Dr. Todd Green, associate professor of religion at Luther College and nationally recognized expert on Islamophobia, visited Milligan to lecture on the issue. Briana Snyder, staff reporter for The Stampede, sat down with Dr. Green to further discuss this topic, as well as his background.
Snyder: What lens are you viewing this issue from? Tell us a little background of your personal faith.
Dr. Green: My background is Presbyterian. Before I became a professor and went back to get my Ph.D., I was a Presbyterian minister for a few years. So that's my background; I was formed in a Christian tradition. I am no longer a minister. I still am someone who recognizes the importance of Christianity in terms of theology and in terms of my moral commitments and how it shapes those impulses into action. In this case, an action that challenges Islamophobia, recognizes the humanity in our Muslim neighbors, and tries to create a more just society in which they are more fully included. My current identity is probably a little bit more complicated. I don't go to church much anymore, but that doesn't mean I rejected Christianity as such. My practice of Christianity takes place not so much within the walls of the church but out in the world.
Snyder: In your own words, what is Islamophobia?
Dr. Green: I define Islamophobia as fear, hostility and hatred of Muslims or Islam that is rooted in racism and that manifests itself in discriminatory, exclusionary and violent practices targeting Muslims and those perceived as Muslims. It's not just individual misgivings about Muslims or Islam. Its systemic practices, behavior and military and foreign policies that have real consequences for Muslims and those perceived as Muslims that can include violence and hate crimes. This is not whether or not you believe in the theological claims of Islam, it is about the practices that really do harm to Muslims.
Snyder: Many Christians believe that salvation is only given through a relationship with Jesus Christ, so where is that line between loving and showing kindness and respect to our Muslim neighbors, and legitimizing Islam as a true and viable path to salvation?
Dr. Green: I would push back in terms of whether that [Christian Exclusivism, the belief that Jesus is the only means for Salvation and the only ultimate truth.] is "the" Christian way to understand it rather, it is "a" way to understand it. There are lots of theologians today who challenge such assumptions who believe that in the tradition of Christianity. There actually are resources for understanding that there is truth to be found in other traditions. There is wisdom to be gained from other traditions, and there is the possibility that people from other traditions are a part of God's divine or salvific plan. We should be willing to have a pretty critical conversation about theological exclusivism. This notion that Christianity is the only way, historically, has at times also been used to justify violent practices that limit the freedoms of people who are not part of the Christian tradition.
Snyder: How would you push back against this idea that so many Muslim majority countries are particularly hostile to the United States?
Dr. Green: There are a number of Muslim majority regions that are quite critical of the United States, quite angry at U.S. foreign policy, and that's a reality we have to understand and accept. My question is always "Why is that the case?" The anger that the populations of many of these Muslim majority countries have towards the United States is something we haven't taken seriously enough. We have some good data suggesting that there are a lot of Muslim majority regions who admire democracy here in the United States, and yet, they feel frustrated that the United States doesn't support these democratic impulses in its own foreign policy in the Middle East, so it comes across as hypocritical. In fact, they might point to instances in which the United States has undermined democratic movements. (U.S. CIA conspiracy with Britain in the 1950s to overthrow Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran) It's not to dismiss that the anger isn't there, but to try to explain why it is there and how that anger can feed conditions that generate, on the extreme end of the spectrum, terrorism. Until we start questioning [U.S.] policy in terms of U.S. involvement in Muslim majority regions, we will never move forward in diplomatically, and we will never move forward in terms of our relationship with the Muslim majority world.
Snyder: Why should we not ask Muslims to condemn terrorism?
Dr. Green: There are three reasons why we shouldn't ask Muslims to condemn terrorism. The first is that asking Muslims that question wrongly assumes that Islam is the cause of terrorism. That is a false assumption to make. Most scholars who study terrorism will conclude that a lot of the primary forces driving terrorism are political or social. (Examples include: real or perceived U.S. military occupation or western imperialism, social exclusion/discrimination in Europe or the United States.) Religion might be used as the justifier, but it's not the cause. The majority of terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe are carried out by non-Muslims. The second reason is that asking Muslims to condemn terrorism ignores the many instances in which Muslims do condemn terrorism, and its not hard to find lots of examples of Muslims condemning terrorism (He suggests a simple google search). Third, finally, and most importantly, the reason we shouldn't ask Muslims to condemn terrorism is because in our obsession with Islam and terrorism/violence, we divert attention away from our own violent past and our own violent complicity today in the world order. You can take every major category of violence that we attribute to ISIS from persecution of religious minorities to slavery to attempted genocide, and you discover that all of those categories apply to our history as well. We project onto Muslims a kind of violence that we assume has nothing to do with us when, in fact, it has everything to do with us, and until we stop being distracted and start coming to terms with our own sins, take the log out of our own eye, as Jesus might have said, we will never be able to figure out terrorism, what drives it, and how to counter it.
Snyder: Why is it that we don't often hear Muslims speaking about Islamophobia, but rather members of secular or other religious communities?
Dr. Green: It's not because Muslims aren't doing these things. It's because they aren't given the platform or the attention in the media in many cases for their voices to be heard. So, we need to start thinking about ways that that can be changed, so that what Muslims are actually doing in terms of trying to counter Islamophobia in telling their own stories about the challenges they face with being Muslims in the United States will be given a place. The allies of Muslims, people like me, and I'm not Muslim, are also speaking out. One of the reasons you are hearing this is because of a growing recognition that the challenges Muslims are facing are reflecting the worst impulses of our nation and the worst impulses in our politics and that Islamophobia, by almost every metric, has been getting worse in the past eight years or so in the United States so you are starting to see more and more allies speak out. If there is a silver lining in the past seven or eight years or so, it's that this greater move towards Islamophobia in the United States is generating a lot of activism on the other side.
*Green further explains this question in his new book Presumed Guilty: Why We Shouldn't Ask Muslims to Condemn Terrorism.