By Martin Accad
Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Geert Wilders, and others, are inadvertently the spearheads of Islamism in the US and Europe! This may sound like a bit of a radical statement, but perhaps it really isn’t.
The situation is so getting out of hand that a bit of tweaking here and a bit of patting there has ceased to be useful. This is why I choose to start this post with such a radical statement.
Once again, through the highly mediatized event held in Texas three days ago, the ‘Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,’ a few authors, politicians and bloggers that have made a big name since September 11, 2001, have successfully handed another great victory to violent men who act in the name of Islam. This is not the first time of course. But this time it is easier to comment, since there were no deaths apart from the two gunmen, and most would not view these deaths as a loss…
I commend the group of young Muslim activists who decided to hold their own ‘Draw Muhammad’ contest in response to Geller. Their initiative is a peaceful and creative challenge to the widely-held misperception that it is the mere drawing of Muhammad which is the problem here, rather than the offensive and brash representations that would be viewed as of pretty ‘bad taste’ by any account.
Newsweek had already well documented this point last January when they ran a story about Iranian depictions of Muhammad. Not all branches of Islam have objected to the representation of their prophet through history. And certainly Iranian Islam has sat quite comfortably with such depictions through most of its history. But I digress…
The Church globally is in need of more prophetic voices that would help overturn the current destructive tide of the mainstream. What alternative do we have? Could it be that God is calling us to a religious war against Islam? Most serious followers of Jesus’ ways would not venture to say this. Or is he calling us to cave in to fanatics on both sides? Not his ‘style’ either… He must, then, be calling us to some sort of prophetic way of being, which would help reposition the Church as a challenge to the ‘dominant consciousness’ (as Brueggemann would put it in his The Prophetic Imagination) with regards to Islam, in the current atmosphere.
So what is it that is so disturbing in the behavior of the likes of Geller, Spencer and Wilders?
First of all, their initiatives continuously offer ‘soft targets’ for Muslim religious fanatics. This was once again demonstrated a few days ago in Texas. The same resulted from the drawings of the Danish and French cartoonists, as well as from the initiative of some obscure ‘pastor’ in Florida, who a few years ago suddenly decided that he would burn himself a few Qur’āns. These ‘stunts’ carried out in the West have now become costly on the perpetrators themselves. But they are infinitely more costly for multitudes of Christians living across the Muslim world whose churches get burnt down and who suffer massacres at the hand of fanatics in response.
Secondly, such behavior increases and promotes a misinformed understanding of Islam. I will continue to argue that Islam is what Muslims make of it. If some Muslims are violent in its name, then Islam’s Scripture has the capacity to inspire violence. If other Muslims are peaceful and loving in the name of their religion, this means that the Qur’ān also has the capacity to inspire peaceful and loving behavior. The Scripture of any religion only finds meaning in the interpretation that its bearers give it. But once non-Muslims begin to insist that the only ‘true Islam’ is the one that manifests itself violently, they cannot claim objectivity. They have simply bought into the ideology of ‘the terrorists.’
Third, people like Geller, Spencer and Wilders obstruct the practice of truthful and useful relations. It is not through indignant outcry that the most crucial and sensitive Muslim challenges perceived by non-Muslims will be addressed effectively. Rather, it is through the use of multifaith platforms that we are able to address important questions like the persecution of Muslim converts, the religious intolerance of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, or Sudan, or the call of some streams of Islam for the establishment of Islamic Law in the West.
Has the Church played a part in allowing, or even promoting, the spread of this anti-Muslim hateful atmosphere in our societies?
There is no shortage of hurt, disenchanted, disaffected, and marginalized Muslim young people around the world with negative feelings towards the West. This is arguably the result of deteriorated historical relations between East and West, fueled by post-colonial tyrannical regimes in the Muslim world that are often still maintained in power by neo-colonial western agendas. But I would argue as well that the Church has not been responding adequately to this reality. Instead of reaching out in love to those despaired young people, the Church often contributes in fanning their flame of fanaticism and awakening the demons in them.
Secondly, the Church has allowed itself to be influenced by hatred and fear. Many fall for the narrative of Geller, Spencer, Wilders and others who have made a name for themselves as a result of 9/11. They have built their careers largely by feeding the devouring flames of fear, ignorance and hatred. Instead of seeking to be an alternative voice, we have too often bought into this narrative. We have reacted, not with the calls for justice, love of neighbor, and embrace of the enemy, as taught us by the Biblical prophets, but more often by adopting a supremacist and exclusivist ideology closer to the dominant attitude that Jesus opposed among many of his Jewish contemporaries.
Finally, the Church’s paralysis resulting from this discourse has prevented it from leading a campaign of love and embrace. I believe issues such as that of the headscarf, the building of mosques and minarets, the application of Sharia precepts, and other such hot topics currently being debated in the street and through finger-pointing, can only be resolved through dialogue.
The Church’s feeble, and often counterproductive, response has allowed the emergence of issues out of what could have remained non-issues. Would the Church normally stand for imposing a certain dress or preventing another? Would we normally support the obstruction of people’s freedom to worship the way they please and in whichever building they choose? If we have done so at certain times in our history, my understanding is that we’d like to promote the exact opposite. Would we really object to allowing certain communities in our midst from conducting their own affairs in a way that reflects their deepest convictions, so long as these were aligned with agreed principles of justice?
There exists in the Lebanese legal system a model worth considering, which entrusts each of our 18 religious communities with the responsibility of managing our own family affairs through specialized religious courts. The complexity of this issue would merit its own blog, which I hope to do at some point. But we must remember at the very least that Jurisprudence is by definition far more flexible than the conspiracy discourse would have us believe.
Of course when it comes to Islam, we claim that this would lead to human rights abuses and what not. But could this be primarily a projection of our own fears and insecurities? When it comes to the application of Sharia, why do we look at Saudi Arabia and Waziristan as the anti-models? Why don’t we look at the model of Lebanon, which is much more likely to emerge from the socio-cultural realities of the West if Muslim communities in the US and Europe were allowed to organize their own family courts? The rights of Muslim women and children are certainly not worse off than those of Christians in Lebanon.
Do we really think that millions of immigrants from Muslim countries (let alone multigenerational Muslim citizens of western countries), who have left inhuman political regimes in the non-western world are longing to reproduce such thuggish structures in their new home? Are they really longing to have the hands of their teenager cut off next time they shoplift a chocolate bar from the convenience store? Or are they really wishing to see their daughter lashed or stoned if she behaves sexually inappropriately during the explorative stages of puberty?
We need to get out of the destructive grip of the erroneous Geller/Spencer/Wilders discourse. It is far too cozy and aligned with the discourses of ISIS, Boko Haram and the Somali Shabab.