27 March 2015

Tolerant Christians vis-à-vis Evil Islam?

Harry J. Bentham

For many professed critics of Islam, the so-called Islamic State's atrocities stand as an example of the exceptional evil said to be evident in Islam and absent in other religions. And throughout the traditionally Christian sector of the world, in both the West and Russia, we have bore witness to the increasing fantasy that latter-day Christian crusaders are our deliverance from the apparent evil of Islam.

The shocking credo of the latter-day crusaders in our midst became most apparent when Anders Behring Breivik committed his terrorist attack in Norway in 2011. We can add this to the mountain of evidence that "crusader" terror is as much alive as jihadist terror, but there are still abundant conservatives in both Britain (see UKIP) and the US who see a need to politicize Christianity as part of a cultural battle with political Islam.

Christian detractors of Islam are eager to point out violence in the Qur'an. There is indeed violence in that text, but they should take a closer look at their own Holy Book. Better yet, take a look at the modern-day Christian terrorist organizations and their atrocities. The most prominent examples lie in Africa, where Joseph Kony's evangelical terrorist group, The Lord's Resistance Army, perpetrated unspeakable horrors in the name of Christianity in Uganda before moving to South Sudan.

Most Christians know about and denounce the Crusades, but the atrocities I am talking about are realities from the 1990s or newer, and they are continuing to this day. Most of the violence in the Central African Republic has been perpetrated by Christian mobs against Muslims, but that inconvenient fact never made its way past the Islamophobic line of much of the media we hear.

We have to learn that reporting on so-called "Islamic terrorism", when Christians are almost as prone to terrorism of their own and equally ignorant of their religion's pacifist teachings, is a disgrace. Take the reporting on Nigeria, for example. Nigeria has been victim to two violent insurgencies, one "Muslim" (Boko Haram) and the other "Christian" (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Nile Delta or MEND). In this case, reporters seem alarmingly eager to highlight the Islamic elements of ideology behind any terrorist attack, but constantly reluctant to mention the equal role of Christianity in the ideology of other terrorists in the very same country.

We can also examine Sri Lanka as an example of the same kind of omission, although the Buddhist faith of extremists was being omitted. In the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009), much of the ethnic violence was pressured by Sinhalese Buddhist so-called "monks", who urged the ethnic cleansing of Tamils from Sri Lanka. Only a small number of Westerners, who have studied the Sri Lankan Civil War, had much awareness of that particular detail. The Western public was never alerted to the atrocities of Buddhist extremists, much less told by pundits that Buddhism is a violent and evil religion in the way Islam is often maligned now.

Many have claimed that the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, in Iraq, has discredited Islam, and they point to its atrocities as an example of Islam in practice. But how, then, do they explain away the fact that all the forces fighting against IS and risking life and limb on the ground are themselves Muslim?

It seems strange for Islamophobes to protest the actions of IS at all, given that IS's military opponents are all Muslims and very nearly a hundred percent of IS's victims are Muslims. One could reason that there is a sectarian civil war on within Islam, but Christianity and every other religion has been plagued by the same sectarian problems in the past. So, to repeat Sam Harris' canard that Islam is inherently extreme or opposed to modernity maligns everyone involved in the campaign against IS and all the victims of IS.

No matter the arguments made against their proneness to create militants, the world's largest religions are not going to go away. We have to live with the inevitable, so we won't make ourselves more secure by painting terrorism as a religion, or a religion as terrorism. Instead, accepting diversity and reconciliation between these traditions is essential to peaceful or tolerant association.

By pairing the name of a religion with terrorism, as is all too common in reporting, Western secular states and media not only violate the parts of their constitutions requiring religion to be kept out of politics, but involve themselves in incitement to religious terrorism of their own. Anti-Islamic terrorism is equally religious as so-called Islamic terrorism, and this equally true whether it takes the form of a state-sanctioned attack on a country such as Iran or a lone-wolf attack such as Breivik's.

And what of the wars that state-approved Islamophobia already helped to create? Irrational fears have transformed Muslim civilians into military targets, and helped to motivate the doctrine that pre-emptive war is justified long before an apparent threat of terrorism can even be proven to exist. The reasoning that mosques or religious preachers therein should be targets of military action, detention or torture would be denounced, if practiced against other religious group, but Muslims are routinely accosted by states in this way.

It is also worth realizing that Islamophobes often show the same contempt for their compatriots as is demonstrated by the terrorists they claim to oppose. Their vision of the West as a pure and righteous civilization leads them to see most of their own society as treasonous and impure, as Breivik did when he chose to target not Muslims but regular citizens he believed were appeasing Islam. Such behavior has stark parallels to the way in which Islamist militants target not the West but their own communities, which they see as corrupt and impure.

Islamophobia kills, and is injurious not just to Islam but to the West. Having played a part in the warmongering that led to the Iraq War and the so-called war on terror, which was once described once by George W. Bush himself as a crusade, state-sanctioned Islamophobia is a severe extremist threat in itself. If we consider the wars and repression it has helped to incite around the globe, Islamophobia has a greater sum of blood on its own hands than it may attribute to Islam.

Harry J. Bentham

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