Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Killing for Cross and Crescent

Somehow or other (the vagaries of hypertext, I guess), I recently stumbled across a conservative blog, the purpose of which appeared to be to deny the reality of global warming and to slander Islam. Since I've said enough about the former topic, I thought I'd comment here on the latter.

Now, on one point I agreed with the blogger: anyone who says that Islam is a religion of peace is being, at best, disingenuous. From what I've read of the Koran, it's roughly equal parts touchy-feely, love-thy-neighbor stuff and scimitar-rattling, slay-the-infidels stuff. Pretty much like the Christian Bible, in fact. And to say it's a peaceful religion in some generic sense is to overlook the fact that religion exists not merely in the abstract but in the lived practice--in what followers of a particular religion say and do. Thus, if individuals commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, it's nonsense to say that Islam itself is peaceful.

Where I disagreed with the blogger was in his suggestion that Islam is inherently more violent than Christianity. Jesus says a lot about love, but that didn't stop the Crusades, the Holocaust, the American slavery system, the Ku Klux Klan, assorted far-right hate groups, Jim Jones, the members of Heaven's Gate, and multifarious religiously-inspired mass murderers from committing unspeakable acts of violence against others and themselves.

Islam, being a somewhat younger religion than Christianity, may be a bit behind in acting out its most intense slay-the-infidels phase, but the reality is, all crusading, proselytizing religions generate a certain number of followers who are prone to violence. The Aztecs, the Romans, the Christians, the Muslims: all of them have had their world-conquering, infidel-slaying wings.

This is probably why Buddhists and Jews have a somewhat more clean track record: not aiming to conquer or convert anyone, they have less motivation to kill anyone.

So: let's call it what it is. Let's not go around saying that Islam is peaceful and that those who commit acts of violence in its name therefore aren't "really" Muslims, but let's not afford Christianity or any religion the same excuse. Let's critique religious violence as religious violence, violence justified by (though neither synonymous with nor necessary to) the religion practiced by the person who commits the violence. Let's accept it as something we ourselves have created, not some dark, monstrous aberration over which we have no control. Only in this way, I believe, can we understand and seek to eradicate it.

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