Newsweek and the Koran

The religious and cultural damage done by
the Newsweek story has been done. But how long will it linger?

Newsweek has apologized but the damage has been done. Lives have been lost and extremists have gained another cause to fuel anti-Christian, anti-U.S. feelings across the Muslim world.

The Christian Science Monitor lays out in clear fashion why disrespect for the Koran is such an offense to Muslims. So much is offensive about this story it’s nearly beyond comprehension how it could have slipped by editorial scrutiny. Of course mistakes are made. And there’s no need to pile on the bandwagon criticizing Newsweek at this late stage. So this isn’t a polemic against Newsweek.

What comes to mind, however, is concern about Christian-Muslim relations around the world especially in those places where the relationship between moderates and extremists–the Middle East, parts of Indonesia, Pakistan, India and north Africa–is delicate. Christians are a minority in many Muslim states and even where moderates are in power, they face discrimination or worse. I’ve met with many who speak quietly of the influence that those of us outside their societies have upon circumstances within. They urge caution in language and action that would offend Muslim majorities.

In Imperial Hubris, Michael Schereur explains that Christians are identified, inaccurately, with U.S. policy toward Muslim states. When President Bush explained, sincerely and honestly, how his personal faith influences his moral decisions in office, this was read by many Muslims as proof that U.S. Christians are engaged in war against Islam.

Of course that’s not true, and of course that’s not what the President intended to communicate. But that only reinforces the point. Communication around the issue of Christian-Muslim relations is delicate and it has life and death implications.

Add to this the anti-Islam comments of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell that were interpreted as representative of the whole of the Christian community, another inaccuracy, and the hole that’s being dug gets deeper and wider. In this situation perception is reality.

That’s why the story is tragic, in my opinion. It will provide extremists the fodder they need to harm innocent people who have no connection to U.S. policy but who are implicated simply because they are Christians. The Pentagon has denied the story from the outset, but that will fall on deaf ears in the inflamed passion that has developed anyway. I see no way to repair this harm. Christian leaders can disavow abuse and disrespect of the Koran; that’s paltry, I know, but what else can be done now that the damage is done?

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