Religious Freedom Coalition, by Andrew Harrod, June 18, 2015:
Perhaps the naïve expected insightful discussion of modern Islamic violence worldwide at the April 12 Fairfax, Virginia, panel “Community and Faith Leaders’ Role in Countering Radicalization,” recently available online. Befitting the panel’s banal title anddubious Gülen movement sponsors, however, the panel’s inane multicultural, politically correct platitudes whitewashed critical issues concerning political Islam before about 50 listeners.
The Institute of Islamic and Turkish Studies (IITS), a member of the Hizmet (Service) movement of the shadowy Turkish Muslim leader Fethullah Gülen, hosted the event along with another Gülenist organization, Washington, DC’s Rumi Forum. In his introduction, IITS imam Bilal Ankaya explained that Hizmet is “always an advocate of moderation” before an audience that had respectfully removed its shoes inside IITS’ carpeted mosque space. Hizmet seeks to “build bridges between communities,” just as diverse “people lived in peace and harmony” supposedly in the movement’s native Turkey.
Panel moderator and IITS Senior Research Associate, Dr. Margaret A. Johnson, opened the panel by addressing brutal jihadist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The veiled devout Muslim Johnson considered it “unfathomable that such crimes can be committed in the name of Islam.” “This blessed mercy has become so maligned,” she said, and argued that with ISIS the Islamic “words are familiar but everything else is foreign.”
Declaring “I feel Allah’s presence here very, very strongly,” Rabbi Gerald Serotta, InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington executive director, added to the panel’s emphasis on ecumenical moderation. He referenced the oft-quoted Quran 49:13 (God “made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another… the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous”). He blithely asserted that Judaism’s “daughter” monotheisms, Christianity and Islam, both possess divine covenants, but said nothing about Islam returning the compliment. Yet well-documented, persistent Islamic anti-Semitism and condemnation of Christianity derive from Islamic orthodoxy’s claimed supersession of biblical scriptural corruption.
“In their origins” these three monotheisms “were peaceful and loving traditions,” Serotta stated. Extremist phenomena like terrorism resulted from an ecumenical “tremendous ignorance” in all three Abrahamic faiths that necessitated “challenging texts which appear to be exclusionary.” Jewish oral tradition (Talmud), for example, modifies Old Testament “genocidal texts” and declares, among other things, that purely idolatrous peoples deserving destruction no longer exist. He offered, however, no parallel interpretation negating Islam’s violent canons.
Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Director of Interfaith Partnerships Gail Hambleton then explained GPF’s vision of “One Family under God” as announced on a slide. “Our rights are endowed to us by our Creator,” she stated without mentioning the biblical origins of this proposition announced in America’s Declaration of Independence. Such “universal principles that we all hold dear” are “incredibly powerful,” she asserted without recognizing that natural law does not rule the world as much as Americans like Hambleton might wish.
Hambleton asserted “deep, deep shared heritage” of humanity is an “essential reality more important than the divisions that separate us.” While everyone has “unique doctrines & ways of faith” in their “Divine Focus,” her slides announced, a “Civil Focus” unites with “civic virtues,” Islamic sharia law’s (sharia) human rights violations apparently notwithstanding. Such unity is important given that people often seek to “avoid those who are different” and “stay in our comfort zone,” such that “communication breakdown” causes conflict. Nonetheless, she left uncommunicated GPF’s founder, Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, who in GPF has pursued some of the more benign ideas of the Unification Church cult founded by his bizarre father, Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
Notwithstanding “civic virtues,” some Muslims seek a “sense and purpose” by joining ISIS, analogous to “youth at risk” in gangs, Hambleton argued, an analysis continued by Talib Shareef. The imam from Washington, DC’s Masjid Muhammad saw parallels between adolescents who “become beasts” in groups like ISIS out of “protest” against parental neglect and the youth from broken homes he encountered in anti-gang initiatives. “Everybody is crying out for something” and “we really don’t have a nature that wants to disobey God,” he stated with implicit invocation of Islam’s rejection of biblical original sin.
Shareef added that a “deeper stuff goes back to the Crusades,” Western colonization of Muslim societies, and conflicts over “Palestine” in creating global Muslim hostilities. “To have been at the top” among history’s civilizations only to fall to a modern “third world” status means that the Muslim world “has not overcome hurt.” He also attributed to such Western incursions the damaging of supposedly enlightened Muslim educational institutions.
The Quran, by contrast, inspired Shareef to “stand firmly for justice,” his paraphrasing of verse 4:135. Like many Islam apologists, he misquoted Quran 5:32 to suggest Quranic support for sanctity of individual human life. “The Quran explains itself” and its more troubling verses upon further reading, he asserted, and Islam’s prophet Muhammad “was the Quran walking,” giving two supposed guides for moral enlightenment. He therefore called Saudi Arabian Bible seizures contrary to Islam, although his “I love Turkey” praise of his travels to his Turkish hosts ignored that Turkey has its own de facto Islamic blasphemy prohibitions.
The discrete radicalism of planned panelist Zia Makhdoom, a northern Virginia imam from Afghanistan, would have provoked plenty of disturbing questions from critical observers. Funerary duties prevented his appearance, although his nationally (in)famous-for-15-minutes congregant Saba Ahmed, omnipresent at Washington, DC-area events on Islam, attended. Thus the one disquieting note in this multicultural lovefest for Islam came from an audience questioner from Uzbekistan. He considered “fundamental and revolutionary reforms” in Islam such as religion-state separation necessary for stopping groups like Al Qaeda and criticized the undiscussed Islamic origins of today’s “most powerful terrorism.”
The questioner drew varying responses. Shareef conceded suddenly that these issues were among the “primary problems,” but stated that about six Quran verses (Are they abrogated?) described God refraining from forcing people into one faith. “I just bristle when I hear ‘Islamic terrorism,’” a “perversion of Islam,” Serotta however countered. He found in a mythological past Islamic “Golden Age” a “very robust theory” about the “compatibility of Islam and democracy.”
So ended a potpourri of Islamic pious hopes, unsubstantiated ecumenism, Moonie-derived humanism, selectively picked and interpreted Quran verses, Islamic victimization, and deprivation-causes-jihad fallacies. None of this serves to counter Islam’s authoritarian, aggressive, and doctrinally-derived elements that continue to dominate world events in the 2015 centenary of Ottoman genocide against Armenian and other Christian populations. In contrast to other institutions, the panel’s Hizmet hosts have had no events concerning 1915 and the parallel roles of Islam then and now in Turkey’s bloody region. Do such wasted educational efforts reflect ignorance, critics must ask, or intentional misdirection in the name of various ideological agendas?