I attended the open house at the Murfreesboro mosque last evening. There was, as so many in this town have been saying, a level of intolerance that I had not anticipated. But, unlike what so many are saying, it was gluten intolerance rather than religious intolerance. And it was my intolerance, not theirs. They served this fabulous buffet and everything had flour in it! As the only yarmulke wearing visitor I took this as an act of anti-Jewish feeling, but I suspect I was being a bit over sensitive.
The room was filled--crammed really--with members of the Muslim community and nonMuslim well-wishers. There was no talk of terrorism, though I was personally terrorized by this little old man from Syria who singled me out as The Jew, and who had to come over, grab my arm, and regale me with stories of his youth in Syria and his Jewish mentors. He would not let go. And he insisted I eat something. The bastard! I tried to explain I had celiac disease, but he didn't care (or maybe he didn't have a clue what I was saying). He just insisted that I eat with him. He was going to be personally insulted if I refused. Damn these Arabs and their hospitality! I lied and told him I had already eaten, but it didn't matter. So I ate. Just a spoonful of hummus. He must have thought that a strange choice with all the other fabulous items on the table, but he was satisfied. He let me go.
There are old men like this in every group. Last week I was speaking about the conflict over the mosque in Murfreesboro at a Unitarian Church in Nashville. After the service an equally old man came over to talk to me. He wanted me to understand that all the problems in Murfreesboro, indeed all the problems in the world, were the fault of Zionists. He had read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he told me, and knew what was what with Jews. I told him he sounded like a Nazi, and he proudly told me that Hitler was right. He was serious. I'd met this man at this church before. A died in the swastika Nazi anti-Semite at a Unitarian Church. Talk about odd. But at least he didn't try to feed me. He likes his Jews starved and gassed.
The reporter from our local newspaper was at the mosque last night as well. He informed me that I had misquoted him. You might remember my suggestion that he visit area churches, mosques, etc. to see what is being preached vis-a-vis hate and fear. I said he declined. My bad. What he said was it isn't up to him what he covers. He is assigned stories. So I want to apologize to him. (I am deliberately not naming him, so as to not get him into trouble. Though we only have one daily paper and one religion editor. So, sorry, Doug.)
I spoke with the imam for a short while. I had met him before. I lovely Egyptian man who was himself terrorized. No, not by the Muslim Brotherhood, but by his little daughter who desperately wanted to help but wasn't tall enough to see over the top of the buffet table.
Look, I'm not naive. There are evil people in the world, and many if not most of them mask their evil in the name of God and religion. I am certain that there were people in that room last night who wanted me and all Jews dead or converted. Some of them Muslim, some of them Christian. I understand that there are Islamic movements that are evil, just as there are Jewish and Christian movements that are evil. My position is simply this: if you want to know what your neighbor believes, talk with her/him, don't defame and yell at her/him. If people are truly spreading lies and evil, oppose them. But if they aren't, leave them alone. So far all I am hearing is generic anti-Muslim half truths and hate speech. We need open dialogue. Let those who fear Islam speak openly, respectfully, and in a public forum with leaders of the Islamic community so that we the people can decide for ourselves. Let's hear the facts not the slander.
You can catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar. Unless of course that honey is in baklava and the other person is gluten intolerant.