Monday, January 25, 2016

Combatting Islamophobia

Back in May 2013 I wrote about Islamophobia (see this link) and mentioned it again in October 2014 (here). But fear of Muslims, which is basically what Islamophobia is, seems to be stronger now—especially since the San Bernardino shootings—than it was two or three years ago.
It goes without saying that there are radical terrorists in the world. ISIS (ISIL) is a real and ongoing threat to peace and safety in the Near East as well as in the Western world. The extremist activity of some groups or individuals who self-identify as Muslims cannot be denied and should not be ignored.
At the same time, the lumping of all Muslims together and harboring suspicion against, or promoting rejection of, all Muslims because of the terrorist activities of some who say they are Muslims is grossly unfair.
This month the group which meets under the name Vital Conversations discussed the book Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism (2013). The author, Maajid Nawaz (b. 1978), is an ethnic Pakistani born in England. As a teenager he was radicalized, and then a few years later he rejected the Islamism that he had embraced.
Nawaz became the co-founder of, and continues as the leader of, Quilliam, a think tank based in London that seeks to combat Islamism and its extremist activities. (To understand the distinction between Islam and Islamism is crucial.)
In 2011 Nawaz gave a TED talk in Edinburgh with the title “A Global Culture to Fight Extremism.” He is an admirable example of a Muslim fighting valiantly against radical Islamism.
Ahmed el-Sharif was our guest at the January Vital Conversations meeting. Ahmed was born in Sinai and came to the United States in 1979. He is a chemist, and became an American citizen in 1985.
Ahmed is also the founder of the American Muslim Council of Greater Kansas City. There is no question about him being a devout Muslim. But for those who have met him and heard him talk, there is no question about him being a peace-loving, sweet-spirited man.
This evening (Jan. 25) Central Baptist Theological Seminary here in the Kansas City area will be holding its Spring Convocation. Following that, at 7 p.m. veteran professor Richard Olson will lead a discussion of Todd H. Green’s book The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West (2015). 
Green, who is a professor of religion at Luther College in Iowa, has written a very helpful, easy-to-read but scholarly book that I found well worth reading.
To pick up on just one point, Green explains that just referring to “Islamic terrorists” encourages Islamophobia. That is the main reason President Obama has generally not used that term.
Even back in 2008 Rudolph Giuliani’s criticized the Democratic National Convention for not using those words, and the President has been repeatedly castigated for not using that label.
For example, about a year ago CNN reported that Sen. Lindsey Graham had said, “We are in a religious war with radical Islamists. When I hear the President of the United States and his chief spokesperson failing to admit that we’re in a religious war, it really bothers me.”
Last month Donald Trump called for barring all Muslims from entering the United States (at least temporarily). Then early this month, in his first television ad of the presidential election campaign, Trump reiterated his call for a ban on Muslim entry to the U.S.
Trump’s statement about Muslims is clearly an expression of, as well as encouragement of, Islamophobia. And sadly, his strident voice is just one among many.


  1. Interestingly (in light of my Jan. 15 blog article), Green concludes his book with these words:

    “Hostility toward the racial and religious ‘Other,’ while a formidable and dangerous force in Western history, rarely has the final word. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remind us, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice’” (p. 335).

  2. Here is a link to a website that links to some of the interviews of Todd Green and his book "Fear of Islam":

  3. Thinking Friend Bob H. in Wisconsin writes,

    "Again, Leroy, you have hit it out of the park. I will look for that book you mentioned, a Luther College scholar. The ELCA colleges and seminaries are leading the study of and practical ways to combat this religious hate and fear."

  4. I have several Muslim friends from all over the world. One has an open door to my house should he and his family ever feel threatened. I have also met a couple of them in refugee resettlement whom I distrusted (so did some Muslim friends). The vetting system does have some serious weaknesses. Sadly, the same can be said of some Christians I have met.

    At one point you have written of a fine Muslim man (Chicago if I remember) who was working to build bridges. A link to that blog would be in order. We need to build friendships with all who are friendly. I would also recommend going back and watching the Spike Lee movie "Malcom X", a chronicle of a man who turned from violet Islam into a bridge builder - sadly that story did not end well.

    1. I couldn't quickly find where I had written about him, but you are probably referring to Eboo Patel, whom Green also interviewed and cites several times in the last chapter of his book.

      Here is the link to the Wikipedia article about Patel, and there are links to primary sources at the end.

