I’ve only met writer and blogger Andrew Sullivan twice: The first time, in 2009, was in Washington, D.C., when he nearly ran me over with his bicycle, an encounter I’m sure he doesn’t remember, and later in Exeter when he spoke at Phillips Exeter Academy. Indeed, it was here in Exeter, listening to Andrew, where I first learned that the pope wore red Prada slippers!
Andrew Sullivan is my first and last read. I read The Dish in the morning while my coffee brews, and late at night his Daily Wrap is often, along with Jon Stewart, my nightcap. I constantly send Dish-links to my friends.
I want to start a conversation. In a world often filled with ugliness, articulate, intelligent and occasional witty conversation is hard to find, especially in the online world where narcissists, evolution deniers, progressives and libertarians, homophobes, Christianists, Muslimists and Messianics compete for bandwidth.
Daily, I read Peter Beinart, Ross Douthat, David Frum, Reihan Salam and Andrew Sullivan because they have a different worldview than I do and are smart and articulate, even when I don’t agree with them. It’s important to know what other people think about vital contemporary issues, spiritual and temporal — and because I need to be amused. I believe Andrew writes in good faith: He’s no Christianist or bigot.
However, when he writes that Islam’s “founder practiced violence,” that Islam’s “values are at direct odds with modernity,” he is wrong.
When he asks “Which other major world religion believes that apostates should be killed, or regards negative depictions of the Prophet as worthy of a death sentence?” I answer, “None, including Islam,” to the first part, and “None, including Islam,” to the second.
All scripture has violent passages. All scripture has allegory, metaphor and sometimes over-the-top excess. No scripture can survive being taken out of context.
Sullivan contrasts Jesus to Muhammad. Actually, a correct equation is: The Qur’an is to Islam what Jesus is to Christianity.
“Andrew, Jesus is as dear to me as the Prophet Muhammad. I believe that if someone was to use out of context the biblical passage about how Jesus came not to bring peace but to bring a sword that we would both be outraged. I hope, then, you can imagine my sorrow when I read that you believe that the ‘founder’ of Islam ‘practiced violence.'”
When Sullivan writes, “The terrorists’ strain of Islam … represents a part of Islam — a radical, fundamentalist part — that simply cannot be ignored or denied,” he is wrong again.
When the Ku Klux Klan justified their lynchings of African-Americans by quoting Christian scripture no one considered them a part of Christianity.
When Baruch Goldstein, a Kach supporter, murdered 29 Palestinians at Hebron’s Mosque of Abraham no one considered Kach a part of Judaism.
However, when terrorists invoke Islam to justify murder and mayhem, many are quick to call them part of Islam.
They are wrong. Islam does not condone terrorism. Period.
In 2001, when Andrew wrote a beautifully crafted 4,200-word essay titled “This is a Religious War,” a work he referenced this week, the only Muslim he quoted was Osama bin Laden. He evoked Tocqueville, Jesus, Dostoyevsky, Locke, Hitler and Stalin. He offered two quotes from the Qur’an and two quotes from Bernard Lewis (not a “great scholar” of Islam although a great cheerleader for the Iraq War). He offered one reference to the prophet Muhammad.
It was wrong. It was like a blind person describing a snowstorm: It feels cold and wet but lacks understanding of light and beauty.
This week there are few Muslim voices being heard in America, and those few are mostly being drowned out by distorted caricatures offered by pundits, politicians, journalists and columnists, each unwilling to do the hard work of trying to understand The Other.
On America’s far right, where true Islamophobes and conspiracy theorists dwell, failed academics and faux intellectuals profit upon the ignorance of their followers as they try to achieve today what they failed to accomplish when they tried to disenfranchise Barack Obama by portraying him as a Muslim anti-Christ.
Muslims, too, are at fault. It’s not enough to say “Islam is a religion of peace” or to bash Islamophobes as racist. There are racists and bigots who are Muslim — and there are people within the community who are dangerous and violent. There are literalists and exceptionalists, and there are many — in a tradition not exclusive to Islam — who use religion as a “beard” for political ambitions.
The worldview of Islam presented by Sullivan and his cohorts is not the pornographic world portrayed by true Islamophobes like Ann Coulter, but they are all prurient, they all titillate, and they all serve to disenfranchise a community not because of what they have done but because of what someone has done in their name — and because of our collective ignorance of each other.
Nearly all Muslims in America are as fully committed to America’s security, and the pursuit of happiness, as are most of their neighbors. If they are unfairly disenfranchised and marginalized through fear, ignorance or bigotry then we are all less secure, less happy and less American.
A line in Margaret Atwood’s novel “Alias Grace” inspires me to write: I find it tiresome to be constantly accused, as an individual, of all the sins of alleged co-religionists, especially by those who seem to think that opinions recently discovered, however wrong, excuse them for not having had any knowledge or interest at all at an earlier period.
Last December, Andrew Sullivan published a “View from my Window” photograph I sent from Dubai, and I was pleased. Today, I offer Andrew Sullivan this new, sadly bleak, view from my window in Exeter.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.