In the weeks following the Paris terror attacks and the mass shooting in San Bernardino, violence against Muslim-Americans is on the rise. Some studies have found that hate crimes against Muslim-Americans have tripled since the Paris attacks. And more than 25 states say they won’t accept Syrian refugees. Religious leaders and congregations around the country have responded by finding ways to condemn the violence and bring about peace. A recent march in Washington, D.C. went from a synagogue to a cathedral and ended in front of a mosque. A conversation with faith leaders on responding to escalating violence against Muslim-Americans and providing moral leadership in fearful times.
- Tom Gjelten Covers religion and belief for NPR; author of "A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story"
- Akbar Ahmed Chair of Islamic studies at American University, former Pakistani high commissioner to the U.K. his forthcoming book is titled “Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Empire”
- Mariann Edgar Budde Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.
- Derrick Harkins Senior vice president for innovations in public programming, Union Theological Seminary; former Director of Faith Outreach for the Democratic Party and adviser to President Obama; former senior pastor, The Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
- Rabbi Gil Steinlauf Senior rabbi, Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, DC
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Since the Paris terror attacks last month and the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, violence and threats against Muslim Americans have tripled. In response, communities of faith around the country are coming together for vigils, marches and other efforts to stand up for peace.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about the role of moral leadership in the current environment of fear and anxiety, Tom Gjelten of NPR, Akbar Ahmed of American University, Bishop Mariann Budde of the Episcopal diocese of Washington, D.C. and Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Adas Israel Congregation here in Washington.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me from NPR's bureau in New York City, the Reverend Derrick Harkins of Union Theological Seminary. I do invite you to give us your thoughts, your ideas. Give us a phone call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MR. TOM GJELTENHi, Diane.
BISHOP MARIANN EDGAR BUDDEThank you.
RABBI GIL STEINLAUFThank you.
REV. DERRICK HARKINSHi, Diane.
REHMGood to see you all. Tom Gjelten, interesting that this morning's Washington Post carries a front page story titled "The Quiet Impact of Obama's Christian Faith." One sentence in here, "his faith has been central to his identity as a new kind of Democrat who would bring civility to the country's political debates by appealing to Republicans through the shared language of their Judea Christian values." How do you regard that?
GJELTENWell, I think that it's been largely disappointing over these years since President Obama took office that, in fact, the environment seems to have deteriorated in many ways in terms of these very values that President Obama apparently held dear and I don't think there's any reason to doubt the sincerity of that. I just think that what we have seen over these last few years is the reemergence of polarization and some really noxious ideas that are challenging core Christian beliefs and principles.
GJELTENAnd on the other hand, you know, all of these developments represent opportunities for leadership and to really assert -- reassert and emphasize those Christian values.
REHMBishop Mariann, I'm sure you read the article as well. How do you, from a Christian faith, interpret how successful President Obama has been in his efforts?
BUDDEAs Tom Gjelten said, the deterioration of the country's religious discourse on the broad spectrum or on the broad screen is undeniable. I would say, however, that in his behavior and in his witness to the country, he has been resolute and firm in his Christian identity and his Christian witness. He is a frequent worshipper in one of our congregations here in Washington. He makes no splash about that. He simply takes his pew with his family, greets the pastor after the service and leaves.
BUDDEWhenever there is a tragedy of the country that he speaks to, he speaks from the depth of his faith. He is also persistent in his attempt to reach across the divides that would have us -- that would keep us separated and I would particularly commend him for his interfaith work, which has -- where he has been most effective in bringing together the spectrum of Americans to stand together in times of crisis, so.
REHMAnd that brings us to exactly where we are now in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, that in San Bernardino. Akbar Ahmed, how has the Muslim community responded to this atmosphere of fear and anxiety.
MR. AKBAR AHMEDDiane, I was here just after -- during 9/11 and just after and the sense of shock, the sense of disbelief in the community was palpable, but nothing compared to what's happening now because the community is in a state of deep shock. They have no idea how to tackle what's happening. They do not want to have any association with it, yet they are being associated and in a sense, held guilty for something that so deeply violates their religious beliefs and their beliefs as Americans.
MR. AKBAR AHMEDRemember, we are talking American citizens living in the United States. So it is a very bad period for the community, but I am very pleased and relieved to see that community leaders have very vigorously launched interfaith initiatives. Recently, we had Rabbi Lustig, Bishop Budde's colleague and our friend in the Abrahamic Summit joining up with the ADAMS Center, which is the largest Islamic center in this whole area.
MR. AKBAR AHMEDRecently, we had the chief rabbi from -- former chief rabbi from the UK, Lord Jonathan Sacks, on our campus at American University. Once again, Rabbi Lustig with American University was in dialogue. And just the sight of the rabbis sitting with me as a Muslim and talking with such personal warmth, reaching out, the body language in this time of great tension, Diane, has a great effect on calming nerves and creating hope of understanding and dialogue.
REHMAnd to you, Rabbi Steinlauf, many people have said that the current atmosphere reminds them somewhat of the World War II situation, what happened to Jews in Germany and also to Japanese Americans here in the U.S.
STEINLAUFThat's right, Diane. And I think that there's been a recognition immediately as these developments have happened and an all too familiar sense that we understand this, that in the Jewish community, we have seen this not just in the previous century, but through many centuries. The recurring tendency of people in society when there is an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, immediately someone is identified as the other and a scapegoat. And we have been, of course, the brunt of that in many different societies and periods of history.
STEINLAUFSo that leads us to feel a sense of responsibility to want to join together with our partners in faith, of the other religious traditions and to see what we can do about it and to give something of our own insights and experience and passion for justice to try to counter this.
REHMAnd to you, Reverend Harkins, how serious do you believe this level of anti-Muslim sentiment is from where you sit there in New York?
HARKINSWell, unfortunately, I do think it is serious and the implications of it run deep. I think it's part of a larger understanding that there's a demographic shift that's happening in America and I think some people who feel that that demographic shift is going to put them in a position in which they've never been before, I mean, that largely pertains to white Americans and I think that the slice, the very small albeit, but nevertheless vocal slice of individuals who are voicing kind of their support for this xenophobic language and et cetera, are expressing it borne out of a measure of fear.
HARKINSAnd I think -- I'll just say this. We need to understand that fear diminishes us. It never protects us. People think that fear and suspicion is a response that gives them a measure of protection, but it doesn't. It diminishes and really makes us more vulnerable.
REHMAnd that fear is so pervasive, not only among those who are Muslim Americans, but also, Tom Gjelten, those without faith, those who do not ascribe to any particular religious community. They, themselves, begin to experience this fear and sentiments against, as you all have put it, the other.
GJELTENI don't necessarily see that there is a really strong correlation in terms of these xenophobic and nativist reactions that we are talking about, a really strong correlations between faith and those feelings. I think that the fear that we're talking about is just as you say. It's something that people of faith and people of -- and secular people can equally feel. And I think that, you know, if you look out and talk to the people that are most likely to have this negative feeling, hostile feeling towards the other, they could be religious people or they could be non religious people.
GJELTENEverybody is vulnerable to that kind of reaction, I think.
BUDDEWell, fear washes over you. It's not necessarily something that you can control as I'm not decided to be afraid or not to be afraid. The gift of a faith tradition, of all of our faith traditions, they give us a place to go to help us understand and navigate fear in such a way that we don't perpetuate it or get caught up in the frenzy of it. And it seems to me that the gift and the importance of standing as friends in this moment is a way to remain firm in a belief system that overcomes fear.
REHMThe right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, she is bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Washington. Tom Gjelten of NPR, Akbar Ahmed of American University, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of the Adas Israel Congregation and the Reverend Derrick Harkins, he is at Union Theological Seminary.
