How Do I Love My Muslim Neighbor?

Robert George says there are a lot of Muslims who love their neighbors, and we need to make common cause with them. He’s right! But how?

I find it completely plausible that in his personal interactions with the people he describes, George has encountered forms of Islam that both preach and practice love for neighbor. But that sort of Islam does not appear to have achieved a high level of public, institutional expression in the United States. Indeed, it is a reliable guideline that the larger and more prestigious an Islamic organization is, the more frequently it is quoted or featured in the major media, and (above all) the more money it has, the fewer degrees of separation one seems to find between that group and organized terrorism, or at minimum organized ideological networks that openly preach and practice hatred of neighbor. While there are individual voices standing against these organizations, for most of us there is no practical path to build alliances with “Islam” so long as these are the voices of individuals and not organizations. Those of us who have not had extensive personal experience with Islam (of any kind) are left without many practical options for making common cause.

This situation is, of course, a by-product of many decades of careful network-building and ruthless squelching of internal dissent by the militant enemies of civilization, funded by oil money. I would therefore submit for consideration the following proposition: that the first and most practical way most of us can make common cause with Muslims who love their neighbors is by doing more to oppose those who hate their neighbors. To do so is neither for nor against Islam, but it is emphatically to be for Muslims.

Few have suffered as much at the hands of Islamic hate groups as Muslims who refuse to participate in their hate; the reasons for this are obvious. Standing up to these oppressors is not only the right thing to do for its own sake, it is the only way to create space for the emergence of high-profile institutions representing an Islam that preaches and practices love of neighbor. The emergence of such institutions is, in turn, the only social condition within which most of us will be able to make common cause with that sort of Islam.

Moreover, this course of action does not require us to get involved in complex theological disputes. We need not resolve the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God (on which the divines of the Second Vatican
Council, as quoted by George, seem to be in some tension with passages like I John 2:23), or to what extent love for neighbor is at home with or at odds with “authentic” Islam, to know that the jackboot of the bloodthirsty oppressor ought to be removed, posthaste, by force if necessary, from the neck of the innocent.

Finally, it has the merit of being something that we have some idea how to do. Islam that preaches and practices love for neighbor is something that most of us do not have much opportunity to come into direct contact with. But we know, more or less, who the oppressors are, and it doesn’t take much imagination to think of ways we could be more effectively opposing them – if we decided that were something we have some responsibility to be doing.

Image HT

5 Thoughts.

  1. Well hmm. I certainly agree with you that extremist – in the sense of violent and intolerant – Muslim groups need to be opposed. And that it is primarily Muslims, not we, who are the victims of such groups and ideologies. The stories are heartbreaking.
    But notice the passive construction on my first sentence. I don’t think it’s quite so easy to do so as one might think. You say that this “has the merit of being something that we have some idea how to do.” What do you have in mind?

    Secondly, though, I believe I would disagree with your statement that “that the first and most practical way most of us can make common cause with Muslims who love their neighbors is by doing more to oppose those who hate their neighbors.” As with Christianity, a religion of love does not spread well by defense but by offense – by which I mean, encouraging the positive is probably more important than discouraging the negative. Many Muslims in many parts of the world are afraid to speak up for what they believe Islam to be, but they are courageously doing so, anyway. (And of course I agree that the forces underwriting that fear should be opposed, but again, that’s complicated and involves chastising a lot of otherwise allies). The appeal of that witness is tremendous. A Muslim woman I know who went against the express orders – and attempted force – of her father and gets an education, for instance, inspires many others like her in her town. We could oppose her father, but there will always be others like him. I would rather give her a scholarship to study in the States, and let the courageous women who will risk it all to follow her lead do so – with whatever support we can muster.

    I also think that it is this, not the opposition, that we instinctively know how to do, admittedly on a limited scale. Opposing extremist Islam is difficult because the categories are often very mixed – we label as a terrorist organization something that is also doing great works of charity in its own country, so those who want to support the charity (and not political) goals of the organization with their Western dollars are thwarted, the charities back in the other country aren’t helped, poverty serves as a recruitment ground, etc. But go to any university in the US and find a group of Muslim students who are indeed eager to love their neighbor, and ask how you can help. Or volunteer with refugees. I know these don’t solve the problem of extremism, but I’m nervous about any schema that does. I don’t know that we can uproot all extremism from the outside.

    • I must say, you’re putting a much more productive frame on your position than Robert George did. I’ve tried and tried to figure out what George’s post is getting at, and in spite of my efforts I’m having trouble finding a way to read it as something other than: “Quit thinking about oppression and injustice. That stuff is politically inconvenient because it splits the coalition against abortion. So get out there and have warm, fuzzy feelings about Islam for the sake of social conservatism!”

      A weakness you’ve clearly identified in my post is that I failed to think carefully about the distinction between individual action and society’s collective action. In fact, most of us as individuals have little to no opportunity to anything either to help Muslims who love their neighbors or to fight those who hate. Like George, I was thinking in terms of collective political action; unlike him, I didn’t keep that fact very clear in my own mind while I was writing.

      So I’ll back up a bit and say that while most individuals, acting as individuals, may not have much opportunity to contribute either way, they could contribute on both sides of the equation, and we need not have a general preference for one or the other. Probably some should concentrate more on one side and some on the other, as their gifts and opportunities lead them. Some of us, you know, are personally “wired” much more for punching injustice in the face than for healing its wounds. And to some extent my reaction to George may have been unconsciously driven by a sense I was getting from him that he didn’t respect the dignity and importance of my ability to serve my neighbor in that capacity. If so, I should repent of that.

