“In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew; And then…they came for me … And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
Pastor Martin Niemöller
Members of Congress plan to host a National Day of Prayer event in May featuring evangelist Franklin Graham. The invitation to Graham, who has described Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion,” came in the wake of an invitation extended to Graham for a similar event at the Pentagon the same week. Before being subsequently withdrawn, the invitation sparked widespread criticism from both within and outside the Pentagon. Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said inviting Graham to speak “would be like bringing someone in on national prayer day madly denigrating Christianity.”
Graham’s statements are nothing new. Following a report on a recent terrorist incident on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club,” host Pat Robertson called Islam “not a religion, but a political system,” and called for Americans to treat its followers “as we would members of the Communist party, or members of some fascist group.” And after a report on Muslims in Minneapolis seeking religious accommodations at school and work, Robertson warned, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world.” In yet another telecast, Robertson railed: “These people are crazed fanatics, and I want to say it now: I believe it’s motivated by demonic power. It is satanic and it’s time we recognize what we’re dealing with.”
Robertson and Graham are not alone in condemnations. Scores of politicians, columnists, various bloggers, radio and TV hosts, particularly since the 9/11 tragedy, have emphatically claimed that Islam as a faith calls on its followers to dominate the world through violence and terror. Are there some extremists who promote violence in the name of faith? No doubt, but zealots of all faiths have done so for time immemorial, and blanket condemnations of an entire faith community do nothing to help fight the murderous enemy we currently face and must defeat.
Recently, Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders toured the U.S. promoting his anti-Muslim film “Fitna” where specific passages of the Quran, the Muslim scripture, are juxtaposed with video images of acts of terror and violence. In an interview on a national cable news channel, Wilders described Muslim immigration to Europe as a “threat…to our Western societies based on Christianity and Judaism” and called for the banning of the Quran as “a fascist book.” And in his zeal to condemn Islam and Muslims, Wilders inadvertently attacked others. When asked whether the Old Testament should likewise be banned due to its violent passages, Wilders responded that the “Old Testament was followed by a more moderate New Testament” inadvertently taking a swipe at the validity of the Old Testament, scripture held particularly sacred to Jews, not to mention Muslims and Christians.
Wilders’ misguided comments are only the latest instance of hate “mission creep.” After a 2007 statement by then-President George Bush on the Abrahamic religious tradition, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas asked “how can the president say that we all worship the same God when Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus?” In seeking to divide Muslims and Christians, Thomas attacked Jews as worshipping a different god. And after claiming, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” (when referring to Muslims), Ann Coulter declared that “Jews need to be perfected by becoming Christians.”
Anti-Muslim blogger Robert Spencer proclaims that the Muslim prophet Muhammad was a guilty of host of heinous crimes including the rape of a child because he was betrothed to Aisha when she was nine years old. Of course, most are keenly aware that a betrothal and actual marriage are two separate things and readers of the Old Testament recall that Isaac was betrothed to Rebecca when she was three years old. Like Wilders, Thomas, and Coulter, Spencer’s bigotry easily morphs into anti-Semitism.
Anti-Muslim bigotry is simply anti-Semitism on training wheels. Americans of the Jewish faith, Catholics, Mormons and so many others recognize this when they see it, and we can be thankful that the majority of Americans stand strong against this kind of divisiveness. Instead of making every effort to bring together all freedom-loving people, some seek to divide us, cynically questioning the ability of millions to embrace freedom based solely on their faith.
And many know that such divisive rhetoric can lead to violence with real victims. Just days after 9/11, a Pakistani immigrant was murdered in Texas by Mark Stroman, who was convicted of also murdering another immigrant a few days later. Stroman admitted to authorities to attacking a third victim, a Bangladeshi, bragging, “I did what every American wanted to after Sept. 11 but didn’t have the nerve.” Such bigotry only gives in to the terrorists. It demonstrates to our enemies that we are willing to respond to their hate with hatred, and to give in to fear by succumbing to prejudice.
Thankfully, most Americans are determined to avoid the racism and ethnic division so many others sadly experienced in our nation’s darker moments. They have taken to heart the promise made by our first President, George Washington, when addressing an early Jewish congregation, that Americans would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” As Americans, we can take pride in the fact that, regardless of ethnic and religious heritage, we stand united as one people united in defending our cherished liberty for the many days ahead.
Suhail A. Khan serves on the Board of Directors for the American Conservative Union and as a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, a Christian organization dedicated to religious freedom worldwide.