Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Standing Up to Religious Hate Speech

There are two mosques in Appleton, and I have had a long-term relationship with one of them. On the evening of 9/11, leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities came together at a local Lutheran church to grieve this act of unspeakable evil and to affirm that we would not allow this horrific event to drive a wedge between our communities. Locally we have been able to honor that pledge, but I am deeply disturbed and frightened by the growing fear and hatred in our society directed at the Muslim faith and all who follow it. Many in New York City oppose plans to build a mosque two blocks from “ground zero” (in a former Burlington Coat Factory, no less), and there is similar opposition to proposed mosques in many other cities, including Sheboygan here in Wisconsin. Some opponents are suggesting that all mosques function as secret terrorist training centers, an absurd accusation.

It gets worse. Some conservative Christian groups are claiming not only that Islam is a false religion, but that it is an inherently violent movement bent on world conquest. Ron Ramsey, the lieutenant governor of Tennessee who is currently running for governor, said in a recent campaign speech: "You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult or whatever you want to call it." This is not just ignorance, it is dangerous hate speech.

But most disturbing of all is the call of Terry Jones, leader of the Dove World Outreach Center, for the ritual burning of copies of the Quran on September 11 this year. No doubt this will actually happen in many so-called Christian churches. Book-burning in general makes my blood run cold. Calling frightened, angry people to burn a book that millions of people hold sacred should be a wake-up call to all persons with a shred of moral decency and respect for diversity to rise up and denounce him.

Jones is the author of a book titled “Islam is of the Devil,” which pretty much tells us all we need to know about him (yes, t-shirts are available). Unless you would also like to know his perspective on homosexuality: “Detestable, indecent, wicked, offensive, perverted, shameful, unnatural, degrading, impure, futile, foolish, godless, dishonorable, a lie.” If you want to lose a night’s sleep to anger and worry, you can visit Dove World’s web site. Among other things, it offers ten reasons why we should burn the Quran, and yet they dare to call themselves “dove world.”

There have been previous efforts to breed hatred directed at a religious group in our society, most famously targeting the Roman Catholic Church in the 19th century. They too were accused of seeking “world domination.” Fear leads to hatred, hatred leads to lies and false accusations, lies lead to intolerance and acts of violence. It is a grief almost too deep to bear; surely Al Qaeda must be rejoicing at how well this hate speech serves their agenda.

Question the teachings of Islam if you will; as a devout Christian I disagree with many Muslim beliefs. But as a Christian I believe I am required to love my neighbor as myself, including my Muslim neighbor. And loving my Muslim neighbors requires me to speak out when they become the targets of dangerous hate speech. It requires it of all of us.