Due in large part to my identity as a mainstream conservative evangelical at the time, I essentially agreed with the absolute moral dualism of then president George W. Bush: “you are either with us or you are with the terrorists.” Unfortunately, the simplistic partitioning off of “us” against “them”, “good” versus “evil” could be easily transformed in the minds of conservative Christians like me into “Christians” against “Muslims.” My church at the time was aligned with the Religious Right and projected much of the same kind of hostile rhetoric as Franklin Graham, who once said, “Islam is a very evil religion.” As a Pentecostal, convinced that America was a Christian nation, even the kind of apocalyptic words of charismatic leader Benny Hinn would have resonated with my instinctive response to 9/11: “We are on God’s side…[this war is] between God and the devil.” Fortunately, I did not explicitly voice these kinds of radical views in my class and instead decided to take seriously the positions of my more religiously tolerant classmates. In the process, my view of religion and politics underwent dramatic shifts.
I soon found myself fascinated enough with the topic of religion after 9/11 that I changed my major from computer science to religious studies and immediately enrolled in a course on Islam. Not long after this decision, I found myself unable to remain affiliated with the form of conservative Christianity that I had long been a part of, largely due to their (often literal) demonization of religions like Islam. As I came to see, Islam is not so easily categorized as an “evil religion”, while America, though good in many ways, was not the perfect beacon of goodness, hope and truth that I had long believed it was. Through my studies, I became convicted that, as Sina Ali Muscati argues, “…the self-deception practiced since September 11th – that this is good versus evil and that our enemy is none other than the devil incarnate is little different from the propaganda espoused by Bin Laden.” As I repented of my religiously intolerant views, made friends with American Muslims, and continued to learn about religion and politics in America, I have tried to be an ally to Muslims by learning about their history and beliefs in order to build bridges between my own Christian tradition and Islam. I have discovered that although there is plenty of ambiguity in the Islamic tradition about violence and religious tolerance (just as there is in Judaism and Christianity), the majority of Muslims today interpret their faith in a more moderate fashion.