There was a time when Islam was an historical, literary, or cinematic curiosity with little or no purchase on the American imagination and no measurable impact on our lives. That began to change in earnest on November 4, 1979 when Iranian “students” seized the American embassy in Teheran and held its staff hostage for 444 days. Since then we’ve had many reasons to pay closer attention to what George W. Bush has called – in a speech just five days after the 9/11 attacks – a “religion of peace.”
Among other things, we learned a new word: jihad. Some experts warned us not to accept the Al Qaeda interpretation. Jihad is not the conquest or subjugation of non-believers to the rule of Islam, they argued, but the struggle of the individual Muslim to align his will with God’s.
And we continue to read that Muslim anger against the West is justified, that Islamic violence has its wellspring in various American and European crimes and outrages: the ill-treatment of Palestinians by our Israeli “proxies;” the presence of American troops on holy ground (i.e. Saudi Arabia); the maltreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib; the prison at Guantanamo Bay; the publication in Denmark of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. Indeed, it has almost seemed as though Islam is everywhere a Grievance-of-the-Month Club. In any event, Western journalists insist that America in particular and Western civilization more generally are to blame (an enduring leftist meme), and they’ve certainly not been discouraged by President Obama’s ongoing World Apology Tour.
Of course America is not sinless. Still, as Greatest Powers Upon Earth have gone throughout the ages, the international interventions of the United States have been benign. As Colin Powell’s told the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in 2003:
And lately the news shows Muslims on the attack in various places around the world – not just places where there are Americans – apparently because they object, often violently, to co-existing with Christians or Jews or Hindus.
Late last year in Gojra, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab region, a rumor – false as it happens – spread among Muslims that a copy of the Qur’an had been defaced. A mob descended on a Christian neighborhood and set ablaze forty homes. Six people were immolated inside one house when armed rioters blocked their exit from the inferno. In all, eight died in Gojra.
The Hameed family hid in the bedroom of their house. “We could hear them smashing everything and dividing our belongings amongst themselves,” Almass Hameed recalls. “Then they started beating on the door saying they would teach us a lesson and burn us alive.”
More recently, Malaysia has witnessed a series of attacks on Catholic churches in the wake of a court decision that allowed the Church there to use the word “Allah” to mean “God.” If I understand Islam correctly in this regard, that is what “Allah” means, yet many Malaysian Muslims are literally up in arms about it. Eight churches have been attacked, three of them firebombed.
In Egypt, Coptic Christians are under attack. On Christmas Eve, seven kids near Nag Hamadi were murdered after midnight Mass by Muslim gunmen. According to some reports, local police were tipped off before the attack but refused to offer protection.
In Iran, Christian converts from Islam are often arrested and imprisoned if they refuse to apostatize. Christians are termed “anti-government activists.”
In Saudi Arabia, it remains illegal to own a Bible. The Saudis fund construction of mosques in the West; no churches are allowed in Saudi Arabia.
Sad to say, the list is long and growing longer. Islam may lack a pluralism gene.
As the organization Aid to the Church in Need puts it its recent report, Persecuted & Forgotten, “Leading experts in the field agree that today 200 million Christians suffer for their faith, many of them facing murder and other forms of violence.” One cannot help but recall the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen: