I would like to recommend a few good reads to help one navigate the situation of how to regard Islam and Muslims as both Christians and Americans. First of all – the suggestion that America is or should be engaged in a Holy War Crusade against all Muslim majority nations is one that has to be confronted- there is nothing more dangerous than to try to match the extremism of Bin Laden-style Islam with some kind of Bin Laden-style Christianity.
To get to some higher ground I recommend some good historical reads which are not so far back in time as to seem ancient and irrelevant to current geopolitical conditions. I keep re-reading and re-recommending David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. This book painstakingly lays out the facts of Great Britain’s intensive role after WWI in taking charge of trying to get imperial advantage throughout the Middle East- and using political Islam as one of the big tools to at once unify and pacify the majorities of Arab peoples. The British set up shop with their Arab Bureau in Cairo to become “a center of British policy-making for the Middle East”. The British were fond of Kingdoms and Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood- all of whom were put in part on Great Britain’s payroll. They sponsored the Hashemite Kings- Hussein of Mecca and his sons to be the leaders of the postwar Arab Middle East, and they supported a rival (House of Saud) Ibn Saud- Hussein’s sons Feisal and Abdullah were put in charge of Iraq and Transjordan, and in 1922 with the strong Christian Zionism of Lloyd George, the British accepted a League of Nations Mandate to carry out a Zionist program. Britain placed King Fuad I on the throne of Egypt in 1922 as well. Independence for the Kurds was put off the agenda- setting up more trouble for the future. Britain also imposed frontier agreements upon Ibn Saud that established the boundaries between Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait- which as we know came back to haunt when Iraq invaded Kuwait (Gulf War I).
“Thus Britain- like France in her sphere of the Middle East, and Russia in hers- established states, appointed persons to govern them, and drew frontiers between them..the European powers had taken the political destinies of the Middle Eastern peoples in their hands- and they did so by the terms of what I have called the settlement of 1922.”
Now any Arab/Persian person with any knowledge of this history is not going to be delighted by U.S. and Western power politics that continue to dominate their lives. We tend to forget or simply ignore this fact- lost in the propaganda that we are the deliverers of “liberty” to foreign lands.
More facts can be found for the role the U.S. has played after the diminishing of Great Britain as the Middle East’s power broker. In Robert Dreyfuss’s book- Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam- he explores the roots of how the political Islamists were helped to develop and specifically to become militant and dangerous by those who saw an imperial pan-Islam as the perfect wedge for Communist/Socialist/Nationalist movements in the Middle East. And if you read 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner- Steve Coll’s book Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001- you will learn about how tight our American leadership was with the extremist Islamic jihadist fighter groupings, starting with using them to make the Soviet Union “bleed”, and later to try to keep them as a controlled entity- which resulted in the ‘Blowback’ situation of a popularized movement of Islamic fighters/terrorists that may still be growing as everyone panics and acts like it is somehow proof that Islam itself is a Faith that has only one intent- to kill us all.
To counter the religious claims that Islam is simply an attack dog faith with no redeeming value- I recommend orthodox Catholic philosopher/writer Peter Kreeft’s book – Between Allah & Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims-. This book will help those who have that Pavlov dog reaction to the word “Islam” to immediately think “Bin Laden”. It is for thoughtful people who are serious about being peacemakers in this life.
My own views go along with Kreefts, and I am also searching for the way forward in relating to Muslims. I am critical of the way many Islamic dominant nations refuse to recognize the rights of all religious believers to worship freely, and to have the right of speech to engage all people to the truths of their faith. This lack of reciprocity in the rights to religious liberty, is a major stumbling block in the future co-existence and friendship between Christians and Muslims inside of nations and between nations. We should begin honest dialogues on the political question of how we can acknowledge the abuse of solidarity by way of Western power relationships with the peoples of the Middle East- putting them under the thumb of our leaders (behind the scenes) ever since the end of the Ottoman Empire. We should admit that our idealism has been in large measure- self-serving- not with the interests of the majority of people living in the Middle East at the front of our policy considerations. ” ..Even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt.20:28). This admission should open new doors of dialogue which could lead to more openness on the part of Muslims to look at expanding the rights of all to worship and evangelize their faith in countries like Saudi Arabia which has had a very close relationship with the United States- yet does not respect the rights of Christians inside her borders.