Whether chronicling the class conflict in the African-American community or exposing the failings of the government response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Michael Eric Dyson has never shied away from engaging friends and foes alike in open conversation about the issues that matter. Dyson, an author, radio host and University of Pennsylvania professor, was invited on TODAY to discuss his new book, "Debating Race." In it, Dyson collects his previously unpublished intellectual encounters — cordial and combative — with some of today's most influential thinkers and politicians. Here is an excerpt on an exchange he had with conservative commentator and author Ann Coulter:
Dyson vs. Coulter: The War in Iraq
Michael Eric Dyson and Ann Coulter debated the values underlying the Iraq War on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. Following are some excerpts from their discussion:
Coulter: I have not heard anyone say we’re fighting this war for Jesus. We’re fighting this war because of 9/11.
Dyson: But they do invoke Christian values. And you don’t have to mention Jesus specifically to talk about Christianity. As a Baptist minister myself, and this is Good Friday, I certainly feel a proximity to this issue. But the thing is, I think that the Crusades themselves — as is the contemporary crusade — are backed by an implicit reference to Jesus okaying this. And so not only do you have “patriotic correctness,” you got “Christian correctness” now. Because if you’re not on the right side of the war, which means that Jesus stands behind it to justify and legitimate missionaries, in the name of God, going over there. “By the way, we’re going to give them some food and help them out, but if we happen to mention God and conversion from Muslim faith to Christianity, it’s alright.” And as a Christian minister, I find that reprehensible. Because imperialism has been draped not only in the flag but in the cross. And we who are Christians must stand up and be voices for those who are oppressed, and those who have been maligned, and those who are being put upon. I think that’s the real role for Christians here.
Coulter: You know, this concern about George Bush referring to this as a crusade or denouncing this as some sort of crusade. I note that General Dwight Eisenhower’s memoirs about World War II were called The Crusade in Europe. That didn’t get people inflamed.
Dyson: There’s a huge difference between politics and religion.
Coulter: We’re not going to be killing people if they don’t convert to Christianity. What do you think the crusades were?
Dyson:There’s a huge difference between politically being opposed to persons in war and in the name of religion trying to wipe out your enemy who happens to be religious—whether it’s between Protestants and Catholics or, now, between Christians and Muslims. I think it’s a huge difference.
Coulter: You think that’s what we’re doing?
Dyson: I think absolutely that’s what we’re doing. Look at your president, I mean, who bows his head to God, and prays to God, and says, “Because I have God’s love — Here’s the problem. That’s not what’s happening. We’re praying, and then we’re blowing stuff up. That’s the real problem. I think that, as a Christian minister, I believe in praying, but I’m saying what do you do—not pray, p-r-a-y, but p-r-e-y, is the problem. In the name of religion we’re going over exploiting people and [saying] God’s backing us up. And this is what ticks me off. People always point to the civil rights movement. “Well, Martin Luther King, Jr.” Martin Luther King, Jr., did not want to make this a Christian nation. He was a Christian minister who believed that the disestablishment clause of the amendment was very critical to establishing every religion having its right to say, which means none should be officially enshrined. When the president and Rod Paige, the Secretary of Education, says that it’s good to have Christian schools, the administration is really shredding that line between separation. And I think that’s problematic. It shows in education, it shows in the war, and it shows across the board. So as a minister, I’m offended by that. Let’s keep God out of this madness that we’re doing and this militarism that we’re engaging in.
Coulter: After both World War II and the Korean War we specifically sent in Christian missionaries. And we got a Christian country out of Korea — [Laughter] — McArthur offered to convert all of Japan. That was a country that was not a Christian country that we conquered and occupied and turned into a country that is producing — is beating us in small electronics and cars now. I think that is a fine example. McArthur didn’t explain that the military doesn’t convert people, but he put out a call for Christian missionaries. They poured in, Bibles poured in, and now there’s religious freedom in Japan. And South Korea was converted.
Dyson: This is what Archbishop Tutu said. He told a story. When they went to South Africa, the Christian missionaries had the Bible and the South Africans had the land. They said, “Let’s pray.” When they opened their eyes, the South Africans had the Bible and the Christians had the land. That’s the deal. That’s the history of imperialism in America.
Copyright © 2007 by Michael Eric Dyson. Reprinted by permission of Basic Civitas Books.
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