Andrea Elliott of the New York Times rankled a stridently anti-American Muslim organization this week with a report that appeared on the front page of Wednesday's Metro section.
Before I go any further, I would advise Ms. Elliott, if she plans to enrage other extremist Muslim groups, that she do it from a safer distance. The clan she ripped on Wednesday hangs out in Queens. Way too close.
The organization that calls itself Islamic Thinkers appears to have historical ties to the followers of the london based radical cleric Omar Bakri Muhammed, self proclaimed spokesman for Usama Bin Laden. Bakri actively recruits fighters for terrorist plots wherever the needs of jihad beckon. Figures like John Major, Tony Blair and Pervez Musharraf have fallen under his fatwas (sentences) and he has declared open season on all Murtaddun (Muslim turncoats).
The Islamic Thinkers deny any relationship with Bakri's group, but the fact remains that until 9/11 they went by the same name, Al-Muhajiroun ('the emigrants'). Regardless, the Queens based group uses its own incendiary tactics to combat - peacefully, we are assured - what they see as the global, US led campaign for the debasement of Muslims. Inflammatory public protests in Jackson Heights, flag burning and the production of videos like Muslim Massacres and Life in Palestine which recently found their way onto Queens Public Television are among the Thinker's most notable acheivements.
Their ultimate goal is to transform the US into an Islamic state governed by shari'a - holy Islamic law. This will, they insist, be done pacifically.
The Islamic Thinkers bristle at Elliott's article, in the first place, because she was denied direct access to the group and chose to write it anyway, based on the testimony of people close to the organization. The group's web site is an endless diatribe against the press and its unfair treatment. Therein lies a first lesson for the Thinkers regarding free society: not talking to the media will not prevent them from talking about you. Usually it incites them to even further unrestrained speculation.
Secondly, there's the moral Catch-22 that always rears its cynical head in these conflicts. The Thinkers defend their right to burn flags and crusade against the US within its borders citing the laws and Constitution of the very society they hope, one day, to destroy. This bit of ethical acrobacy may some day be referred to as 'the Guantanamo syndrome'. For now, it is simply one of the infuriating consequences of being a free country.
Finally, I must admit I am more than a little bemused by the indignation the Thinkers and other radical Muslim organizations profess every time it is even insinuated that their hardline rantings could and often do incite violence. Islam is a path of peace, they insist, the Qur'an is a message of harmony and serenity.
While I would not go as far as to say that violence is an essential part of Islam and I am the first to admit that the Qur'an contains passages of stunning beauty and mysticism, even the uninitiated reader will conclude that vengeance and aggression are not inconditionally sanctioned by the holy book.
Take one example from the sura of The Cow:
"Fight for Allah against those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits. Kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out. Temptation is worse than slaughter. Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Fight with them until there is no persecution, and they worship only Allah, but if they desist there should be no hostility except against the oppressors."
There are numerous exhortations to take up arms in the Qur'an, both in defense of Allah and to extend his dominion. The Prophet himself formed an army and, in keeping with the revelation he received, used it to submit the polytheistic tribes of his time to the strict monotheism of Islam. Fighting and killing are not proscribed as immoral in the Qur'an. They are, in some circumstances, deemed the necessary duty of all true believers.
This is in stark contrast with Christianity's moral stance. Not that Christians themselves are morally superior to Muslims. Throughout history and even in our own day many supposed Christians have wielded the Bible as if it were a weapon of mass destruction. But that is in contradiction of and NOT in accordance with the Gospel.
"You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' But what I say to you is: offer no resistance to injury... You have heard the commandment, 'You shall love your countryman but hate your enemy'. But my commandment to you is: love your enemies and pray for your persecutors." (Mt 5, 38-44)
The morality of the Qur'an is more easily compared to the Old Testament of Christian scripture than the Gospel. Jesus of Nazareth, founder of Christianity, preferred an injust and absurd death to lifting a finger against his antagonizers. He even found it in Himself to forgive them, after which they promptly lynched Him. This is what He taught His followers to do. They have not always done it. In fact, they have often failed miserably and tragically. But violence, especially in the form of payback, is categorically forbidden in the Gospel.
My point is, quite simply, that some basis for the provocative rhetoric and the extremist reactions of radical Islam could be gleaned from the Qur'an inasmuch as violence is tolerated under certain circumstances. That, unfortunately, allows a Bin Laden to 'justify' the murder of civilians and a suicide bomber to be regarded as a 'hero'.
A Christian, when he commits an act of violence - be it torture, execution, abortion or war - will find nothing to vindicate him in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.