William Franklin Graham famously called Islam a wicked and evil religion, but I don't think he called for its extinction through violence, as in war. Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, a wild politician, did call for the bombing of Mecca to shatter the Muslim center. Now, Parsleyas in Rod Parsleyis the flavor of the month among the controversial clergy being spotlighted in the camps of the three presidential campaigners. Parsley, pastor of Ohio's mega-est megachurch, twelve-thousand-member World Harvest Church in Columbus, calls for "destroying" Islam.
Parsley is most explicit in his well-selling Silent No More and in broadcasts to large and presumably assenting audiences. While Americans know that some who claim Allah would like to destroy Christian civilization, citizens often overlook the tit-for-tat or tat-for-tit (that is, "who started it?") calls for war from militants on both sides. As reported in Mother Jones (March 12), Parsley says there is a war and he wants bigger war, as America can only "fulfill its divine purpose" by seeing to it that Islam, "this false religion, is destroyed." Though he spells out no specific strategy, he writes things like, "We find now we have no choice. The time has come" to destroy "this anti-Christ religion," inspired by demons who spoke to Allah.
Shall some Muslims be sparedthe moderates down the street or anywhere else, for example? No: "mainstream believers" in the "1,209 mosques" in America drink from the same well as do the extremists whom all citizens condemn. Screaming that he does not want to be "another screaming voice moving people to extremes," Parsley has plunged into presidential politics in the hope that he will find policies that will help "destroy" or lead to the "destruction" of Islam, the goal of his war.
Islam has no central authority. It is a family religion, a village religion, with millions of bases for a billion believers. Islam is not an institution or a dogma. When one calls for the destruction of Islam one has to mean the killing of all Muslims. Rather than accuse Parsley of calling for genocide, it is in place to ask him to spell out alternatives. Does "destroy" Islam mean winning a debate until every last targeted Muslim cries uncle and says, "I give up, you win"? He may mean that. Does the "destruction of Islam" mean the deconversion of a billion people and, preferably, conversion to Parsley's "Christian civilization"? Try converting as many as one in your town, and then take on the millions more in Indonesia. Does "destroy" mean bombing the 1,209 mosques in America, which number includes only a few of the world-wide total? As of now, Parsley simply calls for "war." By most definitions, doesn't "war" mean "killing"?
The United Nations document on the Prevention of Genocide condemns attempts to exterminate others through "acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, racial, ethnical, or religious group, as such." Ben Kiernan's Blood and Soil, a new "world history of genocide," finds genocide to be identified by "philosophical outlooks and obsessions, often harmless in themselves yet invidiously related," that supply "lethal ideological ammunition" for violence, and that these include "racial and religious hatreds." Reviewer William H. McNeill in the New York Review of Books (April 17) traces such in "our" culture back to Deuteronomy 20:17, where the Lord demanded that his people "utterly destroy" the other peoples. Most Jews and Christians, we thought, have buried that language. Brother Parlsey and followers have raised it up.
Is it time to scream, "Brother, there is still time" for you to spell out how your "war" to "destroy" Islam does not mean killing all Muslims, the way a genocidist would?
Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur. Yale University Press, 2007.