Anti-Islam Rhetoric Undercuts Moderates

Salam Al-Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which is holding an interfaith panel discussion on religious extremism Dec. 21. Web site:

Now kill all the boys and all the women who have had sexual intercourse.

-- Numbers 31:17

Don’t think that I came to bring peace on earth! No, rather, a sword.

Matthew 10:34


When such violent Old and New Testament verses are quoted, they usually are put in proper historical context. Yet the same standard of interpretation is not applied when the Koran is quoted. In fact, it’s not even allowed. And Islam is called the violent faith.

Because of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, there seems to be open season on Muslim history and sacred texts.

I can understand this knee-jerk response to extremism; if I were not a Muslim, I would have similar sentiments. But rather than dealing with the complex realities of the world by oversimplification of Islam and Muslims, we need to adhere to a common standard of measuring religious attitudes and combating religious extremism from all quarters.


American talk show hosts, columnists and political leaders seem lately to have become experts on Islam, the Arabic language, South Asian politics and Islamic law.

Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, for example, has compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” and the Rev. Pat Robertson has called Muhammad a warrior and Islam violent at its core.

Preaching to Muslims about the need to modify their faith is about as outlandish as Protestants preaching to Catholics about priestly celibacy or Muslims demanding that Judaism be separated from Zionism to remove the terrorist threat from extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

When violent biblical references are brought up, the usual response is that the era of Christian and Jewish violence is long past and that Islam is the problem today. But violence inspired by religious ideology is timeless and afflicts everyone; why not address the issue across the board? Ireland and the former Yugoslavia come to mind.

Let me offer an opinion on those who pontificate on the need for reforming Islam: Your simplistic “solutions” have undermined the authentic and invaluable work of Muslim reformists. When Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz praises those he calls “moderate” Muslims, that in itself marginalizes the people he is promoting.

There have been several new books and television shows on topics involving Islam and Muslims. Some of this is testimony to the curiosity and goodwill of the American people, who want a more educated perspective on issues affecting the United States and the world. But there are those who perpetuate misconceptions about Islam and distorted images of Muslims to feed the war industry, who exploit the pain and suffering of Sept. 11 to lead the United States into wars that do not make sense, as in Iraq.

Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, both of whom have publicly called Islam a violent religion, are politically allied with the Bush administration. Though President Bush has disavowed those positions, Falwell and Robertson have been projected in the Muslim world as spokesmen for all Americans.

When people like former South African President Nelson Mandela declare that the United States is a threat to world peace, when Europeans and Canadians have unfavorable attitudes toward the U.S., then moderation is not just a Muslim problem.

If we want progressive Muslims to be listened to in the Muslim world, we need to stop making them seem like puppets of American authoritarianism.

As an American Muslim, I call on other moderates to talk about the national security interests of our country and to end the counterproductive verbal and political assaults on Islam.