Saying No to Hate and Bigotry in Michigan and Beyond
Last night I attended the Unity Forum sponsored by the Troy-area Alliance Against Hate Crime (this is an excellent organization I had a hand in founding, and I'm pleased to see where the current leaders have taken it), as well as the city of Troy. The focus last nigh was on "Interrupting Bias," and among the three panelists was my friend Saeed Khan. Saeed talked a bit about Islamaphobia as one expression of bias. Then when I got home and began reading the front section of the Detroit Free-Press and I discovered both a major article detailing bigoted anti-Muslim conspiracy theories shared by one of the four Republican candidates for Governor, Patrick Colbeck (a state senator). Colbeck appeared at a forum of some type and made wild accusations against a Democratic candidate for Governor, who is a Muslim, accusing him of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood intent on taking over the country and imposing Sharia (Islamic law) on the nation. This is a common conspiracy theory, believed by many. The candidate, who currently runs third is a distinguished civil servant named Abdul El-Sayed. I agree heartily with the view of the Free Press Editorial Page editor Brian Dickerson, that there is simply no room for such bigotry in our politics or in our social conversation.
This is the language of fascism, and of a particular fascist, the most notorious bigot in European history. If you think that's exaggerated, substitute "African Americans" or "Judaism" for the places in Colbeck's diatribe where he mentions Muslims or Islam, and you'll grasp more easily how poisonous a lie he's peddling.
Dickerson is correct, Colbeck is more a con-man than a contender, but that he is even given space in our political conversation is a sign that these are troubling times. After all, yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the travel ban that seems to target Muslims. While not all Muslims are affected, the President has made troubling statements about Muslims, especially on the campaign trail. That rhetoric has empowered anti-Muslim forces, like Colbeck to sow seeds of fear and bigotry in our midst.
One thing I took from these reports is the statement made by Colbeck on the tape concerning Interfaith groups and Jewish and Christian congregations who abet this Islamic march. Colbeck told the group: "They're trying to go off and, um, essentially push Islam into our churches," Colbeck says in the video. "It's kind of a scary little trend-line that's going on." What is scary is that a person sitting in our state legislature and running for governor would share such consipracy theories.
So, just to be up front here. I have been a leader in interfaith groups. My son is in a graduate program studying Muslim-Christian dialogue. I have Muslim friends, and this year my congregation will be hosting for the third year in a row an Iftar dinner in partnership with the Turkish American Society of Michigan (an Iftar dinner brings to a close the day's Ramadan fast). So, if Colbeck is right, I have drunk the kool-aide. Fortunately, I am quite certain that he is wrong.
The truth is this, and we really do want to get to the truth (even in a post-truth era), that there are all kinds of groups, some with Islamic affiliations, who have less than honorable intentions.But that can be said as well about people like Colbeck, who seek power by spreading conspiracy theories.
This coming Sunday I'm preaching from 1 John 4. John declares in that passage that there is "no fear in love." So, let us engage our neighbor, our Muslim neighbor in this case, in love, so that fear might disappear. Why not have some coffee and conversation, as my son and I had the other evening with a Jewish and a Muslim friend. Such conversations will make for a more peaceful world.
Back to the top. I agree with our city's mayor that it would be wonderful if we didn't have to hold forums addressing bias and bigotry. In the mean time, let us pursue conversation that leads to peace and wholeness in a spirit of love. Unfortunately, we will need to remain vigilant in resisting voices of hate and division, for they have no place in our politics or in daily life.