A pair of
constitutional scholars and civil rights activists, excuse me, aggressively idiotic bigots – Jon Ritzheimer and Flash Nelson – are apparently organizing a demonstration outside a Phoenix, Arizona Islamic Community Center. Participants are encouraged to bring guns to this “peaceful” protest, in order to defend their First Amendment rights. The organizers plan a Muhammad Cartoon Contest, which will surely inflame no unsavory passions among the targets of the protest, who will be in Friday Prayers when the event takes place.
Ostensibly, the event is meant to protest the actions of Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, who were gunned down during an assault on a Muhammad Cartoon Contest near Dallas, Texas. However, it is unclear how pestering members of the Phoenix Muslim community will accomplish this end. True, Simpson at least was thought to be sympathetic to the Islamic State, and both Simpson and Soofi were affiliated with the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, AZ. Moreover, both men were guilty of attempting to use violence to silence views they found offensive – a crime hardly diminished by the repugnance of the views they were trying to hush. But the relationship between the actions of Soofi and Simpson, whose actions were quite effectively and irrevocably protested by the police officer who killed them, and the people they associated with at the Arizona Community Center, is not entirely clear.
To be clear, I find the argument that Islamic Extremism can be somehow divorced from Islam unconvincing. Violent jihad seems to be well within the parameters of a coherent interpretation of Islamic texts. In concert with sufficiently motivating levels of social and political disenfranchisement, the extreme ideology derived from such exegesis contributes to violent action. That being the case, it is nonetheless ridiculous to use the actions of a small minority of Muslims to paint the entire Islamic community as violent, or to implicate all Muslim people in the crimes of said minority. A reasoned interpretation of Islamic theology may grant validity to violent jihad. But the same can be said of Christian theology and similarly repellent behaviors, like homophobia (strongly encouraged in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) and slavery (condoned in Genesis 9:25, Leviticus 25:44-46). The fact is that religious fundamentalism breeds nastiness. People who take religious texts seriously, as literal representations of the will of an omnipotent creator, and behave accordingly, tend to be at the very best uncompromising and reactionary, and at the very worst intolerant and militant. Yet it does not make sense to condemn an entire religious community based on any of the myriad notions that can be derived from their central texts.
The point is that the entire affair seems more like a puerile attempt to goad the people who pray at the Islamic Community Center on Friday into some kind of unpleasant response and otherwise aggravate tensions between intolerant white trash and members of a generally peaceful religious minority. This suspicion is lent credence by the fact that Ritzheimer is a viciously anti-Islamic xenophobe, as evidenced by material presented on his Facebook profile. The fact that Simpson and Soofi were somehow affiliated with the Islamic Community Center offers no justification for the harassment of their coreligionists. A brief example might better illustrate my point: most anti-gay bigots in the United States justify their bigotry through their religious beliefs. Still, it would make little sense for members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters to protest outside a church where a particularly loathsome homophobe once went for his weekly dose of Jesus, particularly if that loathsome homophobe is presently with Jesus in the afterlife (read: dead, no longer capable of receiving or processing sensory stimuli, and otherwise inanimate).
I think the best we can hope for here is that the members of the Islamic Community Center continue to demonstrate a level of prudence and maturity inaccessible to the likes of Ritzheimer and the clowns that join him tomorrow. Usama Shami, president of the Community Center, has said: “It will be the same as every Friday evening and we’re going to tell our members what we’ve told them before: not to engage them. They’re not looking for an intellectual conversation. They’re looking to stir up controversy and we’re not going to be a part of it.” The clearly antagonistic nature of the protests reveals a group of people itching for a fight. Let’s hope they’re disappointed.