My take on Romney's saber rattling...

Here is an excellent insight from Mustafa Akyol from the Turkish newspaper, The Hurriyet Daily News, from Istanbul (check it out @ What brother Akyol does here is express outrage at the senseless murders of US diplomats while giving both East and West a context for understanding.  His wisdom is necessary in times like our own...

Welcome to yet another clash between Muslim notions of sacredness and Western attempts to defy them: A vulgar anti-Islamic film called “The Innocence of Muslims,” which was apparently produced by a group of anti-Islamic Americans, has sparked a wave of violent anti-American protests in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In Benghazi, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his team members were tragically killed. Fears are that the protests might lead to violence against other American targets in the Muslim Middle East and perhaps beyond.

As a Muslim myself, here is my take on all of this. First, I saw the film in question, and found it simply disgusting. It is a silly yet nasty attempt to demonize Islam in all possible ways. As the New York Times summed it well, the 11-minute drama “depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a child of uncertain parentage, a buffoon, a womanizer, a homosexual, a child molester and a greedy, bloodthirsty thug.” It is only normal for any Muslim to condemn this shameless insult, as any Jew would do in the face of similarly shameless anti-Semitic propaganda.

However, there are civilized and uncivilized means of condemnation. And unfortunately those that have made headlines in the past few days are mostly of the latter sort. The most obvious case was the murder of the Americans in Libya, which I condemn wholeheartedly. This crime was, first of all, cruel and barbaric, for no insult of anything can justify the killing of innocent people. Secondly, it was also appallingly mindless, for neither the U.S. government nor any of its diplomats have anything to do with a marginal film produced by a bunch of marginal U.S. citizens.

The main problem here, which we also saw in the protests of the insults against the Prophet Muhammad in
Danish cartoons, is that the peoples of the Middle East are not used to make a distinction between a government and a society, because in their own countries, governments typically control everything. So, when cartoons in Denmark or films in America vilify Islam, they intuitively presume that the Danish or the American governments have “allowed this to happen,” if they didn’t do it themselves behind the scenes.

Wiser Muslims should not only have a better grasp of the world, but also a more sensible method of countering anti-Islamic propaganda. (Those Muslims who become violent in the face of anti-Islamic propaganda are actually helping it: They demonstrate that Muslims are wild-eyed fanatics, proving the exact depiction Islamophobes make.) It is crucial here that Muslim leaders step forward and calm their co-religionists. Two authoritative names from Turkey, top official cleric Mehmet Görmez and top civil cleric Fethullah Gülen, have commendably done that by condemning the terrorist attack in Benghazi and calling for restraint.

Beyond these urgent calls, however, I think that opinion leaders throughout the Muslim world need to establish principles as to how to counter the insulting of Islam in civilized ways. They can, for example, focus on the Quranic verse that says that when they face people who mock Islam, Muslims should only “not sit with them.” (4:140) As I explained in my book, in light of that verse, modern-day Muslims can counter Islamophobia not by violence or censorship, but with arguments and boycotts.

After all, no matter what we do, we Muslims cannot control what other people will say about Islam. We can only control the way we react to them.

Two additional thoughts:

+ First, while I have argued earlier that there isn't a place for this preacher to get publically involved in the political posturing Mitt Romney has chosen around this issue - I see his words and implied policies as a craven bid to appease the rabid Right Wing of his party - that doesn't mean I condone it or will ignore it. To be sure, I expect desperate politicians to do and say stupid and ugly things as they pander for votes.  That's how the game is played these days - and maybe always - and people of faith should not be naive or blind to this reality.  Selfishness often trumps both compassion and common ground in the realm of politics (see Reinhold Niebuhr, yes?) 

So, while I think it is only right to let the partisans duke it out in the public square - and the airwaves - then let the process unfold as it will without any commentary from me on Sunday mornings, I remain convinced that there IS a role for preachers (and all believers) in interpreting how the various public policy goals of the candidates resonate or challenge our deepest values.  Hillary Clinton provided an excellent starting point yesterday when she noted that tolerance, freedom of speech and religion are values we will not compromise even in the face of violence and terror. (Our track record is less pristine than her words, of course, but the ideal is still true.) 

