The true nature of Islam is on display in the murder trial of a Muslim man in New York who beheaded his wife? That’s the essentialist conclusion of an elected Republican official in Southern California: Lancaster councilwoman Sherry Marquez. Here’s how her local newspaper—the January 27, 2010 edition of the Antelope Valley Press—started a report on the story:
LANCASTER—Councilwoman Sherry Marquez is under fire from a Los Angeles Islamic organization and from the Antelope Valley Muslims for comments she posted on her personal Internet page concerning a Muslim man charged with beheading his wife in New York.
“This is what the Muslim religion is all about—the beheading, honor killings are just the beginning of what is to come in the U.S.A,” Marquez wrote on her Facebook page.
“We are told this is a small majority (sic) of Muslims in America but it is truly what they are all about,” she said.
Marquez’s hysterical and inflammatory remarks (unsurprisingly) opened a rift between energized conservative “Christians,” eager to ditto her prejudicial statements, and the roughly ten thousand Muslims living in northeast Los Angeles County (where Lancaster is located). And now the Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser and Lawrence Swaim, the Executive Directors, respectively, of the California Council of Churches and the Interfaith Freedom Foundation, have weighed in on the matter, co-writing a letter to the Antelope Valley Press that contained this paragraph (Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010 B5):
Recent Facebook postings by Councilwoman Sherry Marquez demonizing all Muslims are also a matter of concern. One hundred years ago, Europeans demonized all Jews, and it led to the Holocaust, history’s greatest crime, and sparked a war that left Europe in ruins. Americans will not go down the road of religious bigotry. We know very well that there are good and bad people in all groups, and that those who portray one group as completely bad are usually out for themselves.
I share Rick Schlosser and Lawrence Swaim’s analysis of the malignant role that demonization plays in history, but I don’t share their optimism that “Americans will not go down the road of religious bigotry.” Like Schlosser and Swaim, I hope the center holds, and that the majority of the people in our country will always keep their heads about them under stress, and make distinctions, but I think that the first stanza of William Butler Yeats’s great 1921 poem, “The Second Coming,” is a reminder of what we’re really up against, and the danger that reactionaries and fanatics pose to a sane and centrist polity:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
As an agnostic, I hope that moderate Muslims and Christians can make an effective counter alliance against the world’s fast multiplying sub-rational fundamentalists. I like this song by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens). It gives me some hope: