I didn’t grow up knowing much about Muslims. If you grew up in the United States (or most places in the West), odds are very strong that you didn’t know much about Muslims, either. I’ve discovered that most Muslims know just as little about us as we know about them. That doesn’t stop many people on both sides from hating each other with a passion, though.
For many people who become active in terror groups today, a radical version of the Islamic faith is a motivating factor. Some of those people come to hate those of any other faith. They’re willing to kill other people in the name of destroying anyone who doesn’t bow before their version of God.
As a result, some people in the West — some who claim to be faithful Christians and others who are just nominally or culturally Christian — have decided that all Muslims are evil. This makes no more sense than being robbed by a red-haired man and deciding that all red-haired men must be evil.
On Facebook Saturday night, one of my “friends” posted the following:
Muslims can all go to hell. They are evil bastards. There are no good Muslims, just good dead Muslims. I am a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant woman, and I have never flown a plane into a building or bombed anyone in my life.
If you agree with this statement, someone has warped your thinking and filled your mind with hate. If you call yourself a Christian and believe this, you don’t understand the essence of your alleged faith. If you believe this, your thinking is evil and very warped.
I’m a Christian. I grew up in a culture largely infused with Christian ideas and I have a long history with churches that are theologically conservative. I have disagreements with Muslims that are theological and cultural. On the most basic of issues, Muslims and I disagree with one another, both about theological truth and about the role of any particular religion in influencing government.
But I have friends who are Muslim. Other than their theological beliefs, the Muslims I know aren’t much different than the people who live around me. They happen to come from a part of the world where people’s skin is a bit darker than mine. They happen to speak different languages. They happen to have grown up with different customs.
But the Muslims I know are simply decent human beings with the same sort of hopes, dreams, fears and loves that I have. They’re not monsters. The only people who could possibly believe that they’re “evil bastards” are those who have accepted dishonest generalizations and lies. Period.
There’s currently a minority part of the Muslim world that hates anyone who isn’t a Muslim. Those people hate the West in general and the United States in particular. Some among that group have done evil things to hurt and kill non-Muslims. But to pretend that they represent all Muslims is ignorant and backwards. If you believe this, you’re telling me that you have listened to idiots and come to irrational conclusions.
As far as Muslims are concerned, they haven’t grown up around Christians or westerners any more than we have grown up around people like them. They don’t know us. For most of them, we are a caricature of evil because of what the U.S. government has done in very concrete ways where they live.
To them, Christians and Americans are people who come to the Middle East with machines of war and kill people very much like them. To them, we are people whose government has manipulated politics in their region to prop up dictatorships — when it was convenient to us — that oppressed them and then invaded their countries and killed their friends and neighbors when it became convenient to us.
You might say that you didn’t go their countries and kill their friends and relatives, so you’re not responsible. You might say that you never had anything to do with stationing troops in their countries. You might say that you never had anything to do with a dictatorships in Iran or Egypt, for instance, that came to power or stayed in power because of U.S. government money and assistance.
But your words of protest are the generally same as an average Muslim would make when they deny responsibility for the militants who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The Muslims I know had nothing to do with those attacks or any others — just as you and I have had nothing to do with the things the U.S. government has done to affect them.
I disagree with Muslims about theology and (with some of them) about what cultural and legal norms should be. But that doesn’t mean I’m evil and want to kill them. It also doesn’t mean that the vast majority of them are evil and want to kill me.
We can disagree with people about theology and about what legal and cultural norms should be without hating each other. The more we know other people in groups we consider to be “the other side,” the more we find out that they’re much more like us than we realize.
Just as there’s no one person or one group who speaks for all Christians (or even for most Christians), there’s also nobody who speaks for most Muslims. Just as we’re individuals with our own beliefs and prejudices, they’re the same way.
If you claim to believe in individual freedom or the Christian faith, one of the best things you can do is to get to know individual Muslims as individual human beings. Show them who you are. Show them that you have good will for anyone who has good will for you. Show them that the stereotype of us is no more accurate than the stereotype that many of us have of them.
We need to find a way to put aside the hate and treat each other as individuals. The more we get to know each other and break down the dishonest stereotypes, the more we can quit hating each other and find peaceful ways of living on the same planet.