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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: News flash: Islam is, in fact, a religion

By Tom Warhover
August 13, 2010 | 1:10 p.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

Mike Vontz has been on my mind this week.


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Don’t recall the name? You might if you had read Ettie Berneking’s story in the voters guide last month. He’s the guy who didn’t believe that Islam was a religion.

Voters who took the Republican ballot last week had a chance to vote for him in the U.S. Senate race.

Not many did. According to the state elections website, 5,189 voters picked Vontz.

That’s 0.9 percent.

I doubt Roy Blunt thought too much about Vontz. But I have.

Vontz told reporter Ettie Berneking: “I don’t consider Islam a religion, I consider it a political organization. I’m extremely concerned about their desire to seemingly take over the world.”

I was astounded. The piece ran with two paragraphs on the subject.

But Berneking and I discussed whether we should include more about Vontz’s peculiar stance or even do a separate story. The other route would be to take it out completely because it represented such a radical – crazy — point of view.

It was like saying Christianity or Buddhism or Judaism weren’t religions.

Apparently Vontz represents a view shared by others.

A New York Times story on Saturday quoted an Islam-as-religion denier in California.

“I do believe everybody has a right to freedom of religion,” Diana Serafin told the Times. “But Islam is not about a religion. It’s a political government, and it’s 100 percent against our Constitution.”

Serafin was protesting the building of a mosque in her town. It seems the controversy over the proposed mosque at the ground zero site in New York City has company.

My predecessor in this seat, George Kennedy, likes to describe journalism as an act of trying to find the best attainable version of the truth.

The truth, then, is that Vontz represents a minority of people, though it’s hard to ascertain the size of this minority.

The truth, too, is that no matter how politically extreme some Muslims and Islamic groups may be, Islam fits into about every definition of religion.

Covering Vontz reaffirms the philosophy of covering all candidates and not just front-runners from the "big two" parties. Normally, I think of it as a way to find good ideas that major candidates are ignoring.

In this case, I learned about a level of extremism I didn’t really understand before.

It’s an important — and disturbing — lesson.