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Americans are stunned by the hatred, ignorance, and violence displayed by a motley assembly of white supremacists protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. The “Unite the Right” rally claimed to have come in protest of plans to sell a park statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee. Fully outfitted for street fighting with helmets, shields, and weapons, they marched with a different agenda. Friday evening, they carried burning torches while chanting, “Jews will not replace us. You will not replace us. Blood and soil. Whose streets? Our streets!”

While disparate in many ways, this collection of alt-right, KKK, neo-Nazi and neo-fascist demonstrators all share a goal of a white ethnostate, which can only come with ethnic cleansing. One leader interviewed said, “We have been organizing on the internet, and are now coming out .... Today we greatly outnumbered the anti-white, anti-American filth. At some point, we will have enough power that we will clear them from the street forever!” White supremacy leaders were “excited” to welcome the biggest turnout the US has seen in over two decades to advance their “radical agenda,” even after it resulted in the death of Heather Heyer and the injury of 19 others when a speeding car drove into a crowd of counterprotesters.

Many of my white American friends are in shock, shaking their heads in disgust and disbelief: “Are these people for real? A white ethnostate? They can’t be serious, are they?” Sadly, as HBO’s VICE News coverage made clear, they are dead serious (viewer discretion advised). While most Americans cannot imagine how the twisted logic and narratives of white supremacists could make sense to anyone, Christians are even more puzzled to learn that many white supremacists share their religious identity, attend church, and even proof-text some of their views with Bible verses—much like some Nazi clergy did in Germany. If we took a street survey of what one word best describes white supremacists, I suspect the answer we’d hear most often is crazy—not in the sense of a clinical diagnosis per se, but a mental illness of sorts to be sure. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to explore how such a mental illness is formed, but when someone hates others just because of their skin color or religion, we can be certain their mental faculties aren’t functioning properly.

The Rosetta Stone found in 1799 proved to be key in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. How can Jews, Christians and Muslims decipher a bewildering array of unjust stereotypes about each other? White supremacy has birthed a form of domestic terrorism that provides the world a Rosetta Stone of sorts to see that radical Islamist terrorism is the product of a small, fringe group of crazies who are as Muslim as white supremacists are Christian. Both invoke their sacred texts to justify their radical agenda. Both dream about setting up a new state where they are in control. And both are ready to kill for their dream.

Interestingly, both also recruit disaffected persons over the internet with a 14-word theme: We must secure the existence of our people and a future for our children. Therefore, both seek to fan the flames of anger at past injustices in order to justify the taking up of arms to do violence to all others, including “their own.” For this reason, ISIS and Al-Qaeda have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims, just as white supremacists don’t hesitate to kill other whites if they get in the way, as occurred in Portland, Oregon this year when white supremacist Jeremy Christian killed Ricky Best and Taliesin Namkai-Meche after they intervened to stop him from shouting anti-Muslim slurs at two teenage Muslim girls on a train. 

Make no mistake. Mainstream Muslims are as flabbergasted by the radical agenda of ISIS as mainstream Christians are about the radical agenda of white supremacists. Flabbergasted well describes my Muslim friend who illustrates just how crazy ISIS is. After citing their destruction of a 1400-year old monastery in Mosul, Iraq, he says, “St. Elijah's Monastery was standing at the time of the Prophet! The Prophet did not destroy it. Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali did not destroy it. No caliph destroyed it! Does ISIS think that the Prophet and his companions were mistaken to leave it standing centuries ago? ISIS is completely crazy!”

So the next time you see headlines of ISIS carnage, don’t forget to place it in its proper context: a dangerous fringe group of crazies who ignore the example of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions just as clearly as white supremacists ignore the example of Jesus and his Apostles. Remember also that mainstream Muslims no more agree with the twisted craziness of ISIS extremists than mainstream whites agree with the twisted craziness of white supremacy extremists. Better understand terrorism by viewing it through the Rosetta Stone of white supremacy.  


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