On the Islam question, going where no mainstream newspaper has gone before

In a front page story, The Tennessean discusses at considerable length a topic that not only is normally forbidden, but for the most part is never even thought:

Is Islam a threat to America?
Nashville activists warn churchgoers of violent threats to America; Muslims call campaign unfair

A belief that Muslims are out to destroy the American way of life is gaining a foothold in some Christian and Jewish circles in Nashville.

The article is remarkable. It presents—without immediately dismissing it, and in fair, objective terms—the view of those who say that Islam is inherently a threat to our civilization.

Here is the full article (I’ve deleted the many hyperlinks in the article since they do not display correctly).

Is Islam a threat to America?
Nashville activists warn churchgoers of violent threats to America; Muslims call campaign unfair
By Bob Smietana and Kate Howard THE TENNESSEAN

A belief that Muslims are out to destroy the American way of life is gaining a foothold in some Christian and Jewish circles in Nashville.

The movement spreads its message through films, books and the Internet.

Its sentiment: Islam is an evil religion rooted in hatred and nurtured by violence.

Some churches have gotten involved, hosting viewings of movies that alert Jews and Christians of the perceived dangers worldwide. One film, produced by a local filmmaker, warns that a second Holocaust is imminent if Americans do not stand united politically with Israel.

Muslims say the messages are an unfair characterization of their beliefs that began with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and are perpetuated whenever someone professing to be a Muslim commits an act of violence, such as the recent shooting deaths at the Fort Hood Army post in Texas.

“We have become the bogeyman of the world,” said Amir Arain, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Nashville, the city’s oldest mosque, founded in 1979. “Fringe fundamentalists they are talking about, that they think defines Islam, is only 1 to 2 percent, and we do agree that there is a problem. It’s a very small quantity or small group of the whole Muslim ummah, or nation, that has somehow hijacked our faith.”

In a recent survey, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 52 percent of those polled admit they are extremely concerned about Islamic extremism.

Unreliable information about Islam is making matters worse, said Warren Larson, director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University in South Carolina. Larson, a Christian and former missionary who lived in Pakistan for 23 years, says anti-Muslim groups are taking the wrong approach.

“I don’t think they are helping us appreciate and love Muslims as much as they are getting us to hate Muslims,” he said. He advocates converting Muslims to Christianity through a message of love.

Supporters of the anti-Islam movement aren’t interested.

Act! For America, a national group whose mission is to educate people about the “multiple threats of Islamofascism,” has 328 local chapters across the country. One of its largest chapters, with about 400 members, is in Davidson County. Act West Nashville has 400 to 600 people on its mailing list but local leaders will not say how many of those are considered active.

The group has shown films like Homegrown Jihad, which alleges there are 35 terrorist training camps in the United States, and First Comes Saturday, Then Comes Sunday, which claims Muslims will first destroy Jews and then Christians. It also runs a blog at actwestnashville.com, with links to Web sites like Jihadwatch.com.

Act West Nashville spokesman Vijay Kumar, who was born in India but is now an American citizen, thinks the United States should ban immigration from Islamic countries. The group has met to share its concerns with 40 churches and community groups, Kumar said, but he refused to name them, citing privacy concerns of the host groups. [emphasis added.]

Rabbi Saul Strosberg, of Congregation Sherith Israel of Nashville, agrees that radical Islam is a threat. He met with members of Act West Nashville but isn’t convinced a fear-based response to Islam will help anyone.

“There are a lot of people in Nashville and Act! For America who want to expose the dangerous elements of Quran,” he said. “I say great, we should all learn about each other’s religion. But the question is, What’s next? What are you prepared to do next, once you say that half the world or a third of the world is your enemy? Once we’ve scared each other to death, what is the next step?” [LA replies: Excellent question. And the answer is that the Islamic world must be separated from the rest of humanity, by, first, removing the great majority of Muslims from the West, and, second, to the extent practically feasible, quarantining the Islamic world. Some people say that this separationist policy is both impracticable and not far-reaching enough. They argue that what must be done is to destroy Islam itself. But how do you destroy Islam itself without killing a billion Muslims? By, some argue, destroying the Kaaba, which would discredit Islam in the eyes of Muslims. Up to this point, I have only supported such a measure as a threatened retaliation for further Islamic attacks on the West, as Tom Tancredo once proposed. However, the argument for the pre-emptive destruction of the Kaaba, while I disagree with it, is not unreasonable and deserves a hearing.]

