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Avoiding Armageddon

One of the nice things about being an editor is that occasionally a great book arrives unexpectedly in the mail. Last week, three paperbacks of varying size plopped on my desk: One, ironically, with damp pages, was about a walking tour of Venice. It included a CD. Another was from Bill Whorral, an eccentric journalist from Shoals who has published another photo documentary, this time on the Amish of Daviess County. The third was ‘Silent No More,’ a refreshing and long-overdue wake up call by Paul Findley, a former weekly newspaper editor in Illinois who served in Congress for 22 years. He’s a strong civil rights advocate, and a Republican.
Findley’s book is important because it performs a great service: it argues convincinly that Americans need to know about Muslims and Islam here in America. These are two subjects that, I would guess, the average man and woman on the street don’t know much about, and yet one has the distinct feeling that many Americans don’t like Muslims and they hate Islam.
That’s because they really don’t know much about a religion that’s practiced by one billion people around the world but mainly because of the disastrous, bloody events in Israel, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and, of course, the abominable 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country.
Findley realized all this rather late in life. He grew up Presbyterian in middle America. A lot of the false stereotypes he got about the ‘Muhammadans’ he learned from a sincere but uneducated Sunday school teacher. He grew up steeped in the Judeo-Christian ethic ‘ ‘no one spoke about the Judeo-Christian-Muslim ethic’ ‘ and so he wrote ‘Silent No More,’ to set the record straight. It’s a fascinating, highly readable book, and we would have a better world if a lot of people read it. The subtitle is: ‘Confronting America’s false images of Islam.’
No one was less likely to attempt to destroy the false stereotypes of Islam and Muslims than Paul Findley, an editor and natural-born politician from the Midwest. He had always figured ‘ like most everyone else who reads conservative pundits, goes to the movies, watches Fox News, and listens to Rush Limbaugh and uninformed fundamentalist preachers ‘ that ‘progressive and civilized’ Christians and Jews were on one side, while the ‘backward and menacing force in the Arab East’ was on the other. It was all very simple. The Crusaders vs. the Infidels. Us vs. them. The good guys against the bad guys. Black against white. Easy to comprehend, and quite wrong.
‘These stereotypes flourished in everyday life in America,’ Findley writes. ‘They formed a worldview that I now recognize as false and misleading.’
Twenty-five years ago, as an uneasy Christian and scared Congressman, Findley hesitantly journeyed to the hostile, Marxist and Islamic country of Yemen to rescue a constituent, an American imprisoned on false charges of espionage. The U.S. had no embassy in Aden, the capital. Findley was completely on his own, but he was treated well by the natives, some of whom spoke excellent English. With ridiculous ease, he obtained the man’s release from 16 months of solitary confinement
That trip changed Findley’s life. ‘Looking back,’ he writes, ‘I realize that Aden was my first stop on a long, exciting and instructive journey of exploration into the Islamic world. At subsequent stops, my eyes would be opened to a culture based on honor, dignity and value of every human being, as well as tolerance and the quest for learning standards that I learned later are deeply engrained in the Islamic religion. Those are goals that my Christian forebears would have applauded.’
At that time, Findley didn’t realize that Muslims were becoming a very large minority in the United States with leaders in medicine, science, business, sports (Louisville’s Muhammad Ali, for example), academia, the arts, and so on. There are now more Muslims than Jews in the U.S. (Have you checked your heart doctor’s last name?)
Not long after that, Findley’s opponent in his next Congressional race successfully painted him as anti-Semitic, a charge, he says, that resulted from his efforts to bring justice to Palestinians. It powerfully opened his eyes to what prejudice, racism and misunderstanding can do to a person or group.
In his book, Findley introduces us to many successful Muslims (pronounced MOOS-lims) in America, and in the process helps us understand that Muslims, Christians and Jews have much in common. They all trace their lineage back to the same person, Abraham. They are all ‘people of the book’ (the Bible) and honor the same prophets, including Jesus Christ. (Mary, the Mother of Jesus, holds an exalted placed in the Muslim holy book, the Quran.)
Along the way, Findley corrects a lot of common misconceptions that the average American probably has about Islam and Muslims. This is a valuable book to read, especially when the world is in danger of going up in the smoke of religious warfare. Some people warn about the ‘end days’ or the approaching Armageddon. If we continue to despise other people when we don’t know or understand them, if we get sucked into wrongly believing that religious extremists like terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, and psychopathic tyrants like Saddam Hussein, and brute-force war mongers like Ariel Sharon and Yassir Arafat fairly represent entire nations and ethnic groups, then we are indeed headed for Armageddon. We can expect terrorist attacks forever.
It’s time for the rational, compassionate, tolerant people of the world to stand up and speak out and ACT against the utter insanity of fundamentalist religious warfare. As Findley emphasizes, that includes the moderate Muslims of America, who have largely been silent.