Saturday, August 06, 2005

Despite a Valient Effort to Portray it Otherwise, This is a Good Point

After seeing the description and excerpt on the 1754 blog, I expected this article to be a perfect example of frothing western supremacism. Happily, I was pleased to find that it makes a perfectly reasonable point:
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.


Anonymous said...

The problem with Islam is this:

1. The Koran is regarded as word for word that actual literal voice of God, and not subject to revision or certain aspects ignored.

2. Mohammed unlike Jesus and Budhha led armies, married multiple wives in polygamy, including child marriage, captured and slew hostages, taking their widows and daughters as sex slaves, executed prisoners and criminals, and led a total religous and political state all in one. In contrast in both Budhhism and Christianity there was always a distinction between the State and the Religion.

3. Islam is very resistant to change, owing to it's transcendant brotherhood which as Malcolm X experienced, is a profoundly powerful spiritual force. Unlike Christianity and Buddhism, neither of which bear much resemblance to what they were even two hundred years ago, Islam is pretty much the same as it was in Mohammed's day.

4. This extraordinary resistance to change puts Islam in a direct collision course with the Modern World. It is not a question of religions as much as the Past, as encompassed in Islam's total way of life from rules for the Bathroom to how to pray, colliding with Modernity's total open-ness to change and the notion of "progress."

Islam is not the province of "zealots," far from being an extremist bin Laden IS the authentic voice of Islam. He isn't any different from Islam's founders, or the consensus of Islamic thought. By contrast McVeigh, Rudolph, Koresh are thought to be lunatics and consensus Christian thought abhors them. Aum Shin Rykio, Kozinsky, and Heaven's Gate are not even Christian but cultists and lone lunatics. Similarly Kach is outlawed in Israel, and the Lubavitchers live in Brooklyn not Jerusalem.

Millions and perhaps billions of Muslims regard Osama as a hero, only a few handful of luantics view McVeigh, Rudolph, or Kach as anything but lunatics to be killed or jailed, whichever comes first.

Anonymous said...

The difference is that between correlation and cause. IRA members and McVeigh didn't go commit murders because they were Christian anymore than you or I go tie our shoes due to our religion. They may justify their actions using religion, but even the most hard-line Jewish, Christian, or Buddhist is simply using their religion to justify being hardline Jewish, Christian, or Buddhist extremists. Maybe it's because their religious books don't hold up well when you're screaming to kill someone, but it's a start at least. All religions may give rise to their own nutcases, but very few actually tell their nutcases to kill (most people taking existing political or nationalistic beliefs as their reasons to murder), as opposed to the nutcases coming up with the idea and then struggling real hard to justify it using a religious book.

Meanwhile, I bet you it wouldn't take ten minutes with google to find a moron holding up a Koran/Q'uran and saying that it specifically says to kill the infidels where they are.

Also, when's the last time you heard of Christianity being called the Religion of Peace?

David Schraub said...

This is insane. I've heard many defenses of Christian atrocities--but saying that there was a "distinction between the State and the Religion" is definitely a first for me. I wonder what the folks living in the Holy Roman Empire, or the Papal States, or the ones where the King needed Papal blessing to reign, would say (not to mention our friends on the Christian Right who want to eradicate precisely that distinction here). Similarly, the claim that "The Koran is regarded as word for word the actual literal voice of God" makes it...exactly how many fundamentalist Christians (and Jews for that matter) view the Bible. I must be missing the distinction.

But moving on, it is self-evidently clear that there have been innumerable instances of Christians using Christian doctrine to justify atrocities. The Crusades? Colonization of the Americas? The Inquistion? This is easy money. The history of Christianity from about 1400 to 1750 (at least) was one giant historical precursor to "we had to kill the village in order to Save them." What we see is that when both Christianity and Islam gained any degree of power (an event which occurred earlier in the history of Islam), they both relatively immediately started doing awful things to non-believers.

Finally, even accepting arguendo that Islam is identical to what it was in the 7th century (a proposition I doubt heavily--if for no other reason than that Muhammed was a big supporter of Woman's Rights [look up who his wife was some time]), it's ahistorical. There is a giant historical period where Islam was more progressive and fluid than were their Christian counterparts. To say that reactionarism is inherent to the Muslim character is historically baseless--to be sure, we're in the throes of a prolonged conservative backlash by the Muslim world, but this is historically no different than the Middle Age period in Christianity (where yes, Christians were told flat out to kill Jews and Muslims).

This isn't trying to be a simple "Christians are EVIL" comment. We could trade horror stories all day if we wanted to--I could point out that for much of history, a Jew or Christian could expect a much more tolerant reception as a minority in the Muslim world than a Jew or Muslim could in the Christian world (certainly, a situation no longer true today). The point, which I made in the post, is that all religions have had their noble and shameful moments. Islam is in the throes of a very shameful time in its history. But claims of an inherent superiority/inferiority (which is what is essentially happening--the subtext behind those who want to portray Islam as inherently warlike is that we're "better" and "not like that", IE, we're the REAL religion of peace) dynamic can't survive under even the most cursory historical analysis.