Yesterday evening the local Christian university had an Algerian terrorism expert to speak. Last week they had a pastor from Baghdad speaking; he requested his name not be on the internet, so I won’t say much about him, just to be sure. Only that he was very contemptuous of the notion of “moderate Islam.”
The Algerian, on the other hand, is a “secular” Muslim; his father was assassinated by the terrorists early in the uprising in the ’90s. To give him credit, he is definitely risking his own life by the statements he makes. (Halfway through the speech, which was being broadcast on the internet, two dark-skinned young men with beards and Afghan-style caps walked in and sat down in the front row; my mother and I started planning exit routes; but they didn’t do anything.) He started by firmly explaining that more Muslims have been killed by Islamic terrorists than non-Muslims; which is too bad, and very nice rhetorically, but doesn’t change the fact that the motivation of the terrorists is religious. He went on with the history of the Algerian problems in some depth; which was very informative, if not perhaps what we were expecting to hear about.
Everything was going ok until the question-and-answer part. My father couldn’t come; he’s the one who looks like he can make an authoritative statement about Islam and terrorism. I know what he would like to say, but somehow I don’t look the part. I waited in hopes that other audience members would perceive the problem with the speaker’s statements that “Islam is a religion of peace,” and “it has been hijacked by radicals.” But no. On this Christian university campus, all the questions accepted his basic premise. So I got one of the microphones and said, “With all due respect to your understanding of the Koran, isn’t it true that there are verses in the Koran which command to kill the infidels? And isn’t it true that Mohammed himself was pretty violent, and that Islam’s early spread was mostly by violent conquest?” The speaker gave me a very patient look, and explained that when regarded “in context” we understand that Mohammed was a warlord, and was obliged to be violent, because he was attacked by polytheistic tribes. With the unspoken assumption that he likes Jews and Christians, but polytheists it’s ok to kill. Very revealing, from a secular Muslim. Personally I don’t approve of polytheists; but that doesn’t mean they need to be killed! And of course, he was completely disregarding all the Jews Mohammed personally killed, and all the Christians all over the Middle East who were killed by Mohammed’s successors. But by that time I didn’t have the mike.
The next questioner was an earnest, red-headed young lady, who began with the statement, “We all know that Islam has created a great culture, and the Ottoman empire was very tolerant. . . ” He happily picked that up, and talked about the wonderful Islamic civilization, while Europe was in the Dark Ages (can you imagine me squirming here?), and then said that the Ottoman empire never persecuted anyone for religious or ethnic reasons – At which I simply exploded, and said loudly, “How about the Armenian massacres?” He handled me very nicely, finishing his previous statement, and then explaining that the Armenians were thought to be fifth columnists for the Russians, and thus the massacre was understandable, if not justifiable. (It was a mistake to try cross-ex technique without continuing control of a microphone.) Yes. So now he was absolutely lying through his teeth: no persecution by the Ottomans? And then he asserted that no – no! – modern Islamic state persecutes Christians. That was lying. That wasn’t just a different interpretation of the Koran, or even of history. Which is actually the more difficult to understand, since the speaker was Berber, and openly acknowledged that the Berbers were Christians before the Muslims came.
The one great part was when he was asked why he resigned from the UN, and he explained, with passion, how corrupt and ineffectual the UN is; that it’s just an arrangement for anti-American people to pension themselves and all their friends and relations. The last straw for him was when his boss, a crony of Annan, hired his young nephews and nieces, just out of college, to positions equal to the speaker’s own, after all his years of hard work. Also how these young people did no work, and called their uncle by pet names in the office. So I nodded as vigorously as I could; he has one thing correct, after all. For the rest, I don’t know whether he was deliberately lying about persecution by Muslims, or what; maybe he has a mental block, that he can’t acknowledge the fact that Islam can’t be reformed, otherwise his life would be truly hopeless. But he is living among enough lies that it’s not surprising if he tells some too. It just makes me very angry that these Christian young people don’t recognize the truth.
So afterwards I caught one of the young men who’d asked questions, a homeschool graduate who ought to know better, and gave him all the lecture I’d been bursting with. He was very polite, and let me exclaim about the inexcusability of the Armenian massacre, and the intolerance of Muslims throughout the Middle Ages, and how the great and fantastic Islamic culture was just a result of their capturing all the Greek books in their rampages, and how they didn’t know how to build pillars in mosques till they stole them from the churches, and killed the Christian engineers who showed them how to do it from scratch. And how false it is to say modern Islamic governments aren’t persecuting Christians. I think I was talking a little bit loudly, on purpose, so the other young people in the area could hear some of it too. The young man was very polite; he advised me to have a cool drink.
Then, the speaker came by, and nodded to me, and asked if I was Armenian. I told him, no, Coptic. So we had a polite exchange, hindered by a crazy dispensationalist who stuck his head in and announced, “You came here to pave the way for Antichrist,” and gleefully asserted that the end of the world was thus at hand. We all stared at him in disbelief; the speaker seemed not to know enough about American Christianity to understand him at all, and the rest of us cut him out as hard as we could. Not constructive at all; so what if he is from Satan? Does it help to tell him so? And if he isn’t consciously and personally working for Satan, it’s not helpful either. But I was hoping that he wouldn’t spend the whole evening on a Christian campus, and get nothing but a political discussion. So I told him if he thought there were inconsistencies in the Koran, verses for and against violence, and for against Jesus and the Bible, he ought to read the Bible, as the most reliable answer.
I excuse my behavior by saying that if my father had come, he would have been just as angry, and he would have interrupted at least as much as I did – possibly in Arabic. My poor mother has to put up with both of us.