A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divideby Mark D. Siljander
Former Congressman and Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Mark D. Siljander takes us on an eye-opening journey of personal, religious, and political discovery. In the 1980s, Siljander was a newly minted Reagan Republican from Michigan who joined Congress in the same generation as Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, ready to remake the world. A staunch member of the… See more details below
Former Congressman and Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Mark D. Siljander takes us on an eye-opening journey of personal, religious, and political discovery. In the 1980s, Siljander was a newly minted Reagan Republican from Michigan who joined Congress in the same generation as Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, ready to remake the world. A staunch member of the Religious Right, he once walked out of the National Prayer Breakfast when a speaker quoted from the Qur'an.
But after losing reelection, Siljander dove into the Bible to look for the passage in which the Bible says it is our job as Christians to convert others in order to save them from eternal damnation. He couldn't find it; in fact, he couldn't even find a passage saying that Jesus set out to form a new religion. This discovery was the first step on a spiritual and political journey that started with an in-depth linguistic study of the Bible and led to the discovery that Christianity and Islam share many base words and concepts. In his role as ambassador to the United Nations Siljander began sharing his insights on the connections between Islam and Christianity, with surprising results.
A Deadly Misunderstanding recounts Siljander's amazing discoveries as he travels to some of the most remote and hostile places in the world—deep into Libya, Sudan, Pakistan, and India—forging deep ties with both heads of state and religious leaders. What he has learned could radically shift the contemporary religious landscape and help heal the rift between Islam and the West. No Christian or Muslim will be unaffected after reading this book.
Former congressman Siljander began his career as a zealous evangelical Christian, convinced that the Qur'an was "devil's work." In this memoir, Siljander recounts his "paradigm crash" after discovering that much of what he'd been taught about his faith was nowhere in the Bible, and that the Christian and Muslim religious texts are surprisingly compatible when studied in their original languages. He has since made it his life's mission to find common ground between Christian and Muslim worlds, meeting with a dizzying list of political and religious leaders in the process. The result is an engaging story (despite somewhat stilted dialogue) sure to surprise and inspire many. Though he has no formal background in linguistics or religious studies, Siljander is deft at providing balance when discussing controversial subjects, and careful to show support from academics. Though his theological argument is based almost exclusively on the study of Muslim and Christian scriptures, in the current atmosphere it's hard to argue with his dictum for what's needed: "Making friends with the people you thought you hated. It's that radical, that simple and that necessary." (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Who would ever guess that the ancient language of Aramaic might hold the key to peace and understanding between Muslims and Christians? And that a former U.S. congressman from Michigan (1981-87) and former deputy ambassador to the UN would have discovered some key word similarities between the Bible and the Qur'an? Siljander's book recounts these discoveries as he travels to some of the most embatteled places in the world: the Sahara, Libya, Sudan, Pakistan, Nepal, and India. His accounts of amazing interviews with heads of state and leaders like Muhammad Abdelaziz of the Sahrawri peoples and Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, are very revealing. He attempts to allay the misunderstandings and ignorance through startling language discoveries, discussing, for example, words and concepts like "conversion," "son of God," "crucifixion," and "peace" in the context of the original language of Jesus Christ-Aramaic. Finally, Siljander declares that love and relationships are more important than political strength and posturing. An understanding of the principles in this important book could help heal the rift between Islam and the West. Recommended for all libraries.-Gary P. Gillum, formerly with Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UTCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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A Deadly Misunderstanding
A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide
By Mark Siljander
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
One day in the fall of 1983, as I prepared for a speech at a rally in Washington, D.C.'s Lafayette Park in support of Soviet Refuseniks,1 I received a visit at my congressional office on Capitol Hill.
My secretary informed me that there were two gentlemen to see me, one from the FBI and the other from the CIA. As she ushered them into my office, I noticed that the FBI agent carried a bulky briefcase. The two men explained who they were and the reason for their visit: there were some "concerns" related to my speech that week.
"Fact is, Congressman," said the FBI agent, "we were hoping you'd reconsider."
Reconsider? I wasn't sure what he meant.
"Reconsider your participation in the event." He glanced at the CIA man, who clarified: "We'd like you not to give the speech."
The CIA agent explained that his agency had received word that Yasser Arafat was less than pleased with the position I was taking on Soviet emigration policies.
Actually, elaborated the FBI guy, Arafat had put out a contract on me.
I was flabbergasted. Why would Yasser Arafat want me dead? Why would he even care about some insignificant young freshmanrepresentative from Michigan?
The FBI guy said, "We don't think it's about the length of your tenure, Congressman."
"It's the passion of your words," continued the CIA guy, "that has caught the attention of certain -people."
"Well, I'm not canceling my speech," I replied, "contract or no contract. I'm not letting some thug dictator hold me hostage!"
They must have expected that would be my response, because they didn't seem at all surprised. The FBI agent opened his briefcase, reached in, took out a bundle of fabric, and held it out to me. It took me a moment to realize what it was: a bulletproof vest. They wanted me to wear it when I gave my speech. "Wanted" is probably the wrong word. It wasn't a suggestion.
They handed me the vest, got to their feet, advised me that they were assigning me a twenty-four-hour armed security detail until the rally was over, and left my office without another word.
After they left, I sat fuming. When the CIA agent had said, "It's the passion of your words," I knew exactly what he was talking about, and knowing that Arafat was somewhere out there trying to silence me only intensified that passion.
Earlier that year I had sponsored a joint resolution "expressing the sense of Congress regarding the reduction of emigration from the Soviet Union" (H.J. Res. 279). The "evil empire," as Ronald Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union, was clamping down on Jews wanting to emigrate to Israel, and I was angry about it. That "sense of Congress" was, in a word, outrage.
During these early years in Congress, my worldview was decidedly one-dimensional. Despite holding advanced degrees in political science, my interest in world affairs boiled down to one simple ideological goal: we had to defeat the Soviet Union. My Republican congressional colleagues and I saw the world as falling into two neatly defined groups: those aligned with us and those aligned with them. Based on the philosophy "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," we regarded anyone who was against the Soviet Union as "freedom fighters," and we did everything we could to help their cause around the world. Anyone who was aligned with the Soviet Union we called "terrorists." Back then, we had no clue what a genuine terrorist was.
My simplistic view of world affairs extended to my position on the Mideast. The dictates of both my party and my religion said that we should be 100 percent pro-Israel—I had my rationale, but never mind the reasons—and that was pretty much where I stood. During my tenure in the House of Representatives, in multiple speeches, in committee meetings, on the floor of Congress, on television, in every venue and at every opportunity, I denounced the Soviet Empire and warned of the threat to America. These diatribes typically included a list of -people we saw as being linked with the Soviet Union—the immoral and brutal tyrants of the world. Along with Castro, Qaddafi, and a host of others, Yasser Arafat was one of the chief names on that list. In our view, Arafat was an assassin, a revolutionary, and a criminal.
Interestingly, we didn't mention Saddam much in those days. He was obviously a pretty bad character, but we were content to quietly support him as long as he was making trouble for the Iranians. We didn't quite know what to make of the Iranians; they perplexed and unnerved us.
My entry into Congress happened to coincide with the aftermath of the first Islamic revolution in modern times. In 1979, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had overthrown Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the autocratic and modernistic (also corrupt, brutal, and American-backed) shah of Iran, and established an Islamic state—which expressed its fury at the West when a group of militant students stormed the American embassy, taking dozens of American hostages, and holding them captive for 444 days.
The events in Iran had shocked America to its core. Hearing this religious leader in the Mideast call us "the Great Satan" was disturbing and confusing. The fact that we seemed powerless to do anything about it was even stranger and scarier.
In his nationally televised debate with incumbent Jimmy Carter, candidate Ronald Reagan asked the American -people, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" This was ostensibly a question about our national financial condition—but domestic policy and household economics were only the surface issue. It was the numbing nightly news reports on the fifty-two American hostages in Iran that offered the most eloquent reply to that question. The hostage situation cast a pall over our everyday affairs, serving as a constant reminder that our primacy in the world was not as secure as we had assumed. The Iranian hostage crisis was on everyone's mind, yet few of us comprehended its implications for the future.
Excerpted from A Deadly Misunderstanding by Mark Siljander Copyright © 2008 by Mark Siljander. Excerpted by permission.
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