The Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty-Years-War, John Brown's Pottawatomie Massacre, the terrorist attacks of the Irish Republican Army, the Oklahoma City bombing--these are just a few examples of violence carried out by extremists who found inspiration in their Christian faith.
Jewish radicals have justified violence against Arabs by citing the "holy war" that God commanded Israel to wage against the Canaanites for possession of the Promised Land. As recently as 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a deeply religious Jew, murdered 29 Muslims worshipping in a mosque in Hebron.
The kamikazes of World War II were religiously motivated. And it was members of Aum Shinrikyo, an offshoot of Japanese Buddhism, who released vials of poisonous gas into the Tokyo subway in 1995.
There have been Hindu terrorists (the word "thug" originally referred to those who murdered to honor the Hindu goddess Kali); also Sikh suicide bombers.
So those who think Islam is the only religion that gives rise to extremism and carnage need to think again.
But let's be clear, Islam is not -- as has been repeatedly claimed -- a "religion of peace." Indeed, the idea is absurd, considering that Islam's founding prophet also was a warrior -- among the most successful in history, establishing an empire ranging from Spain to the South Pacific.
Nor did Osama bin Laden "hijack" Islam--any more than Hitler hijacked Germanic culture or Lenin hijacked the Russian ethos. Rather, Hitler and Lenin drew upon the ugliest threads in their nations' fabrics. So, too, has bin Laden invoked Islam's most radically xenophobic doctrines to legitimize a vicious assault against all those who refuse to accept his authority, all those he demonizes as "infidels."
The point is this: As Christian behavior need not be modeled on Torquemada, as Jews needn't emulate the Zealots, as there is nothing in Shinto or Buddhism to prevent Japan from living in peace with its neighbors, so too Muslims need not embrace an interpretation of their religion that is hateful, barbaric and incompatible with freedom, democracy and human rights.
It is not inevitable that Muslims will, as bin Laden predicts, join him in an apocalyptic clash of civilizations, intended to return the world to the 7th Century as fanatics dream it must have been. There is an alternative to a Muslim war against the Free World: Muslims can join the Free World instead.
Neither Islam nor any other great religion has always been peaceful in the past. But it should not take a prophet to see the need for tolerance, pluralism and peaceful coexistence in our future.
Brief factual quibble. Muhammadmed only achieved the unification of the Arabian peninsula before he died. His successors created the North Africa to South Asia empire referred to in the article.
Anyway, if the standard for removal from a "religion (/nation/society) of peace" is drawing the "most radically xenophobic doctrines to legitimize a vicious assault" against the Other, then there is no religion of peace. The article gives examples of Christian and Jewish extremism, both of which draw from the worst aspects of the two faiths. Jewish exclusivity, with the "chosen" people seen as superior, allows such abominations as the Crown Heights incident, where a Jewish ambulance picked up the Jewish victims of a car accident, but left the black victim lying in the street. Christianity's expansionist model, combined with its belief in the supercession of the Hebrew covenant, have justified its colonizing and imperializing tendencies, as well as an ongoing history of vicious anti-Semitism that has not wholly been eradicated. We could play the same game with pretty much any sizable group (the American belief in the manifest destiny and white superiority allowed for the subjugation and near genocide of Native Americans, as well as hundreds of years of racial subordination). This does not mean that every group is evil or a religion of war. It means that all faiths and peoples have elements in their past which, if elevated to the primary, will justify the most horrific of atrocities.
I believe the phrase Christians use is to not focus on the speck in your neighbors eye when you have a log in your own?
At the moment, Islam is regrettably on an extremist kick. This needs to be fought, but to say that it is the Platonic form of Islam is a distortion, just as much as saying that the brutalities of Christian imperialism represents the essential Christianity.
In other words, I join a fight against noxious ideas--one major one which is, at the moment, being held by many Muslims. But I would in an instant reconcile with any Muslim who rejects the way of terror, just as I would with any Christian who rejects the way of anti-Semitism.