All God's Children

When terrorists breed hatred among us, they've already won the war

It's almost as if I have seen only two things today. I saw the rose hips barely vibrating in the breeze. And now I see the World Trade Center collapsing to the ground again and again. Life goes on outside my car window. The homeless people are making their way to the shelters downtown, not because of the terrorist attack but because they have to get to the shelters by noon or go hungry for the night. The picture of life is still before me, but the frame is broken.

Today I remember three things that struck me in Armstrong's discussion of the God of Islam. The first, which I should be embarrassed not to have known, was the considerable amount of scriptural belief and teaching that Islam shares with both Judaism and Christianity. Another eye-opener was the relatively enlightened intellectual energy of early Islam, when compared with the Judaism and Christianity of the era of Muhammad in the 7th Century.

Islam, which values intellectual exploration and doesn't pretend to know the details of God's nature, was never at odds with the Enlightenment in the way the other two were, especially Christianity.

It begins: Smoke billows from the World Trade Center towers.
It begins: Smoke billows from the World Trade Center towers.

But the big shocker for me, the one element that distinguishes Islam more than any other from the other two monotheistic religions, was Muhammad's preaching of religious tolerance. The Koran teaches that God has revealed himself in different ways to different people all over the earth and that all of these faces of God are sacred:

"Do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in the most kindly manner--unless it be such of them as are set on evil doing--and say, 'We believe in that which has been bestowed upon us, as well as that which has been bestowed upon you: for our God and your God is one and the same, and it is unto him that we all surrender ourselves."

Every time I leave the house, I have to consider that my world could crumble into the ground exactly the same way the world of those people in New York and Washington did today, the people on the planes that crashed, all of them: We are no safer here, no more worthy of protection or survival than they were. I don't know what will happen. At one point during the morning, I review with my son how to load the shotgun and take off the safety. He already knows. This is my bow to pragmatism. Death is not at the door, but it's down the street.

When I get home with my book, my wife has left to take flowers to the church for a memorial service. Propped against the door, waiting for me to go out on the roof and put it up, is our somewhat bedraggled American flag, gray with the dust of at least 20 Fourths of July.

I want to know something about the patriotism of the days ahead: Huge swaths of suburban Dallas are occupied by Islamic immigrants, from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa. They work hard, run businesses, pay taxes, send kids to school. They bring seriousness of purpose and the dignity of cherished traditions to our messy space station on the prairie. So does the patriotism have to mean we turn on them, make them the other, cloak them in our darkest superstitions?

Like all religions, Islam has taken turns and twists since the time of its principal prophet. People tend to warp religious beliefs in ways that suit their self-interests. I hear on National Public Radio that Arabs in Palestine are greeting the news of the bombings with joy and handing out candy to children in celebration. That doesn't mean it's true or that this is by any means the whole story, even if NPR says it is. That's an easy story to tell on this day.

But if there is someone somewhere who believes that Muhammad would have approved of this carnage, then that person has deformed the entire Koran into a collection of truly satanic verses. But that person and that mental deformity are the enemy. Not Islam.

We're at war. War exacts an awful pragmatism. It wants our freedoms and our luxuries. It wants our sons and daughters. It may want our lives. And the burden of reality is that the American way of life is worth all of those sacrifices and more.

But war doesn't have to make us small or mean. It doesn't have to turn us into bigots. We can hate evil without becoming hateful. To fight evil, we don't have to be evil.

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