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It’s time to stop telling lies

It’s time to stop spreading lies

Prepared for Immanuel Adult Forum
by Richard J Anderson, PhD September 2010

Telling Lies

Telling lies is an integral part of American tradition. The earliest European immigrants told lies about the Native Americans. Groups of religious refugees from England told lies about each other. Protestants told lies about Roman Catholics. Protestants and Catholics joined together to tell lies about Jews. European-Americans told lies about African-Americans. Each new wave of people from a foreign land became the object of lies.

And so it went. As the land filled with people, so it also filled with lies. Noted journalist Mike Royko once observed that all nationalities were subjected to slurs and abusive names, with the possible exception of the Scandinavians; the Swedes and Norwegians took care of this slight by making up stories about each other.

Lies, of course, come in all flavors. Some lies are innocent, light-hearted attempts at humor. Lies even form the foundation of much of American folklore. Lies with a cautionary message have emerged in our culture in large numbers as ‘urban legends.’

In three areas, however, benign lies often give way to hateful lies; not surprisingly, those areas are politics, ethnicity, and religion. Political lies are certainly as old as our government. King George couldn’t possibly have done all the things that the Declaration of Independence accused him of doing. When Jefferson ran for President in 1800, his enemies warned that his election would result in the beheading of all clergymen and making the reading of the Bible illegal. Jackson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and almost all other leading American political figures were attacked with similar lies.

Ethnic and religious stereotyping has likewise plagued American culture from the earliest days. Strains of ‘if they don’t want to be like us, then why don’t they just go back home!’ have echoed since the days of the Pilgrims. While the official documents of American government speak of

equality and tolerance, the culture has sounded notes of separation, exclusion, and even violence toward the ‘other’ or the ‘different.’

The roots of these lies are in fear, ignorance, and malice. While it is possible that some lies may have been born in both ignorance and malice (consider Robertson, Falwell, and Limbaugh), most popular lies seem to have originated in ignorance. Especially with the internet, it is now possible for any clueless, misinformed person to start a rumor which has thousands of true believers within hours.

Whatever their origins and the social pathology which allows people to believe in them, lies about Islam and Muslims have reached an alarming state, not only in America but also in Europe. This article attempts to deal with only 14 such lies, but there are hundreds of others in circulation. A quick perusal of talk radio or the internet will yield a malignant harvest.

1. Muslims don’t worship the same God as Christians and Jews

It is the consensus of theologians and philosophers in all three faiths that their God is one and the same, worshipped according to different traditions. There are some dissenters, of course, but a very small minority.

2. Muslims worship some pagan god known as ‘Allah’

‘Allah’ is the Arabic name for ‘God.’ The same word for ‘God’ is used by Arabic Christians and Arabic Jews.

3. Muslims worship Muhammad

A lie invented by European travelers and missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries. Muslims worship God, not Muhammad. There have been some sectarian movements which viewed Muhammad as more than strictly human, but these were denounced as heresy. In the mainstream of Islam, there has never been worship of Muhammad.

4. All Muslims are Arabs; all Arabs are terrorists

A double lie; the first, an innocent mistake; the second, an outright untruth. Only about 20% of the world’s Muslims are Arabs. Of

the 8 countries with more than 50 million Muslims, only 1 (Egypt) is Arab.

To argue that every Arab, either actually or potentially, is a terrorist is ludicrous. There is no doubt that there are Arab terrorists, just as there are terrorists of every nationality and religion. One study has estimated that religious extremists, who might be inclined toward terrorism, constitute 0.01% of Islam; that might be too high. The number of ‘fundamentalists’ is much greater; but ‘fundamentalist’ does not equal ‘extremist’ or does it equal ‘terrorist.’

5. All Muslims are alike

There is tremendous variety in Islam. With a faith numbering almost 1.6 billion people, there are differences in languages, styles of worship, modes of dress, authority of non-Qur’anic texts, attitudes toward religious law, and just about everything else. Many of these differences are related to cultural backgrounds, though some may have other historical roots.