      But George’s focus wasn’t individuals acting as individuals, it was something on the order of: “what should we, as a movement, think and do about Islam?” The “we” is not explicitly identified but I think it has to be something like “religious conservatives” or “social conservatives.” And when we turn from the individual to the movement, the practical problem is that most of us are not Robert George and we don’t get much opportunity to travel around meeting the kind of people he meets. Our ability to actually do anything as a movement that would help build common cause with Muslims is limited. But we do have a voice in law enforcement, intelligence and defense policy, and can use that to stand against the increasing refusal of our various “justice” systems to actually do justice for oppressed Muslims, and treat the enemies of civilization as what they are.

      One point I made that I don’t want to get lost in the shuffle is the fact that it would be a lot easier for us to reach out in more positive ways (although I don’t understand what isn’t “positive” about standing up for the rights of the oppressed, but anyway . . .) if there were some major organized institutions in American life representing an Islam that loves its neighbors. One question I think we should be asking is, why are there no such organizations, and what can we do to clear the way to their emergence?

  2. Well, I don’t know that there are no such organizations – I know of several in DC, and a quick google search shows a good number of places like the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, which partners with several interfaith charitable groups. Perhaps my perspective is skewed from living in the university sphere off and on for over a decade now, which is to say, all of that in the post-9/11 world, when Islam in America became more visible in the public sphere. But I think the institutions are there. I don’t mean to say that they’ll always be to everyone’s taste. And I do know of at least one that poses as a school but has a highly intolerant curricula. I assume such cases are the exception.

    I didn’t mean to say that it isn’t good to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, of course – I meant positive in a narrow sense, i.e., offense rather than defense. But you’re quite right that sometimes, injustice simply calls for defense of the oppressed. I just don’t see that most of us are in a position to do much about honor killings, but we are in a position to work with an interfaith charity in after-school tutoring.

    I realize this may sound a bit saccharin, as if the feel-gooder comes out with the moral high ground. I just think, in this case, it’s more accessible for most of us.

    • Well, okay, there are not literally “no” such organizations. But until these organizations grow to a point where people who don’t specialize in dealing with Islam know who they are, in practice it’s not going to make much difference. Building alliances between Muslims who love their neighbors and a tiny group of Christians who specialize in Christian-Muslim relations is not going to get us where we need to go. These organizations need to grow, and I was eager to emphasize that the social conditions necessary for their growth include doing a lot more than we currently do to oppose their uncivilized rivals, who currently dominate the landscape.

      At this point I think – I hope – we agree more than we disagree. The important points are that 1) both approaches are necessary, and 2) we should be deciding this issue on its own merits, not on what will build the largest coalition against gay marriage. On that I trust we can shake hands and say we’re agreed.

      See, who says political dialogue on the internet is all rancorous and uncivil?

  3. Weellll…;-) I do think we agree more than we disagree, and I certainly agree that both approaches are necessary. I admit I’m surprised at the characterization that these are unknown and hidden; I don’t think it’s just my own interest in the topic, though of course that heightens awareness. Muslims are a minority in the US so of course their institutions are too, but I confess I don’t go looking for them. (Like a good grad student/bad citizen, I’m reading Averroës and al-Jassas more than engaging in interfaith dialogue).

    People associate the Catholic Church with sex abuse and are often unaware of the massive network of Catholic charities. Does that mean those charities are a small aspect of Catholicism? By no means. But they sure don’t make as hot of headlines as sex abuse. Now, I think your point would hold in this analogy, and quite strongly, in pointing out that a non-Catholic should certainly stand up for the rights of the victims, whereas he/she may not be able to do as much – or need to do as much – to support the charities and outreach of the Church. Here I would agree – though I think it would also be foolish of society to stop supporting Catholic charities – but my agreement is based on a factor that doesn’t transfer to the case of Islam, viz., I think Catholicism, worldwide, is in much better shape than Islam worldwide. There aren’t wars and insurgencies happening over whether the Catholic Brotherhood will run a country, nor are there Catholic terrorist organizations that kill girls on the way to school. Given that disparity, then, it seems to me that the neighbor-loving Muslims need all the more support. (And yes, certainly the insurgencies are signs that victims of violent Muslims need defense as well. But that’s a very thorny issue – should we be involved in Syria? In Egypt? Where does sovereignty end? What level of religious regime is acceptable? Whereas we could do much more to support American Muslims, as well as, say, women’s coops in Afghanistan, micro-lending institutions in Bangladesh, etc.)

    When you say “we should be deciding this issue on its own merits, not on what will build the largest coalition against gay marriage,” I’m not sure what issue it is that we’re deciding. I certainly don’t think that we should engage Muslims purely on account of their potential as allies in defense of traditional marriage, no. That seems utilitarian and ultimately bound to backfire, as most marriages (forgive me) of convenience do. That said, statistically, in the US, Muslims really do make good allies in the defense of traditional marriage, as well as religious freedom.

    In short, Muslims in the US aren’t the same people as Muslims in the Taliban. (Sorry – I know you know that and don’t mean to imply otherwise.) If we’re talking about the Taliban, by all means, I don’t want to spend my time seeking out one or two that might be an ally in some respect and talk about what we have in common. But if these neighbor-loving organizations are indeed as unknown and of as little influence as you indicate, then I’ll have to stand my ground that that’s where I would start.

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