Sunday, November 9, 2014

Letter to the Editor

Next Sunday there is an event called "Islam 101" happening in Grande Prairie. (Info here).  This is the second year running that the same group has held an event I find concerning. (see article from last year here)  As I researched this event and the speaker I became very concerned about the content and so have drafted the following letter to the editor for the local paper:

This is a letter I really wish I did not have to write, because writing it reflects my deep disappointment with some of my fellow residents of Grande Prairie.

A while back a poster was dropped off at the church advertising an event to be held at the Pomeroy on the afternoon of November 16. The event is called Islam 101 and the speaker is Bill Warner. I think an event to introduce us to what Islam is sounds like a great idea because I strongly believe we are a stronger society if we get to know about each other's beliefs. This event, however is most definitively (in my opinion) not what we need.

Because of comments made to me from a variety of sources I looked up the speaker who was coming. This is not someone I believe will give a helpful or fair picture of Islam. Indeed he has, under his actual name Bill French (his own website lists that Bill Warner is a nom de guerre) been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the US as a part of the“Anti-Muslim Inner Circle”. As I perused his site on Political Islam I was deeply troubled. The content on that site, while not exactly hate speech, is the sort of rhetoric that leads quite directly to incidents like the vandalizing of a mosque in Cold Lake just a couple of weeks ago.

The other concern I have about this event is that I can not understand why anyone would not invite a member of the Islamic community to do an introduction to Islam. Would it not make more sense to have someone who actually has credentials in the topic to present? The speaker who is coming does have a PhD. But it is in Physics and Math, not in Religious Studies. He is a self-declared expert on “Political Islam”.

As Christians we are called to be people of love. In John's Gospel Jesus says “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another...”. In Matthew's Gospel Jesus tells us “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies”. What I see in the proposed speaker for Islam 101 is not love of neighbour, friend or enemy. What I see in his writings are fear-mongering and the politics of division.

We can do better. The Grande Prairie we want to be is about building bridges between communities, not walls. We should avoid doing things that would cause harm or insult to our neighbours.

Rev. Gord Waldie
St. Paul's United Church

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