REHMAnd welcome back. In this hour, we're talking about communities of faith, moral leadership, how we got or are being guided through troubled times by those who are in positions of authority and power and the moral leadership that we are all seeking. Here in the studio, Tom Gjelten, he is covering issues of religion and belief, he's a correspondent for NPR. Akbar Ahmed is with the American University, he's chair of Islamic studies here. The Right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C. And the Rabbi Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation here in Washington. Joining us from the NPR bureau in New York City, the Reverend Derrick Harkins of Union Theological Seminary.
REHMTom Gjelten, you recently did a story about a young college professor in Illinois who decided to wear a head scarf during the Advent season. Tell us what happened.
GJELTENHer decision to wear a head scarf during the season was an act of solidarity with Muslims and a response of sympathy for those Muslims who are feeling beleaguered now as a result of this sentiment of anti-Muslim feeling that's sweeping the country. A very simple act, and Wheaton College is a very esteemed, respectable, Baptist institution, and the administrators at Wheaton said that they'd had no problem with her doing that. They did, however, have a problem with something that she said on her Facebook page, which was that in doing so, she was demonstrating that we all worship the same God, Christians, Muslims and Jews, and she quoted Pope Francis to that effect, which was totally legitimate.
GJELTENI mean, the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, has had a position for more than 50 years that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. So it was not a controversial statement. But for Evangelical Christians, it was more controversial because Evangelical Christians take the idea of a triune God very, very seriously. It's core to their understanding of God, and therefore they felt it was wrong for her to say we all worship the same God. It was that statement that got her suspended, and the administration is now investigating what she meant when she said that.
REHMBishop Mariann, how did you react?
RIGHT REVEREND MARIANN EDGAR BUDDEIt reveals the fault lines within American Christianity and Christianity worldwide, and there is a vigorous, strong conversation among Christians as to the fundamental teachings of our faith and our adherence to Jesus Christ and how we are to relate in this pluralistic, global world. And some of us feel, as the pope expressed, that we can live in solidarity and friendship with faiths of -- other world faiths, and other Christians take a much more singular view. And that is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain in the world we live in.
STEINLAUFWell, in the Jewish tradition, we really believe very strongly that it's all the same God, that we look at both Christianity and Islam as daughter religions of the Jewish tradition, and in that sense there is this one God. In the Jewish tradition, there is less of an emphasis than Christianity on the nature of the faith in God, to the extent that you live your life reflecting a faithfulness to what God represents so that if you are living a moral and upstanding life, if you are always inherently recognizing the sacredness of life and of human life, then you are upholding what God calls humanity, too. So in that sense we very much recognize that there is certainly the same God that we're all worshipping.
REHMAkbar Ahmed, how did you react to that story?
AHMEDNot entirely surprised, Diane, because I've been involved in interfaith for three decades. But as an anthropologist, I step back and look at society, what's going on beyond just discussions of faith. And what is going on, as the reverend in New York pointed out, there is a sense of fear, of uncertainty, in the majority population. Their very foundations are being challenged in terms of who they are and the notion of American identity. And a lot of this is coming from that uncertainty that this moment is focused on the Muslims.
AHMEDThe danger I always see, as again a scholar, is that it is a slippery slope. Today it's the Muslim community. Today it could be another minority. We've had the rabbi talking about the Jewish minority. It could be the African-Americans next. Unless we understand what America stands for, the notion of pluralism, genuine pluralism, go back to Jefferson, go back to Washington, Franklin, the notion of American identity is the notion of pluralism.
REHMThere was an incident that occurred yesterday.
AHMEDYes, Diane, a disturbing family of 11 from Britain boarding a plane. All the formalities were cleared. They were on the plane flying to Florida. The kids wanted to see Disneyland. And suddenly they were pulled off for no reason, no reason has been given, and it's being discussed very widely in Britain. It's in all the newspapers. The prime minister is involved, the local MP is outraged because it is completely inexplicable what happened.
AHMEDNow Muslims understand that there are huge problems in the Middle East, and in fact they widely condemned those problems because a lot of Muslims have escaped those conditions to be in the United States on the West. So they're the last people who would want to support that chaos. Now for them to be in the dark and to have to constantly apologize or explain what's going on in the chaos of the Middle East, it makes no sense. So this particular incident simply typifies the levels of irrationality and the fear that we're living in.
