My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose
September 15th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose

Editor's Note: Brian D. McLaren  is author of "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World" (Jericho Books/Hachette Book Group). 

By Brian McLaren, Special to CNN

I was raised as an evangelical Christian in America, and any discussion of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations around the world must include the phenomenon of American Islamophobia, for which large sectors of evangelical Christianity in America serve as a greenhouse.

At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolescent and puerile film targeting Islam - beyond pathetic in its tawdriness – we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia.

Many of my own relatives receive and forward pious-sounding and alarm-bell-ringing e-mails that trumpet (IN LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!) the evils of Islam, that call their fellow evangelicals and charismatics to prayer and “spiritual warfare” against those alleged evils, and that often - truth be told - contain lots of downright lies.

For example, one recent e-mail claimed “Egyptian Christians in Grave Danger as Muslim Brotherhood Crucifies Opponents."  Of course, that claim has been thoroughly debunked, but the sender’s website still (as of Friday) claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has “crucified those opposing" Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy "naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”

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Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend, and now they probably never will because their minds have been so prejudiced by Islamophobic broadcasts on so-called Christian television and radio.

Janet Parshall, for example, a popular talk show host on the Moody Radio Network, frequently hosts Walid Shoebat, a Muslim-evangelical convert whose anti-Muslim claims, along with claims about his own biography, are frequently questioned.  John Hagee, a popular televangelist, also hosts Shoebat as an expert on Islam, as does the 700 Club.

Many Christian bookstores that (used to) sell my books, still sell books such as Paul Sperry’s "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington" (Thomas Nelson, 2008). In so doing, they fuel conspiracy theories such as the ones U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, promoted earlier this year.

In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians - and all Americans - in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.

Ambassador's killing shines light on Muslim sensitivities around Prophet Mohammed

Meanwhile, many who are pastors and leaders in evangelicalism hide their heads in the current issue of Christianity Today or World Magazine, acting as if the kinds of people who host Islamophobic sentiments swim in a tiny sidestream, not in the mainstream, of our common heritage. I wish that were true.

The events of this past week, if we let them, could mark a turning point - a hitting bottom, if you will - in the complicity of evangelicalism in Islamophobia. If enough evangelicals watch or try to watch the film trailer that has sparked such outrage in the Middle East, they may move beyond the tipping point.

I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t make it halfway to the 13-minute mark. Everything about it was tawdry, pathetic, even pornographic. All but the most fundamentalist believers from my evangelical Christian tribe who watch that video will be appalled and ashamed to be associated with it.

It is hate speech. It is no different from the anti-Semitic garbage that has been all too common in Western Christian history. It is sub-Christian - beneath the dignity of anyone with a functioning moral compass.

Islamophobic evangelical Christians - and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late - must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate.

The broad highway of us-them thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies.

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Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own. But the way of Christ requires all who claim to be Christians to examine our own eyes for planks before trying to perform first aid on the eyes of others. We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected.

To choose the way of Christ is not appeasement. It is not being a “sympathizer.”

The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brian D. McLaren.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Islam • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. Dot

    we Christians should be spending our time spreading the word about God's love. People are so hungry for love. There is no lack of hate and Christians should not be spreading it.

    September 16, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • sybaris

      Uh, your god killed every living thing on this planet except a small family.

      Such a loving god

      September 16, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • HUff

      Violence in religion has existed in Islam as well as Christianity. However, Christians have long moved beyond massive violence in the name of their own faith. A large portion of Muslims have not.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  2. pogoism

    Thank you Mr McLaren for your considered points of view. I agree. As cartoonist Walt Kelly once observed, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

    September 16, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  3. Maverick

    Before I start. I am not a Muslim or Jew (so very indepedent comment). My simple question to you all – why to promote such film that hurts someone sentiments. We all know that religion and more important "your god" who you believe in is very precious and important. I saw the 13 minutes clip and definately feel that it was deliberate act to hurt Muslims around the world. Why to bother when we know this is a sensitive matter. I still dont get it why Google is not removing this content to stop spreading this virus. While I agree that terror act in Libya was unwarranted but we need to act to safe this world before it is blown out of proportion. Why to rub your neighbour more when we know his or her behaviour and the fundamentals they believe in. Sometimes it is better to stay away and keep our children and families safe. Just mind your own business and continue to live in your own worlds (and safely).

