It’s hard to remember what it was like before. I remember that Karen Armstrong’s book, “A History of God,” was popular. It gave many of us our first, real look at the similarities between Christianity and Islam. It reintroduced into the popular lexicon the phrase “people of the book,” and had a lot of people talking about the history of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Things were very different. It was a cute oddity that Cat Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Although the great Muhammad Ali was a Black Muslim, which is an offshoot of the larger religion, obstinacy and racial politics seemed to characterize his antics more than outright religious hostility.
Hollywood has always dealt in stereotypes, but who can forget the legions of nameless turban-wearers Rambo massacred in those movies?
There was usually one especially evil and mustachioed uber villain. He looked on as his sweaty minions unloaded crates of Stinger missiles, and Rambo waited in the trees with a knife in his teeth.
We’ve dealt clumsily and insensitively with one another. We’ve been unkind and unthinking. None of this is an excuse for violence, it’s just a history of misunderstanding.
The morning the plane hit the Pentagon I was in class in northwest D.C. We rushed out onto the balcony to see if the smoke was visible on the horizon. The District isn’t a very big place. It’s a deeply troubling thing to watch the waters of history rise up so high you have to tilt your head back to breathe.
Hunter Thompson got in right in ESPN Magazine: “The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for peace in our time … Make no mistake about it: We are at war now – with somebody – and we will stay at war with that mysterious enemy for the rest of our lives. It will be a religious war, a sort of Christian jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides.”
A few days ago, President Obama was asked by a young girl in India what he thought about jihad. “Well, the phrase jihad has a lot of meanings within Islam and is subject to a lot of different interpretations,” the president began. “I think all of us recognize that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted to justify violence towards innocent people that is never justified. And so, I think, one of the challenges that we face is, how do we isolate those who have these distorted notions of religious war.”
That’s a thoughtful, nuanced answer – the beginning of an answer, actually, that went on for several minutes.
Some Christian commentators have been eviscerating the president this week for not unequivocally condemning the concept of jihad as evil. I can only take my info straight from the source. Ali, a lay imam here in town, told me the same thing Obama said.
The time has passed for us to bark at each other and deal in absolutes and ultimatums. We can’t afford to be as sloppy as we used to in characterizing each other. Any hope of peace between Christianity and Islam depends on it.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal