I am deeply saddened by the recent shooting attack on military recruiting stations in Chattanooga, Tenn. It does appear that the violence could be linked to calls by sympathizers with the so-called “Islamic State” organization to engage in acts of violence against targets in western societies. Such acts of violence are inexcusable. But at the time of this writing, there is nothing definitive about this person’s motivation: no online manifesto, no external claims of responsibility.
I am also deeply disturbed by the response proffered yesterday by Franklin Graham (text reproduced below). That he advocates reacting to the
religious exclusion, persecution and violence of ISIS with religious exclusion, persecution and state violence is beyond the pale not only of Christian faith but also of American values. Graham has a long history of expressing anti-Islamic sentiments and inciting violence against Muslims. This violence is echoed in many of the comments below his posted message.
There is no doubt that the world is experiencing a terrible resurgence of religiously-identified extremism. As Bishop Munib Younan has said on many occasions, “no religion has a monopoly on extremism.” We see it in ISIS and many other Islamic groups. But we also see it when Jews provide religious justification for land theft and for the disproportionate use of military force. Graham provides us with a clear example of Christian extremism. Within each community, it is up to coreligionists to challenge extremists in their midst. I look forward to seeing many reasoned admonishments of Franklin Graham.
This incident can spark many different lines of inquiry, including …
- How well do our law enforcement systems understand new forms of radicalization?
- What gun laws were broken in this situation? What laws should be more carefully enforced? Which ones may need to be revised or created anew?
- What social pressures helped press this young man toward radical violent action? What in his life made him receptive to jihadi messages from abroad? What social structures can therefore be put in place to identify warning signs?
Regarding Franklin Graham, one could wonder …
- Why did he not speak out about the killing of nine bible study participants by a white supremacist?
- What are the sources of Graham’s virulently anti-Islamic perspectives? (you may want to take a look at my book on Christian Zionism to see what I think)
- How did Graham come to be a nationally-recognized representative of Christianity (besides his father’s legacy, that is)? How might that be changed?
In no way is it appropriate to exploit this incident to vilify and terrorize the millions of Muslim citizens of and residents in the United States or to pervert US immigration systems by imposing some sort of religious test. This response from Graham diminishes Americans’ capacity to live with those who are different, besmirches the witness of Christianity, and cheapens rather than honors the lives of the soldiers killed since it tarnishes the character of the country they were seeking to serve.
The original post from Franklin Graham:
Four innocent Marines (United States Marine Corps) killed and three others wounded in #Chattanooga yesterday including a policeman and another Marine–all by a radical Muslim whose family was allowed to immigrate to this country from Kuwait. We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized–and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now? Do you agree? Let your Congressman know that we’ve got to put a stop to this and close the flood gates. Pray for the men and women who serve this nation in uniform, that God would protect them.
Rev. Robert O. Smith, PhD, is Academic Director for the Jerusalem Global Gateway of the University of Notre Dame and co-moderator, with Dr. Muna Mushahwar, of the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches. He is the author of More Desired than Our Owne Salvation: The Roots of Christian Zionism (Oxford, 2013), and editor, with Göran Gunner, of Comprehending Christian Zionism: Perspectives in Comparison (Fortress, 2014). He sometimes thinks about things other than Israel and Palestine.