Americans have enough enemies without creating imaginary ones. But that is what Oklahoma Rep. John Bennett is doing by fear mongering against the whole American Muslim community. Bennett is creating imaginary Muslim enemies where none exist.
Yet, Bennett is standing by his needlessly inflammatory statements, doubling down on comments about American Islam, and saying that “This is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.”
Let’s be clear. The biggest threat to the self-aggrandizing extremist group ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is a prosperous, peaceful American Muslim community. American Muslims as law-abiding American citizens threaten the whole ISIL imaginary cosmic war of Muslims against the “Great Satan” of Western countries.
Make no mistake. ISIL is a sadistic group of murdering, thieving thugs, but they are estimated at best between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters. When you place those numbers against the power of the United States, and the combined power of the U.S. and its allies, you see how small ISIL actually is.
But ISIL itself is in the business of creating an imaginary Muslim through their media strategy. ISIL has a very savvy social media strategy playing the hashtag game on Twitter to magnify their cyber footprint.
ISIL is playing us.
By projecting every Western nightmare of the black hooded figure killing in a viscerally brutal way, as they did with the filmed execution of James Foley, the fine young journalist they brutally murdered, ISIL is targeting Americans for their fear mongering. They project themselves as larger and more threatening than they really are with that execution image, and now others also brutally murdered, gaming both Americans into fearing them and reaching new audiences for radicalizing and recruitment.
Fear mongering in return, especially against an American Muslim community that is roundly condemning ISIL for what it is doing, does not help reduce the threat of ISIL to its proper size so we can deal with them effectively. Fear mongering only magnifies that threat into unrealistic, nightmare proportions and tempts us to behave reactively and hatefully, giving more energy to ISIL rather than using that energy to defeat them.
Astonishingly, however, Bennett thinks this hateful fear mongering is compatible with the love ethic of Jesus. “We need to share his [Jesus’] story, love others and stand for freedom,” he said, after having called Islam a “cancer.” Bennett seemed not to see the contradiction.
No, it is not what Jesus meant by love to label fellow Americans a “cancer” when they have done nothing but hold a different faith than your own. Bennett himself is giving into the spirit of fear, not following the spirit of love.
As a Christian pastor and teacher, I know it is unfaithful to give into fear. Jesus frequently teaches his disciples not to be afraid. In Matthew 10, verses 26-31, Jesus is recorded as saying “do not fear” three times, as Jesus exposes how the disciples would have cause to fear persecution for following his teachings, but that fear was unfaithful because fear gives over your power to the one threatening you.
Don’t do that, Jesus teaches. The disciples had plenty to fear from the brutal, sadistic Romans, a vast empire that ruled by fear and intimidation by their own military might and with the help of their local collaborators. The Romans were a real empire, not the bloated self-projection of some group of terrorists who call themselves ISIL.
Jesus teaches the disciples to realize their fears are unfaithful, and that giving into fear only magnifies their hatefulness.
The fear mongering of someone like Rep. Bennett magnifies hatred, and creates imaginary Muslim enemies where there are none.
Instead of creating imaginary Muslims to fear, let us come together as Americans and as people of different faiths and humanist values to stand firm against the reality of the brutality of ISIL and confront it together.
That is the only sure way we can be safe as Americans. And for me, as a Christian, that is the way of faithfulness.