Anti-Muslim gift from the IRD
Steven D. Martin printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 02:18:54 PM EST
A few weeks ago I received a call from a pastor friend of mine.  "Did you receive a book in the mail about Islam?"  Having been involved for years in Muslim-Christian dialogue and reconciliation, all sorts of questions about Islam are commonly directed toward me.  I replied, "What book?"

The book turned out to be "Islamic Imperialism" by Efraim Karsh, published by Yale University Press.  The book's cover stated that it was a gift from the Institute on Religion and Democracy.  The IRD apparently mailed the book as a free gift to over 100,000 pastors and seminaries.

If you've been reading Talk To Action, you know something of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. This inside-the-beltway, Washington, DC organization has been working to systematically dismantle the National Council of Churches and its most powerful member denominations for a number of years. Most regrettably, the IRD has been successful in exploiting the suspicions people naturally have about their leaders. One bishop I have talked to says that she is most concerned about the way the IRD has made well-meaning church members suspicious of each other. Another has commented that "the IRD intimidates the church, and I fear that they succeed." (See the video, "Renewal or Ruin.")

How much money does it take to mail a book to 100,000 United Methodists? Who knows, but the postage alone would cost over $150,000. Presumably the books cost something also. Cynthia Astle of UMNeXus asked Jim Tonkowich, president of the IRD (and a member of NONE of the denominations the IRD works to "renew"), about the source for the funds necessary to distribute this book:

According to the Yale University Press web site, Karsh's book retails for $17 each in paperback. Purchase of 100,000 copies would cost, at minimum, $1.7 million dollars. Postage would cost at least $150,000, according to the "bound printed matter" rate given on the U.S. Postal Service web site.

In a telephone interview, IRD President James Tonkowich acknowledged that his Washington, DC, think tank sent out the books. A donor "interested in the project" paid for purchase of the books and the mailing costs, Tonkowich said. He declined to name the benefactor, saying, "We don't identify our donors."

Aside from the IRD's altruistic intentions (working to solve the problem that most pastors have a shortage of good books), many have raised questions about the content and intent behind the book, and its distribution by the IRD. Again, from UMNeXus:
Karsh's main scholarly argument – which he put forth in his first book and expands in the book sent out by the IRD – contends that Islam has historically held imperial ambitions that its adherents have retained today. In Karsh's view, ambitions of empire are not confined to an extremist fringe, but show "the House of Islam's" quest for world domination.

One of the myths surrounding the current debate on Islam taking place in our country, and perhaps around the world, is that most Muslims are essentially part of sleeper-cells, and that if other Muslims call upon another to join in an attack against the infidel, the Muslim is required to help. In other words (and I believe this myth is held by people on the left AND the right), Muslims have one primary allegiance above all others, and they will quickly and unquestioningly join with Bin Laden if given the chance. What a dangerous idea.

I have known many Muslims for years. I have been in Muslim homes and have been treated to the delights of Muslim hospitality (read: really good food!), and my sense is: yes, Muslims are pious people. But they too want to live their lives. They want to come home from work, play with their children, and get along with their neighbors. Just like the rest of us, they may hold opinions about religion and politics, but in the end they just want to live in freedom and raise their families in safety. I have never seen signs that the Muslims I've met were ready to attack the rest of us. But unfortunately, every week I hear of an attack against a Muslim, a Muslim family, or a mosque right here in the US. Unfortunately we non-Muslims are not treating our Muslim neighbors with the same sense of hospitality and decency.

So, what's wrong with the IRD sending out a bunch of books? Nothing, really. But consider this: I have never ready any thing that the IRD has written that didn't contain some subtle twist-of-the-knife. Even though the IRD's rhetoric is nice, flowery, and polite, it always gives the reader the impression that someone else is not to be trusted. Karsh's book is no exception. This time, though, the shift is away from distrust between church members, but to one of the most explosive relationships in the world: that of Christians and Muslims.

There's an easier way to learn about Muslims than reading books on them. Learn to say "Salaam Alaykum (the peace of God be with you)" to your Muslim neighbor. You'll have an instant friend. Then if you're particularly blessed, you'll be invited over for dinner. It will be a feast you'll never forget.

