With last weekend’s anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., the surge of anti-Islam rhetoric and activism is sadly increasing in Texas as well. In late August, for example, the pastor of one of the state’s largest churches, Rev. Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, gave a sermon describing “the deep, dirty secret of Islam. It is a religion that promotes pedophilia — sex with children.” Even after a professor of theology and Islam scholar at Southern Methodist University said there was no evidence “whatsoever” to support Jeffress’ claim, Rev. Jeffress insisted that “uninformed, I am not.” He went on to say that “(Islam) does incite violence. . . . The worst thing about Islam is that it is a deception that leads people away from the true God.”
The headlines and air waves are full of stories about anti-Islam and even anti-Muslim activity around the country, including in at least two Texas communities. In separate incidents in Arlington in late July, a mosque operating since 1998 suffered a fire, damage to its children’s playground equipment and graffiti containing racial slurs. The FBI is investigating. In Katy (near Houston), a newly formed group is raising questions about the impact of the proposed new mosque to serve 500 Muslim worshippers and 100 students in an adjacent Islam school. According to a Houston Chronicle, “the underlying fears….are questions about security and rumors that the organization (Muslim American Society) may have radical Muslim roots.” No evidence of such radical ties has been forthcoming.
This is a time for responsible leaders — civic and religious — to stand up against those who feed on ignorance to promote fear and prejudice. Who will? And who won’t?