Last week Tulsa had veterans Day Parade. The purpose, of course, was to recognize and thank people who had been in the armed services and helped defend the country from possible aggression. There was a movement to deny Muslims the opportunity to participate even though they had served in our Army, Navy or Air Force and taken all the risks that others had taken while doing so. In the days leading up to the parade, someone had written a letter to the editor of our local paper saying that Islam was an evil religion and we ought to deny it’s members not only the chance to participate but maybe even the opportunity to watch the parade. I thought his letter was “double dumb”, and considered writing a letter to the editor to say that. But I didn’t do that. At least partly because of the length of letters allowed by the paper is too short to explain why I thought that. And just saying something like “Double Dumb” was not only insulting to the person, but would not do anything to influence other people. This was probably an otherwise nice guy, I did not want to just insult him, rather I just wanted to explain why I thought he was wrong. So I didn’t write the letter.
As it turned out, this week-end there was a program at the Tulsa Community college which had been scheduled prior to either the parade or the killings in Paris last Friday. The title of yesterday’s program was “Should We Fear Islam?” It was jointly sponsored by the Tulsa Community College, the Islamic Society of Tulsa, the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, the University of Oklahoma Department of religious Studies, Phillips (Christian) Theological Seminary and a local Methodist Church. It was pretty well attended – probably somewhere between 600-1,000 people. The purpose was to try to educate people on the major tenants of Islam, and what verses have been “cherry picked” and taken out of context to support the agenda of Extremist. Speakers were a Jewish Rabbi, the (Baptist) Reverend Charles Kimball – Director of Religious Studies at OU, and the local Imam and head of the Islamic Society of Tulsa. One of the first comments by the moderator (a local well-known Black writer) was that they only had 2 hours for discussion of this topic, which was probably not enough time for a full understanding of the subject. My reaction to that comment was that he was probably right, but we could cover a lot more ground than I could have in my letter to the editor, and certainly more than the 10 second sound bite or its news paper equivalent that we usually get from the main-line news media.
In the letter I did not write to the paper, my first “Dumb” was going to be that the person writing the letter had not done any research of the Muslim Religion and what the vast majority of its leaders teach and its followers believe. World wide polls by widely respected pollsters (U.S. and others) have shown that a very small number (5% or less) of the Muslims in the world support the Extremists at all, and the participants in extremism are much fewer than that. So we are condemning the many for the actions of the few. I thought he probably also did not know that Jesus is one of the most quoted person in the Koran, and that Muhammad had said that Christians, Jews, and Muslims were “brothers of the book” and believed we all worshipped the same God. He thought that people of these 3 religions should be able to peacefully “get along”. From what I learned yesterday, I would have understated this. Apparently the Koran goes beyond that to saying that Muslims should live peacefully with all people, and that the killing of innocent people – women, children and civilians – under any circumstance is wrong. Also the Koran says that suicide is wrong, and people violating these two things will not go to heaven. So why are we vilifying a whole people for the acts of a few? Because we are not doing our homework. So my first “dumb” is that the guy writing the letter had not done his homework or any research on what the vast majority on Muslims actually believe or what the Koran actually says. Christianity has many different denominations – that represent different interpretations of the scriptures – some of which most us believe are radical. One of these was HItler in Nazi Germany. He used Christian writings to support some of his actions. Most of us would call that a radical interpretation done to suit his own personal and political purposes. Why would we not expect the same thing to happen in other religions? If we don’t know that, we haven’t done our homework.
The Rabbi said we people fear the unknown. I would add that we tend to hate people we fear. He also said that “for the last 1,500 years, Jews have gotten along a lot better with Islam than they have with Christians”. He also said that “terrorism has no religion”, but they may interpret religion to suit their purposes. And “Every religious community has bigots and extremists”. If my letter writer had done his homework, he would have known that and probably would not have said what he said.
My second “Dumb” was that he doesn’t understand human nature and how to build positive relationships. If you think you might have a difference with someone and want to start a fight, punch them in the nose. If you don’t want a fight but want to “get along”, talk to them. Try to understand how and why they feel or believe what they do. If I were a terrorist who wanted to start a war with the West as a way to gain power, I would want all the Muslim population on my side. The best way to do that might be to get the Christians in the west to hate all the Muslims. If I could get them to fear and hate anyone of that religion and start hitting them in the mouth, I could likely get the non-terrorists to react and join me. The letter to the Editor was a hit in the mouth. Even if he feared the terrorists and thought most Muslims might support them, that was still a dumb thing to do. It was a hit in the mouth against people who had obviously supported us in the past by helping to defend our country against terrorism and oppression.
The OU prof said all three religions (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) embrace the 10 commandants. The secret to getting along is to understand each other. But we have Stereotype images brought on by things like what happened in Paris that makes the TV news lead stories and the headlines of the paper. The key, he thinks is to get past this with education because the more we know about each other as human beings, the less we will accept the Stereotypes. I agree with him and I think we need to be individually proactive in this regard. Muslims are asked why the religious leadership doesn’t condemn the extremist acts. The Imam showed two or three pages of names of Islamic leadership organizations that have condemned the terrorist acts. I had no idea there were that many. But the problem is that they are not going to be the lead stories in the news, so if we individually don’t make the attempt to do our research, seek out, meet and talk to Muslims who are in the majority that do not support the extremists, we will continue to do dumb things. I wonder if my letter writer went to the parade last week and talked to people who were Muslim veterans to learn what they thought? I somehow doubt it. More’s the pity.