  5. It’s a presidential election year in the USA with no incumbent running. That really brings out the ‘election-politica-phobia’ in me. I know better (so I think) and don’t want to be an embarrassment to Jesus (so I hope), but I don’t seem to be able to overcome it! Pray that I remember to differentiate the worth of the words spoken from the worth of the person speaking!!! I don’t own a gun, thank goodness (for me or for them)! :-) Perhaps my ‘I’ needs a ‘We’!!!

    “My eye reaches but a little ways. . . . I can divine it [the arc of the moral universe] by conscience.” – Theodore Parker

  6. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky says,

    "A thoughtful approach, Leroy! We need to cultivate conversation between Muslims and Christians. Until both groups learn more about one another, we will not diminish the fear we see on both sides.

  7. I do not watch Charlie Rose very frequently, but one show I did see lead me to buy and read a book, and develop a new vision of where the dialogue with Islam could go. He was interviewing Irshad Manji about her new book, "Allah, Liberty and Love: The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom." An earlier book of hers is "The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith." See link here:

    She was the girl who got kicked out of school for asking too many questions. Her Muslim pilgrimage of faith will sound surprisingly familiar to many progressive Christians. She has not just called for reform in Islam, she has written a book on it. Her solution is as profound as it is simple, do not wage jihad against the world, but against yourself. Seek to be the best you can be. Share with others who are trying to do the same. Learn moral courage. This is what she learned reading the Quran. This is what it means to her to be a practicing Muslim.

    There are plenty of dark forces in the world, seeking to lead us all into their grasp. They are found in every religion, and every political movement. You do not have to be a Jedi to know that. Muslims and Christians both struggle with the dark side of their force. Islam is not just a religion with whom Christianity can find common ground, it is the very ground from which many of our most fundamental achievements spring. Just think about that the next time you get all super western, and figure things out with your algebra, algorithms, and Arabic numerals. You never could have figured it out with Roman numerals. Someone taught the western world a better way. Just as before that, Arabs learned it from the Hindus. Something about meditating on "nothingness" for so long that they invented what we call today "zero."


  8. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Judy Trullinger, who lives about five miles from where I grew up in north Missouri.

    "I, too, was impressed with Maajid Nawaz. We tape Fareed Zakaria's show every Sunday on CNN as it is a well rounded, intelligent and impartial reporting of the week's events.

    "On his show last November, Fareed interviewed Maajid Nawaz, asking him what was his motive to join the extremist group as a teenager: 'At 16, there were two things that really disturb me. One was the genocide that was unfolding in Bosnia against Muslims on our own continent of Europe, which made me feel completely disconnected from mainstream society. Because, of course, the reaction in dealing with that genocide was incredibly slow. And many, many Bosnian Muslims lost their lives in that genocide. And the second was domestic racism, which I faced. . . . But I want to emphasize here that those two were as perceived by me as a 16-year-old. Of course, you know, they don't justify joining a theocratic organization. So, what kicked in off for that sense of grievance, was the fact that I was found in that incredibly vulnerable state, and sold this ideological narrative.. . .We have to recognize, we cannot shoot our way out of this problem. We are in the midst of a global Jihadist insurgency, and we have to render the appeal of this Islamist ideology as unattractive as Soviet communism has now become for young people today. . . . The worst thing we can do right now is think and act like ISIS by dividing people along religious lines.'

    "He said not to think you had to be African American to experience racism. He thinks there is no sudden cure—that this is the new normal and said: 'So, let's remain levelheaded and avoid being, I'd say, blinded by our left eye or popping a blood vessel in our right eye because both of those conclusions would render us blind.'

    "I hope to read his book some day, and now will also look up Todd Green’s book.

    "Thank you for another good article."

  9. Thank you for a deeply succinct and welcoming article. I have not had any Muslim friends until I moved to KCMO in the late 90s for Seminary. When I finally met people of the Islamic faith, I found them to be open and friendly and I wondered WHERE did I get the idea they were hateful and angry? It leads back to what we HEAR and neglect to do our own research. The internet has opened an arena of many new races of friends, which I will be eternally grateful. In Seminary I took a course, "Understanding Islam," with Prof. James C Browning. It was the first deep study of Islam and its Muslim followers I had taken in my educational advancement. To say I learned much is an understatement. What stood out in my mind was, if we were as dedicated to God as they are dedicated to Allah, we won't have enough seats in the church to house all of the people. I've been invited to an Islamic house of worship with an Imam I trained with while in Hospital Chaplaincy and I was welcomed warmly and invited to stay for lunch afterwards... very friendly, warm people! I did get a giggle out of your statement a week or two ago: "All fundamentalist are conservative, but not all conservatives are fundamentalists." Would this equal "All Mennonites are Christian, but not all Christians are Mennonite"...? I am indebted to you for your writings! George M M!