US Christian groups plead for compassion for Muslim refugees

jesus-paintingSince the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13, governors of more than half of the US’s 50 states have said they will not welcome Syrian refugees—defying President Barack Obama’s September announcement that the US would take 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. While many arecalling their remarks Islamophobic and politically motivated, Christian church groups have been particularly outspoken about the governors’ lack of compassion.

A number of these church groups and church-affiliated missions have a long tradition of working with the federal government to place refugees in local communities; some have been resettling refugees in the US since World War II.

The governors’ statements don’t necessarily carry legal weight—the Federal government has the power to decide where refugees resettle in the US—but their remarks still seem to be having an impact. Twenty Syrian refugees were supposed to arrive in the “Quad cities,” four adjoining counties in Iowa and Illinois, via World Relief, a non-profit started by a national coalition of evangelical churches during WWII. But after Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said they would block any efforts to resettle Syrians in their states, those plans are on hold, World Relief said.

This isn’t exactly Christian, said World Relief. “Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors,” Amy Rowell, director of the Moline, Illinois officetold local news. “The parable of the good Samaritan comes to mind, making it absolutely clear that our neighbors cannot be limited to those of our same ethnicity or religious traditions.”


Should we call it ‘radical Islam’?

151122185121-01-belgium-1122-exlarge-169John McWhorter teaches linguistics, American studies, philosophy and music history at Columbia University and is the author of “The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

John McWhorter(CNN)Republicans who despise Democrats such as Hillary Clinton for describing America as in a battle against “terrorism” rather than “radical Islam” need to get out of the sandbox. Their charge is, at heart, childish.

The gripe is that Clinton, President Barack Obama and others, in refusing to say we are battling radical Islam, are too caught up in political correctness to even call our enemies by name. The further implication is that our leaders’ reluctance to directly call out our enemies stems from not truly considering them culpable — i.e., believing that the West had it coming.

No. The complainants think that as long as we say “radical Islam” rather than “Islam” alone, we are suitably specifying that we don’t hate Muslims. But that isn’t how it would appear to Muslims themselves, and for understandable reasons.

In a sentence such as “We must eradicate radical Islam,” the object of eradicate is technically “radical Islam,” yes, but the core object, the heart of the expression “radical Islam” is “Islam.” Radical Islam is a kind of Islam. The object of the eradication in the sentence is “Islam,” modified by “radical.”

That affects how one processes such a sentence — the adjective can come off as a kind of decoration. “I’m thinking about one of those juicy steaks” — note how we process the person mainly as thinking about steak, not steaks with the particular quality of being juicy. The “juicy” feels parenthetical.


Anti-Muslim Is Anti-American

blow-circular-thumbLarge-v5by Charles M. Blow 

There seems to be no bottom to the cesspool of Islamophobic rhetoric coming from Republican candidates.

The tone of anti-Muslim musings post-Paris attack has become so poisonous that it cannot portend anything positive.

In the latest, the Republican front-runner said the United States would have “absolutely no choice” but to close some mosques. And, when asked by a reporter, he seemed to suggest he wouldn’t have a problem registering Muslims, which many have condemned, comparing it to the way Jews were once treated. (After heavy bipartisan criticism, he tried to walk back his remarks about the registry.)

And then Dr. Ben Carson drew a tortured parallel between Syrian refugees, who are mostly Muslim, and “a rabid dog running around your neighborhood.”

Robert McCaw, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Al Jazeera that Carson’s remarks were “unthinkable,” saying, “There is only one thing you do with a rabid dog — and that’s put it down.”

Indeed, this is the problem with reckless, racist rhetoric: Each utterance tosses one more log onto the bonfire that can burn out a space for the unimaginable.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned in his 1967 “The Other America” speech: “Racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide.” As King put it:

“If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.”

Whereas these candidates may not be conscious of this “ultimate logic” or in any way approve of it, it doesn’t make their language any less dangerous when it lands on the ears of the minorities on the margins, or those looking for a reason to gussy up their wrongheadedness with righteousness.


My Life as a Muslim in the West’s ‘Gray Zone’

29firstwords-master675-v2Some months ago, I gave a reading from my most recent novel in Scottsdale, Ariz. During the discussion that followed, a woman asked me to talk about my upbringing in Morocco. It’s natural for readers to be curious about a writer they’ve come to hear, I told myself. I continued to tell myself this even after the conversation drifted to Islam, and then to ISIS. Eventually, another woman raised her hand and said that the only Muslims she saw when she turned on the television were extremists. “Why aren’t we hearing more from people like you?” she asked me.

“You are,” I said with a nervous laugh. “Right now.” I wanted to tell her that there were plenty of ordinary Muslims in this country. We come in all races and ethnicities. Some of us are more visible by virtue of beards or head scarves. Others are less conspicuous, unless they give book talks and it becomes clear that they, too, identify as Muslims.