Act West Nashville recruits members through word of mouth and communicates with supporters through its Web site and e-mails. The organization meets once a month. Some of the meetings are held at the nondenominational Franklin Tabernacle Church in Williamson County.

Franklin Tabernacle’s pastor, the Rev. Joshua Johnian, allows the group to meet there because he shares its concerns. He believes Muslims should be allowed to practice their faith, but he is worried that hate crime laws will someday make it illegal for him to criticize Muslims.

“If they have the money, they can put up as many mosques as they want to,” he said. “They can put up a mosque right next door to the church. But I’m not going to stand up and say that’s a good thing.”

Reva Heller, who saw one of the films warning against a second Holocaust, doesn’t want to be suspicious of Muslims, but she can’t erase from her mind news footage of Muslims celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001.

“We are talking about people from a different planet,” said Heller, who attends Sherith Israel. “I get a feeling that this is a religion that believes that Israel and Western civilization are evil.”

Nationally, anti-Islam blogs and Web sites insist there is a secret Muslim plot to undermine America. They point to a document uncovered during a federal investigation of a Dallas-based Muslim charity in 1993 to 2008.

The Holy Land Foundation was shut down in 2001 because of alleged ties to terrorism. Its leaders were convicted of money laundering. Investigators found a document in the charity’s files from the Muslim Brotherhood, a terror group, outlining a plan to take down America from within its borders.

An American Religious Identification Survey in 2008 found that an estimated 1.3 million Americans claim to be Muslims.

The FBI, which refused to discuss specifics about any real or perceived threats in Tennessee, said the agency is on the lookout for terrorist-related activity, but also watches other groups.

“The last thing the FBI wants to do is take any step that would chill people’s beliefs and willingness to talk and use the speech that’s a protected right,” said Joel Siskovic, a spokesman for the FBI in the Memphis field office. “But we take seriously any complaints regarding extremism, be it radical Islam or groups here, who may be taking a stance against those practicing Islam in the U.S.”

Siskovic said he would be remiss to say extremism doesn’t exist here in Tennessee, whether it be from Muslim groups or those opposing Islam.

‘No one knew anything’

Much of the local anti-Islam movement is inspired by the writings of Bill French, 68, a former Tennessee State University professor who taught electronic engineering and introductory physics at the school full time from 1988 to 1991 and then as an adjunct professor from 1995 to 1999, according to TSU records. He has a doctorate from North Carolina State University.

He is the secretary of CBSX LLC, a for-profit publishing company in Nashville doing business as the Center for the Study of Political Islam. French writes under the pseudonym Bill Warner at the advice of his attorney and a law enforcement friend. He would not say where the center’s offices are, but the Web site lists a West End Avenue mailing address.

The company has two full-time staffers, two part-time staffers and four volunteers but does not have a retail store. French sells books and audio programs about the politics of Islam online. He started researching Islam after Sept. 11.

“I found that it was impossible to hold an intelligent conversation about Islam since no one knew anything about its doctrine and history. I determined to produce books about the foundations of Islam that could be read by any person,” French said.

His blog—PoliticalIslam.com—has garnered attention from Web sites and bloggers across the country who link to his work.

French says Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was both a prophet and a general. He believes that true Muslims feel an obligation to practice violence against nonbelievers.

“I am concerned that Islam is a powerful ideology that our leaders do not have a clue about its true nature,” French said. “My concern is about our willful ignorance about political Islam. … We are applying the principles of denial and justification about Islam instead of using knowledge about it.”

But Richard McGregor, Vanderbilt assistant professor of religious studies, said there is a lot of disagreement among scholars about how to interpret Islam.

He said that the core belief is to submit to the will of God as found in the Quran. Muslims emulate Muhammad but disagree about what Muhammad would do in specific circumstances. McGregor said only the most extreme fringe scholars say Muslims must spread their faith by force.

The publishing company’s president is Oliver “Crom” Carmichael, a local businessman and former political columnist whose conservative writings appeared in The Tennessean in the early 1990s. Carmichael, who says the publishing company makes only a few hundred dollars a month, supports French’s work and believes radical Islam is increasingly dangerous.

“I don’t believe that every Muslim is a fanatic and a killer,” Carmichael said. “It’s probably only 1 or 2 percent. But if there are a billion Muslims in the world, that is a lot of people.”

Locally, there have been no reports of violence in the name of Islam during the past year or two, said Metro police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford.

But in 2004, an Iraqi-born defendant was sentenced to four years and nine months in federal prison for purchasing machine guns and grenades to target two Jewish facilities in the Nashville area. Ahmed Hassan Al-Uqaily, 34, had made a threat about “going jihad.”