AHMEDI believe very strongly, Diane, we must not let this fear convert into hatred. We have to hold on to the element of hope. And this is where the interfaith discussion becomes so vital.
REVEREND DERRICK HARKINSYou know, for some people, they think it is a benign request that they would ask members of the Muslim community to somehow account for, apologize, explain what we see happening around us by the way of extremism. But it is no more appropriate for Muslims to have to explain or apologize for ISIS than it would be for me to apologize or explain the Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan. And I think that it's unfortunate, it's insidious that again there's this blanket measure of suspicion that some people somehow feel is justified.
REVEREND DERRICK HARKINSBut again, and I agree, it goes back to, I think, a base, an integral sense of fear, of displacement and a changing identity of what it means to be American. And I think that unfortunately from our pulpits, from our sacred places, we need to reinforce that message that we have to understand that we don't have the right to cast aspersions upon anyone born out of their faith tradition.
STEINLAUFI think this is also an opportunity for us to think about how we can best respond constructively to these tragic developments that are happening all around us. And I think in our Jewish tradition, one of the most important responses that we can have is study and education and really finding every opportunity, not just as clergy from our pulpits but also in our various learning environments and classrooms and study halls. In our congregation, we partnered with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Great Washington and with the Jewish Study Center to bring an introduction to Islam so that people in our community could begin to really have some factual basis to be able to truly understand what Islam is and what Islam is not and from that place of insight to make informed decisions and also in response to their fear.
STEINLAUFAnd then just a lot of studying about the nature of fear and what it does to us spiritually and how it distorts our perceptions. Those are all issues that we are taking very, very seriously and that we hope that all our faith communities and partners are doing, as well.
REHMAnd Professor Ahmed, your community has been trying to reach out to others.
AHMEDVery much so. Diane, I've never seen them so active on this. I mean, there's genuinely a sense of we have to do something. We've reached a crisis point. Don't forget that they are also living in a double bind, that their relatives, their colleagues back home have a very different perception of what's going on here. I was in Pakistan last year, and I addressed many audiences, and they would constantly throw this at me, this, well, all right, now you're representing America, you're an American professor. There was an element of sarcasm there.
AHMEDAnd they'd say, yeah, what about, you're talking about Jefferson and Franklin, what about the KKK, they are doing this. So just as the reverend said, the stereotypes in the Muslim world very often reduce what America stands for to the most extreme form, and we have to be very careful not to provide them food to enhance or strengthen that position.
REHMYou actually went with your daughter to a church in Pakistan. Tell us about that.
AHMEDWell, you know, Diane, I find this debate in America on the eve of -- I'm not sure if I should even say Christmas or not because apparently it's such a controversial word.
REHMPlease say Christmas.
AHMEDIn Pakistan, we grew up saying Merry Christmas. It was Christmas.
AHMEDWe celebrated the birth of Christ, who as you know is one of the greatest religious figures in Islam. So last Christmas I was in Islamabad, and my daughter and I decided to go to the poorest church in Islamabad, in a slum area, really in a very destitute area, very neglected. We went there. There was a huge contingent of police because they said maybe some crisis will take place, you know, maybe some terrorist strike because people know me there in Pakistan.
AHMEDAnd the pastor and the community were thrilled that we were there. It really was a very warm day we spent with them. The community had turned out, and they were dressed in their best, and we heard hymns, and we heard beautiful speeches. Then they asked me to speak. I said, my daughter will represents the young generation of Muslim. Then she spoke very strongly, and again people know her for her interfaith work.
AHMEDSo we have to constantly reach out and respect and understand the other. It's vital. Now, you know, you mentioned President Obama, and you mentioned the right of -- we'd say Judeo-Christian. We seem to forget that he has a very rich spiritual background. He grew up in Indonesia. That's Buddhism. That's Islam. I happen to know his sister Maya, and she's very rich spiritually, beautifully appreciative of all the religious faiths, and she's a Buddhist.
