Scapegoating Muslims

Scapegoating Muslims May 14, 2020

A Religious Studies student brought a dish to her mother at work one day. She and a friend had been visiting a local mosque. The dish consisted of goat meat, rice, and cheese. Everyone working the shift that night sampled it. We all agreed it was delicious. She talked about how hospitable the Muslim community was. She and her friend had a good experience and intended to return.

When Was This?

This took place during the year 1997.  Up till then, most of us had negative views about Islam and Muslim countries. All of us were old enough to remember the hostage crisis involving the US embassy in Iran. We remembered the 1991 Gulf War. We forgot that most Muslim countries were allied with the US. The first attempt on the World Trade Center had been made in 1993. And some of our coworkers remembered the Black Muslim movement.

We knew the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) kept raising the price of oil causing gas prices to soar. Since we lived in the southeastern US, we heard about how Israel was always under threat from “Arabs.” We knew very little if anything about Arab Christians.

The 1995 bombing was first blamed on “Islamic terrorists” before it was learned that it was done by neo-Nazi terrorists. The primary suspect Timothy McVeigh was a Gulf War veteran. He murdered 168 people.

A Convenient Scapegoat

September 11, 2001 brought about more scapegoating of Muslims. President George W. Bush attempted to differentiate between “radical Muslims” such as Osama bin Laden’s Al Queda network and Muslims who wanted nothing to do with such groups. And then in 2003, President Bush initiated the War with Iraq as an extension of “The War on Terror.” All of his attempts to differentiate between Muslims evaporated in people’s minds.

Muslims are a minority in America. Islamic culture is definitely foreign. European history is rife with stories of conflicts with Muslims. The Song of Roland begins with a description of Muslim leaders in Spain as the real enemy. Muslims have played the role of “the other” in the minds of Americans due to this heritage from Europe.

Government officials try to make distinctions between Muslims that are neighbors and Muslims that are enemies. It is not working. The reason for that is very simple. The problem is fundamentalist Christianity.

Scapegoat Theology

The scapegoat is the person who takes the blame but doesn’t deserve it. In our usage it is synonymous with the “fall guy” in scandals. Leviticus 16 mandates a dual sacrifice for the Day of Atonement. Two goats are chosen. One is slaughtered as a “sin offering.” The next goat is the sins of the people and driven into the wilderness “for Azazel.” The latter is called “the scapegoat” in early English translations of the Bible.

Driving the animal into the wilderness is supposed to be mean it has no place in the community. By being run off, the goat takes the sins away. What’s more is the goat doesn’t belong to the community either.

Fundamentalist Christianity looks for a clearly defined manifestation of the Enemy (Satan). It developed looking for enemies. There were no shortages of enemies. Evolution, Communism, Labor Unions, Feminism, Women Suffragists, and alcoholic beverages took their places in Hell’s kingdom. Why is Islam viewed as an enemy?

The Propaganda Works

The fundamentalists use pro-America propaganda as the means of defining the enemy. I have been asked whether certain leaders of other nations is “The Antichrist.” Two instances are very telling. One involved the final Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Another involved a former President of Iran. The only common aspect of both men were their opposition to the US. Iranian leaders often refer to the US as The Great Enemy (Satan).

It was no surprise when I heard my neighbors talk about how “brutal and evil” Muslims were.  A pastor in Florida wanted to have a national “burn the Koran day.” The conservative website advertised T-Shirts that said “Proud Infidel” on them. The word “infidel” means unbeliever. The King James Bible uses it. Remember also, the lady who infamously told Senator John McCain that she didn’t trust then Senator Obama “because he’s an Arab.” She did not know there was a difference between Arab and Muslim.

A homeschooled child made a hate-filled statement to our after-school children at church. He claimed Muslims “belonged to the Devil.” I explained that I knew Muslim families including their children. “I know for a fact that neither they nor anyone else belongs to the devil,” I said. The “Christian” parents of this boy taught him to hate.

We Must Stand Against Scapegoating

Christian leaders need to stand up for the lives and well-being of neighbors and “others.” It is too easy for people to listen to propaganda and repeat it. It is also easy to stand by and let it happen. Muslims are scapegoated because it is easy to lie about other people. Muslims are not evil people. Even though I have major theological disagreements with Islam, I cannot hate those who practice that faith. I cannot hate someone I barely know. No one should.

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