Jewish Journal


June 4, 2010

Tavis Smiley and Willful Ignorance


Tavis Smiley is the host of a weeknight PBS show who recently made the astounding claim that “every single day in this country” Christians commit violent acts of terrorism.  If you financially support PBS, consider yourself a Christian, or are offended by this bizarre argument, you might want to let PBS know what you think of Mr. Smiley and his claim.

Prompting these rambling claims of daily Christian terror was the appearance of Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Smiley’s show.  Hirsi Ali is the internationally renowned social critic and author of “Infidel” and she visited the PBS show to promote her new book “Nomad.”

This woman’s amazing and courageous life story is full of events that would make for a gripping Hollywood film and includes being the victim of genital mutilation while a young girl, fleeing her Muslim homeland of Somalia, escaping from an arranged marriage, and making her way to the Netherlands where she was later elected to that European nation’s parliament.  While in the Netherlands Hirsi Ali underwent an intellectual awakening which resulted in her rejection of Islam.

Hirsi Ali’s name was in the international headlines after her colleague, Theo van Gogh, had his throat slit by a Muslim assassin in broad daylight in the middle of a busy boulevard in Amsterdam.  The Muslim immigrant who killed van Gogh had also vowed to kill Hirsi Ali because, “Submission,” the film she and van Gogh made, angered Muslims because it depicted the conditions of women living under Islam.

Following the brutal killing of van Gogh, Hirsi Ali made her way to the United States where she now lives – but under the constant vigilance of security guards.  Her life continues to be threatened by Islamic extremists.

In 2008 Community Advocates honored Hirsi Ali with the “Ziegler Courage of Conviction Award.” 

This was the woman who walked onto Tavis Smiley’s nationally syndicated PBS show.  Most likely she thought there would be at least a thoughtful discussion of her new book – which calls on key institutions in the West, universities, feminist groups and Christian churches to wage a war of ideas with radical Islam.

However, Smiley wasn’t in the mood to hear Hirsi Ali’s critical views of extremist Islam.  He seemed intent on asserting the shop-worn and politically-correct notion that Islam is always and everywhere “a religion of peace.”

Apparently irritated with Hirsi Ali’s contention that radical Islam poses a danger far more serious than other world religions, the left-leaning Smiley said:

“I guess I’m trying to understand where the evidence is that suggests that all of us who happen to be Christians or enlightened in some way need to take on Muslims here in the West.”

Looking incredulous, Hirsi Ali patiently forged ahead:

“Okay, I think first and foremost what we have to acknowledge is we’re not going to get a monster with horns, blue in the face, looking like a dragon called jihad coming in and terrorizing us.  The people engaged in terrorist activities look like you and me.  They look like everybody else here.  Major Nidal Hasan, the military guy who in November shot 13 of his colleagues and injured 32 … the young man, Faisal Shahzad, in Times Square who tried to blow innocent people he didn’t know up, these guys are acting on conviction.  Somehow, the idea got into their minds that to kill other people is a great thing to do and that they would be rewarded in the hereafter.”

Now appearing even more agitated, Smiley says to Hirsi Ali:

“But Christians do that every single day in this country.”

Hirsi Ali responds with:

“Do they blow people up?”

Not content with making a completely baseless argument, Smiley stuck his foot even deeper in his mouth:

Yes, Oh, Christians, every day, people walk into post offices, they walk into schools, that’s what Columbine is – I could do this all day long …

There are so many more examples, Ayaan, of Christians who do that than you could ever give me examples of Muslims who have done that inside this country, where you live and work.”

Realizing finally that she’s got a clueless television show host on her hands, Ali simply replies:

“Well, I think you and I disagree …”

The sweeping ignorance, or political blindness, of Smiley’s claims that “… Christians (commit acts of terror) every single day in this country” is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Unlike Islam, present day interpretation of Judeo-Christian scripture does not guarantee Paradise to those who kill in the name of their faith.  However, the Koran does offer the fruits of Paradise to those who kill for Allah.  Suicide bombers have been lured to their deaths with the promise, and the offer, that they will be free from the fires of hell if they kill an infidel and, in the process, die.

However the attempt to establish a moral equivalency between the acts of Islamic jihadists and Christian fundamentalists is hardly new.  Rosie O’Donnell, a former host on ABC’s “The View,” once argued that “Radical Christianity is just as dangerous as radical Islam.”  Now, a supposedly more thoughtful Tavis Smiley has wondered into the same intellectual weeds.

Smiley’s smear of Christians was so appalling that Michael Getler, the PBS Ombudsman, issued a statement taking issue with what Smiley had said.  In a decidedly understated way, Getler’s statement in part said, “I don’t think he (Smiley) made his case.”  Getler noted that the only example Smiley offered of Christian terrorism was the Columbine shootings, which he rightly said, “had nothing to do with Christianity.”

Especially disgusting is Smiley’s attempt to somehow transform the actions of the two punks who shot 13 of their fellow students to death in the 2000 Columbine massacre into an act of “Christian terror.”  Apparently Smiley’s among the rare individuals who have managed to forget that the Columbine killers thought that it was a big joke that some of their victims pleaded for God to save them – before shooting them.

The bottom line is this: Tavis Smiley showed that he’s incapable of approaching a serious and complex topic like Islamic extremism with intellectual openness and curiosity.

Instead, he chose to play fast and loose with the facts and slander seventy-five percent of the American population who identify as Christians.  If that wasn’t bad enough, he also lost a battle of wits with and insulted a woman whose life bears the scars of Islam and its connection to terror.     


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