I still remember sitting in a crowded room at the University of Michigan for the above event on Islamophobia. I went because of my desire to be a “bridge-builder” between Muslims and Christians (I want Muslims who are good citizens to live in America without any form of discrimination, prejudice, or hatred). But I have to admit to a certain discomfort with the discussion that evening. It wasn’t because of the hosts. No, the Muslim Student Association did a fine job (my wife and I have always found these Muslim university students to be polite, respectful, articulate, kind, modest, dedicated, and service oriented). My discomfort was because no one – including me – really wanted to talk much about the proverbial “elephant in the room” that contributes to Islamophobia: violence and terrorism.
Today, our cable news stations are filled with reports of violence and anti-American protests in the Middle East (and beyond) which are spreading and could turn even more deadly tomorrow and in the coming days:
+++ Benghazi, Libya – 4 American citizens (including our U.S. Ambassador who dearly loved Libya and the Libyan people) were murdered there on – of all days – September the 11th.
+++ Cairo, Egypt – demonstrators scaled the American embassy compound walls, burned the American flag, and forced the evacuation of embassy workers. This too happened on September 11th. 224 people were injured in protests.
+++ Sanaa, Yemen – demonstrators stormed the U.S. embassy compound and burned the American flag; thousands of others marched in protest; 4 people were killed and 34 others were wounded.
+++ Tehran, Iran – up to 500 people protested chanting “Death to America!”
+++ Tunis, Tunisia – American flags were also burned outside the U.S. embassy in the capital.
+++ Gaza City, Palestine – a small crowd also burned an American flag.
+++ Baghdad, Iraq – American flag burning there and demonstrations in Basra.
+++ Dhaka, Bangladesh – angry protesters filling the streets.
What is the source of this most recent wave of anti-American hatred? Supposedly it is a response to an obscure, amateur, 2 hour long film entitled Innocence of Muslims which reportedly denigrates Muhammad and Islam.
How did such an obscure film come to have such tragic, quick-spreading, international impact? After all, the YouTube excerpt is really all that any one in the Middle East has seen of this movie (I refuse to watch this excerpt). And the whole movie has reportedly been shown only once in America!
I say to all my Muslim readers: although I have not seen them, I am saddened and embarrassed by this movie and the YouTube video trailer if it contains the kind of content that is widely reported. It may be legal to make such a movie in America (free speech) but as a Christian, I can say that it is not loving. In fact, just the opposite is true.
Having said this, I also say to all my Muslim readers, please bear with me as I ask you difficult questions that relate to the subject of this blog post. I don’t want to shame you but to try to understand how you think and what you believe. Here are my questions – and questions of other non-Muslims who are bewildered:
1. Can you see how Americans and westerners would have attitudes of “Islamophobia” when they learn of events from the past two days?
2. Can you see how they might recoil in anger when they see signs such as these from protests which came – not from the Middle East – but from Muslims in England (one from 2006, one from 2009)?
3. Tomorrow is Friday – the day of prayer for Muslims all over the world. But. . .there is great fear that protests and violence might actually increase tomorrow. Why? How can Muslims come out of a time of prayer with more anger in their hearts and more anger on their faces? Don’t the sheikhs, the immams, and the mullahs encourage peace in the mosques?
4. Critics of Islam look at all these things but hear Muslims say they have a “religion of peace.” I ask you with sincerity and respect, how can you explain to non-Muslims what seems to be a huge contradiction between a religion self-described as peaceful but with so many actions of violence?
5. Finally, can you appreciate and understand that – in spite of how it is abused – freedom of speech in America is a freedom that is extremely rare in predominately Muslim countries?
I speak at churches on a regular basis – 9 different ones this past summer. In each church I bring a message of love for Muslims. A message of building bridges of friendship, trust, and understanding and tearing down walls of suspicion and anger. A message of planting seeds of peace and inspiring dialogue about issues of faith.
For several years and in many places, I have defended you as a people that I truly love and I will continue to do that. I have told people not to make sweeping generalizations about you. I have told them not to associate all Muslims with the violent extremists and jihadists or even those caught up in these mob protests.
But because people see pictures like those above, because of media reports that create fear or anger, and because of e-mails that people circulate that truly are “islamophobic,” I find that bridgebuilding is not an easy task.
And so, my Muslim friends. . .
I need you. . .to help me. . .help you.
I need you to speak to this subject of violence and terrorism – the “elephant in the room” which contributes greatly to Islamophobia.
I need – no, the world needs – for you to speak up.
Please leave a reply. Be honest. Be totally honest. Use an anonymous name if you like. But please respond.
As always, I love you. I really do.