Eight years after 9/11 America still has a  “Muslim Problem.” By which I mean there are vast numbers of Americans from all walks of life, all parts of the country, all education and income levels, who have a grossly distorted view of Islam — who misunderstand its basic tenets and misidentify its core claims and convictions. 

That by itself is lamentable.  But when the prejudices of the ill-informed meet up with the bombast of equally-ignorant public figures, the lamentable becomes not just laughable but  disgraceful.   

The army psychiatrist accused of last week’s shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas — an American-born Muslim — has become the blank screen onto which all sorts of anti-Muslim nonsense can be projected. That Major Nidal Hasan is a deeply troubled man is a given; that he represents the essence of the Islamic faith — which, given his actions, must be violent and nihilistic — is ludicrous.

But because ignorance is easily exploited by fear-mongerers with microphones, there is renewed suspicion of Muslims generally and something like feigned panic among several politicians. Even though federal law enforcement and U.S. military authorities are investigating the shootings, Washington lawmakers want to initiate their own hearings. It’s hard not to see this as political grandstanding.

President Obama has indicated that he’s not opposed to hearings — eventually — but for now it would be best “to resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into political theater.”  Those who died on the nation’s largest Army post deserve justice, he says, not political stagecraft.

 Sometimes the President seems like the only grown-up in the room.

Eight years after the events of September 11, the 160 million Christians in America should be acting more grown-up (and more Christlike) themselves. We should know better than to fall for the same old tricks: the lie that all devout Muslims are terror-loving anti-Americans; that the safest stance toward our Muslim neighbors and co-workers is one of fear and suspicion.

At the center of Islam is a conviction and practice that Christians recognize: love of God and neighbor. As theologian Miroslav Volf and others have reminded us, this is the common ground we can build good relations on.  This is the work we should be about. The politicians, pundits, and the plain-crazies are distracting us from it.