Sunday, September 03, 2006

Is He a Missionary or Propagandist?

Read the following quote spoken by a devout believer in his religious faith and see if you can identify who the speaker is and what he is speaking about.

“Either repent (your) misguided ways and enter into the light of truth or … suffer the consequences in this world and the next.”

The speaker was introduced as a man of faith who wants to bring his people out of the darkness and into the light. His message was called “an invitation.”

On the other hand, those who oppose this man called his message “propaganda.”

Is this man a Christian missionary in another country, a TV evangelist in America, or an American who has converted to Islam? If you answered the latter, you would be correct.

His name is Adam Yahiye Gadahn, also known as Azzam the American, who is from California but who is now a respected voice of al Qaeda. In fact, his video message, titled An Invitation to Islam, was introduced by al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri.

“Our brother Azzam the American is speaking to you out of pity for the fate that awaits (unbelievers) and as someone who wants to lift his people out of darkness and into the light,” al-Zawahri said in his introduction to the video.

Of course, Gadahn’s words could have been spoken by a Christian missionary or even a TV evangelist. The rhetoric is pretty much the same. And to those who oppose those religious views, the speaker could be accused of being a propagandist. And, in fact, the FBI wants Gadahn for questioning. They called his video tape propaganda.

Imagine for a moment that a Muslim in Iraq, Iran, or any one of the Middle Eastern theocracies were to convert to Christianity and start spreading the Gospel in his native land.

I’m sure he would be wanted by the authorities of his country, too. He would certainly be questioned, and then probably executed for heresy. And, although the FBI doesn’t want to execute Gadahn for producing a proselytizing video tape, the parallel is striking.

Gadahn appealed to Americans to adopt a hands-off policy toward Islamic nations. “But whatever you do don't attempt to spread your misery and misguidance to our lands,” he said.

Most Americans, particularly Christians, view Muslims as misguided, in misery, and in need of salvation. Gadahn wanted to set that assumption straight, too. “Those who think that democracy is synonymous with freedom are either people who haven't experienced life in America or Americans who haven't lived abroad,” he said.

Now, before anyone starts thinking that I’ve converted to Islam or even that I’m pro-Gadahn, let me set the record straight. I believe Gadahn is a propagandist for al Qaeda. Although some of what he said was true enough, his motive was subversion.

At the same time, his message forces thoughtful people to consider the motives of America’s leaders as we encroach upon the sovereignty of nations whose forms of government run on different sets of paradigms. It also should open the eyes of the evangelicals that there are others in the world who hold their own religion as dear and true, and they have their own holy books to back up their faiths.

So many wars have been fought over issues of faith throughout history, wars that could have been avoided if believers would simply have acknowledged that perhaps other faiths are just as authentic and genuine as their own.

And modern holy wars and threats of terrorism could also be avoided by accepting that, perhaps, belief systems are not as black and white as one might imagine. Or maybe, we should realize that all belief systems are archaic artifacts of our human civilization and that we all might be better off by stripping them from society once and for all.

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