Sep. 18, 2006: Some Final Thoughts On Muslim Interviews Before I Make A Corn-Fried Shrimp Visit

It is time for my annual migration to the Georgia coast, commonly known as God’s Country. Admittedly, this event doesn’t compare in magnitude to the swallows returning yearly to the mission at San Juan Capistrano, but then the birds don’t get to fill their tummies with corn-fried shrimp from the exquisite little Georgia Sea Grill on St. Simons Island when they settle in. I do. Let ‘em eat cake.

Before I go, here are some final thoughts on the recent interviews with the Muslims. Reaction from readers was hot and heavy and fell into roughly three equal parts. About a third found the columns helpful in trying to understand Islam. Some even said the comments were consistent with what they had experienced themselves with Muslims. Another third said they read the columns but still would not trust anything a Muslim told them and then proceeded to lecture me on Islam, even though none are Muslims. The final third said I was (a) dumb as a rock, (b) naïve and/or (c) a disloyal American for even engaging them in conversation in the first place.

Of all the mail I received — and it was a lot — only one response was unsigned. I ignore anonymous mail because if you don’t have the guts to sign your name, I don’t have any interest in your opinion. So, this writer got himself lathered up for nothing. Just a friendly reminder for those of you who write anonymous letters: Garbage in … in the garbage.

One of the Muslim panelists, Jabril Alexander, says I misquoted him stating he said he would fight for his country against the Islamic cause. He says that while he would shed blood for his country, I misused the term “Islamic cause.” Jabril says, “Islamic causes are always positive causes.” Herein lies a problem with which I have wrestled since the interviews. The panelists were — in spite of what some readers alleged — very sincere in their views. But they don’t seem to understand that while they want us to take their word that Islam is a religion of peace and that they speak for the faith, the bad guys say they speak for Islam too. Who should we believe here? We non-Muslims find ourselves dealing with two conflicting messages, and our future rests on being sure we are getting the correct one.

I will say it one more time: The people who espouse an Islamic faith of peace and brotherhood had better get out of their cocoon and start speaking out long and loud against violence and terrorism. An occasional news release or ad won’t cut it. Neither will visits to synagogues and churches — as well intended as those may be. Until moderate Muslims take to the streets in large numbers demanding a stop to the violence by radical Muslims, they and their religion are going to continue to be viewed with suspicion. My friends on the panel didn’t seem to grasp how mistrusted Islam is because of the actions of the bad guys who claim to be the true believers. Saying Islam is a religion of peace isn’t enough. They are going to have to take the fanatics head on. And soon.

The good news is that the columns may have engendered the beginnings of an ongoing dialogue. Several readers indicated they want to know more about Islam, and will make the effort to reach out to Muslims. I hope they do. The Muslims I met are good people and seem as frustrated with the current craziness in the world as the rest of us. Perhaps one day we will all discover common ground.

Only one question remains from the exercise: I wonder how many of the mean-spirited rants I received came from those claiming to be Christians. If it was more than one — and I strongly suspect it was — maybe this space needs to be turned into a Bible study. If my suspicions are correct, a lot of Christians don’t practice what they preach.

Okay, enough on that subject. Time to move on. Now, if you will excuse me, I believe I hear the siren call of corn-fried shrimp. Yum, yum.