The fire at the mosque of the Joplin Islamic Society, located in Carl Junction, in the wee hours of Aug. 6 has been called “suspicious” by local investigating authorities. Destroying a mosque is not only a crime, it’s a hate crime.
We, as Americans or as Christians, have no quarrel with Muslims. There is no war between the West and Islam or between the United States and Muslims. The war is within Islam. It is a war between violent, extremist Muslims, who comprise a tiny minority of Islam, and peaceful, moderate Muslims, who comprise the vast majority. It is a battle for the soul of Islam and for the future of the Middle East.
The United States and its Western allies have been caught in the crossfire. What we, as Americans, need to do is to support moderate Muslims in their struggles against the extremists.
The worst things we can do in response to this war is burn mosques, burn Qurans, deny permits to mosques or harass and persecute Muslims simply for the free exercise of their faith.
These actions only play into the narrative of the Muslim extremists, including al-Qaida. It is they who wish to characterize this struggle as one that pits Christians against Muslims or the West against Islam. It was understandable that there would be some backlash against Muslims on the part of Americans in the wake of 9/11.
But it has been over a decade since the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. In the meantime, the United States has fought two wars, both of which had primary missions of protecting moderate Muslims against the excesses of violent, extremist Muslims. Thousands of American and allied troops have been killed or wounded protecting moderate Muslims against extremist Muslims, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Similarly, American and NATO military actions in the 1990s in the Balkans protected Muslims against extremist hate mongers. The answer to Muslim extremism, whether at home or abroad, lies not in American extremism, whether religious or political.
The answer lies in moderation and tolerance and in protecting the constitutional right of all Americans to practice their faith. Yet, tragically, some Americans, including some politicians who should know better, are willing to fan the flames of anti-Muslim fear and hatred in exchange for short-term political gain. Pending a definitive ruling in this case, I call on all candidates standing for political office this election season — in Missouri and across the country — to denounce the burning of the Joplin mosque and other acts of mindless anti-Muslim, or anti-Sikh, violence.
Steve Harmon is a professor at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan.