Before saying anything else about Orlando, my heart weeps and mourns, and I pray that all America would weep and mourn together, for the sufferers of this atrocity.
Now, an observation. Over the past couple of days, a great deal has been said about Islam. The debate follows almost exactly the pattern that it has followed at least as far back as the attacks of September 11th, 2001. There is a culture war in the West over Islam. It has played out again and again on cable news, talk radio, the internet, and in newspapers every time Islam appears in some way to be linked with violence. The murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Al Qaeda’s bombings in Madrid and London. Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed. The Iraqi civil war following the invasion of the U.S. The Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI. The building of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan. The Arab uprisings of 2011. Shootings at Fort Hood and in San Bernardino. The predations of Boko Haram and the Islamic State. Charlie Hebdo. And now Orlando.
There are hawks and doves. Hawks hold that violence and intolerance are widespread in Islam; that Islam is hard wired for these pathologies through its texts and doctrines; that Islam is inhospitable to liberal democracy; and that the West must gird up for a long struggle against Islam’s threat. Hawks have been excoriating President Obama for allegedly denying that Islam is behind violence like this as well as all those who have not recognized Islam for the violent religion that it is. Donald Trump sings a hawkish tune.
Doves hold that Islam is pluralistic and diverse. Like all religions, Islam has extremists, but they are few. Where violence and intolerance do exist in Islam, it feeds off local and historically particular circumstances and are not hard-wired. Islam is capable of democracy. The west should acknowledge its own role in contributing to violence in Islam and engage in a dialogue that can increase the sphere of shared understanding. They upbraid the hawks for being warmongers and point out that every religion has its peaceful and belligerent faces.
Which side is right? Neither. I will take a stab at explaining why in posts soon to come. In the short run, here is a thoughtful statement by contemporary Muslim leaders mourning the Orlando shooting and affirming religious freedom.