Islamic Group Honors Religious Left

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At its recent convention in Chicago, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) honored the National Council of Churches' top interfaith official with its "Interfaith Unity Award."

Undoubtedly, the award was well deserved! The NCC, like most of the Religious Left, defends or accommodates radical Islam, even as it denounces "fundamentalist" Christianity and condemns Israel. Despite the Religious Left's support for liberal social causes like same-sex unions and abortion rights, it prefers the supporters of Islamic "Sharia" law to Christians or Jews who might sometimes vote Republican.

"You are doing the will of God," gushed NCC Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations Shanta Premawardhana. "You are the ones upholding faith and serving humanity. You are my sisters and brothers." ISNA says over 40,000 of its Islamic supporters attended its annual convention.

The award inscription read: "Islamic Society of North America presents Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, a fellow activist for peace, justice and reconciliation, a 'Christian believer' as described in Qur'an (3:113) in recognition of his tireless contribution to advancing inter-religious dialogue and partnership, with our prayers for a continued demonstration of energy, understanding and commitment."

Very moving. Of course, the NCC official, after receiving his award, theoretically could have used the occasion to urge the Muslim gathering to join with Christians and Jews in affirming democracy, religious liberty and human rights around the world. As "moderate" Muslims, perhaps some among ISNA might have actually listened.

Instead, Premawardhana baited the audience by attacking "far-right wing" Christians who are distressed by political Islam. He attacked the Bush Administration for its ostensible plans to attack Iran's nuclear weapons program. And the NCC official defended Iran's Islamist theocratic dictatorship, to which he has been a personal envoy, and insisted that Iran's clerical tyrants accept Islam's supposed prohibition against nuclear weapons.

If ISNA is indeed a "moderate" Muslim group, wouldn't its supporters have their own concerns about the brutal form of political Islam that Iran's theocrats have imposed on their suffering country since 1979? And would not the Sunni dominated ISNA strongly prefer that Shiite Iran NOT have nuclear weapons? At least from the NCC perspective, these concerns are subordinate to the more important cause of stopping the Bush Administration. Predictably, Premawardhana concluded his address to the Muslim group by inviting them to join the NCC umptenth demonstration against the Iraq War in the form of an "interfaith" fast in October, timed wonderfully to coincide with Ramadan.

ISNA President Ingrid Mattson, in introducing Premawardhana, spoke of the NCC's "commitment to stand in partnership and solidarity with the Muslim community through some of the most difficult times of discrimination and prejudice they've faced, particularly since 9/11," according to the NCC news release.

Naturally, Premawardhana did not respond that Muslims in America enjoy far more freedoms than they do in any officially Islamic country, where they are likely to be persecuted, imprisoned or killed if their form of Islam does not conform to the expectations of the state, the mullahs, or local tribal leaders.

Instead, the NCC official preferred to warn the ISNA about the "far right wing advocacy organization" for which I work, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), which mailed a book by Efraim Karsh called "Islamic Imperialism" to tens of thousands of churches across America. ""Despite it being published by Yale University Press, the book has only a thin veneer of academic scholarship," Premawardhana asserted. "Its purpose is not to educate but to persuade towards a right-wing ideology."

Karsh's book details the centuries-long military conquest of Islam across Asia, Africa and into Europe from its founding until the Renaissance era. The NCC official found all of this objectionable (the book, not the conquests). "It does not seek to restore relationships as the Bible teaches, but to destroy relationships by fear-mongering," he complained. "It tries to portray Islam as unique among religions in supporting imperial ambitions. This distorted view of history dismisses Christian support of imperialism in one sentence." Premawardhana asserted that "all our religious traditions have legitimized imperialism," and not Islam uniquely. "Those who promote fear mongering ideologies that strengthen divisions in human relationships, I am convinced, are not doing the will of God," Premawardhana insisted. It's a safe bet that he was not referring to radical Islam but to "far right wing" Christians and Jews who express concern about it.

Premawardhana boasted of his February visit with Iranian chief theocrat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran's ruling mullah's assured an eagerly believing NCC delegation that Iran's nuclear program is strictly peaceful, that the "only viable option in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political one, and not a military one," and that Iran is "eager" to engage the United States in dialogue. Unlike many politicians, the NCC official claimed that religious leaders, presumably including himself, can claim a "moral high-ground" and the "ability to speak with divine authority." Since theocratic Iran is governed by its religious officials, presumably they can speak with far more moral and "divine" authority than any mere secular political leaders of the United States.

Complaining about President Bush's August 28 speech to the American Legion, in which Bush warned of Iran's support for "Shia extremism," the NCC official fretted: "Does anyone believe that Bush will leave office without a confrontation with Iran?" Premawardhana urged: "It is time for people of faith to stand up together."

What unites the "people of faith" that Premawardhana has in mind? What do Islamists have in common with the left-wing, heterodox Protestants who run the NCC? Almost nothing, except their shared opposition to orthodox forms of Christianity and Judaism, along with an ingrained hostility to the West and the United States in particular.

"Someone said the powers that be have a vested interest in keeping us divided," Premawardhana warned the ISNA. Who are these "powers that be?" Certainly they do not include the tyrants and theocrats who govern much of the historic Islamic crescent, from North Africa to South Asia. Many of these tyrannies, if they care at all, are glad for left-wing Western religionists to make excuses for their despotisms while denouncing the United States.

Truly moderate Muslims, along with most Christians and Jews, will shun the NCC's truncated vision of interfaith solidarity.
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Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.