Posted on | September 17, 2012
David OlsonAs the bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles and an official with the Muslim Public Affairs Council were holding a joint news conference in Los Angeles Monday to condemn the anti-Muslim film “Innocence of Muslims” and the violence that has surrounded it, I was meeting with Hussam Ayloush, the Corona resident who is executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Ayloush said he hoped that one positive effect of the uproar over the video, and of extremist Copts’ involvement in it, would be more interfaith efforts between Coptic Christians and Muslims.
Ayloush said when he saw media coverage of the Copts over the weekend, he flashed back to the days following 9/11.
Just as many Americans had little familiarity with Islam before 9/11, most Americans knew little or nothing about Coptic Christians until the past week.
And as with Islam, what they saw was extremists, not the beliefs and lives of the majority of Copts, Ayloush said.
“This is not what the Coptic people and religion stand for,” he said.
Television viewers also saw people who, like some Muslims, appear very different from most Americans: Copts with long beards, foreign accents and long black robes. That can create a view among Americans that Copts aren’t Americans as others.
Ayloush said he has worked for years with Arab Christians and enjoys warm relations with them. The Syrian-born Ayloush grew up in Lebanon and attended a Christian school there.
He was buoyed by the joint news conference Monday and hopes there will be more interfaith efforts among Copts and Muslims.
Ayloush and I have chatted a few times about the video and the violent reaction to it. He and CAIR have strongly condemned the violence.
Ayloush said he has long been familiar with Steven Klein, the Hemet insurance agent who was a consultant on the video.
Klein has a satellite-television show in which he has discussed his disdain for Islam.
“I hate Islam,” Klein said in an Aug. 30 broadcast of his “Wake up America” show on The Way TV, an Arab Christian station based in the San Gabriel Valley city of Duarte. “I don’t ever want to see it (Islam) again.”
In the show, Klein said, “The Lord Jesus Christ has caused me to be a terrorist to the terrorists.”
He introduced a video clip of a man singing about guns and then shooting off guns by saying, “This is going to be the ultimate solution to the Muslims.”
Klein and his supporters have distributed virulently anti-Islam leaflets outside mosques throughout California – including Ayloush’s Corona mosque – and at dozens of Southern California high schools, including campuses in Temecula, Murrieta, Corona, Norco and Menifee. Ayloush’s own daughter received one of the leaflets at Corona’s Santiago High School.
The handouts say Mohammad had sex with children, committed incest and participated in genocide. One of the leaflets had Ayloush’s photo on it.
Ayloush said CAIR had deliberately avoided calling attention to Klein’s leafleting campaign.
“Our dilemma is there are a lot of crazy people out there and we don’t want to give them publicity,” he said.
Klein said one reason for his anti-Islam leafleting is so Muslims find out the “truth” about Islam and leave the faith.
But Ayloush believes the leafleting at mosques was meant to provoke Muslims to react violently, to confirm the stereotype of Muslims as violent people. Even though Klein leafleted mosques throughout Southern California, Ayloush said he is unaware of any violent reaction to the handouts.
Ayloush said if Klein had really wanted to convert Muslims, he would not have insulted the very people he was allegedly trying to reach.
Ayloush said it’s not uncommon for evangelical Christians to stand outside his and other mosques with leaflets and with signs that say something along the lines of “Visit our Church.” They’re clearly hoping to convert Muslims.
“I think it’s kind of out of place to do that,” Ayloush said. “But I have to say, they do it in the most respectful way. They don’t offend me. It’s not the right place to market your religion. But that’s fine.”
Ayloush said those Christians smile and carry materials that are focused on what they see as the positive aspects of Christianity.
The leaflets that Klein and his supporters handed out were different.
“It described the Prophet Mohammad and the religion of Islam in the most vulgar and offensive manner,” Ayloush said. “I have not a shred of doubt in my mind that what this was about was not to teach people who are Muslim about Islam or make people who are Muslim Christians. He is being driven by pure hatred and disdain for all Muslims.”