Oprah Winfrey a threat to national security? No, but now that the
war has begun, I worry about her, and here's why.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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"
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.
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.
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
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.
from the program (available at www.oprah.com):
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
main thing we would like non-Muslims to know about our religion
is that we're not so different from them."
would like to reassure the American public that Islam does not preach
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."
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
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.