On December 15, 2011, Jennifer Bryson and I sent the message below to David Caton, Executive Director of the Florida Family Association, an organization that has campaigned against the reality television show “All American Muslim” on The Learning Channel. Dr. Bryson is Director of the Witherspoon Institute’s Research Project on Islam and Civil Society. She is a graduate of Stanford University and earned her Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Yale University. As a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, she served for two years as an interrogator at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. (She provides an account of her work and experience here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/09/3934.)
Dear Mr. Caton:
As pro-life and pro-family Christians, we support and applaud the purposes of the Florida Family Association (FFA) as set forth in your organization’s mission statement: to “educate people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values.” We are writing now, however, in a spirit of respect and brotherhood, to urge you prayerfully to reconsider your position on the question of the television show All American Muslim on The Learning Channel (TLC).
You have said that “TLC’s All-American Muslim is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.” You have also alleged that the show is propaganda “clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law,” and that it “profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.”
All American Muslim is a reality television show featuring five families; it does not purport to be a documentary about the whole of Islam. The important point we wish to make, however, is that the vast majority of our Muslim fellow citizens are indeed ordinary folks. They are good people and good Americans. They share our fundamental moral values and our commitments to democratic institutions and civil and religious liberty. They do not promote hatred of Christians and Jews and have no desire to establish an Islamic theocracy. They are as appalled as we are at the rhetoric and conduct of those of their religion who do promote hatred and who seek to undermine democratic freedoms.
Please know that in our pro-life, pro-family, and pro-freedom work at the Witherspoon Institute, we have found strong partners and allies in many Muslims. They have joined with us in promoting respect for human life in all stages and conditions; in upholding the virtues of modesty and chastity; in fighting the plagues of pornography and marital infidelity; and in working to protect religious freedom and the rights of conscience both at home and abroad.
Of course, there are violent extremists and enemies of freedom who act in the name of Islam—no question about that. They preach anti-Semitism in its vilest forms and seek domination. They have no respect for the dignity and equality of women or for religious and civil liberty. One of us (Dr. Bryson) has first-hand experience in confronting them: she spent two years serving our country as a United States Department of Defense interrogator at Guantanamo. Like you, both of us believe that Islamist terrorists and radicals must be resolutely opposed and defeated. But it is important to recognize that this is a view we and you share with the overwhelming majority of American Muslims. It is certainly the view of those Muslims who have partnered with us in our pro-life, pro-family, and pro-freedom efforts. Their moral values are our moral values—and yours.
In our view, it is fundamentally unjust to tar all or most Muslims with the brush of extremism; and, as Christians and Americans, we must never countenance injustice. Moreover, effectively countering the threats posed by genuine extremists requires us to welcome as friends and allies Muslims who share our opposition to radicalism and violence, who value their American citizenship and American freedom just as we do, and who contribute constructively to their communities and the larger society. When we treat our Muslim fellow citizens justly, and when we welcome them as partners in our efforts on behalf of life, liberty, and human dignity, we are being true both to our Christian faith and to our American heritage.
In this spirit we have written previously in The Philadelphia Inquirer,
“Muslims are a growing segment of our population today. The vast majority seek to live in peace as good Americans in a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” They are not terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, and they are as appalled as the rest of us by extremists who attack innocent people, execute apostates, engage in honor killings of allegedly wayward daughters, and the like. Most of them think like most of us: They believe in liberty, virtue, charity, self-discipline, personal responsibility, the sanctity of human life, and the importance of marriage and the family.”
It is not our purpose to condemn you or your organization. We do, however, believe that you are making a mistake—a correctable one—in opposing All American Muslim. And, as fellow Christians, we believe we owe it to you as well as to our Muslim brothers and sisters to say so. We would be happy to discuss our concerns with you and to hear your point of view. We would also be happy to introduce you to some of the Muslims with whom we have been working so that you can see for yourself that there are leaders in the American Muslim community whom Christians should be embracing as allies, not alienating or treating as enemies.
Robert P. George and Jennifer S. Bryson
(cross-posted at First Things)