Dressed in red, white, and blue, right down to her Islamic headscarf, Dr. Ingrid Mattson resembled the zealous middle-aged patriots one sees at Tea Party gatherings. But this was no Tea Party. Mattson, the president of theIslamic Society of North America (ISNA), was discussing "U.S. Attitudes Toward Muslims," at the National Press Club, September 7, 2010.
ISNA was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial by the FBI. But this did not deter Mattson from praying at an Obama inaugural event or from modeling ISNA as the voice of moderate, mainstream Islam in America. Nor has its association with Hamas deterred leaders of the Religious Left fromaligning with ISNA against opponents of Shariah. Strangely, liberal religious leaders, who in any other circumstance see the commingling of religion and state as obscene, seem eager to impose Islamic law on America. Or at least that is what their words, and their actions, would suggest.
At Tuesday's press conference, also called an "Emergency Interfaith Summit," Mattson was joined by a confederacy of interfaith leaders. Christians, Jews, and Muslims, they were all men except Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer. Flanking the petite Mattson protectively, the impression was of vulnerable, innocent Islam being defended by the other "People of the Book" (no Hindu or Buddhist leaders were present).
Mattson told the eager media that the "very alarming trend in a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in this country" was due to Americans' ignorance of Islam. There is "so much confusion about what Islam is and what Muslims believe," she declared. According to Mattson, Muslim Americans fear for their safety and the safety of their children returning to school (presumably not the Madrassa schools such as northern Virginia's Islamic Saudi Academy). Crazed, violent Islamophobes in America may turn on them at any moment. Muslim Americans have "never felt this anxious" since immediately after the events of 9/11, she confided.
The ISNA president's fears were echoed by Rabbi David Saperstein, the executive director of the Union for Reform Judaism. With his characteristic passionately strained voice, Saperstein declared, "We could be nowhere else." He and other Jewish leaders compared the current "anti-Muslim bigotry" to the treatment of Jewish people he saw as a child. "These people seek to divide and conquer," said Saperstein of those who oppose the Islamist insurgence in America. "They do damage to America across the globe… seek to tear America apart from within," he continued.
Mattson stressed that she did not blame "ordinary Americans," for the rampant hatred of Muslims infecting every town and hamlet. But she and her colleagues conflated the opposition of 70 percent of ordinary Americans to the building of a 15 story mosque at Ground Zero with the misguided and arrogant intention of Gainesville, Florida pastorTerry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center congregation to burn the Koran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 this coming Saturday. In fact, they equated the folly of these fifty with any and all opposition to Shariah, from whatever source. And the interfaith intifada accused conservative political leaders and other "ideologues" of stirring up fear and hatred based on lies about Muslims. In fact, almost to a person, even the most adamant opponents of Shariah, both Christian and secular, have denounced the planned burning of the Koran, however, and urge nothing but civil, but truthful, discourse about Islam.
Although no examples were given of actual violence against Muslims or their places of worship, the theme of violent opposition to Islam in America dominated the event. Dr. Gerald Durley, the pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, compared standing with his compatriots at the press conference to "having stood on the Mall 47 years ago under similar circumstances" with Martin Luther King. He and Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, professor at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, read portions of an interfaith statement, echoing the theme. It was adopted by all the press conference speakers.
"We are profoundly distressed and deeply saddened by the incidents of violence committed against Muslims in our community, and by the desecration of Islamic houses of worship," read Rabbi Fuchs-Kreimer. "The threatened burning of copies of the Holy Qu'ran this Saturday is a particularly egregious offense that demands the strongest possible condemnation by all who value civility in public life and seek to honor the sacred memory of those who lost their lives on September 11," she continued. The religious leaders were "appalled by such disrespect for a sacred text that for centuries has shaped many of the great cultures of our world, and that continues to give spiritual comfort to more than a billion Muslims today," the statement said.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, expressed great concern that if the religious leaders were silent in the face of Islamophobia, some will take the story of bigotry and hatred to be "the story of the real America." We have to make sure that our country is known around the world as a place where things like "liberty of religion… respect for your neighbor… love for your neighbor… are the most prominent in our society," he warned. Perhaps McCarrick has forgotten all those from around the world who have fled to America because of its religious freedom.
"America was not built on hatred. America was built on love," continued Cardinal McCarrick. He said that his "prayer" was that the world would see that America is about "…working for each other, taking care of the person who needs help, and making sure that we try to live – everybody together – a good and holy life." But if "the world" hasn't gotten that message by now, after all of the billions of dollars of U.S. aid it has received, and the many other ways in which America has helped those who need help, it's hardly likely that it will see the light because of an interfaith coalition statement.
