Eight years after the tragic events of 9/11, most Americans still know nothing about Islam. Moreover, our political leaders now refrain from even associating terrorism with Islamic radicals at all. To commemorate 9/11, President Obama spoke wistfully at a memorial service at the Pentagon. He called Americans “to serve our communities, to strengthen our country and to better our world.” He never once made mention of Islam, the religion Obama had praised in his White House Ramadan dinner, a dinner called to “celebrate a great religion, and its commitment to justice and progress.”
Despite the President's efforts to re-educate Americans on Islam, research shows that few of us actually know anything about the alleged “religion of peace.” One would think (and hope) that after the events of 9/11, Americans would have seized the opportunity to examine the movement that spawned such heinous acts of terror. On that momentous day, I realized my own gaping lack of knowledge regarding the world's second largest religion. I had studied Judaism, Hinduism, and Christianity, but knew noting about Islam. In the years since 9/11, I have now read the Koran, studied biographies of Mohammed, reviewed histories of Islam, and interviewed scholars of Islam. I wrongly assumed that other Americans were doing the same self-education.
The recent Pew Forum survey regarding how religions are perceived n America reveals some ugly facts about our ignorance. Only four out of ten Americans could correctly answer two basic questions about Islam:
1) What is the Muslim name for God?
2) What is the name of the Islamic holy text?
In other words, 60% of Americans know absolutely nothing about Islam. That kind of widespread ignorance is shameful and deplorable. Acts of terror murder more than 3000 Americans and set off a war that continues to this day; yet the average American chooses not to examine any of the underlying philosophy that birthed the horrors.
Formerly, my training in a politically correct United Methodist theology school had taught me that all religions are basically the same, that all lead to God, and that all have the same essential core teachings. After the past eight years of research, I am embarrassed at the paucity of education I received.
In sum, Islam was conceived as a political movement wedded to a religious faith. Mohammed envisioned Islamic political hegemony from the outset, and immediately organized his own army to pursue that vision. Yes, the founder of the religion of peace led his own army and waged bloody, violent wars against those who would oppose his own reign. Most Americans should know that, but clearly, we do not.
Most Americans immediately divert the argument at this point to note the sins of other religions. One emailer even suggested to me that the Catholic Church treats women far worse than Islam. We shall save that laughable argument for another day. My point: this is not to absolve other religions from their failures; however, one simply cannot deny that no other religious founder endorsed and used violent conquest in the ways utilized by Mohammed. When the founder beheads those who oppose him, that says something about a faith's core DNA. Religious tolerance and freedom are marginal at best to the Islamic world view. Witness the use of the death penalty still today in many, if not most, Islamic nations for those humans accused of practicing other faiths or merely carrying Bibles.
Most Americans do not ignore this. They simply do not know it at all. When the Western world deals with Islam (and it is important to distinguish between Islam and individual Muslims, many of whom do not emulate their founder in his lifestyle choices), the West needs to understand plainly that the equality of women, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, simply do not belong in the Islamic world-view. That cannot be changed from without. If Islam is going to change, it must come from within.
However, signs of change from within Islam arrive rarely. They do arrive as in the growing abandonment of the faith by European Islamic intellectuals as they receive access to unabridged biographies of Mohammed. Those abandonments pale in comparison to the vociferous apologies and blind endorsements of the leaders like Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for CAIR, who insists that “99.99% of Muslims will live and die without coming near an act of violence.” Hooper would have us believe that violence and intolerance are tangential and marginal to the Islamic world. His advocacy lacks honesty and self-awareness.
We Americans dwell in our ignorance at our own peril. Witness the growing evidence: Yale Press' fearful and cowardly removal of Mohammed cartoons from a book about Mohammed cartoons; the seven dead Muslim women in a morgue in Ontario after their being killed for honor in the last two months; the disappearance of dozens of Somali-Americans headed for terror training camps in the Middle East; and the convictions of both American college students and released American inmates for terror complicity. The evidence reminds us that we are dealing with Islam as if it were just any other religion when it is not.
In order to deal with a problem, you first have to understand the problem. Ignorance is not a strategy.