After a long dry spell, there have been a spate of Spotty™ award winners of late. Here's another one from one of Spot's favorite categories, the "Why Katherine Kersten is an Ignorant Bigot" division. This "Commentary" was in the Star Tribune on July 24, authored by Khalid Elmasry:
It seems that I always finish reading a Katherine Kersten column by laughing at the fact that she's missing the point. Her July 12 column about Rep. Keith Ellison's speech to a group of atheists in Minnesota was no different.
Kersten doesn't seem to understand Ellison's point about the aftermath of 9/11 and its similarities to the aftermath of the Reichstag fire. However, I've grown accustomed to the predictable behavior in her writing, and Ellison can defend himself.
Rather, it's the opening paragraph in the column with which I take issue. Kersten quotes Ellison as stating, "You'll always find this Muslim standing up for your right to be atheists all you want." She follows this quote with her own parenthetical comment, "You might want to check the Qur'an on that, Rep. Ellison."
The implication, of course, is that Kersten has checked the Qur'an and found something to contradict Ellison's claim for tolerance of non-Islamic beliefs. Not surprisingly, she is wrong.
The Qur'an is clear that "there is no compulsion in religion." There are countless more verses instructing Muslims to respect others' beliefs. One such verse states, "Oh Prophet! Exhort them, your task is only to exhort; you cannot compel them to believe."
Critics of Islam often mistakenly refer to a Qur'anic verse out of context, which would suggest harshness by Muslims towards non-Muslims.
In fact, when I called Kersten's editor to point out her error, he said his understanding was that the Qur'an "deals pretty harshly" with unbelievers. While I was taken aback, I almost couldn't blame him, since this myth is commonly perpetrated by the likes of Kersten. The truth is that any verse in the Qur'an that speaks "harshly" of non-Muslims by encouraging Muslims to fight them is always in the context of self-defense. Furthermore, this is always a means of last resort, when it becomes a matter of survival.
The critics who quote a verse about Muslims being encouraged to fight non-Muslims fail to mention that the non-Muslims are trying to kill the Muslims. They also fail to mention that these verses are followed by verses such as, "If one among the non-believers ask thee for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of God; and then escort him to where he can be secure." This is with the understanding that those who do not want to hear the word of God have the right to believe as they choose. Thus, Ellison was simply practicing what he has learned as a Muslim by standing up for his audience's right to be atheists, while Kersten chose to question him in her own misguided way.
One of my favorite verses in the Qur'an perfectly captures what Ellison was saying about respecting and embracing people's differences: "We have created you out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another." While I have the feeling Kersten might miss the point of this verse as well, I'm no longer laughing.
Khalid Elmasry, St. Paul, is a media commentator on Muslim issues and a retired businessman.
This all puts Spot in mind of his favorite verse from Scripture:
In the end, a demagogue will have no honor in her home town.
Remember, boys and girls, a Spotty™ is awarded to the author of a letter to the editor, an op-ed piece, or a blog post or comment that Spot wishes that he had written.