I'm not the first to comment on Nicholas D Kristof's New York Times article Bigotry in Islam And Here, but I wanted to pick out one piece that seems to have been overlooked.
One can dispute that, and it's reasonable to worry about the implications of the spread of Islam for the status of women and for the genital mutilation of girls. But simply thundering that Islam is intrinsically violent does not help to understand it and picks up on racist and xenophobic threads that are some of the sorriest chapters in our history.
"Reasonable to worry" that women are in serious trouble? Reasonable to worry that girls are being appallingly mutilated as a matter of course? And what does Mr Kristof say we should do about this? Understand it. I understand that genital mutilation serves no purpose for the victim. It's barbaric. Mr Kristof, would you be understanding if someone tried to slice off a very sensitive part of your anatomy, with no anaesthetic, so that you'd be acceptable as a real man, and allowed to marry? I don't think so. Female genital mutilation is an outrage, and should be condemned by all Islamic leaders, not just some. It should be condemned by everyone still breathing, especially in the countries that practise it.
Kristof goes on to say,
Of course, Islam is troubled in ways no one can ignore. The scholar Samuel Huntington has noted that the Islamic world has "bloody borders," with conflict around much of its perimeter. Of the 26 countries torn by conflict in the year 2000, 14 have large Muslim populations. And on average, Muslim countries mobilize twice as large a share of the population in armed forces as do predominately Christian countries.
This is fair grounds for debate, but the sweeping denigrations of Islam are mush. Critics often quote from the Koran, for example, to argue that Islam is intrinsically violent ("fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them"). But the Koran, like the Bible, can be quoted for any purpose. After all, the New Testament embraces slavery ("Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling").
Slavery was a huge part of the Roman Empire at the time the New Testament was written, and it wasn't abolished until nearly two thousand years later. That quote comes in a section talking also to employers and employees, husbands and wives, slave masters and slave owners. It was a radical thought in those times to treat a slave like a human being, yet this is what the apostle Paul called for. It was radical to treat women as worth teaching and listening to, and it was radical to treat employees with respect.
1 Corinthians 7:20-23
Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.
If you can gain your freedom, do so. Do not become slaves of men. In 1787 in England, a twelve man committee of Christians formed to abolish slavery. William Wilberforce, the Parliamentary voice of that group, made it his life's goal to abolish slavery in Britain, and he succeeded.