SOUNDOFF: Our enemy is ignorance

I cannot allow the appalling ignorance of the Islamic faith and its practitioners demonstrated in two letters published in the April 12 edition of the Whidbey News-Times to go unchallenged. James Coats admonishes Muslims to learn to speak English. As far as I could tell, the people that were written about in the article he cites all spoke English. The Muslims that I know also speak English. In fact, a few years ago I met members of a Muslim family from Saudi Arabia, here temporarily to seek medical treatment, who all spoke perfect English.

Mr. Coats goes on suggest that Muslims “dress like normal Americans.” What exactly is “normal”? Would he consider my short hair, slacks and sensible shoes “normal” for an American woman? Perhaps he considers the skirts and long hair of members of some Christian sects more “normal” than my chosen dress. I suggest he visit any high school or college campus to see the wide variations of “normal” among American young people.

Mr. Coats then admonishes Muslims to “renounce Islam” in order to earn the right to stay in this country. What would be Mr. Coats’ response if he were asked to renounce his religion? As for asking them to study the Founding Fathers, most of our great founders would be appalled to think that religion was being used as a criterion for determining who belongs in America.

Mr. Coats should take his own advice and read the Constitution, paying particular attention to the First Amendment. He could then follow that up with the many writings of the Founding Fathers on the subject of religious freedom. Most of them believed passionately in it. One of Thomas Jefferson’s proudest accomplishments (he listed it above being president) was drafting the Statute of Religious Freedom for the state of Virginia. My experience as a teacher of American history and government has shown me that immigrants are far more likely to be well versed in the history of this country than those who were born here. They take the trouble to learn because they are grateful for the freedoms they find here and don’t take them for granted.

Mr. Coats’ final demonstration of ignorance comes in his tirade on “sexual lobotomies.” I presume this rather strange phrase refers to female genital mutilation. This is not a religious practice but a cultural one. It is found in some parts of the Muslim world, but it is not practiced in many other Muslim countries. It is also found in non-Muslim cultures in Africa. It is not an Islamic practice.

It is quite clear that neither Mr. Coats nor John Coyne, who also wrote a letter, have ever taken the trouble to read the Quran or study the history and development of Islam. Mr. Coyne asserts that Islam cannot be a peaceful religion because of the Wahabists, the 9/11 highjackers, and the Taliban. Apparently because of these few, all one billion of the world’s Muslims must be condemned. Should we also judge all Christians by the actions of the Nazis and our own, home-grown terrorist, Timothy McVeigh? Historically, many atrocities have been committed in the name of the Christian faith. The Muslims that I have known have been universally peace-loving, kind and gentle people.

For those who care enough to get their facts right, I’d like to suggest some reading. “Islam: A Short History,” by Karen Armstrong is a very good introduction to the history of Islam. It’s available in the Sno-Isle library system and at the Skagit Valley College library. For those who can’t take the time to read an entire book, Ms. Armstrong’s article “Ghosts of Our Past” in the January/February 2002 issue of Modern Maturity provides an even briefer history.

Ignorance, not Islam, is the greatest potential enemy of American liberty.

Deborah Wallin lives in Oak Harbor.

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