Monday, October 4, 2010

Should Americans Fear Islam?

Link to the television debate on ABC

I happened to be visiting some people this weekend who watch a lot of television, otherwise I would have never seen this ridiculous display of journalism. I did not watch the entire broadcast, and parts of it were drown out by those in the room yelling at the TV or saying, “maybe we should go do something outside, it’s a beautiful day.” If I was a television executive and the idea had been pitched to me, I would have said, okay, but change the name to “Should some people whose parents had sex in a certain country be afraid of other people who claimed a certain religion, then had sex.” Hopefully those pitching the idea would realize how inane their idea was and walk out of the room in shame.

That didn’t happen. Fortunately, they did include at least one normal person, Donna Marsh O’Connor a woman who had lost a daughter who was pregnant on 9/11. When asked, “Do you think you, America, should be afraid of Islam?” She was sharp enough to not respond to the intimation that she somehow represented the entire country. She said,

“I think Americans should fear criminal behavior. I think we should do the best we can to control criminal behavior. But I can't raise my two remaining sons to fear the people who live next door to them. That is not what my grandparents came to America to escape you know, we are a group of 9/11 family members. I know a lot of family members are here. We share that pain and, you know, I think the unfortunate piece of this is that we don't agree on this.”

Seeing nothing controversial there, nothing that would lead to some yelling, Chrisitiane Amanpour turned to Billy Graham’s son who said something ignorant that I won’t repeat.

Most of the rest of the show went something like this:
AMANPOUR: Why do you call it a wicked religion, an evil religion?
GRAHAM: I think to -- to take your daughter, because you think that -- and the religion gives you the authority -- Sharia gives you the authority for honor killing. And we saw the young girl in Ohio just a few--
IMAM: It does not.
AMANPOUR: But does it?
IMAM: It does not.
GRAHAM: It does.
IMAM: It does not.
GRAHAM: It does.
IMAM: No it does not.
IMAM: -- justify those honor killings.
GADIEL: -- justify it. You can't deny that--
GRAHAM: It's true.
GRAHAM: But that's true.
Such is the state of the debate in America and the state of leadership and of journalism. What we should fear is ignorance. We should fear our inability to listen to each other. This program could have benefited from techniques for working in groups that have been available in self-help books since the 1970’s. Instead we get this,
GADIEL: …. And you can't deny it. And you may, for all I know, not be a moderate you pretend to be, because you may be engaging in takia and be engaging in lying for the purpose of furthering your religion.
GADIEL: Why should I believe you?
KHAN: I'm shocked at the inference that I am not -- my intention is not good. Have you looked in my heart? Have you --
GADIEL: No. No, I don't. You're right. You're right.
KHAN: Have you cut my chest and looked in my heart to see what my intention is? I think it's wrong for you to say that somebody's engaged in takia. You don't even know what the word takia is.
GADIEL: It means lying for the purpose of furthering your religion.
KHAN: Why would I do that?
GADEIL: Lying to people who are non-believers. .
KHAN: Why would I do that?
GADIEL: Why? Be it said -- are you not instructed to do that?
KHAN: No! Absolutely not!
I have a little bit of hope though because this statement got applause:
O'CONNOR: No, no, no. You let me finish now, please. With all due respect, I listened for a long time. You know, I don't know why on earth you would think that there is an address in America where, you know, Muslim people can't practice their religion. Number one, this is not a mosque; it's an Islamic cultural center. Number two -- and this is really important -- it is not at Ground Zero, it's two blocks and a half away. It's two blocks and a half away. I am not a religious expert. I only know when I was promised when I was born here and that this is a land where all people -- regardless of how difficult it is to have this democracy -- all people are allowed to practice their faith. I don't know Daisy Khan. I don't know Imam. I am not going to read his book to see if he's a good enough Muslim. I believe that in this nation we hold people accountable for crimes after they commit and never, never before.


  1. Hey, my friend just referred me to your blog. I'm a Christian missionary, and I'm really interested in religion, philosophy, ethics, etc.

    Anyway, I think I follow and agree what you're saying here, but isn't it easy to just rip on "ignorant" "fear-mongerers"? I mean, you really can't blame people for their ignorance unless they're ignoring readily available education. And fear is pretty natural and uncontrollable.

    Muslims have killed a lot of Americans. So I, Joe Schmoe who knows nothing about Islam, am naturally going to be afraid and distrustful of Islam and its adherents -- until I learn about Islam.

    People can point to Holy Wars, the Inquisition, or hypocrisy in general and say that Christianity is harmful and scary, but there's always an evangelical on hand to pull out the Bible and show that those are examples of people misrepresenting Jesus, not following Him. Most of us (at least where I'm from) don't have practicing Muslim friends on hand to step in and defend the Koran.

    So it seems like the solution is that people who are fearing Islam need to know what the Koran and imams are really teaching. But they don't have any interest in visiting a mosque or reading the Koran (and the wikipedia pages on the Koran and jihad are about as intellectually accessible as a math dissertation). And thus we have programs like the one you've just reviewed. In theory, such programs make a great deal of sense to me.

    Anyway, I'm not really saying anything. I agree that we need to find better ways to educate people who are uneducated, especially if their ignorance is leading to fear and/or hatred. It doesn't sound like this ABC special is helping much.

  2. Actually I can blame people for their ignorance. I’m sure that Graham and Gadiel have been offered and read many things that they choose to ignore. Your Joe Schmoe statement is an argument for prejudice, you’re saying “if I don’t know, my fear and distrust are justified”. I have had some evangelicals point out that Jesus represents the harmful and scary just fine, “depart from me into the eternal fire” and what not.

    We do need to find better ways to educate people. I think we could start by teaching about the confirmation bias and the sources of prejudice. Also teaching an overview of all religions would be good, understanding all the intricacies of theology seems unnecessary.

    ABC is not helping. Sometimes I wonder if they put these morons on in the hope that people will see how completely wacko they are for themselves. But the way the discussion was moderated, it appears more like they are actually considering them experts in their field.