It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the republic. First the Paris attacks and then the San Bernadino shooting by two Islamic radicals who had apparently pledged allegiance to ISIS created a climate of fear and hysteria unhappily reminiscent of the Red Scare of 1919. (Never mind that this appears to have been just the reaction that ISIS wanted). The governors of over a dozen states began to reconsider their policy of allowing Syrian refugees fleeing jihad to resettle in America, for fear that they might be jihadists. Violent attacks on Muslims and people who look like Muslims spiked dramatically. Leading Republican candidates contemplated allowing only Christians into the country, while celebrity billionaire Donald Trump, newly energized by hate, secured the affection of a section of the Republican base with his proposals to shut down mosques, establish a national Muslim database and stop all Muslim immigration “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
As they have since the start of his campaign in early summer, pundits predicted that these latest beyond-the-pale remarks would mark the end of Trump’s good fortune. On the contrary, they propelled him to new heights in the Republican primary: surveys revealed that 43 percent of Republicans support monitoring most American Muslims, while 73 percent agree with second-place candidate Ben Carson that under no circumstances should a Muslim be president.
I’ve been saying for a while that violence towards a group of people, up to and including genocidal acts, doesn’t occur out of thin air. It’s fostered by an atmosphere of demonization and hatred in which name-calling, bullying and slander are tolerated, eventually leading to more drastic acts of intimidation and culminating in acts of physical violence on an individual and then collective level. When a Muslim woman is nearly run off the road while leaving a mosque, when a young boy’s legs are severed by a Kansas City motorist who thinks the Quran is a disease “worse than ebola,” when thousands of Americans suddenly have memories of New Jersey Muslims cheering on 9/11, when the president of a major Christian university brags about carrying a concealed weapon to “end those Muslims” before they kill us, it’s not over-stating things to say that Muslims in this country are not safe. And the usual defenders of free speech and freedom of religion have been, with a few exceptions, all but silent on their behalf.
On Twitter, Christian pastors and writers like Brian Zahnd and Rachel Held Evans have been sounding the alarm, warning that scapegoating an entire group of people is the road to hell, the road to holocaust. Evans has been particularly vocal, reminding her followers that on the eve of the second world war, over two-thirds of Americans opposed welcoming Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany. “We can stop wondering if we would have protested the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust,” she wrote on Facebook. “This is exactly how it begins.”
Unfortunately, I fear that reminders of the Holocaust, while warranted, will prove useless to the minority of Evangelical voters who support Trump and his nativist policies. The reason why has a lot to do with the reverence most Evangelicals hold towards the Jewish people—and a corresponding fear of Muslims that has been actively cultivated over the past 15 years. These two things, this reverence for Jews (or at least their idea of Jews) and fear of Muslims, are more closely connected than you might think.
When I was growing up in church, before 9/11, the European Union and new age religion were the great bogeymen which many Evangelicals believed would herald the last days and the rise of the Antichrist. After 9/11, this changed, seemingly overnight. Joel Richardson wrote a popular book, The Islamic Antichrist: The Shocking Truth about the Real Nature of the Beast, arguing that prophecies of a messianic figure in the Quran correspond perfectly with the Bible’s descriptions of the Antichrist. (Richardson became a hero on the far right and was even interviewed by Glenn Beck). Prominent charismatic prophets like Paul Cain taught that the last great evil empire would be a fusion of Soviet-style communism and radical Islam that would take over Europe. Kansas City pastor Mike Bickle repeatedly warned that the people of Israel would suffer a “second holocaust” at the hands of their Arab neighbors.
Crucially, the attempted extermination of the Jewish people is not viewed as something that has the potential to happen given the pervasive hatred of Jews in much of the Arab world. It is something that must happen because the Bible predicts it, because it is critical to God’s end-time plan to save the nation of Israel, and because Satan now fills the hearts of many Muslims just as he filled the hearts of the Germans at Buchenwald and Auschwitz.
Thus the lesson that eschatologically minded Evangelicals have taken from the Holocaust is not that hating and scapegoating an entire group of people is wrong because it can lead us to become the very people who would build the death camps and send innocent victims to their graves. (It’s never occurred to many of us that we would even be capable of doing that). The lesson of the Holocaust is that hating and scapegoating the Jews is wrong. And this is precisely what Muslims throughout the world are now trying to do, which is why they must be stopped at all costs. Through violence, if necessary.