Religious gesture of understanding turns into usual debate on hate

Ray Hanania

Posted Oct 27, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Religious gesture of understanding turns into usual debate on hate

By Ray Hanania

An ethnic advisory commission set up by the Governor of Oklahoma printed copies of the Quran, the Islamic “bible,” had them embossed with the State Seal and offered to distribute them to the 149 members of that state’s legislature. After all, earlier in the year, Oklahoma lawmakers also were given free copies of the Bible by a non-government and religious organization called “The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.”  The organizers paid for the Quran’s using private, not government money. So why is there a controversy?

Well, this is America and Muslims and Arabs are blamed for anything and everything wrong that comes out of a Middle East turned on its head by years of bad American foreign policy.

What was to be a gesture of understanding has turned into a battle of hateful words.

Oklahoma legislator Rex Duncan, a Republican from Sand Springs, rejected the offering and returned his copy of the Quran.
Had it just been that, maybe we would not have noticed. But then like many other confused and uneducated Americans, Duncan added a little hate-politicking to the mix.

Duncan sent a nasty letter to his legislative colleagues and about two dozen said they would return the Islamic holy books, too, asserting that Islam is an evil religion that encourages its followers to kill innocent people.

“Most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology,” Duncan asserted, adding in an interview with the Associated Press that he has “researched the Quran,” on the Internet, of course, and believes it supports killing.

“That’s exactly what it says,” Duncan insisted. “I think it’s pretty straightforward. By their own admission those are the exact words. They don’t all practice that.”

The most disturbing thing about this story is that a presumably intelligent elected government official who has sworn an oath to represent “all Americans,” turned to the Internet to get answers to such important topics.

I can only imagine the hate sites that he visited in order to find enough quotes to justify his claims.

Maybe he should have spent more time expanding his Internet research and he would have probably discovered that even the Bible has quotations in which Christians are taught to kill, too.

He obviously didn’t because when asked about receiving copies of the Bible from a religious organization, Duncan said, “It’s one of the nicest things I’ve received in my three years in the Legislature.”

Quotes are like statistics. Take them out of context, throw them up against the wall of public discourse, and people driven by hate, stereotypes and little knowledge will believe anything that comes from the mouths of demagogues.

Leaders of the American Jewish community in Oklahoma joined the Muslims in expressing their disappointment in Duncan’s claims. And so did many other groups including the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) which has an uneven track record across its chapters in denouncing hate against other groups.

The Muslims who distributed the copies of the Quran are not completely off the hook themselves.

Instead of turning towards racism as a justification to reject the Islamic Holy Books, Duncan could have easily pointed to the fact that what American Muslims are doing is prohibited by law in most Islamic countries.

The same Muslims and Arabs who are asking Americans to be tolerant and show understanding, and even convert to Islam from Christianity and Judaism, seem silent when Islamic governments arrest and jail Muslims who convert to Christianity, or Christians who try to proselytize their Muslim citizens.

The world is already ugly enough without all this additional hate over a religious book.

Islam is a religion of peace. And much like Christianity and Judaism, human beings who embrace each religion often interpret the meanings themselves.

Terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden claimed to be Muslim and justified the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001 on the backs of Islam. Yet, Bin Laden is not really a representative of Islam and his interpretation of Islam is really a bastardized politicization of the religion.

Christian leaders are guilty of that, too.

But I don’t think that is what Duncan and people like him really care about. Notorious for spewing anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hatred, Duncan probably is mindful of the fact that Americans are not knowledgeable about Islam, and that makes for a great opportunity to exploit them for political purposes.

There is nothing like hatred to wind people up and get them to forget about real issues like government corruption and mismanagement.

It will even make Duncan more popular among some of his constituents.

Muslims and Arabs in America are under siege by a wave of ignorance-driven hatred. They should know that even the simplest, kindest gesture will be exploited by some to create angry debate rather than understanding.

They should also know that handing out copies of the Quran doesn’t even come close to influencing Americans to change their ways the way it would if they denounced the hypocrisies that exist in their own communities first.

Before you can redress the hypocrisies of others, you have to correct the hypocrisies of your own.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. Copyright Arab Writers Group, )