AHMEDSo we need to understand where he's coming from. There's a very complex spiritual richness that he carries on his shoulders, not just a simplistic Judeo-Christian tradition.
BUDDEI also want to caution those of us in the interfaith conversation here not to assume that all Evangelical Christians are of one mind on these matters and that we have as much of a responsibility to engage our Evangelical brothers and sisters and to find the common partners there that can speak to a broader swath of Christians, frankly, than I can, given my pulpit. And I find common cause and good allies within Evangelical Christianity who would be as offended as we are of what happened at Wheaton College, who would find just as much desire to be friends across the interfaith spectrum.
BUDDEAnd that is often overlooked in the way that we divide Christianity in our -- in common parlance.
REHMAs though we see all conservative groups as being radicalized.
BUDDEExactly, and so I feel that there's deep grief, deep shame, deep troubled reflection going on in the broad spectrum of Christianity, and these are the places where I feel particularly called to make common cause because that will help soften the debate and allow more people to stand firm in the values that are inherent to our Christian beliefs.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Rabbi Steinlauf, I know you want to jump in there.
STEINLAUFJust to pick up on that point, that, you know, we have to be -- in our tradition, in the Jewish tradition, we have to be very hyper vigilant about our own tradition and our own selves and our own propensity to otherfy. And so even when we see perhaps people who are of the Islamic faith, and we otherfy them, and we react with fear, we also have to see our own selves and how we respond to our own projections of fear in others.
STEINLAUFSo you can have Christian people are turning to other Christian people and otherfying them, as well, in response. And so there's a constant work that has to be done. This is spiritual work that we all have to engage in, of being aware of our own propensity to separate ourselves from others.
REHMReverend Harkins, how many of us do you believe are prepared to do that kind of spiritual work necessary to defeat the fear that is so inherent within each of us as human beings, depending on what the situation is?
STEINLAUFI think the way to approach this is with a sense of realism, and this sounds like a shameless plug for Union Seminary, but Reinhold Niebuhr, who was a member of our faculty back in the '40s through '50s, spoke about a sense of Christian realism, understanding the realities that we have to face, be they evil, be they contradicting forces, and figuring out how in that space still to hold true to the larger moral ethic of what it means to bear this faith.
STEINLAUFSo that's the hard work, and I think helping people to understand that it's hard work, listen, if tomorrow we have an unfortunate incident to happen again, we know we're going to have to in a sense go back to square one with people to address this debilitating parochializing fear. But that's the work that we've got to be committed to. And I wish that there were more people already signed up to do it, but I think that's part of our work as faith leaders to help in that process.
GJELTENWell, you know, as the religion correspondent, I have to work very hard to be sensitive to all faith traditions, to people who don't have faith but also to people who take their faith really, really seriously and are extremely devout. And I do think I -- obviously I'm a firm believer in the importance of interfaith understanding, but I also think that we need to avoid sort of this sense that the -- of worshiping the lowest common denominator. I mean, I think there -- I think that, you know, religious people have a right to take their own faith really seriously and have a right to be devout about it, above and beyond sort of a lowest common denominator element that sort of spreads across all faiths.
GJELTENI mean, I have respect for Evangelical Christians who feel very strongly that the Gospel teaches that, you know, as Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me. I have to respect that position, and that position does not leave a lot of leeway for common ground with other faith traditions. So I think that you can believe in interfaith understanding and still be true to your own interpretation of your faith as you find it meaningful to yourself.
REHMBut it's a duality that many people would find very difficult to do. They would rather hold to that...
GJELTENThat's true. It is true, and it's -- you know, it's people who take their Scriptures really seriously, who take guidance from the text, you know, of whatever Scripture they follow.
REHMTom Gjelten, he is the NPR reporter covering issues of religion, faith and belief. Short break here, your calls, comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Many of you have asked about the comments that Donald Trump. And I'd like to turn now to Rabbi Steinlauf to hear about the kind of political atmosphere in which we're living and the extent to which that may, in fact, heighten this sense of fear.