Simultaneously, we know that there are those who both fear and despise tolerance and freedom - and will murder us as we express them. Our challenge as a nation, therefore, is to move realistically into uncharted waters by arming ourselves with the knowledge available (it is always incomplete) as well as the tools of protection in pursuit of compassion and cooperation.  In time, as Greg Mortenson (who was exonerated of the charges made against him) has shown over and again, trust can grow and incremental progress made. 

From my perspective as a progressive Christian of the Reformed tradition, my values tell me that both Mr. Romney's words and suggested course of action will not only alienate those in Islamic countries, but do nothing to build bridges of trust and understanding.  It is saber rattling without any appreciation of the consequences - and THAT makes him dangerous for all Americans.  President Obama has neither apologized for being American not compromised our national self-interest.  Rather, as his speech in Cairo indicated three years ago - and his work in Libya authenticates now - the United States seeks a new way of cooperating with the emerging Islamic democracies that are mutually respectful and helpful.  The President's hard line with the new Egyptian president should make it clear that Obama understands the new world order and is not trapped in the outdated Manichean vision of the Romney neo-cons.

Will the world as we know it end should Romney prevail?  No - it didn't during the Bush years and won't again - but it will be harder to build cooperation and common interests.  And from my perspective, that would mean untold and unnecessary suffering for millions.  For this reason alone - to say nothing of the idolatrous commitments the Republicans have chosen to make re: the market place - I stand in opposition to Mr. Romney and his proposed agenda.

+ Second, as a person informed by the political theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, I look at politics as only one of many venues for living into my deepest values.  It is a place of profound contradiction and compromise - necessary, to be sure - but always incomplete.  Same is true in a different way for the Church; it, too, is a complicated and often confused body of people seeking to live out our deepest values, hopes and dreams.  And as Niebuhr insisted, all human organization is by definition flawed by sin.  Sometimes that sin shows up as acts of intention, but often we do the worst things for supposedly the best reasons - and the unintended consequences of our actions are often just as bad as those we do on purpose. And this is true for preachers and politicians as well as the laity and the body politic.  Like St. Paul wrote in Romans 7:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So when I engage in politics as a person of faith, I try to start with this sober realization:  we are ALL sinners who fall short of the glory of God.  And that includes the President, his opponents and all those who support them in various camps - and me, too.  Consequently, 
when I do enter the public square - as recently happened in town over issues of funding our local schools - I try to emphasize how a particular act will strengthen or weaken our shared values knowing that none of us have a monopoly upon wisdom.  It is essential for me to ask: Will this act strengthen the weak?  Empower the forgotten?  Ease the burden on those who are most vulnerable?  Essentially, does it meet the Matthew 25 test:  whatsoever you do unto the least of these, my sisters and brothers, you do unto the Lord.  (It might also be the Nuns on the Bus test, too.)

I find Mr. Romney's Islamaphobia creates more reasons for the Arab street to hate and mistrust us while inflaming the worst tendencies of US exceptionalism. In this he flunks the Matthew 25 test over and over again.  For most of this campaign I have given him the benefit of the doubt:  he just wants to win so he'll pander to the lowest common denominator from time to time.  But his capitulation to the birthers and their covert racism, his commitment to the Bush neo-con warriors and his own clueless understanding of contemporary world history make him dangerous. Let's be clear: the values of Jesus are not merely personal or ambiguous and evaluating politicians and public policy must include considering the consequences of our actions through the lens of our faith.

Once, back in Tucson, I held a hearing at church in which we compared the proposed Republican and Democratic budgets using the lens of the Matthew 25 test.  Afterwards, my treasurer handed me his written resignation from church saying, "Don't you understand that in making this comparison you are aiding the enemy and opposing the President?"  At first I was stunned - and saddened - but could only reply, "That was neither my intention nor my desire. I am a follower of Jesus Christ who said, "not everyone who cries Lord, Lord" will enter my kingdom."  He left and never returned.  I wasn't pleased by this, but sometimes it happens and as Jesus told some other disciples, "Sometimes you have to shake the dust off your sandals and move on."

Brother George got it right when he wept with his guitar...


Black Pete said…
You're (individually and collectively) in my prayers, James.
RJ said…
Thanks, my man...

Popular Posts