In Response to: Explaining Islam

Published online Feb. 7, 2017

Most of us remember learning that Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” provoked outrage when it was first published, because of its supposed suggestion that the solution to Ireland’s desperate poverty should be for the poor to sell their children to the wealthy as food.  The larger message to learners was that the best satire almost sounds as though it is being serious.

It is in this vein that I congratulate David R. Pohndorf ’65 for his brilliant satiric letter in the Jan. 11 issue of PAW. He asks (tongue in cheek, surely): “Why do Muslims, e.g., Sunnis and Shiites, viciously fight each other while each sect claims Muhammad as their spiritual leader under Allah?” How could any reader fail to be reminded by this wonderful sentence of the Christian sects of Northern Ireland?  And “why have all the recent major terrorist attacks … been carried out by Muslims?” surely can’t fail to remind a great many of us of such outstanding Christian terrorists as Timothy McVeigh, and the Waco gang, and the Spanish Inquisition, and the Crusaders … and those Northern Ireland sects again, among so many others. (Jewish terrorism at the Dome of the Rock and in the settlements of Israel/Palestine, widespread Hindu terrorism in India, the Aum Shinrikyo Shinto terrorists in Japan, and literally dozens of other religious terrorist groups easily found on the web clearly support his subtle point that no religion has anything like a special claim to terrorism.)

“If Islam honors and reveres women …” has to get us thinking about how “women are considered inferior to men” is so true in many segments of our country, where we seem to have no problem with fundamentalist Christian (or ultra-Orthodox Jewish) doctrine that loudly broadcasts this very claim, not to mention a new president who has boasted of committing sexual assault, repeatedly and with impunity.

So thanks, Mr. Pohndorf, for stating that “highlighting the gentle aspects of [any religion] while ignoring [those] that are troubling” is indeed a dangerous practice. Not because it tells us something about any particular religion. But because it reminds us that zealotry in the name of religion — as in the name of race, or of nationality, or of any grouping that sanctions and encourages murder and mayhem of the “them” who don’t belong to our special “us” — is the true recipe for the worst of human behavior.

Jerome R. Hoffman ’68
Santa Barbara, Calif.