America in the last quarter of the 20th Century might aptly be called the age of Ann Landers, where ordinary people turned to purveyors of homespun wisdom to make sense of the difficult realities of life. In contrast, the first quarter of the 21st Century is shaping up to be the age of La-La Landers, where ordinary folks are gobbling down the pollyannish artifice of those living La-la Land, who offer clichés divorced from reality.
We see this in so many arenas today. Mainline denominations such as the PCUSA have been losing membership and financial support yearly since 1965, with that trajectory deepening in the last decade as these liberal Protestant communions have merged their vision with that of the political left and thrown their biblical identity on the trash heap. Down from a highpoint of 4.5 million members in 1965 to one of 1.57 million in 2015, the newly-elected parliamentary head of the denomination declared this past June, “We are not dying. We are reforming. We are alive and well and will transform this world, one person at a time.” Not surprisingly, the headquarters of the PCUSA is now located in La-La Land, as you can probably tell.
In the world of presidential politics, we were told in 2004 that we are not a collection of red states and blue states, but the United States. 2008 brought promises of “hope and change,” a country unified behind its first African-American president, and the most transparent administration in history. After eight years of increasing rancor and divisiveness, and an administration plagued by scandals stonewalled by its Department of Justice, we now have a population almost equally divided between red and blue, and equally disgusted with politicians on both sides of the aisle. Part of the reason for this backlash by voters to bring in an outsider as President-elect is, I’m convinced, that many Americans feel our politicians have been living in La-La Land, and have been feeding us fantasies about life in America and around the world, while our eyes tell us otherwise.
But perhaps the most pressing evidence of willful blindness about reality comes from Muslim and non-Muslim leaders selling us the scam called Islamophobia. Defined as “an irrational fear/hatred of Islam or Muslims,” this label has been used as a bat to bludgeon any who might question whether Islam is truly a religion of peace and why so many Muslims around the world seem inclined to use violence to get their way. Few people seem to know that since 9/11 there have been over 29,800 deadly terror attacks around the globe committed by Muslims. This number does not include attacks where no one died, nor does it count the publicly-unknown number of attacks foiled by law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, which if successful would have caused added mayhem to our world. There are no even-remotely comparable numbers which can be attributed to followers of any other recognized religion. Perhaps the fear of Islam/Muslims which many Americans feel is not so irrational after all.
Of course, the complicated catch in all this is that most Muslims today are not violent jihadis, plotting as they walk by you on the street how they are going to blow up the skyscraper you work in. How does one determine which is which?
No doubt the answer to that is complex, but there can be no start until we admit the reality of the problem. How many times have you heard officials blithely declare that “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam,” that “Violence is not permitted in Islam,” that “Islam is a religion of peace,” and other related falsehoods? Those deeply familiar with Islam know better. So why is this deception trotted out with nauseating repetition by both Muslim leaders and non-Muslim politicians? Presumably the Muslim leaders know better, so when they declare that Islam is a religion of peace they are consciously attributing different meanings to their words than what they know will be the meanings formed in the minds of their ignorant listeners, or they are speaking of the Islam they wish existed in their La-La Land of religious dreams rather than the Islam lived and practiced by their prophet and his faithful followers, the Islam recorded in the Qur’an, Hadith and Sira traditions. When Western politicians spout these same bromides in ignorance, I’m convinced that most of them actually believe what they are saying. The only religions they have had any brush with in their lives (principally Judaism and Christianity) have been religions of peace, so they wrongly assume that all religions must be peaceful. They cloak Islam in their own La-La Land dreams and then declare as reassuring truth their own mind-numbing naivete.
By use of shaming labels (Islamophobic, bigoted, racist, xenophobic…), the PC culture effective prevents the necessary and salutary discussion of the possible inherent relationship between radical Muslims and orthodox Islam. So instead of addressing the real problem and perhaps finally coming up with some sane suggestions as to how to react to the multi-faceted challenges raised by the impinging world of Islam, we are told that the problem lies elsewhere:
Islam is not the problem – extremism is. But what does this mean? There are endless numbers of extremists, but most of them cause no trouble for society. There are extremist ice-cream lovers. Perhaps they are a nuisance to the staff of their local Baskin-Robbins, or to shoppers at Safeway who find the freezers bare of all brands of Rocky Road, but they are no existential threat to the West. There are extremist adventurers, who want to jump off cliffs in winged suits and fly like eagles. They are no danger to anyone except themselves. You get the point. What leads to danger from extremists is the belief systems they embrace. And only certain belief systems demand the subjugation or execution of infidels. Islam is one of them, and its extremists believe that their god demands the Muslim community to advance and conquer the non-Muslim world, using whatever means necessary, including terror and violence.
Islam is not the problem – poverty is (or any number of other social ills you can substitute for poverty: joblessness, hopelessness, victimization, lack of education, or my favorite, inequality…). The problem with this “analysis” is that it can’t account for the fact that non-Muslims raised in the same cultures facing the same societal issues do not react by becoming religious (or even secular) terrorists. Even more stunning, studies show that many Islamic terrorists come from economically-privileged and highly educated backgrounds – their prompting is Islamic ideology, not social privation.