    September 16, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Islam4Fools

      A) No one 'promoted' the movie. It is just out on the net like a lot of other stupid things.

      B) What makes Islam so supreme? Why can't people have freedom of expression if they think Mohammad and Islam are wrong? For all the other religions there are videos out there and no one cares.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Randyw

      First, the film - regardless of how offensive it may be - is an expression of the first amendment. No official has the right to censure it and Google removing a video under pressure of terrorist threats and actions - I certainly hope you can see the danger in that. This film is not the reason for the attacks and protests across the world; it is the excuse. The REASON is the killing of Al Quada's #2, the anniversary of 9/11, and a war that's been going on between islamic fundamentalists and the West since they discovered oil and we started buying it.
      Our government has no business apologizing for a video it did not sponsor. neither does Google. Neither do you, and neither do I. This "If you say or do anything I don't like, boy will you be sorry" stance of fundamentalists should be tolerated about as long as you would tolerate it from your child - which I hope is not at all.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  4. Reality Check

    Islam is the great religion of peace. Only their understanding of Peace is what we saw on 9/11.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:59 am |

      This is why so many more people are say they are spiritual, agnostic or just plain atheist. Through nearly 2 millennia and countless millions and millions of lives each claim theirs is the only true God. I attended just about every church in my hometown when I was a teenager and I came away disillusioned, confused, hated by some, loved by others and turned off by religion in general. Through my adult life this has been reinforced many times.
      Now I live a place where is you not of a certain thought, certain creed and a certain type of person, with a certain type of surname then you are a outsider, outcast or worse, the enemy of all that is holy. Yet even within these groups they fight each other and fight themselves and even publicly humiliate each other. I don't live in a foreign country but it acts like one. Many declare it religion is the only true lovers of God, ignore or deny the rights of others to practice their religion in their traditions and are working hard that the schools the courts the county courthouse only teaches their twisted values whiles screaming at any chance they get that their rights are being trampled on. There are lots of desert areas in this world, more if we let these bozo's continue to deny global warming. Let all the reasonable people gather all the religious nut jobs and extremest in the world, place them in one these desserts and give them the guns and ammunitions they have collected to "support" their cause and let them continue the constant blood letting until they are all dead by their own hands. And the rest of the world can move on and clean up the planet, fix what's broken, worship as we like, and find a way to travel to the stars

      September 16, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  5. Brian

    .....and the authors point that we need to stop hating is ignored. Good job people.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • timinfla

      "we" need to stop hating???? I believe its the radical islamists that act like a rabid dog ready to slit your throat. go lie down, your head must hurt

      September 16, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Bleeding Har

      sounds like your a bleeding heart liberal..

      September 16, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Brian

      And what about the Christians who call for the deaths of Muslims, and the outing of peaceful Muslims that are fellow Americians citizians? That sword swings both ways. Are there People who use their religion to spread hate in the middle east? Yes. But that's true of some people here in Americia who use Christianity to spread hate. Yes my head hurts, but that's just because I have to read ignorant comments like yours.

      And Bleeding hear liberal? really? Nothing better then that? If you're going to troll and insult someone, try to be a little more creative. No, I'm not a bleeding heart liberal, I use my eyes to see what's going on around me and my brain to think for myself. I'm not a sheep to be told what I must do and think, and I will not ack like one, for anyone. Go back to Fox News to be told what to do like a good little sheep, until it's time for them to shear you , or just kill you for your meat. That's how you insult. Try better next time.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  6. Doug

    I've had several Muslim friends. None extremists. Wonder how long I would live if I make friends with an extremist? Obviously an article to make money with. Drivel.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  7. Al

    Dennis, the acts you cite are from the conservative political/religious wing of Islam. They are able to run roughshod over the population because their governments are either in support of their conservative views, or too weak to fight them.

