Islam According to Oprah
by Rod Dreher
Is Oprah Winfrey a threat to national security? No, but now that the war has begun, I worry about her, and here's why.
The nation cannot afford the naive illusions that have given many Americans comfort in peacetime. Chief among them is the notion, repeated ad nauseam by our leaders and the media, that Islam is a religion of peace. This may not be an outright lie, but it is so far from the full truth as to approach falsehood.
Americans have been told that they shouldn't attack the Muslims among us, and only the lowest of the low would disagree. The American people, with very few exceptions, have risen to the challenge to be humane, decent, and loving toward Muslims in this country. Well and good.
Americans by nature want to think the best of those from other cultures. But we run the risk of blinding ourselves to the nature of the threat facing our country and our civilization. In his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Harvard's Samuel P. Huntington warned us of deluding ourselves about the true nature of the Islamic threat.
"Some Westerners, including President Bill Clinton, have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists," Huntington wrote. "Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise."
We can sit around making diversity quilts and thinking happy thoughts, or we can, with charity, commit ourselves to soberly assessing the historical and present-day reality of "peaceful" Islam, and its relations with non-Muslims.
Which brings us to Oprah. Last Friday, she devoted her program to "Islam 101," purportedly a crash course in the Mohammedan faith for her vast television audience of clueless Americans. It was grossly imbalanced and extremely dishonest. In fact, given how many Christians and other non-Muslims are horrifically persecuted today by Muslims in the name of Islam, it amounted to offensive propaganda.
Oprah called Islam "the most misunderstood of the three major religions" — yet did her best to add to the confusion by candy-coating the complicated truth about the Muslim faith. If you were to take Oprah's show as your guide to Islam, you would think Muslims were basically Episcopalians in veils and turbans.
Take her interview with Queen Rania of Jordan, a lovely, modern young woman who looks more at home in the pages of Vogue than in a hijab. The queen said that Islam "doesn't impose anything" on people — an absurd lie. Oprah asked her about the so-called "honor killings" of women in Jordan, murders committed by men against women in their families who are believed to have shamed the clan. For example, some young women who have been raped are in turn murdered by their male relatives for having stained the family's honor.
Progressive forces, supported by the palace and Jordan's Islamic religious establishment, tried to outlaw these killings in 1999, but were thwarted by the conservative Islamist party in Parliament. Queen Rania, reflecting establishment opinion, told Oprah that honor killings were a "cultural" phenomenon.
If that's true, then why have pre-Islamic Arabic tribal customs been taken up and spread throughout the Muslim world? Moreover, many Islamic religious leaders endorse them, or lesser violent punishment of women for the same dubious offenses.
Anyway, if one grants, for the sake of argument, the queen's contention that the Koran doesn't endorse honor killings, so what? Clearly very many Muslims believe honor killings are Islamic doctrine, and act on those beliefs — and we must be aware of that, and let that reality inform our judgment. If one were a Jew in Torquemada's Spain, it would be useless to be told that the Inquisition was a betrayal of Christianity. Theological disputes would be ancillary to the question of survival: what would matter would be how the local Christians interpreted their faith.
Queen Rania's dismissal of Muslim behavior that brings discredit upon Islam as un-Islamic brings to mind the bankrupt apologies leftists made during the Cold War for Communism. When the wickedness of the Soviets, or other Communist forces, could not be denied, it was claimed that these people did not represent "true" Communism. They may have actually believed that, but those who would be victims of real Communists, not theoretical Communists, didn't have that luxury.
Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, turned up to say that "There is nothing in Islam that does not accord women equal rights." Oprah did not ask her to name one Muslim society in which women enjoy equal rights in the Western sense, because the ambassador would have had to remain silent. Or perhaps not: she had no trouble lying when she asserted that it was "absolutely untrue" that some people in her nation had taken to the streets to celebrate the September 11 attack.
Other quotes, from the program (available at www.oprah.com):
— "Muslims do not think that there is a non-Islamic world out there that we have to conquer. That is not the concept in Islam. Our job is to get to know one another, and the more we do that the better off we are."
— "The main thing we would like non-Muslims to know about our religion is that we're not so different from them."
— "I would like to reassure the American public that Islam does not preach violence."
— "Islam and Christianity and Judaism, and all the world's religions share a common heritage. We come from the same root. And our prophets and the characters in our holy books are the same. In Islam, all the religions are permitted to exist in peace with these others until Judgement Day."