‘We need to be informed’

French considers himself an expert on Muhammad but admits he can’t read Arabic, the language of the Quran and of Islamic theology. He read translations of the Quran and other Islamic holy books, and saw how many verses deal with religion and how many deal with politics. Because more verses deal with politics than religion, he contends, Islam is not just a religion.

“It is a political, cultural and religious ideology that supports a separate and complete civilization,” French said.

French was a featured speaker at a recent conference of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, a conservative Republican activist group. Bobbie Patray, state president of the organization, said she invited French to speak because the politics of Islam is an important topic much like global warming, health-care reform and immigration.

“We need to be informed about it,” Patray said. “To most people, it’s not something we know much about.” Based upon French’s books and research, Patray says, French is a credible authority on Islam.

Kumar, the Act West Nashville spokesman, credits French with shaping his views about Islam. Kumar believes that Muslims, bound by the laws of the Quran, cannot be true Americans.

Kumar made an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2008. He received about 28 percent of the vote in a Republican primary race. He says he plans to run for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s seat again in 2010.

To guard against radical Islam, Kumar wants to see the United States pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan immediately. He also wants law enforcement to keep a close watch on local mosques.

He believes that the United States is fighting an ideological war, worse than the fight against communism and the Nazis.

“I no longer believe that there is an Israeli and Palestinian conflict, or an India-Pakistan problem, or a Chechnyan-Russian conflict, or a Serbian-Bosnian conflict,” Kumar said. “There is only universal jihad.”

‘9/11 was a wake-up call’

A separate but parallel arm of the movement warning about the dangers of radical Islam is gaining ground through another medium—Internet video clips and documentaries shown at churches.

Nashville resident Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a former lobbyist for Tennessee Right to Life, is president and founder of the nonprofit Proclaiming Justice to the Nations. The Franklin-based nonprofit tries to build ties between Christians and Jews.

Cardoza-Moore, who is married to local filmmaker Stan Moore, produced The Forgotten People, a movie that chastises Christians for allowing the Holocaust to happen—and warns that another Holocaust could be coming if radical Islam is not stopped. She wants viewers of her film to support political candidates who support Israel.

The film shows images of emaciated Jews in Nazi concentration camps, mass graves and skeletons burnt in prison camp ovens. Cardoza-Moore appears in the film as the narrator.

“Are we turning away again?” she asked. “Are we bound to make the same mistakes and carry on the false perceptions of our past? For me and for many of us, 9/11 was a wake-up call.”

Her concern heightened in 2005, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust a myth.

Much of the film focuses on radical Islam—interposing pictures of Holocaust victims and Nazis with images of marching, shouting, angry Muslims.

Scenes from the movie are being aired weekly on WHTN, a local Christian television station, and the entire film will be shown to the National Religious Broadcasters Association in Nashville in February. Cardoza-Moore hopes to take it on a 13-city nationwide tour. The film is for sale at the Proclaiming Justice Web site and Moore says she already has sold 1,000 copies.

Doris Kosmin, the wife of Rabbi Kliel Rose of West End Synagogue, heard about the film when it was advertised in local Jewish circles. After seeing it, she was stunned.

“I thought it was an abuse of the memory of the Holocaust, and a manipulation of Holocaust survivors,” she said. “I don’t think that survivors should be used that way.”

Kosmin worries about Islamic extremism but said the film demonized all Muslims. “I don’t think there was any distinction between Islamicists and moderate Muslims,” she said.

The Rev. Maury Davis of Cornerstone Church in Madison hosted a viewing of the movie at his church, and warned his Assembly of God congregation about radical Muslims in a recent sermon called “Islam: the Evil Religion.”

He instructed his congregation to take the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach to Islam. “Islam is evil,” he said. “But not all Muslims are evil.”

Cardoza-Moore says peaceful Muslims have been cowed into silence out of their own fear of terrorists.

“There are many Muslims in our community who … want to live their lives and run their businesses, and want an opportunity to live in peace, the way they could not back in their home country,” Cardoza-Moore said. “But they cannot speak out because they know who is here.”

Cardoza-Moore is convinced that terrorist groups are active in Tennessee. She points to the case of Carlos Bledsoe, also known as Abdulhakim Muhammad, who is accused of killing an Army recruiter in Arkansas and wounding another. He faces one count of murder and 16 counts of committing a terroristic act. For a time, Bledsoe lived in Nashville, where he converted to Islam, his father told media outlets after the shootings. Investigators said that before arriving in Arkansas he had been imprisoned in Yemen for several months.

