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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

Falwell and Co.'s Vitriol Makes for a World of Hurt

October 13, 2002|Benjamin J. Hubbard

Consistent with his penchant for false and hurtful speech, the Rev. Jerry Falwell on Oct. 6 used a CBS "60 Minutes" broadcast to brand the prophet Muhammad "a terrorist." This puts Falwell in the bigoted company of fellow TV preacher Pat Robertson, who labeled Muhammad "a killer" during a Sept. 18 appearance on a Fox News show, and former Southern Baptist president Jerry Vines, who called the prophet a "demon-possessed pedophile."

It is true that Muhammad led a Medinan army against his enemies in Mecca in the name of conquering the city for God/Allah. But it's also true that he granted his enemies amnesty once the city was in his hands. A similar religious motivation led Moses to do battle with the Medianites, Joshua with the Canaanites, Saul with the Philistines and David with the Jebusites. So, by Falwell's logic, let us add these biblical figures to the list of terrorist killers. And let them join St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached the Second Crusade and St. Joan of Arc, that French teen terrorist.

The charge of pedophilia against Muhammad stems apparently from his marriage to Aishah when she was 16. But according to most Muslim scholars, they did not live as man and wife until she was 19. If contemporary standards were used, one has to wonder how many of his 700 wives and 300 concubines King Solomon might have statutorily raped during his reign.

Not only do the Reverends Falwell, Robertson and Vines lack historical perspective when they make these vile charges, they foment religious and racial bigotry. According to a Sept. 16 report from California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, there was a 15.5% increase in hate crimes statewide in 2001 sparked largely by the anti-Arab backlash following the 9/11 attacks.

Rusty Kennedy, director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, said there was a 50% rise in hate crimes in the county in 2001, and that 69 of the 181 total incidents (38%) were directed against Arabs or Muslims. In 2000, there were just eight anti-Arab/Muslim hate crimes. Those who commit such acts, Kennedy said, "are fringe people or criminals who feel empowered by what is said in the public arena." Similarly, he noted, if people of conscience stand together against hate, "it influences the fringe."

Not only might Falwell and company's words very likely spark bigotry in America, they already have caused a riot in India's Jammu and Kashmir state. After learning of Falwell's comments in a newspaper article, thousands of Muslims forced shops to close and overturned vehicles in this tinderbox region of religious and ethnic tension.

The same kind of ignorance and bigotry that prompted Falwell to utter his blasphemy against Muhammad and Islam is apparent in the anti-Semitic -- posing as anti-Israel -- campaign of some elements of the Arab press. This has included Holocaust denial and variations on the "blood libel," the charge that Jews use the blood of murdered Christian children to make matzo for Passover.

Al-Jazirah, a state-run Saudi newspaper, ran an article by Muhammad bin S'ad Al-Shwey'ir claiming that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children to make pastries for the festival of Purim. The paper's editor later disavowed the article, but the damage had been done.

In a similar vein, a cartoon in the prominent Greek daily newspaper Ethnos in April showed two Israeli soldiers stabbing Palestinians and saying, "Don't feel guilty, brother. We were not in Auschwitz and Dachau to suffer but to learn." And three mainstream Greek dailies ran an article supplied to the Athenian News Agency by a Palestinian organization claiming that Israelis were selling the organs of dead Palestinian fighters and performing medical experiments on Arab prisoners.

Evil and ignorant words -- whether directed against a religion, a racial group or a minority such as gays and lesbians -- have the power to incite hatred and violence. Falwell and his anti-Muslim ilk, and the world's anti-Semites, need to consider the spiritual pain and potential verbal and physical abuse their words can cause to Muslims or Jews.

Correspondingly, the courageous words and deeds of good people, in opposing ignorance and hate, have the power to blunt bigotry and mend the world.

*

Benjamin J. Hubbard is a professor and chair of the department of comparative religion at Cal State Fullerton.

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