On the John
Christianity: America's No. 1 Enemy.
Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on September 12, 2003
Alternate headline artificially assigned by copy editor
Pretty offensive headline, huh? I'd say. Certainly there have been Christians in American history who have inflicted terror upon other Americans by corrupting their religion's words and beliefs to meet their own, most notably the Ku Klux Klan. But this is only a small population of a much larger group, and I would venture to say that when most Americans think of Christianity, we do not first think of the KKK.
Earlier this week, Pastor Marc Monte of the Faith Baptist Church in Avon, Ind., posted this sign in front of his church: "ISLAM: AMERICA'S NUMBER ONE ENEMY." It was the topic of his sermon on Sunday, where Monte had said that he hoped to "…stir interest, not alarm," later saying "Islam is a false religion, dangerous, and hate-promoting." (Indianapolis Star, Saturday). It is probably not coincidental that Monte's sermon came just four days before the two year anniversary of Sept. 11. While those responsible for the attacks did so in the name of Allah, these men, like the Klan, twisted their religion to fit their own beliefs and to give them an excuse to kill.
To say that Islam is "America's No. 1 Enemy" due to a small group of terrorists is to say that all Christians are white robe-wearing murderers who will lynch every black person they see. I have many Christian friends, and to imagine them committing such horrible acts is as unbearable as it is untrue. The same can be said for a friend of mine who recently became a Muslim: he has found love and understanding through his religion, and I'm sure that crashing planes into tall buildings is the last thing he wants to do.
Unlike the majority of Muslims, my friend is white, so unless his clothes reveal his religion, one would never know that he is a follower of Islam without speaking to him. That is another problem with Monte's sign: because many Americans incorrectly assume that all Middle Easterners are Muslims, this indirectly singles out an entire race of people.
With all of the fear that is rampant in this country, many of us now look at Middle Easterners -- particularly the men -- with a careful eye, as if at any moment they will plant a car bomb or crash a plane. I admit that, without trying, I find myself at times cautiously making judgments. While in no way do I actually feel threatened or believe that all Muslims are terrorists, my reactions have been built by a barrage of negative images and ideas about Muslims and the religion of Islam, in the same way that America has long produced prejudices through images and untruths about many minorities.
Sunday, the same day that Pastor Marc Monte was telling his congregation about the terrors of Islam, Muhammad Ali met with the Dalai Lama to dedicate an interfaith temple right here in Bloomington. Here is Muhammad Ali, a man whose Islamic religious beliefs were so strong that he would not go to Vietnam. One man a Muslim, the other a Tibetan leader, coming together to dedicate a temple to be used by all people. Ali's beliefs have brought him peace as he has dealt with a violent and prejudiced world. If he feels anger toward those who have discriminated against him and other Muslims, I could not blame him. But like all those who truly follow a religion, Ali is filled with more love than hate.
"Rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams all have different names," Ali said Sunday. " ... But they all contain water. So, too, different religions all contain truth."
His words were ones we could all learn from, even Marc Monte.
Copyright 2003, jm silverstein