So it shouldn't come as a shock that so many Americans not only don't understand Muslims nor Islam, but are a wee bit afraid of them somewhere deep down inside. Few of us work with, go to school with, live with or talk to Muslims - let alone worship with them. It is in moments when we encounter The Different Breed where tolerance should be the immediate first response*. But even still, there is fear and ignorance throughout the world and in each person. Blaming someone for being ignorant about another group of persons may make us feel better, but we're deluded to think that - in the deepness of our hearts - we can't be guilty of the same awfulness.
Personally, I still fear/dislike/detest (depending on my mood) gangbangers and drug dealers. I could have easily been in their spot, but I had community, family and a belief system to keep me out of such predicaments. And although I know and have housed quite a few homeless people, I don't tend to trust them - at least not as a group.
Of course, none of this is an excuse for not knowing who our neighbors are, or at least some basic and biological true facts about them. No matter how overworked and tired we are, if we have enough energy to write or speak about a people group with a fair amount of anger directed at some supposed travesty that they supposedly commit that we don't understand, maybe we should try to get to know a little about them.
Or shut up.
But then there are people who are paid to learn and teach. Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, "Pastor" Terry Jones, myself. We're paid to KNOW things and disseminate things in a teachable manner so that our students/clients/disciples can empower themselves in order to make their personal lives and their environment better. And yet at least three of us aren't doing our jobs honestly. Palin, Gingrich, Jones: These smog-peddlers exist primarily to exploit and exponentially explode the below-the-surfaces toxic mixture of anger, paranoia, and fear of a confused generation. The arguments that they are haters or stupid or both (while true and important) may not have much to do with the terrible fact that they are not doing their jobs. They should be fired post-haste by whoever handles their checks, but they won't because they sell. A rotten agenda, but they sell it very well.
But what if the teacher (let's say a director of issues analysis) isn't just a horrible teacher, but speaks on behalf of a Christian organization while performing some of the worst, most vile teaching possible from a supposedly respected organization? What if this 'teacher' argues that not only are Muslims inbred idiots, but aggressive and war-mongering (funny, that)as well? What if his own evidence is refuted by his own evidence? Could that possibly deter him from blatantly lying about 1/7th of the world's population? What if that same population is made up primarily of dark Middle Eastern, South Asian, Northern and Sub-Saharan Africans - would that shine some light on his willingness to be so obstinate on painting such a demeaning picture?
This is pathetic race/religion/culture-baiting of the lowest order, and the lowest intelligence. It's the type of stuff we expect to find on a White Supremacist Church website, written by a man with a high school education and schizophrenia, missing an arm from bomb-making experiments gone awry. As a Christian, I must call into question how Christ-like the American Family Association behaves by endorsing this message through their Director of Issues Analysis, Bryan Fischer. As Christian as the KKK and the White Citizen's Council? Which is, nominally CINO. The AFA is no longer about families, nor is it very American. And it certainly isn't Christian. In order to qualify as that, they would have to love the Lord their God with all their minds. And love their neighbors** as themselves.
It's been this steady diet of winking hatred that is feeding the Fearful Monster. This Monster as evidenced by the recent spate of Qu'ran burnings and by the Muslim world's reaction to such threatened burnings, is hungry and won't die any time soon. This morning, I read about a burnt Qu'ran left outside a community center in the North Side of my own city. When defamations of holy symbols and places happen, physical and lethal violence are not far behind. How else can a defiled Holy Symbol be interpreted but as an act of terrorism? Burning crosses a hundred years ago. Burning, then bombing black churches. Now burning Qu'rans? We've not evolved, we're just changing our targets (while simultaneously oppressing many of the former ones).
*I'm a proponent of love OVER tolerance. 'Tolerance' doesn't quite cut it for me. It has the connotation of "passively living and letting live." Religious tolerance gives, on the face of it, as much credence to the ability of "Pastor" Terry Jones to burn a holy book as to his targets' professed hatred of him.
Love isn't passive, however; it's active. It not only says, you can be my neighbor and that's okay, it says, "Let us be neighborly." It defends, it guards and protects those who need protection. Further and even better, it gives tools to those same oppressed, marginalized voices so that they can speak on their own, for their own.
But, at the very least, if we don't have the time nor energy nor resources to get to know everybody and their customs, likes/dislikes, nor why or at least how they do what they do, we should acknowledge that they may do things differently than we do, but that doesn't make them any less worthy of dignity or respect or health or natural resources than we.
**One could argue that the AFA as represented by its outspoken leaders does love its neighbors, if by "Neighbors," we mean, "Other people that think and look like them." But that's missing the point of the story of the Good Samaritan. Who would be considered in much the same way Palestinians are now in Israel. But that's our neighbor, the one least like us (at least on the surface), the one we're most terrified of, the one who is dirtiest, poorest, richest, snootiest, loudest. These are the ones we are to love as ourselves - not just others who ARE just like ourselves...