Muslims in Lower Manhattan, American Evangelicals in Iraq

Outside a community center before a Cordoba House meeting.  (Getty)
Outside a community center before a Cordoba House meeting. (Getty)

Something to consider as the Cordoba House Islamic Center continues to get attacked by cowardly pundits and politicians from both parties is the increasing abundance of American Christian missionaries in Iraq.


As U.S. combat forces ready their withdrawal from Iraq, conservative estimates are that between 97,000 and 106,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the conflict. Those numbers clash greatly with data that say more than 1 million civilians have lost their lives, but one thing is for sure: America's war in Iraq has killed at least 3,500 percent more people than the Sept. 11 attacks. Yet despite the fact that tens of thousands of innocents have been taken by a disastrous American-led conflict, a growing number of American Evangelicals continue setting up shop mere feet from the graves.

Where do the Cordoba House opponents stand on this religious intrusion?

Before we answer that question, let's look at what I presume will be the main argument of those who would call what I just said ridiculous: "America isn't fighting a Christian war, whereas Sept. 11 happened in the name of Islam."

First, to say the 9/11 attacks speak to the inclinations of all Muslims is like saying the Westboro Baptists, who protest at dead American soldiers' funerals with signs saying "God Hates Fags," speak to the inclinations of all Christians. Al-Qaida is a fringe, extremist group within Islam, one that, statistically speaking, kills far more "traitorous" Muslims than it does Westerners. Sept. 11 wasn't a Muslim attack, it was an al-Qaida attack, and to conflate the two shows a lack of real knowledge about the people with whom we're at war.

Second, and what's more complex, is the issue of whether America's attack on Iraq was a Christian one. Nominally, of course, the answer is no. But in actuality, there are a few Holy War red flags we'd be remiss if we glossed over.

Each cover page features inspiring color photographs — soldiers praying, a young man preparing for battle, Saddam's statue falling. With them are biblical quotes, some related to providing strength to the soldiers but some about the godliness of the cause.

Next to a picture of an American tank is the quote: "Open the gates that the righteous nations may enter, The nation that keeps faith. Isaiah 26.2"


A photo of two soldiers in prayer is accompanied by the quote, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us. Here I am Lord, send me! Isaiah 6:8"

In a GQ story about the proselytizing briefings, reporter Robert Draper wrote, "At least one Muslim analyst in the [Pentagon] building had been greatly offended [by the verses]."


And never mind that Christians actually fared pretty well under Saddam Hussein. One memo photo "showed Saddam delivering a speech to camera with these words from the First Epistle of Peter: 'It is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.' "

Beyond that, there's the close relationship President Bush had — and has — with hard-right Christian fundamentalists, who, almost as soon as the war in Iraq began, talked up the conflict while simultaneously champing at the bit to get into Baghdad and preach. One of these allies, Bryan Fischer, director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy at conservative nonprofit the American Family Association, even called the entire Iraq War a failure because it didn't turn Iraq into a Christian nation.


Does all of this amount to a Christian war on Islam in Iraq? Not exactly; but the signs don't paint a picture of an entirely secular engagement, either, which is what America's wars should be. And if Iraqi civilians have been killed in the name of Jesus even once, shouldn't we have a quagmire similar to the Cordoba House controversy every time an American minister tries to establish a church in Baghdad or Fallujah? What makes the area near Ground Zero sacrosanct, exclusive to members of Judeo-Christian faiths, while a Baptist church can be in Iraq?

Alas, good luck getting Newt Gingrich, Harry Reid, John Boehner or Howard Dean to speak out against the newfound churches amongst the rubble. They're too busy worrying about the travesty that is Muslims having First Amendment rights.


Cord Jefferson is The Root's Washington reporter. Follow him on Twitter.