D.L.: A bridge unites, a wall divides

Even in a little Arkansas town it impacted, the story wasn’t big news. Just four Associated Press paragraphs in the weekly Vilonia Eagle.

“Jewish and Muslim students are partnering to help rebuild two Arkansas towns that were ravaged by a tornado last year,” it began. “Under the partnership, Muslim and Jewish students will work together to rebuild homes and share traditions, culture and attend services at a mosque and synagogue.” Exactly where they will attend those services was not explained; in the vicinity of Vilonia (population 3,815) there are 30 houses of worship. All of them Christian.

Few other media outlets found a story about Jews and Muslims working together to help a predominantly Christian town worth mentioning. Perhaps that’s because they were otherwise occupied with an entirely different story, one involving Muslims, Christians and Duke University.

In an effort to make the campus a welcoming place for its over 700 Muslims students, faculty and staff, Duke announced two weeks ago, it would make the chapel bell tower on its stately campus — the same tower from which the bells peal daily and twice on Sunday — available for the adhan (call to prayer) every Friday.

The reaction was swift and angry. You would have thought the school was abolishing basketball.

Franklin Graham, son of Christian televangelist Billy Graham, slammed the university’s actions in a Facebook post and urged donors to withdraw their support until Duke reverses the policy.

“As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism,” Graham wrote.

So Duke caved.

“Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, said in a statement on Duke Today. “However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

As a private school founded by Methodist and Quakers and once known as Trinity College, Duke has the right to use its facilities as it sees fit. And, in fairness, it was one of the first U.S. universities to hire a full-time Muslim chaplain. It offers Friday jumah prayers, which take place in the basement of the chapel. A few years ago it opened a Center for Muslim Life on campus. But there will be no adhans from its bell tower.

Two stories, one small and one large.

One about building bridges.

The other about reinforcing walls.

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Contact this columnist at dlstew_2000@yahoo.com.