“None of us know him,” said Arain, of the Islamic Center. “Maybe he did attend Friday prayers, but we have 500 people and we don’t keep track of them.”

Mood upsets pastors

At least one Nashville mosque has become a target for the national movement.

In March, a woman pretending to be Muslim went into the Al-Farooq Islamic Center on Fourth Avenue, the spiritual home of many Somali Muslims since 2000.

She took young children into a private area and recorded conversations with them without permission of their parents or mosque officials. The audio clips showed up on conservative blogs and on YouTube. In one clip a child says the teachers at the mosque hit the children. In a second clip, a child speaks in English and then uses a Somali word for aunt while talking about a car breaking down. Bloggers interpreted the child’s comment as making references to a husband. Anti-Muslim groups denounced the mosque, saying that it showed adults were marrying minors.

Salaad Nur, a board member of the Al Farooq mosque, said he first heard about the video when it was posted on the Internet. He said that there was no truth to the allegations and that the child was talking about her aunt. He was dismayed that someone would infiltrate the mosque, and feels there would have been community outrage if a Muslim had gone into a local church and done the same thing.

“They never approached us or asked us anything sincerely or straightforward,” he said. “If they came and had questions they wanted to ask us, they would have been welcomed. I believe there was a malicious intent.”

The Davidson County District Attorney’s Office has received a number of complaints against the mosque, mostly anonymous and from people outside Tennessee, based on the video posted online.

“These claims mimic a similar allegation that was made earlier this year, which was investigated and proven to be unfounded,” said Susan Niland, spokeswoman for the district attorney.

The anti-Islam sentiment and its growing acceptance anger and worry some ministers.

The Rev. Gail Seavey, minister at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, was surprised by friends’ reaction when she returned from a visit to Turkey and spoke positively of her experience with Muslims.

“People accused me of lying … and said I was being tricked,” she said.

Rabbi Laurie Rice of Congregation Micah in Brentwood said some of her congregation members have accused her of being naive about Islam. She struggles with what to think about the faith, especially after reading accounts of how women have been abused in some Muslim countries.

Still, she’s not willing to give up on the idea that different faiths can coexist.

“If dialogue is not the answer, then what is?” she said. “And the alternative is wholly negative and frightening to me. Maybe I am wrong, and I am a fool for it. But I am just not willing and ready to surrender to that path.” [LA replies: The concern expressed by Lauri Rice is not unreasonable. If Islam is as dangerous to us as its critics (not to mention its honest exponents) say it is, then we have no choice but permanently to oppose and exclude (or even seek to destroy) the religion of a fifth of humanity. The only alternative to permanently opposing and excluding the religion of a fifth of humanity is to go on imagining that dialog is the answer.]

[end of article]

- end of initial entry -

David B. writes:

The Nashville Tennessean is as liberal a newspaper as there has been in the South for a century. Is it a good omen?

LA replies:

Is Nashville Tennessean its full name?

It’s an annoyance, that most online editions of newspapers do not display the name of the paper they are associated with, and you have to search around to find it.

David replies:

In my childhood, it was The Nashville Tennessean. In 1970, the name was changed to The Tennessean. Here is the wikipedia article.

It was said to have a big liberal influence. The publisher during the 1960s and ’70s was John Siegenthaler, a friend and political ally of the Kennedy family. The paper was also the principal in-state backer of Albert Gore Sr., a U.S. Senator from 1952-1970, and, later, of of his son.

Robert in Nashville, who sent the article, writes:

I was really pleased that you published the Tennessean news story on your site. Upon a re-reading of the story, I see that I was mistaken when I said the Islam critics quoted in the article did not have a proposed response. They too would stop Moslem immigration.

The most remarkable thing to me is that the story was published at all. It makes me dream of a scenario where other major print and television media, shamed, begin acknowledging the truth, or at least the fact that many American reject the government’s position and insist that Islam requires what Islam itself says it requires of its believers.

I can only wonder what the government’s response would be if the truth about Islam started gaining wide acceptance. This truth has catastrophic implications to liberalism. I think a variation of Auster’s First Law might kick in: the more a lie is exposed for what it is, the more the liberal government would insist that the lie was true, and the more evidence it would demand to prove that the lie is a lie, and the more it would say that if the bad things about Islam are in fact true, they are true only because we are not doing enough to change Islam. In the end, no amount of evidence that Islam is not a religion of peace would be enough.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 06, 2009 03:00 PM | Send

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