That Oprah let these statements be broadcast unchallenged is appalling, an absurd fantasy that ignores the enormous suffering actual Muslims are inflicting on non-Muslim populations worldwide. "Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors," Harvard's Huntington wrote. "Muslims make up about one-fifth of the world's population but in the 1990s they have been far more involved in intergroup violence than the people of any other civilization. The evidence is overwhelming."
In Sudan, the Muslim government in Khartoum imposed Islamic law nationwide in 1993, and has killed 2 million Sudanese Christians and animists, and enslaved countless more, in an attempt to Islamize the country. Coptic Christians in Egypt, whose presence in that country predates the arrival of Islam, have been slaughtered by fundamentalist Muslims, with authorities doing little or nothing to stop them.
In the Philippines and East Timor, Christians are being massacred by Muslims. Churches and Christian homes in Nigeria are being burned, and Christians murdered, by Muslim extremists. Arab Christians are oppressed by Muslims in the Holy Land, too. In Nazareth, Muslims are building a mosque just steps from the Basilica of the Annunciation, and make no secret of their intent to provoke and intimidate Christians. An imam in Gaza earlier this year broadcast a sermon over Palestinian Authority radio calling on Muslims to murder Christians and Jews as their Islamic duty. The ancient Christian presence in many Arab lands — Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, among others — has been decimated in the last century by Muslim persecution.
The list goes on and on. While it is true that there are relatively peaceful Muslims who wish us no harm — the Sufis of Turkey come to mind, but there are others — it is unarguable that very many Muslims and their leaders despise non-Muslims, attack us rhetorically in religious terms, and wish to see us die for our infidelity to Allah. To these Muslims, many of whom are Wahhabi (the Muslim sect that, according to Islam scholar Stephen Schwartz, accounts for 80 percent of the imams in the United States today), there are two worlds: that of Islam, and that of war. No compromise is possible between them.
What can possibly be gained from ignoring this ugly reality? Nothing — and a great deal to be lost. As Andrew Sullivan notes in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, our leaders' "laudable" post-9/11 efforts to discourage seeing the conflict in religious terms "doesn't hold up under inspection."
"The religious dimension of this conflict is central to its meaning," Sullivan writes, adding that it would be "naive to ignore in Islam a deep thread of intolerance toward unbelievers, especially if those unbelievers are believed to be a threat to the Islamic world."
It's naive to ignore it on a macro level, and it's naive to ignore it on a micro level, too. We know that the Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks lived for years peacefully among other Americans. We also know that they couldn't have carried out their operations without the support of others. Further, we know that some mosques and Islamic institutions in this country have been helpful to the jihadists. Believing that the threat to America comes simply from foreign Islamic extremists may make Oprah viewers feel better, but it's dangerous — and it lets moderate, patriotic American Muslims evade their responsibility to repudiate and root out fundamentalists among them. In Sunday's New York Times, a reporter wrote of interviews she had with Muslim American students right here in my own Brooklyn neighborhood. One of the male students said, on the record, that he would abandon the United States and give his own life to back an "observant Muslim who is fighting for an Islamic cause." Oprah honey, this is called sedition, and if there is an Islamic fifth column in this country, the American public needs to know about it.
American Muslims understandably feel pressured now to show the non-Muslim majority that they are no threat, and well-meaning dolts like Oprah are key to this effort. Watching Oprah's "Islam 101" program, I thought of the Lebanese Catholics at my church, who stopped me after a prayer service for the World Trade Center dead to talk, on the record, about the anti-Arab persecution they feared coming.
They all said they knew plenty of Muslims here in New York who were peace-loving people, and that it would be wrong to think ill of them. I asked these Arab Christians if these Muslims supported terrorist organizations, monetarily or otherwise. Every one of them said yes, sheepishly. After the interview was over, the group asked me not to use their last names. They were afraid of being physically attacked by Muslims in their neighborhoods — this, for standing up for America in print.
"That's amazing," I said to them. "You are all Christians living in the United States of America, yet you are afraid to have your names attached to patriotic statements, out of fear that your Muslim neighbors, the same people you are defending to me, will attack you. What does that say about the reality of Islam in America?"
They did not answer me, because they had no answer. Think about that next time you're told that Islam is a religion of peace. There's more to the story than what Oprah is telling you.
Related Topics: American Muslims, Muslim-Christian Relations receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list
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