    If our government was a theocracy, we'd have Christian fundamentalist acting out like we see in the Mideast. We see signs of it here with the right's persecution of women, gays, and the weakest in society.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • AK

      Please point out how the right 'persecutes' anyone, paying particular attention to the definition of persecute. Try not to lie.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  8. Moby49

    Good luck seeing them reject hate when so many of their so called "christian" leaders preach it. Along with greed, religious true "believers" are a curse on this earth.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  9. RoadRunner, Albuquerque, NM

    "Evangelicals" is not what "Fundamentalist christians" are. Why use a perfectly legitimate name, Evangelical, do dress up a radical, right wing extremist mainstream sect, when the correct term to describe these hate-mongers is pure and simple: "Fundamentalist." That is like trying to put lipstick on a pig. Evangelical Christians do not hate, do not condone violence against anyone, are peace-loving, Christiains, with a capital "C". Fundamentalist christians are a hate-spewing "greenhouse" that specializes in growing weeds, tares and chaff, that are only fit for the fire. They are a fear-based "religiion" in the camp of Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana and David Koresh in Whacko, Texas, but are spread like toxic waste all across the heartland and deep south. Fundamentalists are the spawn of right-wing domestic terror with their agenda to turn the U.S. into a Caliphate, and cauldron of intolerance for anyone who does not march lockstep with them and their stupid ideas of anti-evolution, anti-science, flat earth society, and the use of violence to protect them from every one they fear and target for their Orwellian propaganda. Fundamentalists merit a small "c" for christian, b/c they do not even come close to living up to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and have their own version of christ which bears no resemblance at all to the Christ of the Holy Scriptures. They are what are properly classified as "nominal" christians: christians in name-only. In their Orwellian fashion, they want now to co-op not only the name of Christ, but the Evangelical believers and followers of him, as a guise for their own malevelence to perpetrate terror on others, and to discredit the very name of Christ and his True Church on earth.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • asis76

      they are a bunch of Neo Con war moungers ... But this is really about freedom of speech and its about us getting the hell out of these wars already.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • 123elle

      Very intelligently said. I do worry that the messages of hate toward Muslims sound similar to the hate speech fomented toward Jews during the 1930s. Mass hatred of a group of people can soften the conscience toward terrible acts.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  10. Iamptr

    So CNN is blaming Christians and not the Islamists for the riots, murders and the threats of mass extermination . How typical. When will those in the main stream media put the blame where it belongs? The term Islamophobia gets brought out each time Islamists go crazy about something in the realm of free speech. When will it stop – this selling out the western culture in your coddling of Islamist culture.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  11. Reality Check

    All 9/11 terrorists were Muslims. End of point.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, it isn't the "end of point." You don't HAVE A POINT. Extremists use religion as an excuse for their crimes.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Manda

      Okay, where was the beginning?

      September 16, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • HUff

      Extremists do use religion as their excuse for committing their crimes. However, the peaceful element of that religion spends its time and energy denouncing those that they say incite such violence rather than the fighting those that commit such violence.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  12. Skeets

    Great, another person putting the blame on the wrong people. No matter how stupid, those who made the video are allowed to under our law. My guess is 99% of the people rioting did not see the video they just needed a reason to riot and were egged on by al Queda elements who were looking to do some real 9/11 anniversary destruction.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  13. John

    The day Islamist "violently" riot in this country will be the day everything changes for Americans. Keep letting them in and keep sympathizing with them because it makes you feel noble and benevolent. But even here in America watch how they treat their wives and daughters and how they continue to maintain a society within a society and how they take advantage of the system and eventually you will understand that they only want occupy and not integrate with other cultures. And for the very few Islamist that truly do want to be Americans for the right reasons well my apologies upfront because you will continue to get persecuted for the sins of the 99.9999999% rest that don't

    Poor UK learned this the hard way.