STEINLAUFYes, I think that what, unfortunately, Donald Trump is capitalizing on is the environment of fear and fear mongering and whipping up all kinds of extreme thinking. That's already in the air. And what that does is it, just makes very, very clear that the work that all of us in the faith traditions have to do. We have to be the foil, the response to that.
REHMHow? How do you do that? You're not getting up on a podium in front of television screens watched by millions of people to counter those statements.
STEINLAUFWell, but, you know, the fortunate thing about our society is that America is a very religious country. And that many, many Americans turn to their religious traditions for insights and understanding. And when people come to synagogues and churches and mosques, they want to hear what is the reality here? What do we -- what's going on in our hearts? And so, it's up to us, to then teach about the nature of what fear actually is. And there are tremendous teachings throughout the Jewish tradition, for example, that talk about how, in a sense, fear is an idolatry.
STEINLAUFThat, that it is -- we are turning our fear into something that we are, ironically, worshipping instead of overcoming that fear and looking more deeply into our hearts about what we really are. And what really binds us together as human beings.
AHMEDDiane, I've had the privilege of being very much involved in interfaith, both here in the United States and in the UK and in Europe. And I find that this aspect which you pointed out, the aspect of projecting, or propagating these wonderful beautiful sublime ideas of understanding each other. Really a big flaw, I would say. Because they are contained within that discussion. The public at large is influenced by the media very often. And some channels, I don't have to take names, really influence a lot of people.
AHMEDSo there's a widespread sense of fear, ignorance, prejudice, all now confused in this jumble. Now, in that, when you have these rational, sensible warm voices of compassion and reason like the Rabbi pointed out, they're not getting through. So, I would say, how do you challenge this? You have to. This is a time of crisis. This is when the interfaith leaders have to engage with their society. The whole range, whether the Evangelists or whether the Muslims, Christians, Jews. Sikhs are being killed in the street or shot at or attacked, simply because people think they're Muslim.
AHMEDI would say, Diane, we have to look for practical examples and the one I want to give you and share with your listeners is a non-Abrahamic individual called Mahatma Gandhi, who in 1947, at the height of the riots against the Muslims, began a fast until death. He said, I'll simply fast. He didn't blame anyone. And the rioting and the killing slowly just died out. You need faith leaders out there in the streets. I'm not saying the rabbis and the bishops should start a fast.
AHMEDBut what I'm saying is they need to be heard. They need to be out there, because it is like a forest fire. That's how Muslims are seeing it. You cannot simply ignore it.
HARKINSWhat a perfect segue to talk about Mahatma Gandhi, who intersected, by way of the context of the public square. This atmosphere that we're talking about has been fostered, nurtured and incubated now for some years. We found it, I'm not going to politicize the conversation, but I will just say it this way. Some people found it opportune to capitalize on the idea of otherization. And we've seen that since, let's just say, 2008. And I think the fact that it has been seen as appropriate and acceptable for some to disparage the President for example.
HARKINSBut not just the President. But even more broadly. And there's the old adage, if you sew the wind, you reap the whirlwind. And I think there are a lot of people who thought maybe they were doing this for political expediency, who now have something that's outside of their control. So the remedy, going forward, is to not allow this kind of language to insidiously kind of take its place in the normal conversations, be it on various cable news channels. Or in the context of our daily discourse.
REHMBut how do you stop it with a freedom of speech in this country, Tom Gjelten?
GJELTENWell, there is such a thing called the bully pulpit. And, you know, leaders of faith traditions have a responsibility to speak not only to sort of other worldly themes, but to this worldly theme.
REHMExactly. All right, let's open the phones. First to Detroit, Michigan. Tim, you're on the air.
TIMThank you for taking my call, Diane. I love the show.
REHMSure. Thank you.
TIMReally quick, not all Muslims are terrorists, but it seems that all terrorists are Muslim. I'm just a simple truck driver. I work hard every day. And here's my point. You don't see the Catholic Church traveling around the world killing people because you don't fall in line. Back in World War II, the Germans fell in line, the good Germans, fell in line with Hitler. The good Russians fell in line with Stalin. The Muslim community has to step up and stomp this bug on the ground. Otherwise, we're going to have to go in there and kill a lot of people, I'm afraid.
