Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Geert Wilders and others are inadvertently the spearheads of Islamism in the U.S. and Europe.
This may sound like a bit of a radical statement, but perhaps it isn’t. Through the widely reported Texas event, the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,” a few have successfully handed another great victory to violent men who act in the name of Islam.
I commend the group of young Muslim activists who decided to hold their own “Draw Muhammad” contest in response to Geller.
Their initiative is a peaceful, creative challenge to the widely held misperception that it is the mere drawing of Muhammad which is the problem here, rather than the offensive and brash representations.
The church globally is in need of more prophetic voices that would help overturn the current destructive tide of the mainstream.
So what is it that is so disturbing in the behavior of the likes of Geller, Spencer and Wilders?
First, their initiatives continuously offer “soft targets” for Muslim religious fanatics.
These “stunts” have now become costly on the perpetrators themselves. But they are infinitely more costly for multitudes of Christians living across the Muslim world whose churches are burned down and who suffer massacres at the hand of fanatics in response.
Second, such behavior increases and promotes a misinformed understanding of Islam.
Islam is what Muslims make of it. If some Muslims are violent in its name, then Islam’s Scripture has the capacity to inspire violence.
If other Muslims are peaceful and loving in the name of their religion, this means that the Quran also has the capacity to inspire peaceful and loving behavior.
The Scripture of any religion only finds meaning in the interpretation that its bearers give it.
But once non-Muslims begin to insist that the only “true Islam” is the one that manifests itself violently, they cannot claim objectivity. They have simply bought into the ideology of “the terrorists.”
Third, they obstruct the practice of truthful and useful relations.
It is not through indignant outcry that the most crucial and sensitive Muslim challenges perceived by non-Muslims will be addressed effectively.
Rather, it is through the use of multi-faith platforms that we are able to address important questions like the persecution of Muslim converts, the religious intolerance of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan or Sudan, or the call of some streams of Islam for the establishment of Islamic Law in the West.
Has the church played a part in allowing, or even promoting, the spread of this anti-Muslim hateful atmosphere in our societies?
First, there is no shortage of disenchanted, disaffected and marginalized Muslim young people around the world with negative feelings toward the West.
The Christian church has not been responding adequately to this reality. Instead of reaching out in love to those despaired young people, the church often contributes in fanning their flame of fanaticism and awakening the demons in them.
Second, the church has allowed itself to be influenced by hatred and fear.
Many fall for the narrative of Geller, Spencer, Wilders and others instead of seeking to be an alternative voice.
We have reacted, not with the calls for justice, love of neighbor and embrace of the enemy, but more often by adopting a supremacist and exclusivist ideology closer to the dominant attitude that Jesus opposed among many of his Jewish contemporaries.
Finally, the church’s paralysis resulting from this discourse has prevented it from leading a campaign of love and embrace.
The church’s feeble and often counterproductive response has allowed the emergence of issues out of what could have remained non-issues.
Would we really object to allowing certain communities in our midst to conduct their own affairs in a way that reflects their deepest convictions, so long as these were aligned with agreed principles of justice?
There exists in the Lebanese legal system a model worth considering, which entrusts each of our 18 religious communities with the responsibility of managing “family affairs” through specialized religious courts.
Jurisprudence is by definition far more flexible than the conspiracy discourse would have us believe.
Of course when it comes to Islam, we claim that this would lead to human rights abuses. But could this be primarily a projection of our own fears and insecurities?
When it comes to the application of Sharia, why do we look at Saudi Arabia and Waziristan as the anti-models?
Why don’t we look at the model of Lebanon, which is much more likely to emerge from the socio-cultural realities of the West if Muslim communities in the U.S. and Europe were allowed to organize their own family courts?
The rights of Muslim women and children are certainly not worse off than those of Christians in Lebanon.
Do we really think that millions of immigrants from Muslim countries (let alone multigenerational Muslim citizens of Western countries), who have left inhuman political regimes in the non-Western world are longing to reproduce such thuggish structures in their new home?
We need to get out of the destructive grip of the erroneous Geller/Spencer/Wilders discourse. It is far too cozy and aligned with the discourses of ISIS, Boko Haram and the Somali Shabab.
Martin Accad is director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. A longer version of this column first appeared on the IMES blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @marzaatar and IMES @IMESLebanon.
Martin Accad is director of the Institute of Middle East Studies (IMES) at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon.