More Evangelical Islamophobia

I asked Bishop Solomon (Lutheran) about the threatened Bible burning. He wasn’t concerned.

Last September, Brian McLaren called on evangelicals to choose whether or not they would continue with their Islamophobia. In a post that garnered nearly 9,000 comments, he cited emails and articles meant to gin up evangelicals in their fear of Muslims.

So it was interesting to me, as I round out my week in a majority Muslim country, to read this headline, screaming out from the front page of the American evangelical rag, The Christian Post:

Malaysia ‘Bible-Burning Festival’ Over Use of ‘Allah’ Threatens Country’s Stability

Here’s what’s interesting: unlike the reporter of this article, I’ve spent the last week in Malaysia. Indeed, I’ve spent it with Christian pastors of many stripes, with the Lutheran bishop and the Methodist district superintendent, and at the leading Malaysian seminary.

And no one is the least bit interested in the Bible burning.

In fact, the Bible burning is supposed to take place today, on Sunday, on the island of Penang. But it won’t take place, and everyone knew it wouldn’t take place. In the news, this story has gotten even less play here than the Terry Jones Koran burning stories get in the States.

That’s because everyone here knows this is a hoax, a political ploy. There is no one behind the threatened Bible-burning, no time or place announced for it.

You see, there’s an election here in March. And, for the first time in a long time, there is actually the potential that the ruling coalition of conservative Malays (who are Muslim) might be defeated. That’s because the Malay coalition is fractured, with a more progressive Malay element growing among younger, urban Muslims.

To counteract this, the ruling Malay party is doing what they can to sow religious discord and to get their supporters out to vote. It’s very much like the Minnesota Republicans did with the marriage amendment last year. In that case, it completely backfired. Many here are wondering if the same thing will happen.

But no matter the outcome, not a single Christian I’ve met is the least but concerned about the supposed Bible burning, because they all knew that it would never happen.

The evangelical press in America, however, doesn’t want the deeper story. Instead, they’d rather run a headline that reinforced the impression that Muslims are Bible-burning zealots who hate Christianity and the West.

At least in Malaysia, that’s not the real story.

UPDATE: Here’s Monday morning’s post-mortem in the newspaper:

  • Cathy Mia Kolwey

    What a clear-cut example of the kind of work our “media” does. It is not news, it it fear-mongering propaganda. We need to start naming it what it is: a bunch of lies.

  • http://write2rest.blogger.com rama ramanathan

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your trip to Malaysia.

    I know it’s difficult to do good research and write balanced pieces while jet lagged and doing speaking engagements. You may want to consider making a correction to your post.

    You said “no time or place announced for [the event].”

    Yet according to a Christian Federation of Malaysia statement issued on 22 January, “This terrible event is to be held this Sunday 27th January 2013 at 10 am in front of the Dewan Ahmad Badawi at the Bagan Luar municipality field in Butterworth.”

    My point is this: Christians you have not met, those represented by the CFM, were concerned about “the supposed Bible burning.”

    And, when you reflect on the amount of play stories get in the Malaysian media (versus US-based media), you need to take into account the truth there is no free press in Malaysia (the daily newspapers are owned by member parties of the ruling regime) and that self-censorship is in the DNA of Malaysian bloggers, editors and journalists.

    Whether the title of the article in the Christian Post (CP) is a product of “Islamophobia” is debatable. From a content perspective, I would say the CP article is too generous when it claims it’s only extremist Muslims who believe the term “Allah” belongs exclusively to Muslims: how Umno, the party which leads the ruling coalition can be classified as “extremist Muslim” is beyond me: it’s Umno which refuses to comply with a High Court ruling made 3 years ago.

    Peace be with you

    rama

  • Nick Ruiz

    I would say that America in general has Islamophobia, not just Evangelicals. While I appreciate the point you’re trying to make, please continue your trip abroad and visit Pakistan. The Blasphemy Law is very real and it’s not only terrorist organizations that uphold it. I’m close friends with a Pakistani pastor who is now a refugee because of it. There are still many places in the world where it’s dangerous to be a Christian. Unfortunately, many Americans are either under hyper-paranoia, or completely oblivious to what their brothers and sisters are suffering from everyday.

    Remember the news of Salman Taseer’s assassination in 2011 by his own bodyguard? I asked one of my Muslim friends from Pakistan about it. He is an incredibly kind man and I thought he would have been sympathetic to unnecessary violence due to the Blasphemy Law. He disagreed with me saying, “This was a bad man and he deserved what was coming.” I’m not trying to pidgeonhole Muslims, but I’d like to shed light on the fact that there are non-terrorist branches of Islam that are hostile to Christianity. It’s certainly not every Muslim, though, as American media often conveys.

    • Rich

      Amen Nick. The real Islamophobes are those who are too scared to tell the truth. Evangelicals aren’t scared of radical Muslims… they want them exposed. Radical Muslims give the nice Muslims a major black eye. Sadly, the number of Islamists is high and growing.

  • Contemplative

    The Christian Post article is similar to the Reuters piece written by a journalist who lives in Malaysia.

    Islamic extremism DOES exist in Malaysia, you know.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/23/us-malaysia-election-bibles-idUSBRE90M0JF20130123

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. I’m saying that this wasn’t an example of it. This was the politicization of religion, and everyone knew it.

      It is now Monday morning here, and the Bible burning did not take place. This, however, did: http://fz.com/content/holy-book-reading-douse-bible-burning-zeal

  • S.W.

    It is a bit inconsistent to generalize the “the evangelical press” because some evangelicals generalize Islam.

  • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    Sounds like a great trip Tony, you’re a great ambassador.

    I’m sure this happens all time, misreporting, misrepresentation. I’ve been thinking we need some kind of system of truth commissions. These would be non-government, non-media, non-anything. They would form to investigate a particular issue, one that was producing unclear information, then disband immediately. Their credibility would be based solely on the evidence that they would collect, not on their reputation or past performance. Funding would have to be voluntary and pooled, so one money source could not influence the results of a particular commission.

  • Rich

    How is this any different than how normal secular media handles stories? They both exaggerate. It’s annoying.

  • Flyn Ritchie

    Rama makes some good points, as does S.W. You’re right to critique knee-jerk responses by evangelicals related to Islam Tony, but why resort to stereotyping yourself?

    Many media reports – by evangelicals and others – legitimately report that Christians are being persecuted by Muslims in many parts of the world; that’s not Islamophobia. If the situation in Malaysia has been misrepresented, then thanks for your observations and corrections. Careless reporting weakens an intrinsically strong case which deserves more – not less – attention.

  • Todd

    Tony,
    As usual you don’t let the facts get in the way of your story. Just like you don’t let the clear teaching of scripture lead you to repent.


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