Sometimes I miss a news story and am surprised days later to discover what has happened. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t make the discovery, and the story just passed me by.
I have that feeling about a story I picked up last week that started making the news in mid-September.
The initial report, from a sheriff in Texas, was of finding “Muslim clothing” and “Koran books that are laying on the side of the trail” along the U.S.-Mexico border. These observations were linked, in an interview with Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter, with the threat of ISIS fighters crossing illegally into the U.S. from Mexico.
By the end of last week, the story had expanded. Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-California) claimed that 10 ISIS fighters had been apprehended crossing into Texas from Mexico.
That claim (as well as prior claims that it was four, not 10, ISIS fighters who had been apprehended) was thoroughly rebutted by multiple voices, including the Department of Homeland Security (though Representative Hunter continues to maintain that his claim is factual).
I don’t have a mole in the Department of Homeland Security. I don’t even have a little window.
But I do know something about religious practices, including some of the practices common among the faithful in the Islamic community.
The Koran is a holy book to devout Muslims, every bit as much as the Bible is to devout Christians and the Torah to devout Jews. For believers, these texts aren’t merely words printed on pages. They are, in varying ways, “the word of God.” Consequently, the devout tend to treat these material objects with reverence.
So there’s something distinctly odd about the notion that ISIS fighters would leave “Koran books” to be found “laying on the side of the trail” along the U.S.-Mexico border
ISIS fighters claim to be passionately devoted to their faith. While most leading Muslim voices the world over condemn their interpretation of that faith, such condemnation does not deny their passionate commitment, only their understanding, their wisdom, and their morality.
So . . . would a religiously inspired ISIS martyr-in-waiting leave his Koran in the sand along the U.S.-Mexico border? Hardly.
Of course, it could happen in an isolated instance. Anything can happen. But it seems unlikely that one would find “Koran books” along the border as a trace of the presence of ISIS on our soil.
Beyond that improbability lies the larger and more disturbing aspect of the story.
For the sake of argument, let’s accept the good sheriff’s testimony that one or two or even a few copies of the Koran have been found in the sands of southern Texas.
Why are we assuming that they belonged to ISIS fighters?
Might Muslims who follow a God who calls them to an internal struggle for faithfulness, rather than the slaughter of innocents, seek to slip into this country in pursuit of a better life for themselves or their families, or reunification with family members already in the States?
Granted, we’re talking about illegal entry here.
The same illegal path that millions of Christians have followed, in pursuit of similar goals.
I’m not saying such illegal entry is fine. I’m not praising or embracing it.
But one thing we know is that millions of people have slipped into this country illegally, not to do us harm, but to do themselves and their families good. And millions of them have carried holy books with them.
Mostly Bibles, to be sure. But there just might be a few Korans, too.
In pursuit of a better life . . . not a martyr’s death.
These three traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in the order of their emergence) all challenge their followers to lives of faith in a God whose power over what matters most is greater than any earthly power. My understanding is that all three teach that the only fear a woman or man should embrace is the fear of God, a holy, just and righteous reverence for the God who made them.
Any other form of fear is not of God. And it isn’t good.
When we succumb to fear, we aren’t engaged in good works.
And when we promote fear, we violate the fundamental teachings of these traditions . . . whether we promote that fear with terrorist acts, interviews or press releases.