6. Islam is a religion of hate and violence

All religious faiths and movements seem to have a dark side. Islam has its violent times. Judaism has its own. Christianity probably has had far more than its share of hatred and murder. Much of the misinformation here concerns the term ‘jihad’, which means primarily ‘internal struggle’ but has been appropriated by terrorists.

7. Muslims are violent toward one another

Thanks to the 6:00 news, we can now see whenever Sunni and Shia Muslims attack each other in Iraq. There has been a long- standing antipathy between the two groups, which the Western presence greatly aggravated. Then again, consider the Lutherans vs. the Catholics in the Thirty Years’ War, which killed half of the male population of central Europe.

8. Muslims are clannish and unfriendly

This charge seems to be leveled at all newly-arrived groups. The only true refutation is to get to know Muslims on a one-to-one basis. Personally, I have found Muslims to be more open and friendly than most other people.

9. Islam has grown by forced conversion

The implication here is that, while Christianity has grown by loving example, Islam used the sword to gain converts. All major religious traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, have used force at times to compel conversions. Islam’s incredible growth in the 7th century led European historians to conclude that this had to take place by force or threat of force. In fact, most conversions to Islam happened peacefully and gradually, often taking 2 or 3 generations. Forced conversions in Sudan and West Africa have occurred recently, but reports are often exaggerated by American observers.

10. Muslims practice polygamy

It is true that Muhammad had several wives, which was common in Arabic culture. Generally, Islamic law allows men to have up to 4 wives, provided that they are all treated fairly and equally. Some predominantly Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Tunisia prohibit polygamy, while in others it is legal but not favored (Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco). Muslims living in countries where polygamy is prohibited (America and Europe, for instance) are expected to obey the laws of their respective nations.

11. Women are treated like slaves in Islamic society

The status of Muslim women is a difficult subject to untangle. While women often have a segregated and subservient role in Muslim societies, much of this is due to cultural inheritances. In fact, it can be argued that in some places (Central and South Asia, for instance), Muslim women have a higher status than non-Muslim women

In Europe and especially in America, on the other hand, women seem to be moving rapidly toward equality with men, though there is still worship segregation in almost all mosques. This is a highly sensitive issue among Muslims.

12. Muslims are trying to take over the world

On the one hand, many Muslims would like to see Islam as the universal religion of the world. On the other hand, there is no credible movement toward that end at the present time. There is a group dedicated to the establishment of a universal caliphate

with Islamic law for the planet, but it is largely a marginal, non- violent organization.

13. Muslims are backward and ignorant

Just a brief look at history dispels this lie. Islamic science, art, and philosophy flourished when Europe was in the Dark Ages. While many Islamic societies suffered declines during the period of Western imperialism, that time seems to have ended.

14. Islam is incompatible with democracy

While no democracy is perfect (even the United States), and there are great variations in the degree of self-government among states, it is impossible to conclude that Islam and democracy are incompatible. Turkey, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia are all examples of nominally democratic governments with substantial Muslim participation. Whether the theocratic state of Iran will evolve into democracy is yet to be seen. In the U.S., there is no question that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are committed to democratic values.

Searching for truth

With the fog of lies surrounding us, where can we find truth? Who has a lantern to light the way?

Sadly, there is probably not. What is required is that each person, confronted with so many ‘lies’ parading as ‘facts’ must test every assertion concerning religion and public affairs.

Who is telling the story? Even the best of the media—New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN—often have their axes to grind. The Chicago Tribune has frequently been inaccurate. Network TV channels are almost always slanted.

What are the sources? There are still some good journalists, but the best of them can be led astray by weak or tainted sources. Interviewing a frustrated Muslim feminist may not provide a true perspective on the status of women in the Middle East. It is axiomatic that one never trusts an ex-anything; converts from a faith are a bad source of information.

What is required if one is to remain informed is a balance of opinions. This is admittedly not easy to do, but the Internet, while providing a ready outlet for the crazies, does also make available good balancing sources such as Al Ahram and Al Jazeera.

It is time to confront the Devil and his lies.

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