Is the Muslim My Neighbor?

As violence raged through Gaza, Esther Najjar feared that her family — which included two young girls — would be the next target of the mob that had just firebombed the local Catholic church.

Riled up through the expert ministrations of professional agitators, the mob of Palestinian Muslims assaulted several Christian houses of worship in protest of papal remarks taken as an affront to those who revere Mohammed. Esther, like many other members of Gaza’s embattled Christian minority, was all but helpless. If not for the intervention of their neighbors, she and her daughters may well have been massacred.

“I was afraid,” Esther later told a wire service reporter. “First they attacked the church, and then there was that protest against the pope…. Some of the protesters tried to come down this street, and we were terrified they’d attack the houses. But our Muslim neighbors stopped the protesters.” (Emphasis added.)

Those who acted to defend the rights of Esther and her children didn’t see them as adherents of an “infidel” religion — one they might regard as the fighting faith of their political enemies. Instead, they saw those Christian Palestinians as neighbors threatened by criminal violence.

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Incomprehensible as it may seem to those whose bearings on reality are defined by Fox News and GOP-aligned talk radio, the government of the Palestinian Authority — which, thanks to the Bush administration’s intervention, was controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization created out of the CIA-backed Muslim Brotherhood with the help of Israeli intelligence — didn’t exploit the controversy to call for a pogrom against the Christian minority.

This incident could be mistaken for an updating of the parable in which Jesus of Nazareth used a Samaritan — a member of a despised, heretical religion — to embody the virtue of loving one’s neighbor.

But there is nothing hypothetical about the neighborly virtue displayed by the Muslims who protected Esther Najjar’s family in Gaza four years ago, or about Haniyeh’s commendable call for righteous interposition on behalf of Palestinian Christians.

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Haniyeh’s actions were all the more remarkable, given that (not to put too fine a point on the matter) there is little in Hamas’s ideology or established tactics that can be reconciled with the Sermon on the Mount.

Americans who profess to follow the One who taught the parable of the Good Samaritan should soberly consider this question: Can we display toward our Muslim neighbors the same kind of Christian love that was extended — at least on that one occasion — by Haniyeh, a senior political leader of Hamas?

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On the available evidence it would appear that a large portion of America’s Christian population, in dealing with our nation’s tiny and largely powerless Muslim minority, falls short of what we could call the Haniyeh Standard — that is, recognizing them as fellow Americans and respecting their freedom of religion. In fact, many Christians consider it their neighborly duty to rescue American Muslims from religious error by relieving them of their burdensome individual rights.

Thus it is that Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, perhaps the most influential Religious Right organization, demands that the government forbid the construction of any new mosques anywhere in the United States. Although he’s studiously coy about the matter, Fischer clearly would prefer to see the demolition of every existing mosque as well, since he considers them to be “improvised explosive devices” rather than actual houses of worship.

“If a mosque was [sic] willing to publicly renounce the Koran and its 109 verses that call for the death of infidels, renounce Allah and his messenger Mohammed, publicly condemn Osama bin Laden [and] Hamas … maybe then they could be allowed to build their buildings,” sniffs Fischer. “But then they wouldn’t be Muslims at that point, would they?”

Fischer apparently believes that the only right Muslims possess is the right to refudiate their rights (as St. Sarah might put it).

What Fischer insinuates, Peter J. Johnson states with admirable candor. Johnson, a legal analyst for Fox News, is the living incarnation of Ellsworth Toohey, a columnist from Ayn Rand’s definitive novel The Fountainhead who serves as the fictional embodiment of collectivism.

Standing in front of the site of the proposed Cordoba House in Lower Manhattan, his voice lacquered with cloying, condescending sanctimony, Johnson used his August 20 Fox & Friends commentary to urge Muslims to prove that they are “good neighbors” by commiting metaphorical self-immolation.

“We are proud that we are one of the few countries in the world which allows the free exercise of religion,” mewled Johnson. Of course, this was merely a prelude to the inevitable qualifying conjunction — “but” — that nullifies everything coming before it: “… but when we resort to legalisms instead of common sense, or compassion, when we invoke our First Amendment as a sword, not a shield, it means we have lost sight of and broken faith with our national identity and strength.”

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