Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Falwell and the Religious Right

In 2003 I wrote a book about bigotry in America. I pointed out examples of its presence in all of our lives, despite the opinion of so many people that in recent years, racism is not as prevalent as it was in the mid 1900's. I wrote the book because that opinion is wrong, and in fact dangerous, because the racism of today's politically-correct society is hidden just below the surface and ready to rear its ugly little ignorant head at any moment, for any reason.

Here is an excerpt from that book, specifically chosen today because one of the best examples of subliminal and acceptable hatred was in the form of Jerry Falwell, who rides the headlines in his death this morning.

(From Pardon My Prejudice, America's Excuse for Bigotry)

The fanning of the flames of bigotry against Muslims in America since the events of September 11 comes partly from the statements made by influential well-known leaders of Conservative Christianity, also referred to as the “religious right,” as in “right wing.” Included in this group is the Reverend Jerry Falwell. Falwell gave an interview for “60 Minutes” in October, 2002, in which he stated,

"I think Mohammed was a terrorist. I read enough…by both Muslims and non-Muslims, [to decide] that he was a violent man, a man of war. I n my opinion…Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses, and I think Mohammed set an opposite example." (Falwell told Simon)

It is important to recognize that millions of Americans follow his right-wing Christian point of view, which is practically a formal doctrine. This doctrine includes his outlook that Israel must be a Jewish state. That is because according to him, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ can only happen under this specific circumstance. His idea also stipulates the EXCLUSION of Muslims being in control of any Israeli “biblical” territory. And therefore, after the ultimate war of Armageddon, he believes Christianity will rule and all remaining Jews will convert at that time.

The fact that this point of view is supported by millions of Christians means that it can’t be eschewed as some strange claim of a fringe group. The views of Reverend Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other leaders of the right-wing Christian “moral majority,” are interpreted by them as mainstream biblical fact. And they believe this is what makes an honest, moral American.

The truth is, Falwell, Robertson and others of the religious right, represent a minority of Christian Americans. Since the extreme point of view of the religious right does not represent the belief of a majority of Christians, the same can be said about those who follow Islam. Not everyone who is of the faith of Islam can be categorized as extremist as depicted by Falwell’s comments.

Regardless of the religious faith, it is the fanatics who are dangerous, not the religion.
When asked about Falwell’s interview, Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relation in Washington, DC, said:

“Anybody is free to be a bigot if they want to. What really concerns us is the lack of reaction by mainstream religious and political leaders, who say nothing when these bigots voice these attacks.” [CNN.com 10/2/02]

It is one thing for Falwell to have a platform to promote bigotry, it is another problem to have silence from the majority who could speak out against this bigotry. His comments only polarize the country, pandering to the simmering hate that he should be trying to quell. His intent was to provoke a racist and blaming atmosphere.

In a Los Angeles Times article almost two weeks later, The executive board of the National Council of Churches finally said “Falwell’s remark…was uninformed and dangerous. This council called on President Bush to repudiate Falwell’s words.” [LA TIMES 10/12/02]
They wanted the President to speak out against Falwell and bigoted statements like these.

However the effects of Falwell’s words were already put into action. Conflict arose, and killing was the outcome, all over Falwell’s inciteful words.
The headline read, “Nine people dead” [LA TIMES 10/13/02]
Muslims were angered around the world due to what Falwell said, and Hindu-Muslim clashes in India resulted in death. This incident took place the next day after his comments.

It is hard to unring a bell. It is hard to take back words. These statements incited global anger that resulted in people killing one another. Under enormous pressure, Falwell apologized for his remarks. He stated he meant no disrespect to “any sincere, law-abiding Muslim.” Still, his intent to justify his words displayed a lack of integrity.

Obviously, the usage of words can be strikingly powerful. In an editorial by Benjamin J. Hubbard, we can see more of the ripple effect words have. Hubbard is professor and chair of the department of comparative religion at Cal State Fullerton. He wrote,

“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.”[LA TIMES 10/13/02]
If anything good can come out of this it is the idea that we have the power through our words to build bridges rather than create divisions. If a platform can be provided for bigotry, why not create a bigger stage for tolerance and acceptance? If the news media want to give a balanced point of view, then when an interview with Falwell is aired, why not also put on a spokesperson who can educate and inform with the truth?

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