We Are Not the Same: Stop Minimizing the Role of Islam

Please allow me to come two days late to the party in applauding John Hinderaker’s outstanding response to efforts to minimize the role of Islam in the Boston bombings, to humanize the bombers in an effort to make them not so different from you and me. The main target of Hinderaker’s post, Megan Garber’s Atlantic essay entitled ”The Boston Bombers Were Muslim: So?” has by now been ridiculed far and wide, but I can’t resist commenting on one of its most pernicious aspects — the idea that common interests reflect some element of common character. Here’s Garber, speaking of the bombers:

They had friends and families and lives. They had YouTube accounts and Twitter feeds. They went to class. They went to work. They came home, and they left it again.

And then they did something unimaginable.

And that’s not all:

The idiosyncrasies get erased. The circumstances blur. The humanity gets whitewashed. The terrorist — the person with a lifetime’s worth of unique circumstance — becomes A Terrorist, and we load him with the freight of our own frustration.”Why would someone do this? How could someone do this?” We turn people into caricatures — we decide that they are “crazy” or “disturbed” or “ideologically motivated” or “radical” — so we can distance their actions from our own. And so that we can more easily deal with their actions in symbolic terms. “Evil” may not offer an explanation, but it does offer an answer. Sort of.

Reading this language, I was instantly transported back to my law school, where diversity was a religion, and the articles of faith contained two seemingly contradictory declarations: We are all so richly different; and we are all so wonderfully similar. By this understanding, if we just got to know each other better — and understood that we all laugh, love, and cry (and I suppose, have YouTube accounts and go to class) — then we will break down barriers of hate and prejudice that have existed for untold centuries.

There’s a word for this mindset: juvenile.

But that doesn’t stop even elements of our military from merrily believing the same thing. Just drink enough tea, spend enough time, and extend the hand of friendship, and they won’t want to kill us anymore. We won’t be “the other.” Three cups of tea, right? And that’s how countless American soldiers ended up sitting in Iraqi and Afghan homes and buildings drinking tea with people who would later try to kill them.

How about this: We are not the same. Some people who go to class and have YouTube accounts believe utterly vile and evil things. They must either be deterred from acting on their evil ideas or met with swift retribution when they do, so that others will be deterred. Some people, who also have YouTube accounts and go to class, believe things that are good and noble, and though they don’t always live up their ideals, they — and their cultures — are substantially different from and better than those dominated by evil. This should, of course, be common sense, and in fact it is for the Left when they’re talking about Alabama or Mississippi or Tennessee – terrible places inhabited by people with terrible ideologies. What about, say, Gaza and Hamas? Or Iran and the Revolutionary Guards? Or Afghanistan and the Taliban?

Well, you know, they have Twitter accounts and go to class. After all, there is no barrier too great for tolerance:

This article first appeared on National Review here.

  • mike helbert

    “And that’s how countless American soldiers ended up sitting in Iraqi and Afghan homes and buildings drinking tea with people who would later try to kill them.”
    So, that means that we shouldn’t continue to try and express God’s love toward them?

    • Mo

      Do people like you even read the article before spouting off nonsense like this?

  • http://plainandpreciousthing.blogspot.com/ Rozann

    I am old enough to remember when it wwas said that if we brought the mothers together there wouldn’t be wars. Then I read of the mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers who were proud of their sons and glad that they took the lives of innocents. Never more could I believe in the innate goodness of women and mothers. We are different! There is good and evil in the world and we are rapidly approaching the time when there will be no middle ground. You will choose righteousness, following Jesus Christ, or you will choose evil, following Satan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Blessings to you and your family.

  • NJ Pritchard

    So prevalent, juvey-ville – and wearingly spawned straight from the empty minds of those who have no life experience who would like ‘have children not belong to the parent.
    As always, we have the media to blame for taking work-life-balance situation and turn it into a protracted soap opera. CNN the worst mea culp for turgid journalism.
    So the liberal tent looks like this 1. teachers 2. media 3. anti-military
    It’s like a bad Kingdom of Heaven movie where all the principle characters would have no weapons except that these are the trigger happy people that would fire the first tragic shot before orders are given because they are lazy scripture readers/pharasaic hypocrites.

  • Mary

    One of the things people point out time and time again is that the Koran commands its followers to be violent. I have to do more reading on this, but I believe “quote mining” can be dangerous. I looked up one quote only to find that in fact it was advocating NONVIOLENCE. This was made clear in the verses surrounding it. It was talking about a situation where they were being prevented from worshiping in their mosques. They were being told to only fight if they were attacked first! There was a warning to not attack anyone who had not assaulted them. In other words it was talking about self-defense. Nowhere did it say to kill all non-believers. Now having said that, do I think that Islam is a violent religion? I don’t know. I need to read more of the Koran. Part of the problem is finding good translations and commentaries. In order to get to the truth of this passage, I had to compare different translations online.

  • rumitoid

    This piece is quite bizarre; it is extremely difficult to know exactly what it is saying. I agree that Megan Garber’s article is beyond juvenile, a weirdness all its own, but I feel this blog far surpasses that in character. So many implications so vaguely put forth.

    What appears obvious is the Right Wing bias: “This should, of course, be common sense, and in fact it is for the Left when they’re talking about Alabama or Mississippi or Tennessee – terrible places inhabited by people with terrible ideologies.” Generalizations are the worst form of prejudice.) All lefties are juvenile bleeding hearts unconscious of evil anywhere in the world but in their prejudice for the South? Let’s move on.

    After the bombing, we had Fox News go nuts over calling a spade a spade: let’s start profiling Muslims and squarely place the blame: Islam extremeist. Tell me, how does one separate the two on the streets of, say, New York?

    To me, this piece is a degree of cynicism, pessimism, hate-, and fear-mongering that dresses fastidiously in innocuousness which is utterly vile. “But that doesn’t stop even elements of our military from merrily believing the same thing. Just drink enough tea, spend enough time, and extend the hand of friendship, and they won’t want to kill us anymore. We won’t be “the other.” Three cups of tea, right? And that’s how countless American soldiers ended up sitting in Iraqi and Afghan homes and buildings drinking tea with people who would later try to kill them.” What does this suggest? Good soldiers of the US and duplicitous (perhaps decadant and amoral, culturally deficient) Iragi and Afghan citizens. But what are the implications?

    Avoid all contact because any effort at seeking to both come to know and understand this exotic culture is a total waste of time and laughingly naive? Do not look to change hearts or honestly relate to another culture?

    In most conflicts, propaganda is aimed at demonizing the enemy. Is it Christian to take this portrait painted by the government, say of the Jews in Germany, as an accurte depiction and reasonable caution to avoid any “tea times”?

    “Some people, who also have YouTube accounts and go to class, believe things that are good and noble, and though they don’t always live up their ideals, they — and their cultures — are substantially different from and better than those dominated by evil.” As the constrast is obviously with the two bombers and their background, implicated as being “cultrually evil,” Boston, and all of America, are the “good guys.”

    Islam has legtimate arguments with America’s policy over the past five decades; this in no way excuses terrorist attacks but it does demand attention…and redress.

    For me the NT is all about restorative justice: you demand swift retributive justice. This may be one of the most ugliest blogs I ever read by a Christian.

    • Jeremy Forbing

      Amen. “For me the NT is all about restorative justice: you demand swift retributive justice. This may be one of the most ugliest blogs I ever read by a Christian.” That is as accurate as it is blunt.

    • Mo

      “This piece is quite bizarre; it is extremely difficult to know exactly what it is saying. ”

      It’s perfectly clear. We are not all the same. Even for people who live in the same country, we don’t all share the same views or have the same standards of morality and behavior.

      “What appears obvious is the Right Wing bias:”
      Now that’s funny!

      “To me, this piece is a degree of cynicism, pessimism, hate-, and fear-mongering that dresses fastidiously in innocuousness which is utterly vile.”

      What’s vile is making false accusations with zero evidence for them.


      Tell me, what was your view of Islam when you read the Koran and hadith? (At least some portions, as you know there volumes!)

      • numenian

        Mo, did you read the same blog I did? Or are you agreeing that the entire culture of Islam is, as suggested by the author, “dominated by evil”? “…they — and their cultures — are substantially different from and better than those dominated by evil.” Is this how the American culture is “not the same”? Do you agree that all those on the Left, as the author pointed out, are juvenile thinkers and worse, incapable of differentiating what is noble from ignoble except in their automatic prejudice against Southerners? Do you see this piece as carrying the message of Christ to love our enemies? Do you have any Samaritans?
        What the bombers did was vile and cowardly and the author is making the case to see all of Islam in the same light.
        As to knowledge of Islam, there are a number of troubling aspects to this faith and how it is interpreted by many. And there actions taken by some Muslims that make me ill and angry, especially the general treatment of women. But suggesting there is no value in reaching out in love to these people or that their whole culture is dominated by evil is not being as Christ was in the world.

        • David French

          I would say that those who believe that this article is a commentary on the entire culture of Islam are reading something that isn’t there. I would also say that those who see the bombers and a condemnation of their vile ideology as anti-Islamic are in fact insulting Islam. I recall a case I worked on where a school censored a student’s anti Osama bin Laden poster on the grounds that it would “offend Muslims.” Really? Most of the Muslims I know would be offended at the thought that Osama bin Laden represented them. People are so eager to find Islamophobia that they end up condemning a condemnation of jihadism. It would be funny if it weren’t sad.

  • John Osborn

    Patheos should start up a NeoCon religious channel to put blogs like this, because this the farthest thing from a Christian sentiment. The message of the cross is in fact that we are the same – beloved children of God with such an utterly depraved nature that we put to death the Prince of Peace. We shouldn’t see the shared humanity of terrorists and others who commit atrocities as lessening their sin, but rather it should be a sobering thought about our own capacity for evil. I don’t know how you come away from the cross patting yourself on the back for believing things that are good and noble and not believing evil things like other people. Of course we shouldn’t tolerate terrorists (and it’s a silly NeoCon straw-man, since no one’s actually suggesting that) but chest thumping rants like this should be relegated to feel good talk radio not a blog claiming to be Christian.

  • Steve

    I really wanted to agree with this blog post. But, I really can’t. This is just awful.

    I utterly fail to see how you can call people juvenile with a straight face for thinking that everyone is easily similar and befriend-able and then turn around and start dividing the world into good and bad guys like a bad Hollywood movie. This is even more juvenile than the people you are arguing against. They seem to at least acknowledge that people are capable of developing as individuals. This post just talked about how some people are just bad, evil, and wrong. Yeah, terrorism is horribly evil. But we are Christians, and we are supposed to see our enemies with more depth than a cardboard cut-out and love them accordingly. I mean, some of the Apostles were at least former Zealots, who were basically the terrorists of their time. Strangely enough, Jesus seemed to accept these people anyways instead, and I just can’t remember that passage of the Gospel where Jesus talked about how those apostles were “just different” and “evil”.

    This post was supposed to show the intellectual bankruptcy of the left’s approach to diversity and Islam, but in truth it’s just as bad as what it’s trying to attack. Drivel from the left and drivel from the right both deserve each other. Furthermore, the ideology you are proposing is extremely Republican, but scarcely Christian at all. The two are not the same, and in fact the two are not really compatible, and if Jesus himself showed up on the floor of -either- party’s national convention then the people there would race to throw him back out on the street as fast as possible.

    • David French

      My comments are based on real-world experience — where not confronting the enemy as it is results in more loss of life, more death, more despair. By confronting the enemy directly and defeating him, you save lives, give nations a chance to succeed, and defeat a death cult.

  • john

    You’re SO right! Christians never commit atrocities, and Islam IS a terrorist-making faith!

    This is silliness, hateful, and I think you’ve lost the plot.

    A Christian Pastor.

  • Mo

    THANK YOU! Good to see someone on the planet gets it!

    Contrary to popular belief, having dinner with Muslims won’t change that fact that Islam itself is incompatible with freedom and human rights. Nor will it make Muslims who are following the dictates of their religion suddenly love us. What nonsense!

    What we need to do is look at what the ideology teaches. But it seems no one, anywhere, is even willing to do that. Why not? Because it will shred the fantasy that we’ve been told since we were little children, that deep down, we are all alike.

    We are not.

  • Mom of Four

    Bravo, David! I have tried 3 times to comment. Third time is the charm… I have been VERY upset to see how these evil men are portrayed as “regular people” by the media because Tamarlan beat up his girlfriend and Dhokar “smokes some weed” sometimes, while Mitt Romney “is not one of us” because he made lots ofmoney and doesn’t drink or smoke. And, you know, he’s religious…a Mormon..they oppose gay marriage, you know.. It’s a sad and terrifying commentary on the state of our society.

  • Becca

    “We are not the same,” is wonderful! It can lead to a delightfully warm and fuzzy sense of superiority, and it helps us escape having to learn things. No one wants to spend hours trying to figure out what’s going on in those Turkic states, right? They’re grey places we can barely locate on a map, and history is dull at the best of times. It’s so much easier to conclude, as this article does, that they are BAD, and we are NICE. See how easy that was? We all feel wonderful about ourselves; we all feel superior, and we didn’t have to google a thing to get there!

    Re the bits about Hamas, Iran and Iraqi tea parties: Of COURSE! The only issue we need to understand about the Palestinians, the Iranians and the Iraqis is that they are all bad, possibly because they are all Muslim. We are good! No research needed, and the warm fuzzies of superiority again. Wonderful.

    It reminds me of Bill Maher’s belief that “religion is the root of all evil.” Many atheists believe it because it is simple. It makes them feel great, and it does not require them to know anything. So, here’s to ignorance. It often leads to bliss.

    • David French

      American democracy is superior to jihadist Islam. Do you doubt that? Mainstream Islam is superior to jihadist Islam. Do you doubt that? Some cultures and belief systems are superior to others.

      • Becca

        Jihadist Islam and the US are two completely different things. Jihadist Islam is a movement created by numerous, messy forces, and affects more than one society. It is not a state. The US played a part in creating its modern incarnation when it trained and armed Wahhabi rebels in Afghanistan, in the same way that Britain played a part in creating it earlier when it handed Saudi Arabia, and the two holy cities of Islam located in Saudi Arabia, to the Wahhabi Al Saud. The US, on the other hand, is a single, stable, prosperous state, in the same way that France and Britain are stable, prosperous states. The US, like France and Britain before it, spreads its worldview through cultural influence (the arts) and warfare, but it simply can not be compared to something like “jihadist Islam.”

  • numenian

    We are the same: We all have a fallen nature; We all sin; We all are capable of rationalizing and justifying terrible actions in what we perceive as a righteous cause. Dehumanizing the people of Islam is a common game played out through history. Negroes were not (and for too many are not) the same. The Jews were not (and for too many are not) the same. Look at how we treated the Japanese in this country during WWII.
    But all that aside, all of you indicting Islam as “dominated by evil,” what do you intend to do about it? Pout? Sneer at or make fun of them as you pass them on the street? Have a tea embargo so as not to tempt any of those juvenile bleeding hearts to have a drink with them? Maybe round them all up and ship them to the Middle East? Maybe round them all up and put them in concentration camps? Maybe round them all up and kill them? Have Congress pass legislation that makes being “not the same” and/or Muslim a felony? Or is it just fear talking and the hate is unintentional?

    • numenian

      Every genocide needs this key ingredient: they are not the same. This distance is what allows all people to do terrible things to others, which is why in hostage situations it is strongly suggested that we humanize ourselves to the hostage takers. If it is so juvenile to believe getting to know these people who “are not the same,” why suggest letting the hostage-taker see you as in some way the same?

  • numenian

    Lol, 2 funny: as expected you deleted my comments. A sad day for you and your ilk. My advice is prayer.

  • numenian

    Oooops, my bad; they were not there when I posted the above. Bully for you, then, in not yet deleting my views.

  • http://www.lesbiansinmysoup.com/ Katy Anders

    I’m always concerned about people who throw themselves into an ideology too fervently. Abstract ideologies – especially in the hands of people who feel powerless – give folks carte blanche to do horrible things.

    One thing that is so tragic about terrorism by Muslims in recent years is that it has seemingly legitimized xenophobia – legitimized “See? We told you anything different than us was wrong and scary!”

