A speaker at North Idaho College who declared that Islam is a religion of world domination committed to the death of Christians and Jews has riled up some students, who say the speech fed false stereotypes.
Chuck Missler, who spoke on “The Threat of Radical Islam,” said he’s just trying to tell the truth about a grave threat to America.
“We’re not speaking out against Muslims in general,” said Missler, who runs a worldwide Christian ministry from Post Falls. “But the leadership has a definite agenda, and it’s the destruction of America.”
Stefano Carrera, an NIC student who complained to the school about the speech, said it reflects a regional problem of poor understanding of other cultures and ethnicities.
“Certain people are just tired of all the hatred being presented at most of the churches in Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene,” said Carrera, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago and who holds Swiss and American citizenship. “What these religious groups are doing is, ‘I’m better than you are.’ … It’s like a football game.”
The Oct. 26 speech is among a handful of campus presentations in the Inland Northwest this year that have sparked debates about the extent of free speech, ideas about racial diversity, and politics. The College Republicans at Gonzaga hosted a controversial speaker on the dangers of “homo-sex,” along with David Horowitz, a nationally prominent conservative critic of higher education as a bastion of liberal lockstep.
Last school year, free speech controversies erupted at Eastern Washington University over a speaker, Ward Churchill, who had called Sept. 11 victims “little Eichmanns,” and at Washington State University, where a provocative play, “Passion of the Musical,” attracted protests and an ongoing controversy.
College officials say they try to err on the side of allowing the widest possible range of views on campus – though EWU was criticized for attempting to cancel the speaker’s appearance, and WSU was blasted for purchasing tickets for the protesters at the play.
“We do not practice censorship or anything like that at NIC, and a student organization is essentially free to bring in whoever they want,” said NIC spokesman Kent Propst. “We had (former Aryan Nations leader) Richard Butler speak on campus years and years ago.”
“If you can’t think freely and engage people and make people think in an institution of higher learning, I don’t know where else you can.”
Missler was brought to NIC by the College Republicans.
“They say Islam is a religion of peace,” Missler said during the speech, according to a recording of the event. “That’s nonsense. Islam, the Quran is a warrior’s code for world conquest, from cover to cover. Check it out. Read it yourself.”
The speech attracted almost 250 people, and the reactions have been mixed. Shelly Hands, the leader of the campus Republicans, said critics claimed Missler was hateful and have called her group a cult for bringing him to campus.
“I don’t think it was hateful,” she said, noting that Missler did not include “rank-and-file” Muslims in his criticisms. “This is what’s going on in the world right now. The reason we brought him to campus is we believe that all sides of every issue should be given on campus.”
A Gonzaga University history professor said some of Missler’s statements were misleading or sensationalized. Ted Nitz, who teaches a course on the history of Islam, said the Quran does have passages written in the context of the ancient warfare that was occurring at the time.
But he said the Bible includes similar exhortations that are no longer followed literally by mainstream Christians, and it’s wrong to say such passages accurately describe the state of the entire religion.
“It’s easy to sensationalize another person’s belief system,” Nitz said. “There are militant members of almost any religious tradition who use the religion to justify conflict with people of other faiths.”
Missler started his speech by distinguishing between the leaders of Islam and the “individuals trapped in that system.” He said the truth is obscured by the news media and politically correct propaganda but said that understanding the religion – which has more than 1 billion adherents worldwide – is vital in the post-Sept. 11 world.
“Islam is committed to the death of its enemies, and its enemies are in two groups – the Christians and the Jews,” he said, adding later, “The only sure way in Islam of achieving paradise is to sacrifice one’s life in jihad.”
Nitz, when presented with those statements, said, “Boy, that’s a real misreading … the notion that that’s the only way to heaven. As far as I’m aware, and I’m hardly the world’s top expert, but in all that I’ve read, that’s simply not the case.”
Missler also said that the Quran has no commandments regarding love, which Nitz also disputed as “a piece of hyperbole.”
The Web site Answering Islam, which refers to itself as a Christian-Muslim dialogue, notes that the use of the word “love” is more frequent in the Bible but that it is used 69 times in the Quran. Commandments regarding kindness, respect and compassion also exist, and several Islam-oriented Web sites contain discussions on the subject of love within their religion.
Like other college Republicans around the region, Hands said her group believes they’re part of the minority culture at NIC, and they’re trying to broaden the range of ideas presented on campus.
Hands said the NIC Republicans don’t necessarily endorse Missler’s views, but she did think that his speech has had the positive effect of creating more dialogue about race relations on campus.
“Our biggest goal on campus is to open up dialogue,” Hands said. “Often with a political issue there’s two sides, and usually more than two.”
Propst said the school had received only one formal complaint about the event, but Hands said the scope of the reaction was more widespread.
“We’ve never called any of the liberal clubs any of the names we’ve been called,” she said.
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