Another speaker at the press event was Reverend Richard Cizik, erstwhile vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and now president of the Soros-funded New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Cizik, whom Mattson called "a truly visionary leader," raised the issue of the Constitution and the First Amendment. He was not highlighting the Dove World Outreach Center's constitutional right to burn a Koran under America's freedom of speech laws. He was highlighting the right of Muslims to build mosques wherever they like, "from New York City to Murfreesboro, Tennessee." Having not yet received the memo that Imam Rauf is once again calling the Ground Zero Mosque "Cordoba House," Cizik spoke of the mosque by its new/old name. "Park 51 is Exhibit A in the contest between popular passion and constitutional principles," he said. He then excoriated evangelical Christians, "his constituency," saying if "they respond with anti-Muslim bigotry they are rejecting the First Amendment."
"Shame on you," Cizik exclaimed to misbehaving evangelicals, "You bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ. You disobey his commandment to love your neighbor. You violate the command not to bear false witness. You drive the watching world further away from interest in the gospel message." That's quite an indictment of folks who just object to having their country Islamized. Then Cizik warned that, "if you trample other people's religious liberty today, you may lose yours tomorrow." And if Shariah goes forward in America, you will lose them.
The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC), Dr. Michael Kinnamon, explained that the interfaith group was not content to make speeches denouncing anti-Muslim sentiment in America, but that they would take "further steps." They plan to take this show on the road, replicating it in local meetings across the country, berating Americans on a local level, as well as a national one. "Christians in the West have often been responsible for the kind of intolerant rhetoric we now hear," Kinnamon intoned. "We must speak out on behalf of Islam as a peace-loving, peace-teaching faith," he insisted.
In a feat of verbal gymnastics in which blame never actually landed he described "minority Christians around the world" who were "threatened by extremist voices in situations that are predominantly Muslim." Kinnamon explained that "extremists in those settings may use the rhetoric in this country as a pretext." A pretext for what, he did not elaborate. A pretext for wholesale slaughter of innocent Christians in innumerable countries? A pretext for abducting and torturing to death a young Jewish man in Paris and for the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe? A pretext for looting all the Hindu shops and announcing the intention of raping all the Hindu women in Deganga, a town in India's West Bengal State? Who needs a pretext?
According to Kinnamon, it is in the "self-interest" of Christians to speak out on behalf of tolerance, "knowing that Muslim colleagues" throughout the Islamic world "are doing the same" on behalf of Christians and other non-Muslims. It would seem though, as Mattson later lamented, that the voices of multitudes of moderate Muslims are drowned out by the "louder voices" of the extremists. She issued a message to Muslims, saying, "Yes, you have heard the loud voices of Christian extremists who hate Islam, hate Muslims, who make hurtful statements… but don't use these incidents, as hateful as they are, as hurtful as they are, to justify any kind of hatred against America or Christians or Jews."
It seems as if millions of Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims around the world would just be content if Islamists, offended by the upcoming Koran bonfire or by the reluctance of most of America to accept a mosque planted in the midst of Ground Zero, would be willing to reciprocate in kind. Mad at Americans burning a Koran? Would you settle for burning one of the offending religion's holy books, rather than burning an entire church full of people in Nigeria? Are your feelings hurt that we don't want the Cordoba House signaling the coming Caliphate in Manhattan? How about refusing Christians the right to build a church? Oh yes, you do that anyway. Ah well.
The message of the interfaith coalition is quite a contrast to the message of another Christian leader, not invited to the party. Writing in the Denver Catholic Register, Archbishop Charles Chaput admits that "both Muslims and Christians have committed many sins against each other over the centuries." But in Christian-Muslim relations, he says, "peace is not served by ignoring, subverting, or rewriting history, but rather by facing it humbly as it really happened and healing its wounds."
The history of Islam, the factual history, not the imaginary history symbolized by Cordoba House, is one of military expansion and domination. Chaput points out that "much of the modern Middle East was once heavily Christian" and that "Muslim armies changed that by imposing Islamic rule." Those Christian communities that survived "have endured centuries of marginalization, discrimination, violence, slavery and outright persecution," he said. And as for the Holy Grail of the Left, the Crusades, Chaput reveals that there was no "theology of Crusade'" in Western Christian thought until the 11th century. Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade he says, "as a defensive response to generations of armed jihad."
Non-Muslims must treat Muslims with respect, exhorted the interfaith coalition at the press conference. Few would argue that the outrageous event planned for this Saturday by Rev. Terry Jones and his church is foolish and disrespectful. But far less Americans believe it disrespectful to stand firm against the imposition of a foreign and hostile ideology on American culture and life. And far less Americans believe it is disrespectful to challenge Muslims to honor the human rights and religious freedom of others, the world over.
The Religious Left leaders believed that they were showing the utmost respect to Muslims by their stand with the Muslim community, their refusal to be silent in the face of what they called anti-Muslim bigotry. But they also refused to speak about or even tacitly acknowledge any of the hard truths about Islam. This is respect for an Islam that is not real. And in the words of Archbishop Chaput, "respect can't emerge from falsehood."