Chuck Haynes on the war on terra.
profrv at nex.net.au
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
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 didnt 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
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 worlds 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 Quran: The Early Revelations by Michael Sells, a
scholar of comparative religions at Haverford College. When they arrive on
campus this fall, theyll 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. Foxs Bill OReilly has taken to the airwaves
to complain that the university was teaching the religion of our enemy.
He compared assigning the Quran to assigning Hitlers Mein Kampf.
Meanwhile, outraged North Carolina legislators just voted to cut off funds
for the assignment. One lawmaker declared that students shouldnt be
required to study this evil.
Sorting through all of this anger and ignorance is tough. But lets at
least clear away the First Amendment issues. It isnt unconstitutional for
the university to teach about Islam. Sells book merely introduces students
to material from one of the worlds most influential books. Religious
liberty isnt 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 doesnt 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 hasnt 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), its 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 OReilly (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. Dont 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:
The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center
1101 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22209
E-mail: chaynes at freedomforum.org
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. 11.08.04.02
· · 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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