REHMWow. Professor Ahmed.
AHMEDTim is right in one sense. That's one perception, popular perception. But Tim, you need to understand, when you say only Muslims are killing, take example from Africa just now, open up your Wiki, or whichever source you want to access. You have Christians and Muslims, unfortunately, burning each other's houses of worship, killing each other, both Christians and Muslims. You have, you just cited these notorious figures like Hitler and so on. These were representing, in their minds, a certain form of Christian civilization.
AHMEDAnd they killed millions of people, the Second World War ended up in killing, I don't know, 18 or 19 million people. So, let's not be simplistic and simply blame an entire civilization. As far as Muslims not doing enough, Pakistan has lost 60,000 civilians fighting against the Taliban, a war that began after 9/11, in which not one Pakistani was involved. The economy's been destroyed, society's falling apart, and Pakistanis are very angry about it, because they say we had nothing to do with 9/11 and the backlash has hit us and we are facing this violence in our society.
STEINLAUFTim's comment, I think, reflects a common misperception about the nature of religion. And it's a sobering thing for all of us to think about, who represent our faith traditions. And that is that number one, religion is not the problem. Islam is not the problem. It is human beings who are deeply confused, who are deeply misguided and deeply guided by their hatred and their fear. However, one of the things that we also have to confront in our faith communities is that religion can be a double edged sword.
STEINLAUFBecause we are all based in text. We are text based traditions and scriptures, that, scriptures are open to interpretation. And, you know, we, I think we all believe in our traditions, that our tradition can be, or our collective traditions can be the salvation of the world. Or indeed they can be the destruction of the world.
STEINLAUFIf we don't have a rich tradition of discussing and learning and going deep inside and using them as an instrument for the good.
REHMHere's an email from William in Missouri, who says a lot of us do not care how the religious leaders work this out. Organized religion is the problem. Do you hear that a lot, Tom Gjelten?
GJELTENOh, of course I do. You know, whenever I do a story that expresses any kind of sympathy for one faith tradition or another, I get barraged by comments from all atheist listeners who are offended that we're giving such an opportunity to religions. I mean, there is a, there is a strong atheist kind of culture, you know, very outspoken, that religion is the source of much of the conflict in the world.
BUDDEWe, well, religion has a lot to answer for, in that way, unfortunately. And there is a higher burden placed on those of us who claim the highest aspiration of ideals of our species and attempt to live by them. And often we fail. And so, I would say that any of us who are leaders of organized religion, which, of course, when you're on the inside, that feels like an oxymoron anyway. But the idea of being a spokesperson or an institution bearer, we have a lot to answer for. And I don't think there's nothing to be gained from running away from that.
BUDDEOn the other hand, all the studies show that when America needs to turn to someplace for help and consolation and support, they turn to the religious institutions first. And that's because of that double edge that you were talking about, Rabbi. That we have also the impulses towards compassion and charity and forgiveness and mercy. That even we, when we don't want to, are called to abide by.
HARKINSI would absolutely agree. I think the moral framework of justice and equity that emanates from so many, if not all religious traditions, really is the underpinning that obviously can be used for good. The Bishop is absolutely right. We've got a lot of accounting to do for the harm that has been done in the name of organized religion and we need to understand that. And let me just say one thing to sort of reverberate back to the comment from our -- your listener in Detroit. Understand when someone talks about where this violence is precipitating from, the religious construct of somebody like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is not genuine.
HARKINSI mean, they're not operating from a place of religious authenticity. This is a misappropriation and a perversion of some segments of Islam. And people need to understand that in the same way you'd understand that about any perversion and extremism. So, to lay this again at the feet of some 1.6 billion Muslims is just patently unfair.
REHMAll right, to Charlottesville, Virginia. Jim, you're on the air.
