This is the text for a speech I presented to my local Toastmasters club, one I approached with some trepidation because it required me to challenge the beliefs of some other members and even pick on one person (although I tried to do so respectfully).
This speech is a sequel of sorts. I have been thinking about what to say, and how to say it, since a meeting back in November. Terrorism was the word of the day and the theme for Table Topics. The conversation we had got me thinking about Islamofascism and Islamophobia.
The question is whether the people crying fascism are paranoid, or whether Muslims really are out to get us. When we talk about waging a global war on terror, are our enemies a radical fringe, or are they at the center of a growing global religion? I’m going to walk through my preconceived notions, the research I did to try to balance them out, and where I wind up on the topic.
Now, I hate to be a knee jerk liberal. But back at that November meeting, Joe made a joke about fixing airport security by making people eat a piece of bacon before getting on the plane. KNOCK, BOING [mime knee-jerk reflex].
Now, this was Table Topics, and maybe Joe hadn’t thought through the collateral damage on Jews and vegetarians. And it was a joke. But have you ever been in an audience that was laughing at a joke that made you really uncomfortable?
I have also heard Joe speak about surviving the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, and I respect the fact that he has experienced the reality of this conflict in a way that I have not.
Nevertheless, I don’t like the idea of judging people by religion any better than judging them by race. You can change your religion easier than you can change your skin color, but most people stick close to the one they were born into.
If you happen to have been born and raised in the one true religion, I’m happy for you. But I care more about what you do with it – how it translates into the way you live your life.
On the other hand, what if the religion itself promotes violence and intolerance?
I’m not here to say that Islam is a religion of peace and love, and that terrorists have twisted and distorted it. We’ve all heard that rhetoric at White House ceremonies under both Bush and Obama, and it always makes me wince. I think it’s mostly intended for international consumption and to make peace with people who are sitting on a lot of oil.
Back at that November meeting, Suzi recommended this book, “They Must Be Stopped,” by Brigitte Gabriel. I wouldn’t have sought out this book on my own, but it was good to include in my research because it made me challenge my own assumptions.
Gabriel grew up as a Lebanese Christian who saw her country torn apart by Muslim fighters. She has a personal stake in the argument. A big part of the thesis of her book is that Americans need to put aside political correctness and focus on Islam as the enemy, rather than just radical Islam. She argues that people who call themselves moderate Muslims just aren’t paying attention. If they read the Koran, they would know it was their religious duty to take over the world in the name of Allah. Therefore, if we insist on acting as though all religions are fundamentally alike, we leave ourselves vulnerable to a movement that mixes religion, politics, and warfare.
Gabriel certainly has her critics, but it is a historical fact that Mohammad was a general as well as a prophet. One military historian whose work I read credits him with inventing the whole concept of insurgency as an alternative to head-on military confrontation. That’s something our opponents in Afghanistan take inspiration from.
Of course, the Bible has some pretty good battle scenes, too, if you go back to the Old Testament. I could also argue that Christianity has its own violent heritage, if you look at all the wars that were fought in its name. But clearly Christ was no general.
In end, I come back to how people act, not the religion they practice. One of the biggest terrorist attacks on American soil, the Oklahoma City bombing, was carried out by someone who considered himself a Christian and a Patriot.
Yes, the guy with the headscarf who is mumbling prayers as he gets on the plane should probably get a little extra attention. But remember that Mohammad Attah and his team of killers lived relatively quietly amongst us. Some of them actually had an apartment here in Coral Springs at one point while they were taking flight lessons to prepare for the September 11 attacks. When they acted up, it was to go to strip clubs and chase prostitutes, which are things devout Muslims aren’t supposed to do. I think Attah would have eaten the bacon without complaint if that meant he got to die a glorious death.
Point being: the outward display of religion is not necessarily the best indicator.
The religion I worry about is the religion of hatred. I have no problem with persecuting and prosecuting terrorists or spying on suspected terrorists. I don’t care about hurting their feelings. However, I do care about the people who fled Iran or Pakistan and came to the U.S. in search of freedom, but who still follow the Islamic faith out of family tradition.
If they came here searching freedom, I want them to find it. If they choose to believe that jihad is about spiritual enlightenment, rather than religious war, I am not going to tell them they are wrong.
This is from some of the background reading I did to prepare, even though I was only able to reference a small fraction of it in a 5-7 minute speech. Some of these sources are biased, but I specifically went looking for a variety of perspectives.
Left Wing Terrorist Sympathizers worry that anti-Muslim “bigotry” is becoming acceptable (from the blog Bare Naked Islam, excerpt: Being anti-Islam/anti-Muslim is NOT bigotry, it is self-preservation. Too bad these left wing deviants are ignorant of the fact that should the Muslims ever gain enough power, they will Islamize or kill them first.)
From the Anti Defamation League:
Anti-Muslim Bigotry Intensifies in U.S.
… and on the other hand …
American Muslim Extremists: A Growing Threat to Jews
President Bush on Discrimination Against Muslims
Washington — President Bush September 17 spoke out strongly against Americans who have discriminated against Muslim Americans in the wake of the September 11 terrorist bombings in New York and Washington.
“Americans who mistreat Muslims should be ashamed,” the president said in remarks at the Islamic Center in the nation’s capital. “In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”
The United States counts millions of Muslims amongst its citizens, Bush said, and they are making “an incredibly valuable contribution to our country.”
“Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shop keepers, moms and dads, and they need to be treated with respect.”
Bush said the “the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”
Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream
On the 9/11 Hijackers Visiting Strip Clubs
On Catholic Terrorism
We rarely, if ever, called the IRA bombings “Catholic” terrorism because we knew enough to realise that this was not essentially a religious campaign. Indeed, like the Irish republican movement, many fundamentalist movements worldwide are simply new forms of nationalism in a highly unorthodox religious guise. This is obviously the case with Zionist fundamentalism in Israel and the fervently patriotic Christian right in the US.
Catholic & Islamic Terrorism
People of the book: The true history of the Koran in America
They Must Be Stopped
A Case Study in Sincere Hypocrisy: Brigitte Gabriel
Muhammad: The Warrior Prophet