    And right now they don't dare protest in America, instead they destroy their own cities – lol, but as their numbers grow so will their willingness to test those boundaries.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Skeets

      I think it's interesting that there have not been any protests regarding the video here. I think, most, American Muslims understand the situation and are acting in a proper, civilized fashion.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Feder

      The day they riot in the US, will be the day we take the fight to them. Its obvious our government and police have been politically corrected out of effectiveness, most American citizens have not.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • charlotte

      The only domesitc acts of religious hatred so far have been done by Christians, not Muslims. You need to grow up. It's assinine to talk about "letting them in." These are people. Most are peace-loving and far more pious than YOU are. You are just using your own spinelss cowardice manifest itself into a generic hatred of those whom you fear because they are better than you.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  14. Aviator_Guy

    The Rage I’ve seen in the Middle East is driven by Hate. I don’t believe anyone has the right to take another life, especially in the name of God. When anyone or any mob takes it upon themselves to judge others and take a life, then its time to take a serious look at why they truly value. Do they value God’s Love, or do they worship Hate? There is only one Judge, and that is God... Amen Brother 🙂

    September 16, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  15. asis76

    Its simple at the end of the day! this is freedom of speech and freedom of religion and dude is from Egypt did i get that right.. And look you have to protect it. Obama is being smart on this he knows this is a fine line. I give Obama a ton of credit in how he is handling the issue. The middle east does need to chill out because its ridiculousness... its a F film... Jesus told people not to do the same thing not to make false idols or pray to them this is why Christians have blank crosses but then again it just keeps happening and BAMO Jesus is back on something... People have points of views and people have there ways of how they feel they need to express them. If people don't like it then don't watch the damn film... I mean really? This is getting retarded.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • HUff

      So the word from Obama is to tell the Muslims to just chill? Another apology for causing radicals to kill is about all Obama has done so far. It's own state department apologized for the film. Thats a good job handling this situation?

      September 16, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  16. P. Duchesne

    Sorry, but you have this backwards. The wacko Christians are reacting to violence perpetrated by Islamic murderers. It is the Muslims who need to moderate their behavior and update their text to reflect modern realities. If we limit freedom of speech(thought), in response to Muslim temper tantrums, they will learn the wrong lesson. We should flood youtube and other media with anti-Islamic material until they get used to it. The Christians and Jews suffer continual ridicule and do not resort to riots and murder. It's time for the Muslims to grow up.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  17. Evelyn Connaway


    September 16, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  18. G

    An acquaintance of mine from Egypt posted this yesterday. I thought it would be an interesting read for anyone down in the comments section:

    Why do the media make seem as though the whole muslim world is in flames, as though every muslim woman and man and child and granny are out throwing stones and burning flags...? Of course we are disgusted by such an offense to our Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him), but right now I believe the ab
    solute majority of muslims are sitting at home looking in horror at the footage of misguided men running havoc and burning flags. If we know anything of our faith we know that Islam does not endorse a descent into uncontrolled animal behavior, neither does it encourage retailation and unrestrained, violent outbursts of aggression against innocent civilians. One constantly wonders how it is possible that the loving, tolerant, wise example of our beloved Prophet (May peace and blessings be upon him) could be twisted into a justification for such self-gratifying aggression.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • HUff

      While most Americans do believe the majority of Muslims are hard working peaceful individuals the problem is the sheer numbers of radical violent Muslims around the world. Numerous movies, articles, cartoons etc. are created yearly trashing Christian faiths and deities. They are every bit as absurd as this latest anti-Muslim video. As a result of such anti-Christian rhetoric we may see a handful of small non-violent protests. What you won't see is 1000's of Christians turning violent in cities all around the world as a result of a small video. You don't see foreign embassies overrun in the USA or other western nations by Christians. Long ago this may have been the case as Christians have a violent history. But they've for the most part moved beyond that. Muslims have not. Instead of fighting hard against those within their own ranks that do such destruction, they instead spend most of their energy denouncing 'islamaphobists'. Muslims own faith is being destroyed from within yet the peaceful Muslims spend their time fighting anything except the radical element thats pulling apart their own faith.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  19. woody

    Bill Mahr's film Religulous was much more damning of Islam than this amateur video on You-Tube is.

    Why are anti-Islamist filmmakers not being treated equally?