That's a serious chunk of change they spent.  Some nutty billionaire somewhere used up their daily allowance on this particular propaganda piece. [I love alliteration!]  Now if we can create an awareness of the corrosive source of the book among all those who received it at little to no cost to us, we can call it an even trade.  

Salaam Alaykum Steven!

by nofundy on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 03:25:22 PM EST

Even on the well funded Christian right.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 06:31:50 PM EST
When I received my free gift and saw it was from the IRD I tossed it without even opening it.  Somehow I was pretty sure that they weren't supporting or proposing that Islam could co-exhist with Christianity (or anyone else)
God's grace and peace, Deb K
by Pastordeb on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 12:59:45 AM EST
So I could critique the book.

But, I'm not a Methodist minister.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 05:34:48 AM EST

I was contemplating reading my "free gift" copy just to see how badly the IRD had painted my Muslim friends, but I think I'll follow your advice and THROW IT IN THE TRASH. God knows I need the space on my desk!

by RevRuthUCC on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 11:25:39 PM EST

Doesn't the IRD have to disclose such a major donation in its financial statements?  Or even if they do, will that get hidden away in paperwork filed a year from now?

by Rusty Pipes on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 06:03:23 PM EST
But, that info may not be available for a year or more.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 06:30:52 PM EST
I'm having a hard time getting more current info about the funding of IRD and related organizations.  Right Web's general entries on the IRD were updated a few months ago, but Media Transparency, which has more specific info on the funding of Right Wing groups, seems to be down.

Also, following the UMNexus link in the diary, distribution of the book in the UMC has not been uniform thusfar -- several seminaries had not received a copy.  In addition, the book has been sent to some Episcopalians as well:  

"United Methodist clergy in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Illinois and Wisconsin reported receiving the book from the IRD. In addition, Episcopal Church communicators sent an email inquiry about "Islamic Imperialism" after some priests reported receiving copies."

Should Presbyterians be expecting a copy of the book in the mail next week?

by Rusty Pipes on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 09:02:13 PM EST

They posted a little note about it on their site, which is back up now.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 05:40:15 AM EST

that was sent with the book, the IRD said it was a group with a goal of supporting interfaith tolerance--at which I subsequently laughed out loud about!  Huh?  

How could sending out a book that argues that a particular religion has a inherent quest for world domination be understood as a stab towards religious tolerance?  

And, it shows a profound ignorance of Christian history...  We Christians shouldn't be throwing any stones when it comes to interfaith intolerance.

I wonder if this was an attempt to shore up waning support for the war in Iraq--stop the Islamist over there before they come over here, per Bush's recent rhetoric?

by PastorKev on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 11:43:59 PM EST

It very well could be another pitch to the faithful regarding the War on Terror.  Last night at a screening of my film, "Theologians Under Hitler," I (once again) had someone ask me if I thought Islam could be the next Hitler.  It's the old "Islamic Fascists" line that bombed when it was first delivered.  

Nonetheless, people believe that stuff without taking the time to get to know any Muslims.  I fear for America's Muslims, who will be under a great deal of pressure if (when) another attack takes place.

by Steven D. Martin on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 06:29:42 AM EST

Not just United Methodist pastors are recipients.  As you mentioned, some Episcopal clergy have received it, as well as UCC clergy.  The IRD's website only mentions the book in a listing of alternative resources than those recommended by the PC(USA) for its season of prayer for Middle Eastern Christians (and there, the IRD lists the cover price, no freebie).  The IRD's preface is too good to pass up:

"... because of the current bias, Presbyterian Action counsels reader caution concerning denominationally recommended resources about the Middle East. There is much more to the story than the narrow line we are receiving from official Presbyterian sources. At the least, one needs to supplement the Presbyterian resources by including other viewpoints. At the worst, some of the Presbyterian-recommended resources are unworthy of consideration.

In an effort to provide greater balance, Presbyterian Action offers the following brief list of resources. ...

Karsh, Efraim. Islamic Imperialism: A History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007. 284 pages.

This book provides needed perspective by taking a middle approach on Islam, offering a history of how Muslims have behaved toward their neighbors. Amazon, $13.26."

by Rusty Pipes on Sun Apr 22, 2007 at 04:34:02 AM EST

Has a good deal of pro-war writing on it. The IRD has been well committed to war-mongering.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 05:37:28 AM EST

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