“An Open Letter to Muslims in America” — a response

I wrote this in response to a letter to the editor that appeared in today’s News-Leader, “An Open Letter to Muslims in America.”


It’s possible to share Bob W. Rush’s concerns about threats made against our nation, but it doesn’t mean we have to share his imprudent fear of Muslims (“An Open Letter to Muslims in America”).

When Mr. Rush paints the Islamic community with broad brush strokes and says that all Muslims are “subject to suspicion” until they can “teach us how to unmistakably distinguish a ‘good Muslim’ from a ‘bad Muslim,’” I wonder if he is aware of the tens of thousands of Islamic clerics around the world who’ve repeatedly condemned the actions of extremist Islamists? Contrary to Mr. Rush’s statement, they do not offer their “behest and approval” of “killing innocent people.” (See here or here.)

I wonder if he knows that, according to the U.S. Counter Terrorism Center at West Point, Islamist terrorism kills more Muslims by far than it does adherents to any other religious tradition, including Christianity? (Between 82-97% of victims of Islamist terrorism are Muslim.)

I wonder if he’s ever had a Muslim classmate, colleague, or neighbor? I wonder if he’s been part of the Interfaith Alliance of the Ozarks, which provides numerous opportunities to build bonds of friendship and solidarity with Muslim sisters and brothers in the Ozarks?

To be sure, extremist versions of Islam are a real problem and threat. Religious extremism in all its forms is a real problem and threat (for an excellent analysis, I recommend When Religion Becomes Evil, by Charles Kimball). There aren’t any good reasons to sentimentalize such evil, for extremist Islamist groups have been responsible for mass acts of terror, in the U.S. and abroad.

But here’s the thing. To think that the vast majority of Muslims are supportive of extremist versions of Islam is as myopic as thinking that the vast majority of Christians are supportive of the Ku Klux Klan (or similar white nationalism groups), whose adherents identify as white and Christian.

And lest we think violence in Christian guise is just a thing of the past (to say nothing of the long-lasting effects of avowedly Christian colonization and the historic legacy of slavery and institutional racism and misogyny), let’s recall the murders in 2014 at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park by Frazier Glenn Miller, a KKK white supremacist from the Ozarks who said he “wanted to kill Jewish people before he dies.”

Let’s recall that Dylan Roof, who murdered nine black members of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church—all with the Confederate Battle Flag sown onto his jacket—was a member of a Lutheran church.

Let’s remember that just last year two major plots were uncovered in the U.S. that exposed white nationalists plotting to kill “scores of Muslims,” ranging from a radiation device described as “a weapon of mass destruction that would slowly and painfully kill anyone who walked near it” (the man who planned the attack, Glendon Crawford, is a member of the KKK); to a trio of white-militia terrorists in western Kansas who “were part of an anti-Muslim group called the Crusaders that plotted . . . to blow up” an entire apartment complex that housed Somali immigrants. According to USA Today, “the men openly discussed their hatred for members of the Muslim community, referring to them as ‘cockroaches.’”

Given these events, perhaps it shouldn’t be entirely surprising that over the last fifteen years, right-wing militia groups that largely identify as Christian have murdered more people in the United States than extremist Islamists have.

What’s more, from 2004-2013, the number of Americans living in the United States killed by all forms of terrorism is 313, compared to 316,545 deaths by firearm, which equates to more than a hundred 9/11s. But that’s a different topic for a different day.

I do wonder: How is it possible to tell the difference between a “good Christian” and a “bad Christian”? Were the Christian slaveholders in the antebellum south, who quoted the Bible to say it was their divine right to own slaves, “good Christians”? Or the founders of the KKK, responsible for the sweeping terror of lynching that still haunts our society today? What about the Christian segregationists, who said that God’s natural order demands that the races not mix? Or Steven Anderson, the contemporary Arizona pastor who preaches that “all gays should be killed”?

If a Christian responds, “Of course I don’t support any of the these things, nor the modern-day murderous actions of right-wing militia groups and/or members of the KKK,” then doesn’t one owe the same courtesy to the millions and millions of Muslims who don’t support Islamist extremism either—indeed, those who are much more likely to be the victims of Islamist terrorism?

It would be the height of naivete to try to determine which religion is responsible for the most violence. Down through the ages people have used religion to justify all kinds of terrible actions (e.g., the Crusades), just as they’ve used religion as inspiration to do great good (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr.).

But one thing is certain: The worst atrocities in the history of humanity—whether committed in the name of religion or not—have occurred when misguided assumptions and prejudices have been hurled at entire groups of people based on their particular religion, ethnicity, nationality, or race.

And this is something that all of us—regardless of religious beliefs we may or may not hold—have the responsibility to resist.


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