    This article seems to celebrate an I told you so” attitude about “The Other” among us.

    It’s left me with a very bad taste in my mouth – xenophobia masquerading as thoughtfulness, with a couple silly jabs at the Left and that reminder of “I’ve been to law school!” I’ll give it another read later, but so far, seems to be very, very weak for patheos. Hope I’m wrong…

  • numenian

    Inter-racial marriage–yikes!

  • Joshua

    What a sad and divisive article on a supposed Christian site.

    • sg

      Yeah, Jesus was himself quite divisive.

  • Joshua

    What a sad and divisive article on a supposed Christian site. The last thing we as Christians need is another to reason to lump an entire group of people together and obstruct them from knowing Jesus because of our lack of wisdom and love.

    Even Paul rebuked Peter for hypocritically favoring the Jews over the Gentiles. With the modern American church, we’ve used our politics, traditions, and allegiance to our worldviews to justify prejudices against cultures of people, whether blacks, Latin American immigrants, or Muslims.

    The world is supposed to know us by our love. Sadly, it seems that many know American Christians by their moral grandstanding and casual prejudices.

  • Mom of Four

    I had hoped to read some intelligent comments, but there aren’t many here. I don’t think most of you read the same article I did. By the way, sending soldiers into enemies houses usually gets them killed. They aren’t missionaries, they are soldiers. I have been a missionary, and I get the difference. Try to understand that soldiers and missionaries have different roles to play. Having served his country in the field of battle does give David the right to comment on the way the battle is being waged. If you know-alls have served, I will allow for your criticism,.otherwise I think you should tone it down a little. After all, our current Sec of Defense served, and that is probably his only qualification, including brains or competency. If anyone respects him I would be surprised.

  • Mom of Four

    I have something more to say. One of our Church leaders once desribed the situation that would prevail among people in the last days as “Running around with a fire extinguisher in a flood.” Whether you agree it is the last days or not, this metaphor pretty much describes this administration and the left. Our response to this bombing will bring more. But, as Hillary Clinton says, “At this point, what difference does it make.” We are far more concerned that more Kermit Gosnells be available to give women their right to choice and that religious people should be legally forced to provide flowers at gay unions, than we are in trying to recognize real evil and root it out from among us.

  • Sven

    It’s easy to knock down a straw-man, and that’s exactly what Hinderaker’s column does. All he’s doing is attacking a caricature of what he perceives to be “liberal” sensibilities. You cheapen our discourse by lending credence to this hack.

    Time and time again, conservatives attack what they think liberals think and propose, as opposed to what liberals ACTUALLY think and propose.

    • David French

      Actually, he’s attacking words written by actual liberals in some of our most widely-read and prestigious publications.

      • Sven

        This whole section isn’t quoting anybody, he’s just propping up a caricature:

        “Liberals can’t help themselves: while normal people are reviling the bombers, celebrating their capture or death, and debating measures that can be taken to prevent future atrocities, liberals’ thinking (if you can call it that) goes in a different direction. Liberals call for understanding; tell the rest of us we don’t realize how complex mass murder is; recommend introspection (But why? I didn’t do it.); and warn against various forms of overreaction to the latest terrorist outrage.”

        It’s a complete bull. Liberals far and wide are glad they caught the scum responsible for the attack. Liberals far and wide are debating measures to prevent subsequent attacks of this nature. Liberals far and wide consider the men responsible to be lowlifes. Every characterization in that segment (Hinderaker’s thesis) is a bogus misrepresentation of liberal thought. He has approached Garber’s column with a callous disregard for what she’s saying, instead just painting her with the broad brush of the stereotyped bleeding-heart liberal.

        Islam alone does not make someone a terrorist. It’s a concept that Christian-supremacist conservatives are very reluctant to admit, but it’s the truth. Garber dared to ask what else is involved, and you can’t seem to handle that.

  • Peter

    Your post here David can only be characterized as juvenile. You ramp up the intellectual dishonesty of Hinderaker’s column toward what end? Furthering hatred and fear in the world? You should be ashamed of this post, it does nothing but attempt to sow hatred and paint all believers of Islam with the broad brush of terrorism. I am astounded that you believe that this is how a Christian should see their fellow men.