Various religious leaders and scholars recently condemned public figures’ “highly offensive remarks” concerning Muslims that supposedly “would deny the foundation of the constitution” in a December 21 Washington Post advertisement. Yet analysis of this manifesto’s signers calls into question their ability to recognize Islamic threats to the advertisement’s proclaimed principle that free Americans “live by our nation’s own unswerving standards…and no one else’s.”
Suhail Khan, one of the manifesto organizers, is a “conservative” political activist long criticized for being an Islamist fellow traveler. His Indian Muslim immigrant parents, for example, played leading roles in Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-affiliated organizations like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) where he has had highly controversial public appearances. He once tried to relativize controversy over Islam’s prophet Muhammad’s child marriage by absurdly claiming that Isaac in the Old Testament betrothed Rebecca when she was three, contrary to Genesis 24.
Signer Deborah Lauter once noted that ISNA has “been in bed with extremist groups,” as indicated by former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s 2006 ISNA convention address, yet ISNA associations fill the signatory list. The former president of this unindicted terrorism financing coconspirator, Mohamed Magid, once honored a Muslim anti-Semite on ISNA’s behalf, but Rabbi Marc Schneier’s Foundation For Ethnic Understanding has collaborated with ISNA. ISNA connections also include Bob Roberts, a Dallas, Texas pastor who has approvingly cited the notoriously radical MB cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Another friend of ISNA is Baptist minister Roy Medley, who once visited Lebanon in 2006 with church leaders critical of Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah terrorists while hardly mentioning the latter. He also visited Iran with a 2014 church delegation that lauded the Islamic Republic. Medley himself described meeting Iranians “who are proud of their country and its democracy. This included Christians and Jews as well.”
Lutheran pastor Alexia Salvatierra has associated with ISNA’s fellow MB-derived organization and unindicted co-conspirator, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). She attended a 2004 CAIR banquet in California along with Alison Weir, a noted anti-Semite, and a representative of the Marxist organization ANSWER. Yet a 2008 letter signed by Salvatierra objected to “inflammatory rhetoric linking Islam to terrorism,” just as Episcopal priest Chloe Breyer objected to the 9/11 Memorial’s use of terms like “Islamist” and “jihadist.”
The associations of other manifesto signatories raise Islamist red flags. Heidi Hadsell and Martin Bodd both hail from Hartford Seminary, an institution that has had significant ties both to American MB groups and Syria’s anti-MB, Shiite-dominated Assad family dictatorship. Baptist pastor Joel Rainey has discussed his trust in, and gratitude towards, the Fethullah Gülen movement, a shadowy, cult-like Turkish movement that masks its Islamist goals with displays of charity like corrupt American charter schools.
Catholic University Professor Marshall Breger might not object to such Islamist linkages, for his sharia apologetics have claimed that Islamic law does not fundamentally differ from Jewish religious law. By contrast, Jews like David Yerushalmi and Rabbi Jon Hausman have analyzed sharia oppression, particularly with respect to Jewish and Christian dhimmitude, while noting how interpretation has negated Jewish law’s scriptural harshness. Nonetheless, Lebanese-American law professor Azizah al-Hibri joins Breger in sharia apologetics (including speech restrictions) and, like Khan, has collaborated with convicted terrorism financier Abdurahman Alamoudi.
Contrary to any such sharia concerns, the manifesto suggests that universal “religious principles teach us to love and respect each other.” This reflects a 2010 article written by Khan, Breger, and his fellow manifesto signer, Rabbi Jack Bemporad, decrying a “potential tsunami of prejudice currently called Islamophobia.” The letter stated that “Islam’s teachings and ethics are very similar to Jewish and Christian teachings. Islam teaches the love of God and love of fellow human beings.” Cardinal Theodore McCarrick similarly pronounced in 2014 that the “dignity of the human person…is what Muhammad the prophet, peace be upon him, has been teaching.”
Linkages of Islam to violence meet with dismissals from manifesto signers like Presbyterian minister Jacqueline J. Lewis, who has equivocated that “all of religions have extremists.” Even Muslim extremists were not beyond possible rehabilitation for death penalty opponent (and abortion supporter) Paul Raushenbush. This homosexual Baptist pastor speculated that sparing the life of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could allow him to become a “spokesperson for reconciling Islam with America.”
Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales similarly rejected the July 2015 murderous assault upon a Chattanooga, Tennessee, recruiting office “as reason to condemn Islam in general…based on ignorance, fear, and distrust.” He criticized instead the “proliferation of weapons due to our country’s lax gun control laws.” Rabbi Jack Moline’s Interfaith Alliance similarly stated after the November 13 Paris attacks that “suggesting extremist violence is rooted within Islam only serves to further the agenda of violent extremists.” After the December 2 San Bernardino massacre, Moline stated that the “problem is guns. Guns, guns, guns.”
Correspondingly, some manifesto signers had exuberantly believed the “Arab Spring’s” false hopes. The “current upheaval in the Arab world…reveals God’s desire for the liberation of all people” according to a 2011 letter signed by Methodist minister John L. McCullough. Presbyterian minister J. Herbert Nelson also signed a 2012 statement declaring that this “Arab democratic uprising…has been a global altering process that has unleashed forces in struggle against neo-liberalism, neo-colonialism, and despotism.”
Contrasting with such benign assessment of Islam, many of the manifesto signers like James Zogby and emergent church leader Brian McLaren express hostility towards Israel. While objecting to the term “Islamic fascism,” United Methodist Church official Jim Winkler, a supporter of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, has drawn the condemnation of Jewish groups for his anti-Israel views.
Presbyterian Church (USA) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons supported that denomination’s 2014 vote for BDS as well as various PCUSA official statements hostile to Israel. This includes an October 16, 2012, letter hoping for Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity in order to create a single negotiating “partner” for Israel yet ignoring Hamas rocket bombardment of Israel. Parsons (and Medley) signed on behalf of PCUSA and other churches an earlier October 5 letter singling out Israel among American military aid recipients for human rights violations investigation under weapons export law. In response, various American Jewish groups withdrew their planned involvement in a Christian-Jewish roundtable meeting.
George Soros-funded religious left icon Jim Wallis interviewed for his magazine Sojourners the radical Palestinian Christian radical Jonathan Kuttab in an article entitled “Inside Israeli Apartheid.” Sojourners also once slandered Israel, the only Middle East country in recent decades with a growing Christian population, as a country with a declining Christian population. Wallis’ fellow evangelical leftist and Soros-grantee Richard Cizik once suggested the Iranian nuclear program as God’s potential judgment for Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
Rick Love, the evangelical leader of Peace Catalyst International (PCI), will address in 2016 the annual Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference in Bethlehem. As the forthcoming CATC presentation “Christian Zionism as Imperial Theology” indicates, CATC and its videos have a considerable record of inflammatory anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements. PCI itself, though, is no stranger to controversy as it co-hosted an October 2015 conference on “Islamophobia” featuring the not-so-moderate Ground Zero Mosque proponent Feisal Abdul Rauf.
Not surprisingly, McCullough, Parsons, Wallis, Winkler, and fellow manifesto signers Sister Patricia Chappell and Methodist Bishop Warner H. Brown signed a letter supporting the Iranian nuclear deal. Indicating the leftism of the manifesto’s Jewish signers, Rabbis Jill Jacobs, Burton Visotzky, and Elyse Wechterman also signed an approving letter declaring that “this agreement blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb.” Nonetheless, 78% of Israelis view the agreement as endangering Israel.
The manifesto begins with a Thomas Jefferson quotation from an 1803 private letter in which he defended the all-American “common right of freedom of conscience,” yet context is critical. “Every word which goes from me, whether verbally or in writing, becomes the subject of so much malignant distortion, and perverted construction,” he wrote in the letter. “I am obliged to caution my friends against admitting the possibility of my letters getting into the public papers.”
Contrary to Khan’s writings, many Founding Fathers formed critical views of Islam, such as Jefferson himself. As a diplomat he learned about jihad from a Barbary Pirates representative, an issue that President Jefferson would later confront during America’s Barbary Pirates War. Contrary to the manifesto, the Founding Fathers would have sympathized with presidential candidate Ben Carson’s thoughts concerning possible Muslim officeholder obedience to sharia subverting the United States. Samuel Adams similarly worried about the Catholic Church in an earlier, theocratic era and rightly distinguished the universal right to believe from faith-based sectarian political loyalty.
As with Jefferson, the manifesto quotes President George Washington’s famed 1790 letter on religious freedom to the Touro Synagogue absent an important phrase. America’s republic, Washington wrote with words applicable to all its citizens, Muslim or not, demands “that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.” The biases, naiveté, and errors of the manifesto signers would appear to disqualify them in applying such analysis to Islam.