Three Myths About Islam?:  They Ought to Be Ashamed

James Zogby

Posted May 22, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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May 22, 2006

My blood is still boiling. 

I was in Warsaw to speak at an OSCE conference on Islamophobia when my office forwarded me an article that had just appeared in the New York Sun, a purveyor of incitement and hate, masquerading as a newspaper.

Entitled “The Three Myths About Islam,” the article sets out to demonstrate that because of liberal political correctness, Americans had come to believe a number of falsehoods about Islam:  namely that it is a peaceful, tolerant and under attack.  In fact, according to the author, the opposite is true.  The religion of 1.5 billion, he claims, is, by its nature and history, intolerant, aggressive, and violent.  In other words, a danger to be reckoned with.  This is of course, a gross distortion of Islam’s history, designed to create fear and intolerance toward the religion and its adherents.  It is exactly this caricaturing of Islam that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warns about in her new book, The Mighty and The Almighty.  She terms such efforts as “sophistry” and notes that “a reader trolling through the scriptures for language sanctifying intolerance and war will find it whether the texts are sacred to Christians, Muslims or Jews.” 

While the article was clearly disturbing, I might not have become as upset as I did (since I don’t expect anything more from the Sun), had it not been for the fact that the author of this malevolent attack was identified as a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one of Washington’s premier think tanks.  More troubling is the fact that the article was being distributed to a larger list, via email, by an official at the Washington office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), one of the US’s mainstream Jewish organizations.

From Warsaw, I wrote to the AJC demanding an explanation.  I noted that if an Arab American or Muslim American group had distributed a piece called “The Three Myths of Judaism,” that had similarly grotesquely caricatured the Jewish faith, that group would have been called anti-Semitic—a rebuke they would have rightly deserved.

Here’s what I heard back from AJC officials.

One wrote, “There is harshness to his piece that is disturbing.  But on much of the factual material I agree. . .and I do agree [with the author] that it is part of American political correctness that all religions are equal in their moral values.  They are not.”

Another wrote, “I thought that the article pushes the envelope…but…some of [the author’s] arguments seem to be perfectly legitimate, others seem to lack the clarifying nuance that would have made them so.”

I responded to both, telling them quite simply, “You ought to be ashamed.  The article was not just ‘harsh’ or ‘lacking in nuance,” it was quite simply, bigoted.  Your organization claims to promote ‘building understanding across…religions lines—how did this article contribute to that goal?”

In fact, a topic highlighted on the AJC’s website focuses on “Muslim-Jewish Relations” and includes the following rather admirable description of the group’s vision:

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the three “Abrahamic faiths,” tracing their roots to the time of Abraham.  To quote David Harris, our efforts in the area of Muslim-Jewish relations should remind us “of the long, rich, and often mutually nourishing historical relations between Jews and Muslims in many lands and the extraordinary gifts to humankind that Muslim-Jewish interaction generated in advancing knowledge and culture.”

As we face the future, AJCs efforts in the area of Muslim-Jewish relations will lay the groundwork for understanding and cooperation across faith group lines in ways that will be extraordinarily important.

Because this vision statement stands in such complete contradiction to the content and intent of the “Three Myths” article, I wonder why the Washington office sent it out in the first place, and why, when called to account, could they not admit that it was wrong and apologize?

In fact, my office has been receiving the AJC’s unsolicited emails over the past year.  Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim themes are common threads running through many of the articles.  Not exactly the approach to use if one wants to encourage dialogue and understanding. 

We live in a period of history rife with the dangers of intolerance, and ethnic and religious misunderstandings.  As I noted in my remarks, at the OSCE Warsaw Conference, Jews and Muslims and Arabs have long been victims in the West.  Both were treated as alien counter-civilizational forces.  One was seen as an internal threat while the other was portrayed as an external challenge.  And both were negatively stereotyped, with their beliefs, culture and history vilified—all with terrible consequences.

It is, therefore, especially tragic and condemnable to see some Muslims resorting to anti-Semitic rhetoric or stereotyping. Similarly, it is tragic and condemnable when a Jewish organization becomes a purveyor of Islamophobic material.  They ought to be ashamed!

James Zogby is President of The Arab American Institute