OK, put your books away. We're having a pop quiz.
Below are four quotes. Each is from one of two sources: the Bible or the Quran — although, just to make things interesting, there's also a chance all four are from one book. Two were edited for length and one of those was also edited to remove a religion-specific reference. Your job: Identify the holy book of origin. Ready? Go:
• "... Wherever you encounter [nonbelievers], kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post ..."
• "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
• "If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, 'Let us go and worship other gods' ... do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death."
• "Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man."
All right, pens down. How did you do?
If you identified the first quote as being from the Quran (9:5) and the other three as originating in the Bible (Matthew 10:34, Deuteronomy 13:6-9, Numbers 31:17-18), I congratulate you on that degree in theology. If I have guessed correctly, most people will not have found it easy to place the quotes in their proper books. If I have guessed correctly, most people will have found a certain thematic similarity in them.
Yes, there is a point here: I wish people would stop cherry-picking warlike quotes from the Quran to "prove" the evil of Islam. You see this stuff all over the web. Just a few days ago, some anonymous person, angry with me for defending "Fascist/Nazi Islam" the writer says is trying to kill us all, sent me an email quoting Quranic exhortations to violence to prove that Islam is a "religion of hate and murder."
As rhetorical devices go, it is a cheap parlor trick, a con job to fool the foolish and gull the gullible, and for anyone who has spent quality time with the Bible, its shortcomings should be obvious.
If not, see the pop quiz again. The Quran is hardly unique in its admonitions to take up the sword.
It is not my intention here to parse any of those troubling quotes. Let us leave it to religious scholars to contextualize them, to explain how they square with the contention that Islam and Christianity are religions of peace. For our purposes, it is sufficient to note that, while both Christian and Muslim scholars will offer that context and explanation, only Christians can be assured of being taken at their word when they do.
Christians get the benefit of the doubt. Muslims get Glenn Beck asking a Muslim congressman to "prove to me that you are not working with our enemies."
Because Christianity is regarded as a known — and a norm. Muslims, meantime, have been drafted since Sept. 11, 2001, to fulfill the nation's obsessive, historic, paranoiac and ongoing need to rally against an enemy within. We lost the Commies, but along came the Islamofascists. The names change. The endless capacity for irrational panic remains the same.
As in people who send out emails insisting upon the rightness of holding over a billion people — that bears repeating: "over a billion people" — responsible for the actions of, what ...? A few hundred? A few thousand?
Some of us use lies, exaggerations and rhetorical gobbledygook to instill in the rest of us that irrational panic they breathe like air. Yes, it is only sensible to fear the threat we face from terrorism. But panicked, irrational people are capable of anything.
Might be wise if we chose to fear that, too.
Leonard Pitts' column appears regularly. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.