JIMHello, Diane. This is kind of similar to what Tim said. We all are aware of the reaction in the Islamic world when that terrible video was produced in the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. There was rioting in the streets. I think it would go a long way to showing that the Western world and most of the Islamic world are in solidarity if the man on the street was rioting about the way they're being victimized themselves by Islamic extremists.
AHMEDWell, Jim, this is exactly what they're doing. They are, in fact, rioting against their own governments precisely because they don't have justice, they don't have facilities for education, for health. They don't have fairness in their societies. They see the inequality between a very corrupt, small elite and a vast population. And they also see the hopelessness in the youth, who really have no education, not an understanding of religion. The Reverend talked about Baghdadi and his understanding of religion.
AHMEDMost young Muslims do not have a sophisticated understanding of Islam as a faith and a civilization.
REHMBut understanding what the caller is saying, that even as you are saying without jobs, without security, without education, Muslims are rioting against the government. But the view from the outside is that they are in support of the kind of slaughter that took place.
AHMEDDiane, this is the great misunderstanding. And you have to blame the media to a great extent. I can tell you when the church was attacked in Pakistan, there were millions of Pakistanis who came out to protest, violent protest. You had processions, you had hand to hand vigils, candlelight. It was remarkable, and yet, I didn't see anything of this reported in the West. So, it's also important that we continue this dialogue. We have to reach out to the other. We're talking about understanding in the United States.
AHMEDI would say, Diane, you should propose a high level interfaith delegation and invite Donald Trump to have a word with it. Let them try to convince him that these matters that he's raising are not only dangerous for faith, but for the United States of America, which he claims to represent.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Rabbi Steinlauf.
STEINLAUFI think it's really important to point out that for all these individuals who see Islam and Muslim people and see them behaving differently in some way that they find disturbing, that's a wake-up call to every individual who was noticing that to look inside. And to see their own tradition, whatever it is, whether they're Christian or Jewish or Atheist, that, to look at your own history and your own group's history of violence. Because you can see violence and disturbing behaviors in every single tradition and group.
STEINLAUFBe they religious groups. There is tremendous violence in the history of the Jewish people, there's tremendous violence in Christian history, as well as in many movements that are not religiously based. Human beings, when they organize in various ways, have a propensity to violence and hatred and to killing each other. And it's unfair to single out and otherfy one group when actually what's motivating that is deep fear and mistrust and not recognizing your own culpability.
BUDDEAnd in our efforts to understand and to overcome the forces of evil that are being perpetuated now in Islam, our greatest allies and friends are within the Islamic world, both here in this country and abroad. And so it is not only immoral, it is incredibly short sighted not to make allies with those, who within their own traditions, are trying to confront what is so shockingly terrible. And we see, as you were saying Rabbi, we see history teaching us that in each one of our traditions. Christianity has a lot to answer for for American racism, for example.
BUDDEBut it was within the churches where that voice of morality also found a foothold. And it's a similar -- I can't -- it's a similar process and to cut ourselves off from our closest friends, who have the most to teach us and the most impact in their world, is tragic.
GJELTENYou know, I was struck by a poll last week that found that 84 percent of American acknowledge that they know little or nothing about Islam. And yet, Islam is dominating the news and Muslims are dominating the news. And the people have very strong feelings about Islam and Muslims apparently, on the basis of very little knowledge of the religion. And this is a real challenge for religion reporters like me, because when you have this huge dissonance between what people know and what people think they know, that's really where it's important for education to take place.
REHMTwo comments, two tweets, one from Claudia, who says this is the first productive conversation I've heard on moral leadership in months. Why aren't there more? And from Alexander, who says, as an American Christian, I plan to read the story of Jesus's birth in the Koran this year for Christmas. On that note, we shall end our conversation. I want to thank all of you. Tom Gjelten, Akbar Ahmed, the Reverend Mariann Budde, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, and the Reverend Derrick Harkins. And to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year.
REHMWe're going to take some time off and bring you some of the year's favorite programs during the holiday. But I wish you all safety, peace and love. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.