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Rabbi speaks out in defense of Colin Powell and condems “Obsession” DVD

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In an article for the Shalom Center, Rabbi Arthur Waskow praised Colin Powell for his thoughtful commentary when Powell endorsed Obama for President. “The correct answer is, he [Obama] is not a Muslim. He’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is: ‘What if he is?’ Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That’s not America.”

Powell was appealing within and beyond the actual America to that patriotic vision of America that sings, “O beautiful for patriots’ dream that sees beyond the years/ Thine alabaster cities gleam — undimmed by human tears.”
[…]
The atmosphere of fear and hatred toward Islam has actually increased in the US during the last few years. Why? Partly because it has been deliberately stimulated. But partly because of what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” Most people who do something that runs against ordinary rules of decent behavior want to believe there is some extremely important reason to do it. So if you spend almost a trillion dollars and send thousands of Americans to their deaths and thousands more to lose their legs, arms, eyes, genitals, minds, and souls — all in order to kill Muslims who are not terrorists, do not have weapons of mass destruction, and are citizens of a weak and defenseless nation — it becomes imperative to see Muslims and Islam – without distinctions — as extremely dangerous. Not quite human. Not real Americans. Not one more thread in the lovely multi-colored fabric of American democracy.

And of course the fear and rage had a root in the actions of a small number of terrorists who did claim Islam as their justification, even though the mainstream organizations and leaders of Islam and the vast majority of Muslims in the world condemned the terrorist attack.

But this disorganized fear and rage would have remained disorganized, inchoate, ineffective, if some organizations had not whipped it up.

Enter a DVD called “Obsession,” which a month ago was mailed as a free embedded ad to the readers of more than a dozen major newspapers.
[…]
“Obsession” is an attempt to make not a band of terrorists but all Islam the enemy. Bad enough in itself; even worse that it was deliberately sent to millions of homes through newspapers in the major “swing states” of presidential politics. It was an attempt to transform religious fear and ignorance into religious hatred, and hatred into an election tool.

I suppose the people who did this hoped that if they could change some votes in those key states they could save America and the world from leaders who were thoughtlessly “soft on terrorism” or “blind to the threat of Islam.” They may even have thought not that their ends justified their means but that their ends and means were in ethical coherence. But those who stirred racial hatred in the 19650s and ’60s thought they were saving America from the disaster of cultural “mongrelization” in a soup of racial inferiority. And the McCarthyists of the 1950s thought their stirring fear and hatred of “subversives” was saving America from the disaster of Communist espionage and take-over. And those who imprisoned Japanese-Americans in the 1940s thought they were saving America from the disaster of widespread sabotage. (All of these folks probably hoped to increase their own power as byproduct; but who doesn’t?)

Indeed, their means and their ends did cohere. Repression born of fear will breed more repression born of hatred. There are two grounds to challenge their practices: the ground of caring for truth, and the ground of caring for love.
[…]
Speak out against the obsessive fear of Islam. Speak out to highlight the most important line in Colin Powell’s interview. Speak out to political candidates, urging them to speak in all sorts of houses of worship if they speak in any. Speak out to the publishers of the newspapers that carried “Obsession” as an ad, asking them whether a DVD about the “International Jewish Conspiracy” would have found so quick acceptance, no matter how much the money offered their shrinking bank accounts. Speak out to their editors and columnists as well, asking them to critically analyze the film. Since the producers of “Obsession” have started circulating a follow-up film called “The Third Jihad,” be proactive in addressing the future as well as the past.

Above all, do not leave the defense of Islam’s dignity and honor to Muslims alone. Christians and Jews must make clear that their own celebration of the One affirms the diversity that alone can express the Infinite.
[…]
The speaking out and the listening, even beyond our concern with truth, must flow from our concern for love. For the love that all our traditions teach: love your neighbor as yourself. For the deep and loving understanding that the Quran teaches: God brought into the world different cultures and communities not for us to hate and despise each other but to lovingly know and deeply experience each other in our diversity.

With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace —

Arthur

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Written by Valerie Curl

November 3, 2008 at 4:50 PM

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