The Louisiana Governor’s Race, Muslims and Christians, Paris, and Twitter Controversy over Interfaith Dialogue

The debate started with Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party victory in Canada. In the midst of a protracted late-night tweetstream with fellow Louisiana tweeps celebrating the rising fortunes of the Democratic candidate in the Louisiana governor’s race, John Bel Edwards, a tweet posted by a woman whose Twitter handle indicated likely South Carolina residence, proclaimed:

#lagov Getting a Justin Trudeau. You’ll be sorry…very sorry…

Being a fan of liberal politicians everywhere, but knowing that what counts as a liberal in Louisiana would count as conservative everywhere else, I tweeted back:

I WISH–but John Bel will do us proud. Not so for the Senator.

I was referring, of course, to current Louisiana Senator David Vitter (R-LA) who somehow managed to get elected to the United States Senate twice, despite myriad prostitution scandals in Louisiana and Washington, DC, that have recently resurfaced and now threaten to remove him from public life.

In the quick exchange of Twitter, I thought that would probably be the end of it, but my South Carolina interlocutor–I will call her Mary–continued the conversation by tweeting:

I see your bio says Muslim-Christian relations. You mean ISIS slaughtering Christians?

I was somewhat surprised to see that I had elicited enough interest for someone to read my Twitter bio, but I tweeted back:

Unfortunately, that is a large part of the problem.

At this point, I wondered what I was getting into, so I decided to check her out. Her bio indicated affiliation with a group dedicated to the rescue of Christians–and apparently only Christians–from the Islamic State. I was aware of certain Christian organizations that have been controversial for their intervention in situations of sex slavery, but this is not an area that I had followed in any sustained way.

Again, I thought that my second reply would likely end the discussion. Twitter moves pretty fast, and people’s attention shifts correspondingly. But that was not to be the case. Mary tweeted back:

That also doesn’t answer the question.

Not having seen a question in her earlier tweets, I tweeted back:

What’s the question?

followed by:

I work with Muslim and Christian organizations (and those of other religions) to combat violent & extremist groups like ISIS.

Then the exchange started to get interesting. Mary tweeted back:

Islam is ISIS. Islam is Muslim…interfaith dialogues do nothing to stop discrimination violence and murder…period.

to which I replied:

Respectfully disagree.

But even that “agreeing to disagree” was not the end of it. A bit later Mary tweeted back:

Read your bio you’re a feminist don’t you stand against sex trafficking female genital mutilation etc in Muslim world?

I was really starting to wonder at this point how we’d gotten from the Canadian election to the Louisiana gubernatorial election, to FGM in the Muslim world. Moreover, since my short Twitter bio says nothing about feminism, I wondered how deeply Mary was checking me out.

I tweeted back:

Indeed, I am opposed to those things. Of course, sex trafficking is hardly exclusive to the Muslim world.

followed by:

Patrons of prostitution, like David Vitter, contribute greatly to global sex trafficking.

Mary tweeted back:

Were [sic] talking Christian Muslim. You do it [sic] Muslims COMMONLY traffick Christian women in fact it’s legal…Quite legal

OK, I am aware of Islamic State interpretations of Islamic texts to mean that sex slavery of non-Muslims is legal, as it was apparently thus in the past. But it was interesting that she brought law into it. Did Mary see that I am a lawyer? Was she simply tossing out pieces of my bio, apparently gleaned from some research?

Having been immersed earlier that day in research for a paper on religion, gender, and the Balkan genocides to be presented at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting–specifically sexual and reproductive genocide meted out to Muslim women (and also Catholic Croats) mostly by Serbian Orthodox Christians in those conflicts, it naturally occurred to me to tweet:

Christians have done it to Muslim women, too. See Bosnia and Kosovo. Sexism and degradation are found in many religions.

But even that was not the end of it. After another pause, another “biographical bomb” was incoming. Mary tweeted:

You may a feminist liberal academic but you’re disingenuous if you deny they don’t oppress and discriminate.

I replied, in what turned out to be the last word in the discussion.

Not denying it.

Well, she was definitely right about the “FEMINIST LIBERAL” part! It was a fascinating window into a culture with which I, to put it mildly, do not frequently interact. For this identifiably Christian conservative woman, the atrocities of ISIS, have become a dark prism through which to view people of different faith and nationalities–especially the Muslim faith.

I have no idea how the Christian rescue operations are working in the areas of Syria and Iraq that have fallen to the Islamic State. I actually hope that, if they really exist, they are having a positive effect, with a reasonable amount of adherence to international law. My concern is the absolute dichotomization of Muslims and Christian (or adherents of any religion) as good or evil, when history reveals much murkier truths. In Mary’s case, based on her other posts, there seems to be a fair amount of Christian Zionism and ushering in Armageddon floating around in the mix.

armageddon

With the events that happened in Paris last night, it is worth pondering how quickly atrocious phenomena like the Islamic State can “get into the heads” of otherwise well-meaning people. It is possible to get quite discombobulated. Even I find myself, usually late at night, wondering about the possible efficacy of saturating the Islamic State with aerosolized chemical castration agents (no sex slaves, no more young men flocking to the IS) and whether those would fall under international bans on chemical weapons or biological weapons. Being a “feminist liberal,” I am seeing the war with ISIS as a gender war, as well as a religious and political conflict. I suspect that Mary and I would actually have quite a bit of agreement on this point.

But with emotions running high and containment of ISIS’s global war seeming less and less of a viable possibility, we need to calm down and take a very measured look at our options. Unlike Mary, I see interfaith dialogue as part of the “tool box”–especially when the alternative is unending war along religious lines.

There is a quote from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that seems well worth remembering:

Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.

And another from Mahatma Gandhi:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

As “interesting” as it was to enter Mary’s world on Twitter that Saturday night, I would rather live in my own feminist liberal academic (and extra-academic) world the preserves the possibility–not to mention the hope–of interfaith dialogue. My takeaway: When the abyss looks into you, give a long, hard, look and then TURN AWAY!

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