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To Be Fair
09/23/2002

Rod Dreher links to a Washington Post story about Rwandans converting to Islam after some Muslims helped protect them from genocide while some Christian (Protestant and Catholic) clergy cooperated with (or, at least, did not resist) the Hutu majority.

I'll be honest: I don't know enough about the entire situation to comment extensively, but it doesn't surprise me that there are many good Muslims in the world. I also believe that it is absolutely dreadful for Christians to be in any way complicit in such horrors. I suppose it goes to show that all religions are made up of human beings, many of whom disregard or do not fully understand the teachings of their faiths, to the extent of it being little more than an organizational demographic that does not curb atrocities that they commit out of sinful motivation.

In short, I understand why many Rwandans would convert, and I'd suggest (based only on this article) that Rwandan Christians have much repentance and reconciliation to do. But I do want to look a little more closely at this paragraph from the article:

Islam has long been a religion of the downtrodden. In the Middle East and South Asia, the religion has had a strong focus on outreach to the poor and tackling social ills by banning alcohol and encouraging sexual modesty. In the United States, Malcolm X used a form of Islam to encourage economic and racial empowerment among blacks.

It seems to me that the "religion of the downtrodden" quality could be attributed to any religion in certain places and certain times. I'd also point out that, for one example, the Catholic Church in Massachusetts is second only to the state in providing aid to people in need, based on poverty or "social ills." Furthermore, why is it that Muslims in distant lands are to be applauded for "encouraging sexual modesty," while Christians in our own country are to be mocked for doing the same? And didn't Martin Luther King, Jr., use a "form" of Christianity to empower blacks, as well? (Not to mention the history slavery-inspired gospel spirituals.)

Just out of curiosity, I searched recent articles in the Washington Post for the word "genocide." It came up, predominantly, in two contexts other than Rwanda: news about Milosevic's trial for genocide of Muslims, and accusations that Bush's mentioning of Saddam Hussein's genocide of Kurds represents a "conscience of convenience." Then I searched for "Indonesia." The first article to appear?

An Inspiration for Muslim Fighters
Cleric Implicated in Anti-U.S. Plots Says His Guidance Is Religious, Not Military

It's a strikingly glowing profile of Abubakar Baasyir, a man who is wanted in Malaysia and Singapore and is on the edge of America's list of terrorists.

"The students who absorb my teaching and finally understand Islam completely want to implement the teaching of jihad," he said.

He offered them Islamic guidance, he said, but they found their own military training and paid their own way. Many of these followers, whom he calls his "listeners," have been arrested in Malaysia and Singapore, including one man jailed by Singaporean authorities in December, he said, for allegedly participating in a plot to attack the U.S. Embassy and other Western targets in the city-state.

I don't doubt that Rwandan muftis really do teach "jihad" as "a struggle to heal" or "to raise... children well." But we would do well to remember that the major religions are global and various, to avoid generalizations, and to be vigilant of their trends because being a follower of any of them makes us no less human, no less flawed, and no less susceptible to the temptation of sin.

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UPDATE: Mr. Dreher's contribution to National Review Online proper today is a review of Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith by Robert Spencer, which takes what Dreher terms as a "pessimistic" view of Islam's ability to sustain a peaceful, democratic strain because it relies heavily on literal readings of the Koran, which allows, or even mandates, violence and intolerance. Dreher's central concern is that the debate be had and not silenced or avoided by sources of information (e.g., the Washington Post), which is related to my own conclusions with this post.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:21 AM EST