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Published: Monday, 4/19/2010

Labels have power that can rebound on user

A SCHADENFREUDE moment it was not. Not for me at least. But it was a sobering thought that brought into sharp focus the contradictions in our attitudes toward each other.

The arrest of nine members of the Hutaree militia on charges of plotting to kill police officers was startling by itself. But it also was startling because they call themselves Christians. They were going to kill the police officers and then bomb their funerals. According to their twisted logic, the resultant chaos would pave the way for them to take over the federal government.

There are some who take offense to the label "Christian" being applied to these radicals and would-be terrorists, even though they use that label and justify their murderous plans through a twisted interpretation of the Bible. One comment posted on Lucianne Goldberg's conservative Web site characterized them, "Not Christians. Not terrorists. Just dimwits that could not organize a decent deer hunt."

Come to think of it, neither could Richard Reid, who tried to ignite a shoe bomb on an American Airlines flight nine years ago. Reid also appeared to be a bumbling dimwit. But he was called a Muslim terrorist.

Others contend that the Christian militia movement is uniquely American and should not be equated with terrorism. This does not wash.

Both al-Qaeda and the Hutaree want to kill innocent people to further their own aims. In the case of al-Qaeda, those aims are to destroy the Western way of life and replace it with the austere and paranoid Wahhabi form of Islam that the vast majority of Muslims do not approve of. The Hutaree, using the same tactics, want to take over the U.S. government and replace it with the Kingdom of God.

The "Islamic militant" and "Islamic terrorist" labels came into vogue after the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1989. During the war, they were called freedom fighters or the Mujahideen. The same religion that was twisted and used as a weapon against the Soviets continues to be twisted and used against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan today.

Since 9/11, a vigorous campaign has been under way to paint Islam as an evil religion and its followers as terrorists or potential terrorists. Leading this smear campaign were some televangelist preachers, right-wing religious and political bigots, and the occasional armed forces general. Most spoke without any intimate knowledge of the Islamic faith or the people who practice it.

To blame Islam and Muslims for the actions of al-Qaeda or the Taliban is akin to condemning Roman Catholicism for pedophilic priests or Judaism for the massacre of Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin in 1948.

But faced with incendiary rhetoric from pulpits and on radio and TV, the average person is not inclined to delve deeply into the subject and draw a fair conclusion. This was evident last week, when I spoke at a United Methodist church in Archbold, Ohio. Based on the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, the topic was, "Who is my neighbor?"

The entire congregation was supportive of the concept that people of faith should come together and, without infringing upon each other's beliefs, stand up to bigotry, prejudice, and injustice. But at the end of the talk, an older gentleman approached me and asked, rather bluntly, why Muslims kill non-Muslims, which he said the Qur'an teaches. I don't think he paid any attention to what I said or the positive interaction we had in the question-and-answer period. He was determined to tell me how brutal "your religion and your people" are.

But who are my people? On that morning in Archbold, that congregation was my people. We bonded without difficulty. I would have difficulty bonding with the people that one gentleman considered my people.

While I was trying to build bridges of understanding between our two faiths, that gentleman, steeped in his prejudices, was determined to knock my bridges down. He did shake my hand and wish me well, a great concession in my mind.

Words are powerful. They have meanings beyond the dictionary and impact beyond their immediate use. Perhaps that's the lesson for all of us in the Hutaree affair. Next time we see an irresponsible label or epitaph and we do not protest, the same stone could ricochet and hit us.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net



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