesus’ principles of love and nonviolence, we reason that therefore WE do not have to follow them, either. In short, this argument boils down to this: if someone else isn’t being Christian, we don’t have to, either.

I think your argument about civil rights in Muslim countries at least borders on that argument, if it doesn’t actually parallel it. Many have argued that we did the right thing by invading Iraq because Sadaam was an evil ruler who mistreated his own people horribly. Yes, he did, but does that mean that we aren’t held to the moral principles of Jesus? If there are civil rights violations in countries around the world, does that mean we no longer have to love our enemies?

One assumption I see in your post is that there are situations in which violence is necessary, and not to use our coercive power would be irresponsible and unjust. I disagree. There are always other options – and one of them is always to trust God. Violent options rarely use God in their calculations, and when they do (such as in the Branch Davidian case) the rest of us think they’re being delusional.

Gary said...

Chip, I trust you. If you honestly believe that the radical vs. moderate/liberal divide in Islam is not easily correlated to asking who's in the West (liberal non-violent) and who's in the east (radical violent), then I'll take your word for it.

As I've said: I only know one devout Muslim, and he's one of the nicest guys I've ever met. I also know an agnostic who came out of (liberal) Islam, who also was a driver from Papa John's. I'm quite fond of both of those guys. So, I certainly don't see this in strict Arab-and-White colors.

I suppose my hesitance in this is just a good bit of Modernist skepticism. While I give the Bible a hermeneutic of charity* with regards to Joshua, I'm not necessarily willing to extend the same charity to the Koran. Maybe it IS violent, and they are fooling themselves for believing otherwise. I'm still open to the possibility that that IS the authorial intent for the Koran.

Personally, I don't see any particular danger with a Ground Zero mosque/community center, though, since much of Islam is nonviolent, regardless of whether that is true to authorial intent.

Gary said...

Daniel: Really, if there was any point in time when we should have used violent action against Hitler, it would be when he first set his sights on Poland.

But even then, there were other options. Moving further back, making no harsh peace conditions would have prevented the civil unrest in Germany that led to enough desperation to allow Hitler to gain power. The US did not move to help the Jews. We only got directly involved when our own arses were on the line. It wasn't because of any moral imperative other than our own survival -- which for Christians is not a moral imperative in the first place.

Pacifism, sadly, is ineffective and flawed. Do you know why? I'll give you an internal critique: it's because there's so few of us. So few people who put violent options off the table up front. That leads to a difficulty in producing solutions that work out.

Also: not every injustice can be stopped without violence. The question then is "is it our job to stop this?" When we start living by Psalm 46 and become a community that allows God to protect His people from violence, then we'll be on the right track as a witness in this world. It would be way off track to speak to real-life or hypothetical scenarios about that, so let's skip it.

Suffice to say, though, that people going to war should (realistically) realize that war only has a 50% success rate at best for those who take that path. (This simplifies to only one-on-one battles, but the point still stands.) Violent options are not any less flawed than pacifist ones. Nor do they necessarily stop problems without creating a host of new ones.

As an interesting note: I can't think of any nation in the Bible that was always justified in every war they participated in. I am fine with patriotism so long as it is not ethnocentrism. For instance, it doesn't bother me that Germany has the same national anthem it did in Hitler's day with the explicit omission of "Deutschland uber alles" (Germany superior to everyone else").

What does bother me is when we say that the American worker is more diligent or industrious than any other worker in the world, or that we are more courageous, or more whatever, than anyone else. That's crossing a line, because nobody was more courageous than Jesus, and last I checked, Bethlehem is not an American city.

Also: you can't make a one-for-one correspondence between Islamic radicalism and Christian radicalism. The two different camps will act in noticeably different ways. But if you use Islamic radicalism as the standard, then yes you're right. There are almost no radical Christians. Pretty much just the Hutaree, which has been disbanded. But as Chip mentioned, many Christians believe violence is justified and even godly whenever America is threatened.

Gary said...
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