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Fighting Religious Bigotry

It's Valentine's Day. Take a stand against hatred by helping victims of religious (and anti-religious) violence

Houston authorities say yesterday’s fire that burned down a Muslim school in the city was likely arson, because an accelerant was discovered in the ruins.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, one person is dead after an armed terrorist attack on a meeting where people were talking about free speech; the talk featured a cartoonist who drew an image of the Prophet Muhammad:

One person was killed Saturday when at least two gunmen opened fire on a Copenhagen blasphemy seminar in an apparent assassination attempt on a Swedish artist who had received death threats for publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

Lars Vilks, 68, was hustled into the kitchen of the Krudttoenden cafe by bodyguards and was unharmed. Three police officers were wounded in the attack, which took place around 4 p.m. local time. Danish police identified the dead victim as a 40-year-old man.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called the shooting “a cynical act of violence.” She said it had all the signs of a political assassination attempt and “act of terrorism.” The Danish Security and Intelligence Service said the shooting appeared to be a planned terrorist attack.

A Charlie Hebdo thing, apparently.

And of course we know about the atheist hater who allegedly murdered three Muslim neighbors in North Carolina earlier in the week.

One feels so weak in the face of these outrages. I have decided there’s one thing I can do. It’s Valentine’s Day, so I’m sending a check to the Quba Islamic Center in Houston to help with their rebuilding. Whatever my real and deep differences with Islam, I do not want the evil people who burned that place down to have the last word. I do not want them to win. Here’s an image of the check I just wrote, so you know I’m not making it up. I took off the part with my address on it, and the bank account number:


I’m giving this also in the name of my friend Mohammad, a Muslim in Iran who reads this blog. He has been generous to me in the past, sending me books about art, and about Chartres, and has been generous in his participation on this blog. I think about what his friendship has meant to me (though we have never met), and I want to honor that friendship by helping these Muslims in Houston rebuild after this event.

I encourage you readers to do something similar to help either that Muslim center, or victims of religious bigotry. There are so many. Take a stand, any stand, and not just in support of victims from your own tradition (I have given to support Christian refugees from ISIS violence).

It’s Valentine’s Day. Show some love.

UPDATE: I’ve gotten a little private pushback on this, so let me lay my cards on the table. When I first heard this news, I thought, “How horrible!” If it turns out to be arson, as everybody suspects, I will, of course, condemn it. Words are better than nothing, but they don’t cost anything. What if I actually put my money where my mouth is? I looked at the website of the Islamic center to see what I could learn about it, and I saw that the imam was trained in Saudi Arabia. Uh oh. Probably not my kind of Muslims.

But then I thought: so what? These are children who lost their school. These are Americans who had something precious taken away from them. I am someone who is not known as being particularly sympathetic to Islam in my public life, and when American Muslims have deserved criticism for tolerating or embracing radical thought, I have criticized them. I don’t back off from that.

Yet it is one thing to clash in the realm of ideas. Even if I were to find out that this Islamic center teaches a kind of Islam I find repellent and harmful to the common good, that community does not deserve to have its mosque and community center stolen from it by haters. An attack on them is an attack on religious liberty. It’s an attack on my fellow Americans. It’s an attack on people who are worshiping God, however flawed their understanding of Him and His will may be from my point of view. It’s an attack on, well, me and mine.

Besides, I thought, how much would it mean to me to see Muslims stepping up to aid and assist Christians abroad who have had their churches and homes destroyed by Muslim haters. It is not the fault of Muslims in this country that these things happen overseas, and it’s probably not the fault of all Muslims in places like Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Egypt when persecution of Christians takes place there. It’s not my fault that someone probably burned down that Islamic center in Houston, even if that someone turns out to be a conservative Christian. Still, my protestations of “I didn’t do it!” doesn’t rebuild a burned mosque. Their protestations of “It wasn’t us!” doesn’t do anything for the Arab Christians made refugees by ISIS. And so forth. None of these legalisms does any good for those who are suffering.

I can’t stop bad people from shooting Muslim Americans or burning down their buildings. Muslim Americans can’t stop ISIS from murdering Iraqi Christians, and so on. But what we who try to be decent people — Muslim, Christian, secular, all of us — can do is repair what damage was done, as far as we are able. True, we should take care of our own, but as Christ said, even the unbelievers take care of their own. If we Christians believe our Jesus is who He said He was, then we ought to show it by taking care of those outside our community when they are suffering.

That’s why I wrote the Quba Islamic Center a check, and why I hope you will too, if you are able. It occurred to me that this is how we can fight the feeling of shame and impotence so many of us have in the face of atrocities committed by our co-religionists, or our countrymen. I decided to make this public as an example — first, because it’s the kind of thing I would like to see from my fellow Christians and from Muslims too, when Muslims harm Christians, and second because I wanted everyone to know what a difference an online friendship with a Muslim man in Isfahan, Iran, has made to me and to my thinking. I am no less opposed to Islamic extremism than I ever was, but “Islamic extremism” is not a synonym for “Muslims.” And for all I know, if this Houston Islamic center is run by Wahhabis, maybe seeing non-Muslims stepping up and helping them in their time of crisis will show they that they are wrong about us.

I don’t think it’s right to tell people about your charitable giving, but in this case, I think it’s important for we who are basically sick of all this sh*t — of Boko Haram, of ISIS, of New Atheist haters, of Christian bullies, the whole lot — to work toward repairing what they destroy. You don’t have to be a Muslim who endorses Christianity to undertake this work, nor do you have to be a Christian who blesses Islam, or a secularist who gives his imprimatur to religion.

You just have to be humane.

UPDATE: A reader who writes very much from an informed position writes:

It has been nine years and six months since the homes and churches of many in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast were destroyed by water and wind in Hurricane Katrina. Much ( but surely not all) of the funding for the recovery efforts of Christian and other faith groups came from the Kingdom of Qatar. The gift came quickly and it was very large. This gift enabled people of faith and good will to respond in a more fulsome manner than would have been possible without such generosity. Last time I checked, Qatar was a conservative Muslim nation.