'Until there are churches and synagogues in Saudi Arabia'?

By Martin E. Marty
September 23, 2010

The tantrum in the US — let’s call it what it is — against government, taxes, Muslims, and moderates continues to rage, and will through November and perhaps long after.

A child in a tantrum eventually stops stomping and rejoins the family, where speaking and hearing, agreeing and disagreeing, can resume.

In the meantime in these mean times, out of thousands of choices from columns, blogs, and books for analysis, let me select two, one of the best, and one of the worst.

In The New Republic Leon Wieseltier challenges readers with a question: Is Islam, as some defenders say, “a religion of peace?” He answers, “It is not. Like Christianity and like Judaism, Islam is a religion of peace and a religion of war,” depending on which era and which circumstances bring forth “the tendencies” within the religion. To relate terrorism to movements within Islam “is not Islamophobic. . . Quite the contrary: it is to side with Muslims who are struggling against the same poison as we are.”

As for the World Trade Center attacks, he pleads, don’t erect a cross as a memorial. “Christianity was not attacked on September 11. America was attacked. They are not the same thing.”

American Christians who use the cross in their ads against Islam “do not deplore a religious war, they welcome one.”

By contrast, read William McGurn in The Wall Street Journal. Ask yourself what does he and the tantrum-throwers to his far right, the Newt Gingriches and company want? Peace? Moderation? Can you find the beginning of the beginning of a way to peace in the McGurn column?

Note that, for good measure, he links American liberalism to radical Islam. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, “perhaps” a “moderate Muslim,” Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations, and others support “‘interfaith dialogue,’ and called for American Muslims and non-Muslims to ‘break bread’ together.”

Not on your life, says columnist McGurn. Stooping lowest he asks, “What are the fruits” of the efforts at moderation and dialogue?

These efforts, he writes, produced as fruit the “obscure Florida Pastor” and other would-be Qur’an burners, those who tear out pages of the Qur’an in front of the White House, and—this one is half right—“angry marches between pro- and anti-Islamic Center crowds,” all to be blamed on one “typical experiment in liberal bridge building.”

He implies that there should be no efforts at “interfaith dialogue,” “breaking bread together,” or differentiating moderates from extremists in all faith traditions.

Whom to blame for the current rages? Muslims, of course; one Imam, of course; and “folks who cling to their liberalism and their antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

McGurn does have the grace to scold “Republican politicos” who, thanks to “liberal hectoring,” exploit tensions, “saying no mosque near Ground Zero until we see a church in Saudi Arabia.”

Which sets us up for Wieseltier’s best line: “I also hear that there should be no mosque in Park Place until there are churches and synagogues in Saudi Arabia. I get it. Until they are like us, we will be like them.”


(c) Martin E. Marty The author is a leading US commentator on religion - and the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. His biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.

With grateful acknowledgements to Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Illinois, USA.

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