Islam is not the problem – Islamophobia is. In this scenario, the victims become the aggressors. Islam is simply a peaceful religion minding its own business until radical, non-Muslim haters come along and start persecuting innocent, peace-loving believers who just want to live their own lives out according to their private convictions. What motivated the Islamophobes? It can’t be the religion of Islam itself, which we are all told is so wonderful. So it must be fear – fear of those who don’t look like us, who have different traditions from us, who don’t speak like us…. But of course, Westerners have not had the same kind of reaction to other foreigners who seem exotic. Look at Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Peruvian and other groups in our midst. Where are the Shintophobes, Confucianophobes, Buddhaphobes, Taophobes, Hinduphobes, Incaphobes? Where is the fear equivalent to what we see linked with Islam? There is none, leading to the conclusion that the fear many feel toward Islam and Muslims has little to do with xenophobia or bigotry, but rather to something inherent in Islam and the way it is practiced by a significant number of Muslims
Islam is not the problem – there is no problem. Whatever the terror event that has unfolded, we are told that the motive is unclear, that this was just an isolated case of a mentally unbalanced individual or group suffering great pain, and that it has no connection to anything larger.
Which brings me to the latest PC case in La-La Land, this one related to Islamic terrorism:
Yesterday a Somali Muslim college student at Ohio State University used his car as a battering ram and then wielded a knife to try to kill as many “infidels” as he could. “Coincidentally,” over the last two months ISIS has urged faithful Muslims to use cars and knives (for these are easy to acquire) to target non-Muslims around them. Fortunately, no one was killed by this attack (except the terrorist), although 11 were injured. Before he initiated this attack, Abdul Razak Ali Artan had posted some pro-Islamic, anti-American rants on Facebook, including this passionate declaration: “By Allah, I am willing to kill a billion infidels in retribution for a single DISABLED [sic] Muslim/Muslimah.” He also indicated that he had been avidly listening to the teachings of Anwar al-Awlaki, the now dead cleric who had served as a major mouthpiece for al-Qaeda and its core Islamic message.
Yet as the dust settled from this attack, it became crystal clear that we are firmly in La-la Land. Authorities refused to speculate as to whether this was an act of terrorism. They were still seeking to discover what Artan’s motivation could possibly have been. Initial reports refrained from identifying him as a Muslim, though evidence of that was immediate and undeniable. Instead of a condemnation of Islamic terrorism and a call to examine what role Islam played in his actions, officials were quick to warn Americans against Islamophobia. The White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, announced that Artan was probably motivated by “extremism,” though his motives were still under investigation. Then he lectured them and all viewers with the following:
“If we respond to this situation by casting aspersions on millions of people that adhere to a particular religion or if we increase our suspicion of people who practice a particular religion, we are more likely going to contribute to acts of violence than we are to prevent them.”
In other words, beware the real enemy – Islamophobia. Media stations were quick to interview Muslim students who shared their worries that they might become victims of intolerant backlash, but no one seemed concerned for the vast numbers of infidels who may become today’s victims of more Islamically-inspired atrocities. We must be in La-La Land.
This morning, less than 24 hours after the terrorist event, an Assistant Director of Student Residence Life at OSU, Stephanie Clemons Thompson, posted on Facebook a reminder that Artan was a Buckeye, “a member of our family.” She urged that people think compassionately about Artan’s life, about how troubled he obviously was. “Think of the pain he must have been in to feel that his actions were the only solution.” She ends the post with three Twitter hashtags: #BuckeyeStrong, #BlackLivesMatter, and #SayHisName, followed by the obviously ineffectual imperative, “DO NOT SHARE THIS POST,” as if she subliminally understood that her perspective might not be well-received by the larger public. She also threatened to unfriend any who thought it acceptable to celebrate Artan’s death.
I think I understand something of Ms. Thompson’s heart – it is a good thing to show compassion to others, even to enemies, as Jesus teaches us. But to assume he was driven by pain and deeply troubled in order to commit such an atrocity betrays her own world view rather than understanding Artan’s. He clearly linked his intentions to his religious conviction that Islam must conquer the non-Muslim world, and wished that he could be the avenger of even one injured Muslim by killing a billion infidels. We may define him as troubled and in pain, but if so this condition was caused by his belief that Islam was under attack and he needed to come to Allah’s defense.
I also found her choice of Twitter hashtags enlightening — an emphasis on his Buckeye student identity, his skin color and all that connotes in our society, and “SayHisName” which I gather means that he should be remembered and respected as a human being. I checked on Twitter but did not find #KillABillionInfidels. Somehow I doubt she will start that hashtag….
Until people like Ms. Thompson, law enforcement spokespersons, politicians and their minions like Josh Earnest become serious about understanding Islam and reporting incidents accurately and raising pertinent questions that might lead to lasting solutions, the American public is doomed to dwell in La-La Land.
And with regard to the threat of Islam, if we do not wake up from our self-induced stupor, one day we will be forcibly awakened, only to discover that La-La Land has become Allah Land. In case you don’t already know, life is not good there for infidels.