The program initiated by sundry evangelical Christian ministers to accost Islam by teaching the tenets of the Christian faith to those who seek to bring that faith to Muslims is very good stuff, overdue. There is, of paramount concern to them, the commanding message felt by these Protestant missionaries. One of them put it this way to a reporter from the New York Times: “If I had the answer for cancer, what sort of a human would I be not to share it?”
That is the theological commandment and it is entirely honorable, especially when it tells of men and women willing to spend their lives, and even to risk them, to pass on the word of the Christian faith.
But it is also very important in tactical perspectives.
Some commentators have opined (frequently, in this space) that the war against the extremist Muslims must be fought not only by Marines in Iraq, but also by proselytes. The first approach is and will continue to be the effort to mobilize Koranic teachings that would seem to deplore exercises in the extremism we are now combating. When the Americans were taken hostage in Iran by the Ayatollah in 1979, a few Koranic leaders were rounded up who were willing to deplore what had been done as contrary to Muslim commandments. And that pursuit of moderate voices in Islam continues today, as we hear and relate the here-and-there voices of the Muslim leader who deploys such as suicide bombers and agents of 9/11.
A special difficulty is that the “moderate” Muslim voice arouses the antagonism of the militant, which antagonism seeks satisfaction, from time to time, in mayhem. The wrath of the militants is feared not only by non-militant exegetes of the Koran, entire governments are intimidated. It is not safely assumed that leaders in Egypt and Syria, let alone Iran, could survive a genuine effort to isolate and discredit those of their own countrymen who are calling for death to infidels and who cheer at any bulletin telling of the success of a suicide bomber.
The Christian evangelical approach meets the problem head on. One evangelist, from Beirut, advocates assembling passages from the Koran that establish that Islam is “regressive, fraudulent, and violent,” to quote the Times report by Laurie Goodstein. “Here in the Koran it says slay them, slay the infidels. In the Bible there are no words from Jesus saying we should kill innocent people.” Some evangelical leaders have been direct in branding the Islamic faith as badly disoriented. As ever, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Vines are widely quoted, Mr. Graham having said that Islam is “a very evil and wicked religion.” We learn that a dozen books are circulating, written by Christians or disillusioned Muslims, who urge confrontational exchanges with Islam.
Now the modern temper shrinks from anything confrontational, even between a father and his 12-year-old son caught smoking. Nowhere, and quite properly so, was our venture in Iraq dressed in crusaders’ battle dress. Still, basic postulates of Western civilization have to be defended as such, and their provenance is substantially Christian. The commandments to neighborly love and the sanctity of human beings are enjoined by the Christian gospel, and historical failures to live by the Word have been acknowledged as ignoble Christian failures. But there is no prospect of a Koranic Vatican II on the horizon, which would deplore the excesses of today’s Muslim militants or the persecution of Salman Rushdie.
Wherefore, the Christian face of the ongoing struggle simply has to show itself, and its strengths are great. The doctrine of human love and responsibility for others should not be thought of as intrinsically offensive to a Muslim, and sincerity in preaching the doctrines of Christ has naturally to follow from advocacy of the lessons of the New Testament. Our diplomats and our generals have prescribed roles to play, but ahead of diplomacy and military action are our philosophers, even as the preachments of Locke et al. preceded the thought that galvanized our Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
Diplomacy is fine and is necessary but it sometimes demands politically correct professions of equality of faith, at the expense of right reason. Ronald Reagan saw through to this problem when he said that the Soviet Union was an evil empire and that Communism would end up on the ash heap of history. Something like that needs to be said about Muslims, to the extent that they are identifiable as agents of terrorism.