There is no real parallel to this fear in Christian or Jewish homes. Christian parents may feel embarrassed by their religiously reborn children suddenly studying the Gospels obsessively, or witnessing obnoxiously to family or friends, but they needn’t worry about wayward kids blowing up themselves or others in the name of Jesus. Jewish mothers and fathers may hate the scraggly beards and black hats adopted by a suddenly Orthodox generation, or resent the refusal to eat non-kosher food at home, but even the most fanatical of their kids feel scant temptation to travel to remote mountain hideouts as part of an international terror conspiracy.
By contrast, the secularized, prosperous parents of the Christmas Day Underwear Bomber (Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab), or the would-be Times Square Bomber (Feisel Shahzad), or the Fort Hood Shooter (Nidal Hassan), or European-educated engineering graduate Muhammad Atta (and his eighteen 9/11 accomplices) can testify what happens when even products of sophisticated, privileged families become too deeply entangled in Muslim fundamentalism.
The spiritual leader of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero insists that the true problem is extremism, not Islam itself. “The real battlefront today is not between Muslims and non-Muslims,” declared Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to the Council on Foreign Relations, “but between moderates of all faith traditions against the extremists of all faith traditions.”
This ignores the huge differences --both quantitative (Islamic radicals are vastly more numerous) and qualitative (Muslim fanatics endorse uniquely murderous rhetoric and deeds) – between extremists in one faith tradition and all others.
A Christian fundamentalist may talk about burning Korans; Muslim crazies regularly burn buildings- and people. Even after Pastor Terry Jones called off his idiotic barbeque of the Islamic holy book, Muslims reacted with deadly riots in Kashmir that killed 16 and wounded sixty, while burning several schools and other government buildings.
Some Americans may dislike the style of worship in Pentecostal or Catholic churches, but the faithful (no matter how tackily dressed) never surge out of their sanctuaries on Sundays with fury and blood-lust, looking for non-believers to stone and property to destroy. Every Friday, however, somewhere in the vast Muslim world, some congregations of the devout react to their uplifting prayer services by going directly from their mosques to rousing orgies of rage and violence.
This observation isn’t an expression of bigotry; it’s a factual product of reading the newspaper, and regularly monitoring international news. The lame-brained insistence that all faith traditions deserve equal respect (or equal condemnation) doesn’t demonstrate tolerance or broad-mindedness; it expresses, rather, a refusal to take any religion seriously enough for honest evaluation of its virtues and flaws.
Reservations about Islam, and even fears of the Muslim faith’s influence on the world at large, don’t constitute paranoia or intolerance. These concerns represent an honest and reasonable response on the part of a significant segment of the public to a serious global challenge to the values that Americans hold most dear.