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Daniel Tilson: President Obama Prayer Breakfast furor is teachable moment

There goes President Barack Obama again, being all intelligent, nuanced, thought-provoking and downright provocative.

Don’t you love it, or at least respect and admire it? I do.

I’m imagining a lot of heads nodding.

Am also imagining a lot of heads shaking back and forth. Maybe some gnashing teeth and foaming at the corners of the mouth in that camp too.

Obama’s boldly brilliant and complete remarks at a National Prayer Breakfast last week were meant to maintain a clear distinction between terrorism and Islam. In hopes of appealing to and uniting good people of different faiths in the fight against terrorism, rather than against Islam, the president noted Islam isn’t alone among world religions in having been horrifically exploited at various times in history, bastardized by evil people for evil purposes.

The sentences immediately and typically taken out of context by political and media grand-standers on 24/7 watch for new “Gotcha” material are italicized at the end of the paragraph below – providing at least a little critical context:

“We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism – terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions. We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion. So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities – the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religion for their own murderous ends? Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

 It’s clear what our president is saying, and why. If not, follow that link up top and read the entire speech. If then, you think those particular sentences are insulting to Christians…that’s sad.

But because Barack Obama is a progressive Democrat whose black, Kenyan, Muslim father and white, American, Christian mother gave him the middle name Hussein (meaning: good, or handsome), there are plenty of people whose open or lurking prejudices are sad prey for the likes of right-wing religious and political demagogues, such as Pat Robertson and ex-congressman Allen West; the latter of whom posted the following headline story on his website:

“Outrageous: Obama basically equates ISIS with Christianity in Prayer Breakfast.”

Robertson and West, they want the USA to wage war against Islam.

Wage war against almost a quarter of the Earth’s population?

More than 1.5 billion Muslims follow Islam, the world’s second-most observed religion. It’s also the second-most observed religion in Florida, and 15-20 other states.

Our Florida Muslim residents and communities are overwhelmingly peaceful, charitable contributors to the rich diversity, strength and human capital of our state – and their numbers are growing steadily. You already know how large our Latino and Hispanic population is, but did you know there’s a strong trend of conversion to Islam in those communities, especially in South Florida?

If you or anyone you know doesn’t care to learn more about why that is, or to learn more about and come to embrace all the positive virtues of Islam itself, then I feel sorry for you and them. Because you sure as hell aren’t going to win a holy war waged by “leaders” like infamously Islamaphobic Florida pastor Terry Jones – who, by the way, now operates a french-fry stand in a Bradenton mall.

For the rest of you with open minds and hearts, let me leave with you with some wise words from my buddy Zeeshan Javed Hafeez, or ZJ as most family and friends call him. ZJ is a Pakistani Muslim, born and raised in Florida. I’m proud to have done some communications work for him in 2010, when he courageously ran for state representative as a Democrat in his staunchly conservative, Republican hometown district (HD 67). He lost the race, but gained much wisdom. Here’s what he said when I asked him about the prayer breakfast “furor”:

“Unfortunately, we must realize that people use religion, like many other tools, to manipulate others by distorting inherently peaceful messages. We must be educated enough to call a spade a spade and differentiate extreme elements and individual fanatics from the core positive messages of all the world faiths.

“The president rightly put into perspective that throughout human history, these are the facts. We must take the time to distill the facts and learn from history’s lessons. We must also follow his lead in combatting Islamaphobia, like any other discriminatory force.

“Let’s take the president’s message as an invitation to reject and fight all forms of prejudice and discrimination; and learn more about one another, come to appreciate one another, understand the differences that make us unique, and come together by loving our neighbors with dignity, and respect.”

Amen, Brother, Amen.

Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for non-profits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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