Say it (in whatever language) with me: 11-24-16
Cogent arguments against fundamentalism: 11-26/27-16

The problem with Michael Flynn: 11-25-16

Let's think about the various concerns raised because President-elect Donald Trump has selected retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.

FlynnOne of the issues has to do with what Flynn thinks about Islam. This CNN story, for instance, raises some of those issues, but in the lead it focuses on the wrong question.

The story notes that in an August speech, Flynn "called Islamism a 'vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people' that has to be 'excised.'"

Well, if you define Islamism the way I do, Flynn is right about that. I use that term quite specifically to refer to the radical extremism advocated by such terrorist groups as al-Qaida and ISIS. Such a violent approach is a misuse of traditional Islam and if traditional Islam is going to survive and prosper, it must rid itself of those who would turn it into a guidebook for terrorism.

It may seem like a distinction without a difference, but using the term Islamism is more accurate and helpful than the term lots of Republicans, including Trump, have been using, "radical Islamic terrorism." That terminology leaves the impression that traditional Islam itself somehow approves of the beastly acts sometimes committed in its name.

What's worrisome about Flynn is not his identification of Islamism as a problem, but his willingness to base opinions on fake news. For instance, in that same August speech, as the CNN story notes, "Flynn falsely claimed that Florida Democrats voted to impose Islamic shariah law at the state and local level. The claim, peddled by far-right blogs in 2014, was rated 'pants on fire' by the independent fact-checking organization PolitiFact."

Clearly Flynn is hostile to Islam, a religion followed by 3 million or more Americans and by 1.7 billion people around the world. Given that, it's hard to imagine what kind of national security advice he's going to give that will lead to more peace in the world, not less. As Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin noted recently about Flynn, he's "a fiery retired lieutenant general who was pushed out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Obama administration. Since then Flynn has unleashed a stream of incendiary rhetoric against Muslims." 

Every religion has its radicals, its outliers, its heretics, its extremists. To judge a religious tradition by those people is not simply to smear adherents of the religion itself but it is to create a false enemy that will suck up your resources and energy uselessly.

Islamism is a terrible problem for both Islam and the world. Islam itself is not. Can someone please tell Flynn that?

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And speaking of problematic times under Trump, this blog from The Hill describes why some people are worried that religious freedom under the new president will be imperiled. Some of the anti-Trump rhetoric I'm hearing sounds alarmist, but it's still a good reminder of our need to be vigilant about lots of issues over the next four years.

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Cover-Value of DoubtP.S.: OK, it's black Friday, which means knocking heads with shoppers if you leave your home to load up on holiday gifts. Here's a better idea: Order my new book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. I've just given you a link to the page for it. But if you want an autographed copy of either the paperback or the hardback, send me an e-mail ([email protected]) and I'll tell you how we can arrange that. (Just don't wait until Christmas Eve.) Or if you're in the Kansas City area, our great local independent bookstore, Rainy Day Books, has been carrying it. One excellent thing about the book is that it doesn't require batteries. Well, unless you get the e-version for your phone or iPad, say.


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