Leo Tolstoy once said that "Hypocrisy in anything may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised." Just as al-Qaeda used their fatalistic interpretation of Islam to promote their agenda, Reverend Jerry Falwell is essentially proclaiming a political jihad against Islam in an effort to promote his apocalyptic worldview and lobbying power to the American public. History will vindicate or demonize us for the manner in which we react to such skewed and self-promoting rhetoric.
In the most recent installment of "60 Minutes", Falwell begun by smugly telling correspondent Bob Simon that the fringe element of the Christian Right dictates the policies to which President Bush adheres. He and some other evangelists proclaim to be stronger political saviors to the state of Israel than American Jews themselves. He basically reiterated Sam Huntington's myopic "clash of civilizations" thesis, in which Christians and Jews are on one side, with the dark monolith of Islam being on the adversarial end. Before you go out and buy an Israeli flag to fly next to Old Glory, Falwell's over-endearing gestures towards our Jewish brothers and sisters must include some non-evangelical context.
To many evangelical Christians, it is no secret that the establishment and sustenance of the state of Israel is a sign of the second coming of Jesus. According to Christian Evangelical theology, the creation of the Jewish state of Israel is a precondition for the return of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon and the Apocalypse. Falwell contends that it is his sincere love for his Jewish brethren that leads him to his unequivocal support for Israel. What he fails to tell the public is that, according to Evangelical doctrine, after the battle of Armageddon, Jews who remain on Earth will either be slaughtered in the battle or convert to Christianity. The Israeli Jews that were interviewed for the "60 Minutes" piece tried to distance themselves as far from Falwell as humanly possible. Many Jews realize the duplicity in Falwell's support; a support which ends in their death or their conversion.
Islam was next in the crosshairs of the reverend. He self-righteously asserted that he thought "Muhammad was a terrorist. I read enough to decide that he was a violent man, a man of war. In my opinion, Jesus set the example of love, as did Moses, and I think Muhammad set an opposite example." If I were to stoop to Falwell's anachronistic level, I would cite Leviticus 20 in the Bible, where the prophet Moses proclaims the penalties for various crimes, including death for anyone who curses his father or mother, commits adultery, or engages in homosexual sex. There are more examples of violence in the Bible, taken completely out of context. The prophet David is praised in Samuel 18 for slaying "tens of thousands," and in Judges 14, Samson kills 30 random Philistines in revenge for losing a bet. These are meaningless examples, because we don't understand the historical and cultural paradigms of the prophets' times. Prophets of Christianity and Judaism are also great prophets of Islam. They set moral codes that were unknown to humanity at the time. An attack upon any of these prophets is an attack on Islam.
The scariest aspect of this debate is the undue influence people like Falwell have within the current Bush administration. Commenting on Falwell's comments, a Washington Post editorial stated that "on [Falwell's] noxious mix of religious bigotry and anti-Muslim demagoguery, Mr. Bush's silence is deafening." Only when President Bush denounces and distances himself from duplicitous and conniving people like Falwell, will I ever be convinced that this "war on terror" is not an evangelical war on Islam.
Arsalan Iftikhar serves as Midwest Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He attends Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
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