Chuck Haynes on the war on terra.

Matthew X profrv at
Sat May 8 03:11:40 PDT 1999

Watch out: War on terrorism should not mean war on Islam
Inside the First Amendment
By Charles Haynes
Senior scholar, First Amendment Center
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Watch out, America.
A growing number of media commentators, religious leaders and elected 
officials are pushing to transform the war on terrorism into a war on Islam.
Franklin Graham and other Christian ministers are now loudly condemning 
Islam as a “religion of violence.” They would have us believe that the 9/11 
hijackers didn’t hijack Islam (as President Bush insists) – they were only 
doing what the Quran commands.
My mailbox is full of letters from people who feel this way. Typical is the 
woman who writes to inform me that Islam is “a fanatical religion that is 
being thrust upon us under the guise of political correctness.”
Clearly the war on terrorism has unleashed deep resentments about Islam in 
America — and provided a golden opportunity for those seeking to advance 
anti-immigration, anti-Muslim or other agendas in the name of preserving a 
“Christian nation.”
Watch out, America. This war of words is already escalating into acts of 
intolerance and hate against Muslim Americans — and risks further 
alienating us from the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims.
Consider the current uproar over a summer reading assignment at the 
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Incoming freshmen are required to 
read Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations by Michael Sells, a 
scholar of comparative religions at Haverford College. When they arrive on 
campus this fall, they’ll briefly discuss the book in small groups led by a 
member of the faculty. Students who object to the reading may “opt out” and 
write a paper explaining why they did so.
 From the over-the-top reaction, you might think that reading this book 
threatens the health of the nation. A group called the Family Policy 
Institute filed suit, claiming that the university is violating the First 
Amendment by promoting Islam. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly has taken to the airwaves 
to complain that the university was teaching “the religion of our enemy.” 
He compared assigning the Quran to assigning Hitler’s Mein Kampf. 
Meanwhile, outraged North Carolina legislators just voted to cut off funds 
for the assignment. One lawmaker declared that students shouldn’t be 
“required to study this evil.”
Sorting through all of this anger and ignorance is tough. But let’s at 
least clear away the First Amendment issues. It isn’t unconstitutional for 
the university to teach about Islam. Sells’ book merely introduces students 
to material from one of the world’s most influential books. Religious 
liberty isn’t violated by asking students to read these “early revelations” 
(especially since the university permits students to complete an alternate 
assignment if reading the book offends their faith).
Of course, the fact that the assignment is constitutional doesn’t make it 
above criticism. More reasonable critics have suggested that study of the 
Quran would make more sense in the context of a course on Islam taught by a 
qualified teacher. And others have noted (rightly) that in past summers the 
university hasn’t assigned readings from Christian, Jewish or other scriptures.
The loudest critics, however, could not care less about what the First 
Amendment says – or how best to teach about Islam or other religions. They 
seem determined to use this controversy as an opportunity to demonize Islam.
This is dangerous and wrong. But since most Americans know little or 
nothing about Islam (and since the 9/11 terrorists claimed to be acting in 
the name of Islam), it’s all too easy to convince people that Islam is an 
evil and violent faith.
One of the most frequent (and insidious) tactics used to attack Islam is 
the practice of lifting a few verses out of the Quran to “prove” that Islam 
promotes violence. But this is a deeply flawed and misleading way to 
understand the core beliefs and practices of any religious tradition.
During the Civil War era, for example, selected passages from the Bible 
were frequently used to defend slavery. But many Christians rejected that 
interpretation, pointing out that the abolition of slavery was required by 
the core teachings of Jesus Christ.
Taken in context — and understood in the light of a careful study of 
Islamic history and practice — there is much evidence to suggest that 
President Bush got it right: For the vast majority of Muslims, Islam is a 
religion of peace that calls adherents to love of God and compassion toward 
Islam is not the root cause of the 9/11 attacks, just as Christianity is 
not the root cause of the violence (on both sides) in Northern Ireland. In 
both cases — and in many other conflicts throughout history — religious 
teachings are politicized, distorted and then used as a tool by fanatics to 
advance their cause.
Shame on O’Reilly (who apparently has no shame), Franklin and everyone else 
who is using the war on terrorism as an opportunity to promote a simplistic 
and unfair picture of the Muslim faith.
The best answer to bad speech is good speech. To find out the truth about 
Islam, speak to your Muslim neighbors, visit your local mosque or Islamic 
center, read a book about Islam written by a competent scholar.
Watch out, America. Don’t let the war on terrorism become a war on Islam. 
That would threaten religious liberty at home – and encourage division and 
violence throughout the world.
Your questions and comments are welcome. Write to:
Charles Haynes
The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center
1101 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22209
E-mail: chaynes at
Recent Charles Haynes columns
·       ·       Feel-good interfaith events may paper over deep differences
But members of different religious traditions shouldn't resort to 
demonizing others, either, as we remember Sept.
·       ·       Religious-diversity lessons in schools can go too far
Having students act out religious rituals and practices puts public schools 
in the position of sponsoring religion.07.21.02

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