Delegate gets holidays rolling with ill-thought slap at Islam

April 06, 2004|By MICHAEL OLESKER

ON THE THEORY that the less said, the better about Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr.'s illuminating insights into theology and the American ecumenical mix, let us be as concise as possible:

Shame on Dwyer.

Shame on him for injecting a mean and incendiary spirit into the country's war anxieties, and shame on him for ducking behind his eighth-grade nephew when the going got a little rough, and shame on him for perpetuating any manner of religious stereotyping when the country needs as much calm as it can muster.

Just in time for the Christian celebration of Easter and the Jewish observance of Passover, Dwyer's contribution to the holiday season is his trashing of the faith of Islam. He did it last week, in an e-mail sent to all 187 of his legislative colleagues, calling Islam a "militaristic and violent" religion whose followers are given "clear warrant for killing those who will not comply with Islam." The paper, purportedly written by Dwyer's eighth-grade nephew and proudly distributed by Dwyer, was titled, "Is Islam Really Peaceful?"

Then, apparently indifferent to complaints by appalled colleagues - and buoyed by what he called "dozens" of e-mails and phone calls from constituents over the weekend - he reiterated his feelings during a telephone interview yesterday.

So, just to set the record straight for Dwyer: The United States is not at war with Islam - nor Islam with the United States.

And, just to set the record straight for the Republican delegate from Anne Arundel County, it happens that the Republican president, George W. Bush, declared within days of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that Islam "is practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself."

"I disagree with Bush," Dwyer said yesterday.

Well, this ought to calm everything down. We count the war dead and then look for somebody to blame. The reports grow more grotesque by the day, and the body bags are filled with hundreds of Americans and untold thousands of Iraqis, and the fear crosses all religions.

This president, while backing away from initial declarations of "crusades," sent troops into Iraq for reasons thus far militarily inexplicable. Maybe Condoleezza Rice will enlighten us all Thursday. But the president has taken pains to say: These are not religious wars, this is not Christianity and Judaism vs. Islam.

Because such sentiments are not supported by facts. And because drawing religious lines in the sand plays directly into the hands of terrorist groups that would characterize the invasion of Iraq as a holy war against people of the Islamic faith.

And because, in America, we are supposed to have learned the lessons of stigmatizing people by religious beliefs.

Do the words "religious tolerance" ring a bell?

"Sure, they do," Dwyer, a fundamentalist Christian, said yesterday. "We talk about it all the time. I'm a very tolerant person when it comes to other faiths."

"But you're saying Muslims believe in killing as a tenet of their faith," Dwyer was told.

"I don't believe all people of the Islamic faith have hatred and murder as their goal," he said.

"Not `all?' Then what percentage?"

"I don't know."

"Is it just those who actually follow the religious tenets?"

"I don't know," Dwyer said.

Is it, perhaps, that percentage of Muslims who work in America's hospitals, who teach in our schools, who raise their children and treasure a nation where they can practice freedom of religion without fear of being stereotyped as The Violent Other? Or is it just those who manage to find a call to murder in their careful parsing of the Quran?

"I haven't read the whole Quran," said Dwyer, "nor do I intend to."

"How much of it have you read?"

"I don't have to time read it. Look, there are radicals within many different religious faiths, people who take their religion to the extreme."

"But you circulated a paper that blames an entire religion."

"Understand, I sent a paper written by an eighth-grader, with the intent of showing someone who can express what many adults can't express. It was his perspective."

"So you're ducking behind your nephew?"

"No, no, I'm not ducking behind him. I mean, if I had written it, it would have been much more scathing."

"What would it have said?"

"I couldn't even tell you," said Dwyer.

To which we say: Amen.

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