On June 17, Georgetown University held the event “Evangelicals & Muslims: Perspectives on Mission & Partnership” at its Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. The last of its four panel discussions wrestled with the question: “Can Muslims and Christians be Partners in Reconciliation and Conflict Transformation?”
The crowd, at least 100 strong, consisted largely, if not exclusively, of professors and students. The panelists were Muqtedar Khan, professor of international relations at the University of Delaware and director of its Islamic Studies program; Louay Safi, of Indiana University and Purdue University; Chris Seiple, president of the Institute of Global Engagement; and David Shenk, a consultant for Eastern Mennonite Missions.
Khan, who spoke first, refused to appear on a 2007 academic panel with an IDF veteran who had served in the West Bank, yet somehow maintains a veneer of moderation. A fairly charismatic speaker, he got off the ground quickly by claiming a moral equivalence between Pat Robertson and Osama bin Laden. “We must condemn the extremists in our midst,” he said, patting himself on the back for denouncing bin Laden. While Robertson has undoubtedly made controversial statements, comparing him with bin Laden, whose terrorist organization has murdered thousands of people in the United States and abroad, is appalling and absurd.
Khan labored to prove his ecumenical bona fides by asserting that evangelicals and Muslims are the two most marginalized groups in the United States. If one needs proof, he noted rather bizarrely, just look at the make-up of the U.S. Supreme Court, whose members represent neither group. Khan failed to note the obvious demographic error with his analogy: surveys indicate that evangelicals make up at least a quarter of the country’s population (or over 70 million people), while reliable figures placed the Muslim population at about 1.4 million in 2008. The audience nodded and murmured with approval at this statistical sleight-of-hand.
And, of course, what’s a panel discussion on religion without the gratuitous insertion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? In Khan’s own words, “Muslims and Christians make up two-thirds of the world’s population. What is a major, if not the major, thing they have in common?” Why, their “partnership in pain” under Israeli occupation. Evangelical Christians, Khan added, must reject the pro-Israel majority of their brethren, who, through their support of Israel, are helping to inflict the “greatest oppression that Muslims suffer.” No mention was made of the pain of Palestinian Christians under their Muslim brethren, nor of the oppression suffered by Muslims at the hands of their co-religionists.
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