To be fair, I’m not a very good Muslim. I don’t perform daily prayers anymore. I have never been on a pilgrimage to Mecca. I partake of the forbidden drink. I do give to charity whenever I can, but I imagine that this would not be enough to save me were I to have the misfortune, through an accident of birth or migration, to live in a place like Raqqa, Syria, where in the last two years, the group variously known as Daesh, ISIL or ISIS has established a caliphate: a successor to past Islamic empires. Life in Raqqa reportedly follows rules that range from the horrifying to the absurd: The heads of people who have been executed are posted on spikes in the town’s main square; women must wear a niqab and be accompanied by a male companion when they go out; smoking and swearing are not allowed; chemistry is no longer taught in schools and traffic police are not permitted to have whistles because ISIS considers them un-Islamic.

As part of its efforts to spread its message outside the territory it controls, ISIS puts out an English-language magazine, Dabiq, which can be found online. In February, Dabiq featured a 12-page article, complete with high-resolution photos and multiple footnotes, cheering the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and claiming that they made manifest for the world two camps: the camp of Islam under the caliphate and the camp of the West under the crusaders. The article ran under the title “The Extinction of the Grayzone.” The gray zone is the space inhabited by any Muslim who has not joined the ranks of either ISIS or the crusaders. Throughout the article, these Muslims are called “the grayish,” “the hypocrites” and, for variety, “the grayish hypocrites.”



Christians and Muslims fight to protect ancient Christian town against ISIS

sadadAs ISIS advances on Sadad, a strategic Syrian town near Homs, hundreds of Christian and Muslim fighters are battling to defend it.

Islamic State militants began an offensive in the ancient Assyrian heartlands on October 31, capturing Maheen, a town just four miles from Sadad.

Sadad is considered strategic because it lies between Homs and Damascus, the capital of Syria, and two years ago was overrun by ISIS. It was recaptured by the Syrian army, but not before almost 50 Christians were massacred, and believers are once again fleeing the town in fear of the militants. The population of the town has dropped from 15,000 to just 2,000 in the past few months.

In an interview with Newsweek, Mor Ignatius Aphrem Karim II, the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, confirmed that Sadad is under siege. But as the militants attack, at least 200 Syriac Christian fighters have been joined by Muslims from across Syria in an attempt to push them back.

“IS advanced toward Sadad but they were not able to enter,” Karim said. “The young people in Sadad, with the help of some armed groups, were able to fight back and push IS back to where they started. They are helped by some groups coming from different parts of Syria also.”


Being Muslim on Campus

NYPD Intelligence Colleges
In this Friday, Oct. 7, 2011 photo, people walk on the campus of Brooklyn College in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Investigators have been infiltrating Muslim student groups at Brooklyn College and other schools in the city, monitoring their Internet activity and placing undercover agents in their ranks, police documents obtained by The Associated Press show. Legal experts say the operation may have broken a 19-year-old pact with the colleges and violated U.S. privacy laws, jeopardizing millions of dollars in federal research money and student aid. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In the wake of terrorism, the burdens of Islamophobia fall especially hard on students.

Even before the Paris Attacks, Muslims on American college campuses were often the targets of hatred or violence. In November, Virginia Tech responded to a threat that claimed “I will kill all Muslims,” and Islamophobic posters were hung at American University. And it’s only gotten worse since.

“People are a little more careful traveling alone, going out at night, walking to their cars,” Adeel Zeb, the Muslim Chaplain and director of Muslim life at Duke University, told me. And that reality plays an important role in the everyday lives of students.

Across the country right now, students are walking out of classes, demanding administrators’ resignations, and staging protests to draw attention to prejudice on campus—and to press for greater inclusion. Most of their focus, though, has been on race. Where does pushback against Islamophobia fit in?

Many Americans, including some presidential candidates, draw little distinction between the violent ideologies of extremist groups and mainstream Islam. As a result, there is often an anti-Muslim backlash in the wake of attacks, despite overwhelming condemnation of terrorism and the use of the Quran to justify mass murder among practicing Muslims. As my colleague Conor Friedersdorf points out:

Hate crimes against American Muslims spiked tremendously after 9/11. Hate crimes against Sikhs increased too. In Britain, hate crimessoared after the London bombing. And after the attack on Charlie Hebdo earlier this year, The Independent reported that “twenty-six mosques around France have been subject to attack by firebombs, gunfire, pig heads, and grenades as Muslims are targeted with violence.


Isis wants Christians and Muslims to fight a war. Will Republicans take the bait?

The distended Republican presidential field’s response to the terror attacks in Paris is a conglomeration of policy proposals that look something like this: a ground invasion of Syria and Iraq that will explicitly be less careful about killing civilians, combined with a policy of relief for refugees only if they’re Christians.

One can almost see the Islamic State’s top ideologues and propagandists celebrating. And why not? Muslims the world over, which Isis views (wrongly) as a sea of potential recruits, could be forgiven for viewing the Republican rhetoric as a declaration of holy war against their co-religionists.

I wish my thumbnail descriptions of Republicans’ talking points were a joke, but they’re not. And the policies described by the candidates line up almost exactly with the image of America that Isis seeks to portray in its propaganda. The target for Isis’s messaging was made abundantly clear in a statement last month from the group: “Islamic youth everywhere, ignite jihad against the Russians and the Americans in their crusaders’ war against Muslims,” said Isis spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.

When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians, but not the Muslims … when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful.