Religion and the Politics of Fear

04/27/2015 04:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2015

At the April 10-12 National Rifle Association's annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee, speaker Steve Tarani issued a dire warning that Muslim extremists have set up "Islamic no-go zones" in cities across America. Moreover, he warned of the "5,000 known terrorist cells" and "homegrown violent extremists" currently operating in the US. He claims to have personally witnessed all of this when riding along with a member of the Detroit Metro SWAT team.

According to Kira Lerner at ThinkProgress, Tarani's speech included the following:

The street signs suddenly went from English to Arabic. There wasn't a single English word on any shop or any street sign. And in fact, these little yellow signs were posted all along the edges. Jeremy said to me, "this is it. We don't go past this line." And I said to Jeremy, "what do you mean? You guys are Detroit Metro. You're the SWAT team. You can go anywhere you want. What if you get a call over there?" He said[,] "'this is it, it's hazardous for our team if we go past this line."

I have seen it with my own eyes, witnessed it in the backseat of a car and it is for real. No-go zones exist in the United States.

Dearborn, Michigan is not the only place that these settlements exist. They are spread out over the country in various cities. There's an estimate of over 5,000 known terrorist cells in the United States. However our most persistent and significant threat, right now, to us here today this morning, is the homegrown violent extremists.

Dearborn's nearly 70 percent non-Muslim citizens might be surprised to learn that they live in an Islamic no-go zone. Sarcasm aside, there's not a word of truth in what he claims to have seen firsthand.

Tarani, a self-defense instructor, is spreading the vicious myth, repeated by Louisiana governor and presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal and endorsed by Fox News (among many others), that a number cities in the US, France, and Britain contain Muslim "no-go zones" (operating under Sharia Law) where local laws are not applicable.

Tarani, who describes himself as an "internationally respected edged weapons and personal safety expert," must have hoped to--literally--scare up some business.

The NRA must surely have hoped that Tarani's speech would inspire the sale of guns (to git them Muslims).

Add these irrational fears to this litany of fears: Obama is a Muslim (still believed by up to 20 percent of Americans) who has allowed the US to be infiltrated by radical Muslims intent on colonizing America with radical Islam and Sharia Law ("confirmed" by Billy Graham's son, Franklin). He aims to bring 100 million Muslims to America before the end of his second term with the dual aim of transforming the US into a Muslim country and destroying Israel. The CIA, directed by a Muslim, is, covertly, the Central Islamist Agency.

This irrational fear of Muslims (as opposed to the rational fear of pseudo-Muslim terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda) resonates with our most basic and primal instincts. We fear intrusions onto our territory. We fear for the indoctrination and safety of our children. And we fear for our way of life.

Who is this "we" who live under this threat? In the US, it's we Christians with our Christian values in our God-blessed Christian nation.

Such fears drive us, as you might expect, to prejudice, intolerance, edged weapons, guns, and war. Fear likewise encourages the dehumanization of "them" (Muslim-terrorists, Arab camel jockeys, medieval barbarians) in ways that justify our desperate and sometimes violent responses.

And yet, now I am speaking directly to Christians, we should not be driven to intolerance towards "them" based on our perfectly understandable but irrational fears. Christians are called to compassion, not to react in primal fear. We read in 1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (NIV).

Christians should cultivate a perfected love, a love that overcomes our deep and instinctive fears.

Jesus routinely burst the bubbles of those who would constrict the sphere of love. He forgave the adultress ("Let he who is without sin cast the first stone") and healed the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman (culturally considered dog-like because she was a woman, a Greek, a Phoenician, and a Syrian--need I say more?). He commended the detested Samaritan as the model neighbor, and reached out and touched the ulcerous leper.

As fear increasingly constricts Christian love toward Muslims, we would do well to remind ourselves of the radical love of Jesus who insisted in word and deed that our fears must not be allowed to overwhelm our compassion.

In love, then, we would reach out to our Muslim neighbors, invite them into our homes, and share a meal and even our lives.

Do this right now: swallow your fears, leave the comfort of your home and church, walk down the street or into their neighborhood, and invite a Muslim neighbor into your home.

When your perfected love has finally cast out your irrational but understandable fears, you might find that your compassion has turned a stranger, perhaps even an "enemy," into a friend.