I paused a bit before deciding not to put Christian Terror between quotations. The phrase has no meaning. But, neither does Islamic Terror which has been a catch-word for the mainstream press for far too long. There are institutions and careers built on the notion that there is something inherently Islamic about terrorism in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and beyond. Steven Emerson, Robert Spencer, Chuck Colson and Daniel Pipes are among the more public exponents of this “profession”.
I decided against the quotation marks as a kind of protest. It took Anders Behring’s massacre of innocents in Norway to provoke some in the mainstream press to approach the phrase. The New York Times used the term “Christian Extremist” in its July 24 headline, but never “Christian Terrorist”. You can do the work yourself. Search the NYT for that phrase and then for the phrase “Islamic Terrorist”.
I had a personal encounter with the American fascination for terror in the Islamic world and indifference to extremism, if not terrorism, among Christian communities at home. I was invited last September to speak before a television audience about Muslim outrage at the threat by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Qur’an. The producer and the interviewer were very curious. What will the Muslim masses do if he burns the Qur’an? Will our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq be in more danger? Never mind that there were plenty of reasons for people in the Muslim world to be angry with the US (what do you expect when you are an occupying power?), but why, I wondered– and wonder again today–, were they not interested in the phenomenon of home-grown, down-home violence against Muslims? In March of this year, Rep. Peter King orchestrated a set of public hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community. Just Muslims. (Reminds me of a line from Richard Pryor on blacks in prison: “You go down there looking for justice; that’s what you find: just us.”)
Suffice it to say that today I had to go to Democracy Now! to get the story on Norwegian Christian Terrorism. Lo and behold, the major influences on Breivik’s thinking were American Christian activists, people like Spenser and Colson. Check out Amy Goodman’s interview with author Jeff Sharlet: “Norwegian Shooting Suspect’s Views Echo Xenophobia of Right-Wing Extremists in US“.
Sharlet and other students of the Christian Right are the experts we should be calling on in times like these.
That said, in the battle against Islamophobia there is no shortage of resources on Islam, on contemporary Islamic thought, and on American Islam. To my way of thinking, the best introductions and resources for those genuinely interested in understanding Islam are offered by scholarly, practicing Muslims.
St. Louis happens to be the home of an impressive website devoted to Islam and Islam in America: The American Muslim. It is the labor of love of Sheila Musaji who has kept the publication going since the late 1980s. There are new posts everyday. Novices might be interested in a long list of Muslim voices against extremism and violence, which gives the lie to all-too-common assertions that Muslim leaders do not condemn acts of violence by Muslims.
My favorite scholarly collection of on-line reference works for those interested in Islam is Dr. Alan Godlas’ Islam and Islamic Studies Resources. For basic topics like “Study of Islam”, “Qur’an”, “Hadith”, “The Sunnah”, and “Shi’ism”, Godlas offers a basic orientation, links to short articles and suggestions for further reading. He notes English translations of, for example, important Qur’anic commentaries.
For teachers or teachers-in-training, I can’t overestimate the value of the Teacher’s Institute at Dar al-Isalm near Abiquiu, New Mexico. The Teacher’s Institute is a two-week residential program for educators.
I have the folks at Dar al-Islam to thank for almost everything I know about Islam. Unfortunately, 10 years of graduate school and many years of residence in the Middle East did not prepare me to understand Islam “from the inside”. The instructors at Dar al-Islam are all scholars in their own right but, unusually among those who teach about Islam in the US, they are practicing Muslims as well.
There is much to be said for secularism in higher education, but my education suggests that scholarship must be balanced by first-hand knowledge and experience in order to be as real as possible.