Clearly there is a wave of mind-numbing violence occurring that must be stopped. But how do we stop something so outlandish that we really do not even understand? Yet we must try to understand, however difficult. Because even as we realize that violence must be met with violence in the short term, long-term resolution must come from responding to the thinking and ideas permeating the minds of these violent offenders.
The first understanding must be about who these terrorists are, and as importantly, who they are not. Many news media descriptions say that: these are the acts of Islamist radicals; Islam is the root cause of this violence; followers of Islam (Muslims) are by nature violent and opposed to all others; Muslims are inherently different from “us” (i.e. western non-Muslims). That is simply wrong. By using such a broad stroke of prejudice and stereotyping, we lose the ability to separate the good guys from the truly bad guys. We need to differentiate between genuine Islam and the bad people inappropriately distorting true Islamic beliefs.
Some background. Islam (“surrender unto God”) is based upon the worship of a single god called “Allah.” It is not a different heathen god; it is the Arabic language word for the same “God” that Jews and Christians worship. It is the God of the biblical patriarch Abraham, from whom Arabs were descended through his second son Ishmael. The prophet Muhammad began to establish the religion of Islam in Arabia in the early 600s based upon the words of God as recorded in the Qur’an, Islam’s most holy book. It is in the Qur’an that we must look to find the true nature of Islam, not the blogosphere.
We are led to believe that Islam hates Jews and Christians, and are in a perpetual war against those faiths. In the Qur’an, nothing could be further from the truth. Muhammad was an admirer of Judaism, and in some respects Islam was modeled after Judaism. Much of the Qur’an focuses on the stories from the Jewish Torah/biblical Old Testament, and the lessons to be learned from Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Noah. The Qur’an’s is very specific that other non-Islam religions are to be respected and protected: e.g. “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith … there is no compulsion in religion.” Like many today, Muhammad did not believe that Jesus was God in human form, but he did believe that Jesus was one of God’s true angels and was to be so honored. The only issues Muhammad spoke out against were: 1) those who failed to observe their Jewish/Christian beliefs and led hypocritical lives; and 2) claims by Christians that their religion is the one and only path to God, all others being wrong. (Both are objections we should share today.) The Qur’an requires that those of other religions who follow their faith honestly and devotedly be honored and left unharmed, expecting that they reciprocate that honor to Muslims.
Another misconception in the West is that Islam is a “warring” religion, committed to violence. Yes, there are passages in the Qur’an calling for Muslims to “defend the faith.” But these come from Islam’s founding history of being attacked and persecuted by the Arab establishment who felt threatened by, and were opposed to, this new religion that espoused belief in one god, living a simple life, fair treatment for all, and living responsibly within community. Islam was literally baptized in a violent birth, requiring fighters to come to its defense. And after this religious war was won, no conversion to Islam was required of its opponents. (“Go back to your homes; you are all free.”) It was a defensive war in which cruelty was prohibited; the defeated who sought peace were to be harmed no further; war against any “fellow believers” was prohibited; “offensive” wars were rejected. Certainly harming defenseless innocents – women, children, non-combatants – is a great sin.
Space in this blog does not allow for more examples of our misconceptions. But even these three examples do not jell with the actions and images that are pouring through our televisions and displayed on our web pages. The disconnect is that these violent perpetrators are not true Muslims acting from the religious basis of Islam. Which is why true Muslims do not condone or share in these aberrations of their faith. This violence is the work of the few, not the beliefs of the many.
This violence is in fact a secular war, reflecting a litany of perceived grievances – cultural disrespect, secular conflicts, lack of economic opportunity, homeland issues, foreign interference, etc. – that are falsely cloaked under a religious mantle. That mantle is manipulated to give nobility to this secular fight in order to attract many despondent and suffering people looking for greater purpose in their life. Whatever religious benefit Islam might give to them has been contorted in the morass of that desperation. In the end, this is a violent war led by people seeking personal power – just as such wars have been fought through the millennia.
In 2005-2007, I had the great opportunity for business travel to Lebanon. These trips allowed me to talk directly with many diverse and wonderful people of that country during times of significant political upheavals. In one such conversation, I was able to speak at length with a Muslim college professor about his religion and the Middle East environment in the context of the 9-11 attacks. He said to me quite emphatically: “These people were not Muslims. They did not act out of Islam. They are simply thugs.” Succinctly said. A decade later, the brother of a recently slain Paris policeman said, “My brother was Muslim, and he was killed by people who pretend to be Muslims. They are terrorists, that’s it.”
If we are ultimately to “win” this war and reclaim our sense of safety, then we need to see these terrorists for who they truly are, and quit labeling them what they are not. They are not Muslims, any more than Timothy McVeigh was “Catholic,” or the Ku Klux Klan is “Protestant Christian,” or the German military in WWII was “Lutheran.” Terrorists do not act out of religious faith; their actions in fact deny their faith. They act out of a momentary fantasy of power in a life consumed by powerlessness. Powerlessness always seeks a cause, preferably one wrapped up in a seemingly unarguable religious justification. What we are witnessing is not a holy war of Islam against Jews and Christians. Powerlessness is our true enemy. It is an enemy within and without. Given that we cannot shoot powerlessness, what is our alternate strategy?
If we truly want to know what Islam and Muslims are about, stop listening to the media commentators. Read the Qur’an for ourselves. I have. Three times. (Or perhaps read my book “Lessons From The Teacher Muhammad” about some of the significant teachings from the Qur’an.) Or talk to a religious leader in a nearby mosque. Or talk to everyday Muslim citizens quietly going about their daily business, aspiring to the American Dream by trying to make a better life for their families. Then grapple with the fact that it was Western Europe in 1095-1291 that first started religious war against the Muslim community (the Crusades) “to defend the [Christian] faith.” An aggressive war over religious differences. The West lost that war.
At the very least, we need to recognize that by blaming all Muslims for being anti-Jewish/anti-Christian terrorists, we play directly into the hands of terrorist recruiters by confirming their sales pitch that “everyone is against us.” And it keeps us trapped in yet another cycle of prejudice and intolerance that have plagued American for centuries. So even if we still believe it, we need to stop saying it! We need to deny the terrorists the false cloak of religious respectability and the fantasy of being self-righteous religious avengers. They are simply thugs, criminals, cowards, gangsters. Let us just call them what they are, and deal with them accordingly. If we are ever to stop this terrorist threat, we need to stop fighting religion and start fighting cultural powerlessness.
© 2015 Randy Bell www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com