"'Tell me what distinguishes the murderer at Fort Hood, the people we arrested in Denver and Detroit and New York, and the five people who were just picked up in Pakistan?'" Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich posed rhetorically in December on Meet the Press. "You could say, 'Well, they weren't Rotarians.' But it would be politically incorrect to describe the one common characteristic they have, which is they all belong to an irreconcilable wing of Islam which wants to destroy our civilization."
For Mr. Gingrich, this 'fact' belies a deeper issue in American politics with self-deception. "Until we can have an honest conversation and not be self-deceptive about our enemies, it's pretty hard to design a strategy" for dealing with them. To be fair, this "irreconcilable wing of Islam" was only one among multiple threats identified by Mr. Gingrich, but it was the one he emphasized the most. He prefaced his remarks by apologizing, "We don't even have a language ... I would describe the irreconcilable wing of Islam, some of my friends would describe Islamists, in large parts of our current culture that's politically incorrect."
Mr. Gingrich's concerns sound reasoned; they sound measured. The other participants in the panel were drawn in. No one challenged Mr. Gingrich's notion, except for Mayor Bloomberg's brief mention that "most Muslims around the world are God-fearing people just like you and me." Still, he let Gingrich's notion of an "irreconcilable wing of Islam" stand as measured and reasoned. But I was offended. Measured disrespect is disrespect no less. As a follower of God in the way of Jesus, I find it disingenuous and incendiary to speak of an "irreconcilable wing of Islam" without simultaneously confessing the irascible wing of a pro-West Christendom.
Of course there are those who will immediately disagree with this assessment, intimating if not saying openly, "The Muslims attacked us, in the name of their God ... If we don't take the fight to them, they will continue to bring the fight to us ... They hate our way of life ... 'Moderate Muslims' aren't doing enough to betray the radicals among them ... They only understand brute force." Such tinderbox irascibility shows itself to be just as irreconcilable when it continues to be the primary reaction of those who pledge allegiance to the Prince of Peace, but devote themselves instantly to 'just' war.
What proponents of this way of thinking fail to grasp is that Gingrich's language is disingenuous because it does not afford Muslims the same protections from linguistic malfeasance that we as self-identifying Christians afford ourselves. If one were to try to play up direct or indirect ties between domestic terrorists and Christianity, we would immediately draw a bright line differentiating 'us' from 'them,' even though the Army of God, Lambs of Christ, and other Christian Identity and Christian Patriot activists claim unapologetically religious motives. We qualify the differences between us and them with adjectives like 'true' and 'real' and insist on a public rehearsal of our most admirable qualities, yet seldom does this register as insincere or self-serving.
Our ability to disambiguate shows itself even more highly developed when we laud the Christianity of our cultural, political, and historic heroes and leaders while at the same time reserving judgement or rendering neutral their moral shortcomings, even though the cost of those shortcomings is often human lives (consider most recently the internationally illegal act of "preemptive" aggression called the Iraq War). No matter what our Christianity may cost others, we seem ever capable of delineating our faith from our failures.
[to be continued]
Melvin Bray (melvinbray.com) is a devoted husband, committed father, learner, teacher, writer, storyteller, purveyor of sustainability, and believer in possibilities. He is a contributing author to the recent compilation Audacity of Faith: Christian Leaders Reflect on the Election of Barack Obama (Judson Press) and an active participant in the Emergent Village.