July 2010, Terry Jones, an American pastor in Florida, announced he planned to burn 200 copies of the Quran on Sept. 11 of that year. In Jones’ warped mind, burning the Quran was a response warranted by the World Trade Center attacks. I am sure that most of my readers recall the disgust they felt with Mr. Jones, and in particular, the shame that our American nation and our Judeo-Christian civilization could produce such a man and such thought. In the weeks and months succeeding his announcement, American politicians – his local mayor, Sec. Gates, Sec. Clinton, Rep. Boehner – Christian leaders both in America and around the world, and Muslim groups all criticized Jones’ planned action. Eventually, he gave into the pressure and canceled the burning.
September 21, 2013, Al-Shabaab militants stormed the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya and, targeting non-Muslims, killed 61 civilians and six Kenyan soldiers. The attack was denounced, predictably, by an assortment of western nations and international organizations – the UN, AU, EU. And although it was also denounced by the King of Morocco, the President of Somalia, and officially by Iran, as of now, the Muslim world has remained mostly quiet.
I blame Muslims for the Nairobi attack no more than I blame Christians for Jones’ proposed burning: not at all. Nevertheless, it is telling that Christians and, more generally, westerners, felt compelled to apologize on behalf of Jones while Muslims have not apologized for Al-Shaabab. Although I do not blame them, I do feel they owe us an apology.
Western responses reflected a deep embarrassment. The National Association of Evangelicals, the World Evangelical Alliance, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and the myriad of other Christian groups in the west that had no association with Jones’ church, either formal or informal, all felt compelled to denounce Jones. As did the secular International Humanist and Ethical Union. And perhaps it seems obvious to us that this was the right thing to do. After all, presumably the groups shared a culture, mission, ideology, or all three. They were all products of the Judeo-Christian world, and that world bequeathed them a common mind and spirit. Thus, it seems to make sense that one group is embarrassed by the other.
However, perhaps it is not so obvious that the groups should have universally condemned the proposed burning. No Christians were directly harmed, and whether or not the action was theologically odious can be debated. In another world, in a world less decent, introspective, and self-critical, kindred groups would have closed ranks to support the like-group. That would be the natural reaction. If not active defense, at least not active assault.
This might explain why there has been more outrage among American Muslims over TSA profiling than there has been over the Nairobi massacre. The Judeo-Christian tradition has created an introspective and critical civilization. In the West, we understand that although we ourselves may have not done something bad, we can implicitly be a part of it, connected to the misdeed by virtue of our mutual participation in a shared culture. Maybe if we had promoted a better agenda at home, the outrage could have been avoided.
It is upsetting how the Muslim community at large has failed to rally against these extremist groups. By not denouncing the attacks they effectively provide cover for the extremists. Until the Muslim World begins to do so, it will continue to exhibit symptoms of a sick culture, and we must understand that the conflict, at this point, is civilizational. Why the variance, though, between the West and the rest, or between the West and the Muslim World? I don’t feel competent to say, but the evidence of the variance is obvious.