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Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims

Which Headline did you See?

Imagine the following taking place in the USA. A man walks into a store, discovers that the owner is a Christian, and then announces that he intends to kill Christians. Two weeks later, the man returns to the store with a gun, yells “Christian!”, then starts shooting, killing someone. He is arrested and charged with murder. As he is being arrested, he makes anti-Christian comments to the officers. The police announce at a news conference that they are investigating this as a hate crime. Then, five days later, the shooter is released on $100,000 bail – and the local Christian community is NOT informed. The criminal justice system releases someone who has stated a desire to kill Christians, yet Christians are not even warned, let alone protected.

You might say that this sounds irresponsible and dangerous, putting a community at risk. These events would certainly be newsworthy: killers who intend to kill again must be locked up, not released without warning potential victims!

And, in fact, the above recently DID happen, with one twist. It was reported in the Dallas Morning News, but as far as I can tell, this story was not picked up by anyone else. The reason that it hasn’t gone viral? I suspect that it may be because the shooter, Anthony Paz Torres, was not after Christians. He was targeting Muslims.

Another story from the same time, however, did received wide coverage. A man named Mohamed Barry attacked and injured four people in an Ohio restaurant. Barry was shot and killed by police shortly after the attack. The FBI thus far is treating this as a “lone wolf” attack. Two factors seem to have drawn attention to this story: Barry was identified as a Muslim, and he attacked with a machete.

Of course it is sad and disturbing when someone uses a weapon to hurt others. But what makes this newsworthy? It cannot be that four human beings were injured. After all, as of this blog post, there have been twenty-six mass shootings (four or more victims) this year, on top of three hundred thirty such incidents in 2015. And it’s not the fact that the assailant was shot and killed by the police. Law enforcement personnel kill roughly one thousand people each year (almost all of these justifiable). So what makes this one special?

What catches attention is that Mohamed Barry was a Muslim with a sword (or at least, something close to a sword.) We like to play up images of Muslims running around with swords, so when a Muslims actually turns up with one – and when his victims turn out to be Christians and/ or Jews – the image is too powerful to resist. “Muslim With Machete Attacks Christians and Jews…in OHIO” and similar such headlines have appeared. The public must be informed! Why? Barry tried to kill Christians and Jews, and Barry was Muslim; therefore, Islam incites people to commit violent acts; therefore, the public is in danger from Muslims.

A little thought shows that this reasoning doesn’t work. If Islam does teach people to commit violence, then it is very strange that these attacks are so rare. If we add the Ohio attack to the two mass shootings by Muslims last year, we come up with a grand total of three mass attacks perpetrated by Muslims since January 1, 2015 – as compared to more than 350 incidents of mass violence total, or less than 1%. The supposed message of Islam, “attack Christians and Jews,” is not getting out too well. The danger is not Muslims in society, but gun violence in general, now so common that most shootings of a mere four people at once get no notice whatsoever.

(We might also wonder in what way Mr. Barry was “Muslim.” Was he part of a local mosque, or did he check a box on a form, or was he perhaps presumed to be a Muslim because his name was Mohamed and he was from Somalia? As far as I can tell, no one has asked these questions. Apparently, all that a criminal needs to be identified as “Muslim” is to have some connection to Islam. Non-Muslim criminals such as Mr. Torres, however, do not get their religion reported.)

The worst part is that the story on Mohamed Barry has been shared over and over again by Christians (and people claiming to be Christian). Repeating the news coverage does no good, and in fact harms us by promoting fear of a something that is not a threat. Worse, this sort thing almost certainly factors into the recent increasing number of attacks on American Muslims.

I realize that many people who read this post do not like Islam or those who practice it. But the test of whether a person is a true Christian is how we treat those who we don’t like. Spreading stories which serve little purpose, other than to promote false stereotypes, is certainly not “Christ-like” behavior. To “love your enemy” means to ensure that your enemy receives his just protection from those who aim to kill him. When law enforcement releases someone who says he wants to kill Muslims, disciples of Christ must vigorously object, and stand with those in danger.

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2 comments on “Which Headline did you See?

  1. ucsdherbst
    February 23, 2016

    Religious intolerance in the US is vehement against Muslims and simply horrendous, while American Christians regularly cry “discrimination” when their views and perspective do not dominate the public space. On a separate matter, and one that should not detract from the latter, the treatment of Christians in much of the Muslim world is poor. If the two issues must be bound together, the unifying thread would be that religious intolerance takes different form in different places, but stem from the same place.

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  2. Pingback: Justice or “Decency?” What Would Jesus Choose? – christianguidetoislamdotcom

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This entry was posted on February 23, 2016 by .
The Text in Context

Helping modern readers engage with ancient biblical texts

Mark Biddle

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