Does a negative opinion of Islam amount to conclusive evidence of bigotry?
Those who warn of a raging frenzy of American “Islamophobia” base their case on the assumption that anything less than enthusiastic approval of The Religion of Peace automatically qualifies as hate-mongering and ignorance. On ABC News, Christiane Amanpour pointed to recent survey figures on public uneasiness with Islam to prove that Muslim Americans faced an unprecedented tsunami of hostility and discrimination. Actually, the Washington Post/ABC poll she repeatedly cited hardly indicated seething, volcanic anti-Muslim sentiment: less than half the public (49%) held generally “unfavorable” views of Islam, while fully 37% felt favorably disposed toward Koranic values.
Far from reflecting an alarming new surge of groundless hatred, these figures remain virtually unchanged from results of an identical Washington Post/ABC survey from four-and-a-half years ago (March, 2006), which showed 46% unfavorably inclined toward the Muslim faith.
The real question raised by all such expressions of public opinion should confront the nearly 40% of Americans who say they feel positively impressed by Islam and its influence.
What aspect of Muslim teaching and achievement most inspires such respondents? The daily reports of suicidal violence from every corner of the globe, with fellow-Muslims (invariably) as the primary victims? Or the well-known association of Islamic piety with open-hearted respect for the rights of women, homosexuals and infidels? Or is it the sterling record of economic progress, cutting age technology and social justice achieved by precisely those societies (like Saudi Arabia, Iran or Afghanistan) that take Shariah law most seriously? Or would Islam’s American admirers cite the record of Muslim charities in the U.S., the most prominent of which (remember the Holy Land Foundation?) have been shut down by the government for their lavish support of murderous terrorist groups like Hamas?
Quite naturally, the people who look favorably on Islam feel unconcerned over its ancient teachings or loathsome perversions in benighted corners of the globe, and focus instead on the law-abiding, patriotic, family-loving Muslims who have established benign communities throughout the United States. But even the decent people who reside in those communities rightly worry that their impressionable off-spring may become too religious, too zealous in their fervent commitment to The Prophet and his teachings.
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.