The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently condemned Michael Savage (whose legal name is Michael Weiner), a popular American radio host who reaches an estimated eight million listeners each week over nearly 400 stations, for incendiary remarks.
According to press reports, Savage lashed out (no pun intended) about Islam on one of his recent shows, commenting that the Quran is “a book of hate”.
He called for the “deportation” of some Muslims from the United States and, in a bizarre display of hatred, called on Muslims to “take your religion and shove it up your behind” because “I’m sick of you”.
While the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) mobilised millions to call on advertisers to boycott the Savage programme – two sponsors ended their advertisement commitments – Savage filed a lawsuit in United States District Court against CAIR, allegedly for taking his comments out of context and uploading the audio onto the internet without his permission.
Beyond being a provocateur, Savage turned into a rabid right wing commentator and earned a multi-million dollars annual salary, after he failed to secure an academic post (he holds a doctorate from UC Berkeley in nutritional ethno medicine).
It would, therefore, be safe to assume that the broadcaster launched into the hatred business, yes, “hatred business”, both out of conviction as well as opportunity.
Since I never listen to such dribble, it was my Gulf correspondent who alerted me to it, requesting confirmation as to its veracity. I must confess that this story intrigued me and I looked into it especially after the unprecedented outreach effort launched last October by senior Muslim leaders.
At the time, 138 Muslim clerics and scholars addressed a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Catholic Church, underscoring their commitment to dialogue.
Indeed, such sorely needed theological discourses, may well correct misunderstandings and foster trust among each faith’s followers.
The letter is an incredibly elaborate document in terms of its depth and message – a rare credit to all 138 signers (available at www.acommonword.com).
It quotes from Muslim, Christian and Jewish texts to highlight what is shared, namely love of one God and love of neighbour, and is so powerful that Pope Benedict XVI praised the “positive spirit” that moved drafters.
Rather than retort with another misplaced quote from the 14th century biased Emperor Manuel II Paleologos, the Pope invited a delegation to the Vatican for serious theological discussions.
A year ago, the Pope disappointed many Muslims and millions of Catholics with his academic speech, which intimated that Islam was linked to violence. Since then, he sought to overcome ingrained prejudices, with some success.
Savage, on the other hand, added fuel to the fire. He seems set to enflame passions in the September 11, 2001 United States, to further engineer the estrangement of Christians from Muslims, and reap the fruits of the detestation he practices.
Perhaps correctly, many Muslims now believe that the so-called “war on terrorism” is a war to tame Islam, which cannot but encourage suspicions to grow on all sides.
Indeed, tensions are high, and are likely to increase if the Savages of this world are not restrained through dialogue among theologians and awakened leaders. Even of the process may take a very long time, features of tolerance and compassion cannot become common, unless all foster mutual empathy and live according to nobler causes.
Towards that end, one can turn to Tarif Khalidi, the Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American University of Beirut, who bridged this gap in his superb study titled The Muslim Jesus.
For Professor Khalidi, “in his Muslim habitat, Jesus becomes an object of intense devotion, reverence, and love. He bears the stamp of Quranic nubuwwah, or prophecy, but as he advances inside the Islamic tradition he ceases to be an argument and becomes a living and vital moral voice, demanding to be heard by all who seek a unity of profession and witness”.
This is the message that Savage and opportunists of his ilk can never accept. Still, the world’s billion Muslims and billion Catholics can, in the words of the letter quoted above, truly commit to “respect each other, be fair, just and kind to [one] another”.
At this most appropriate time of the year, when the Muslim world is celebrating Eid Al Adha and Christians rejoice with Christmas, the words of the 138 clerics and scholars who delved into their hearts and minds must take root in our thoughts. So that our deeds silence the Michael Savages of this world.
Muslims and Christians share common values, including love of God and mutual respect, which must be accented. We can and must refuse to be dragged into the vortex of political violence and hope that the 138 wise men are the modern versions of their three predecessors.
To my Gulf friend who kindly wished me good tidings, I reciprocate from the bottom of my heart, and wish one and all a Happy Eid and a Merry Christmas.
Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books on Gulf affairs.