    September 16, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • P. Duchesne

      Because Islamist leaders in Egypt and other Muslim countries wanted to manufacture "celebrations" of the 9-11 anniversary. This stupid video was simply a tool used to do it. There are many videos, cartoons, and other things they could have used, and undoubtedly will use in the future.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Al

      He bashed all religions by letting the religionist speak for themselves. I remember the anti gay minister was trying hard to hide his orientation, but you could hear gaydars going off all through the theater. The hug at the end of their conversation was down right creepy.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  20. Kelly

    An Egyption living in America makes a silly film about Muhammed/Islam. Muslims respond by murdering/robbing/looting. Mr. Mclaren says Evangelicals need to stop "talking" bad about Muslims... WOW... What a disconnect.... I have heard of no Evangelical mobs murdering/robbing/looting Muslims anywhere, let alone in the US. Hollywood has made many films, and entertainment personalities have made many comments, critical of Christianity. Yet no comment from Mr. McLaren about how they need to be more civil, understanding and open minded?? Guess Christian Evangelicals need to murder/rob/loot in order to get sympathy from the likes of Mr. McLaren....

    September 16, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Fred

      Are you familiar with the KKK?

      September 16, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Kelly

      Sure am.. Did they kill any Muslims recently just for being Muslim? We are talking current events are we not Fred??

      September 16, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Peter

      Kelly: There might have been some Muslims killed when some of the mosques in America were torched.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Kelly

      Peter.. Terrible events for sure, but no one was killed, no riots by Evangelicals, no looting, no beatings, no machine gun battles to kill the inidels .. If you have to stretch to make a point then you have no point at all.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Fred

      Kelly, NATO air strikes today in Afghanistan killed 8 civillians, most of them women. From a muslim point of view, this could easily be interpreted as Christians killing muslims. Of course, we will interpret it the same way if Ahmed killed 8 civillians in Time Square, even if his motivations were political. You see how all this builds up.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Kelly

      Fred: The point of this commentary was that Evangelicals need to calm down their "talk" about Muslims because that incites them to violence. "Talk" incites them to violence!!!! In what other context would that be an exceptable arguement?? Many lefties repeatedly "talk" bad about the "Christain" right, but you do not see the riots and murders occurring because of it. I think this hypocracy of appeasing Muslims by saying "well, some evangelicals said some rude things so it's understandable that they would want to rob/murder/loot." How utterly ridiculous........ An I am not a religious person..

      September 16, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Fred

      Kelly, I guess what the author is trying to say to evangelicals is, reflect what Christianity is all about, do what Jesus would do. Jesus will not bash Muslims no matter how low they stripped. If America and it's Christian community take the high road, I bet the Muslims will also follow suit. That's the messager the author is trying to convey.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Kelly

      Fred: And your comment about Afghan civilians being killed in a NATO bombing doesn't really make sense. Afghanistan started the war so are we now the bad guy because we won? In every war in history there have been civilian deaths, that is a major reason why war is terrible. When Muslims in Lebanon killed Christians during their civil war did you see Christians in America rioting/robbing/looting/murdering? How bout European Christians, or South American Christians, or Central American Christians?? No, you did not. So why do you feel free to mention the tragic death of Muslim civilians in a war that Muslims started as a reason for Muslims to feel persecuted? Your logic is seriously flawed..

      September 16, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Kelly

      Fred: We have reached a point where we agree. Your last comment was right on, but maybe too lofty to actually reach. Someone has to step up an take that "high road" and that is a hard thing to do. Specially during an election season in America, and any season in Islam..

      September 16, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Fred

      Please don't take me out of context. What I said is, the perceptions and propaganda going on in the world now, is instigating a lot of violence. People in Afghanistan don't know how this whole thing started, all they see is NATO killing people. Honestly, we all don't know how these things unfolded because all governments try to shield their citizens from incriminating truth. Once we were in bed with Bin Laden. My argument is not flawed because people in the Muslim world are told a different story from what we're being told.

      September 16, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Kelly

      Fred: I stand by my comment, your arguement is flawed. No where in your previous comments did you say "the perceptions and propaganda going on in the world now, is instigating a lot of violence."

      Now your beginning to sound like one of the many many conspiracy theorists that abound on the internet "we all don't know how these things unfolded because all governments try to shield their citizens from incriminating truth." Honestly, do you think Obama would keep any secret about 911 or Afghanistan that would make Bush and/or the Republicans look bad? To believe such is to believe in a fantasy.

      I do agree that people in the Muslim world are told different "truths" then the rest of the world, but that is because so many live in highly controlled Islamic dictatorships.

      September 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
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