A quick look at the daily news could lead one to believe that Muslims are bent on destroying Western civilization.
However, Islam is not the only religion that has been politically manipulated by the fringe extremism within its ranks.
According to Theocracy Watch, an online public information project at Cornell University, a sect of Christians has united with a small group of Republicans to advance their fundamentalist agenda.
At a religious-political conference in February 2005, Pastor D. James Kennedy said: "Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government ... in short, over every aspect and institution of human society."
Certainly, every American is entitled to freedom of speech and religion. However, a double standard exists in the United States today. No one holds Christianity to account when fundamentalists like Mr. Kennedy advocate a theocratic revolution, but American Muslims are held liable for each extremist Muslim"s point of view. In both cases, the few rarely represent the majority.
It is unlikely that most American Christians would support the Aryan Nation"s program of Aryan Jihad, which, according to the group"s Web site, calls for "Judaic-influenced society and governmental infrastructures to be pushed into a state of perpetual revolution."
And yet, when one Muslim wrote – more than a decade and a half ago – that he thought jihad, or spiritual warfare, was an appropriate tactic to gain an Islamic foothold in North America, many hold the entire American Muslim community accountable. The 16-year old Muslim Brotherhood memo was submitted as evidence in the Holy Land Foundation trial, in which the government claims that HLF provided material support to Hamas through its humanitarian work. The moderate Islamic charity says it awarded aid "based on need, not creed."
If we can accept that the Aryan Nation does not represent all Christians, let us also consider that Mohamed Akram, the author of the memo, does not stand for what all Muslims believe. The U.S. government wants to establish a link between the memo and the charity, but guilt by association breaks the rule of law in this democratic country.
The Muslim Brotherhood, like most organizations, has a nuanced and intricate agenda. With different branches in several countries, the groups operate independently and vary widely in opinions and tactics. Islam is monotheistic but not monolithic.
Integrating different cultures and religions takes patience and willingness. In April, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) met with an independent lawmaker in Egypt who also belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood. A senior U.S. official commented: "This doesn"t mean we are embracing the group. It means we recognize that we have to listen to a wide range of voices."
Militarism has dominated recent U.S. foreign policy instead of diplomacy, particularly in the Muslim world. The "war on terrorism" is not a revival of the medieval Crusades. Its title implies a desire to end or minimize political violence against innocent civilians.
There will come a time when Americans must ask: Are we willing to continue an endless battle against an enemy we don"t understand, or are we going to try to learn the complexities of an increasingly globalized, intercultural world? Will we continue to pull the trigger like the global bully, or are we willing to come to the table and engage in a dialogue like adults?
Beth Freed is communications coordinator for the Hungry for Justice Coalition, a network of civil rights advocates with concerns about the fairness of the Holy Land Foundation trial. E-mail her at [email protected].