Recently, someone who had visited The American Muslim site sent me an e-mail with links to a couple of articles and asking me to explain why all the violence in the world involved Muslims.
The first article “The Difference Between Christianity and Islam” e-mailed to me by the reader made the “point” that: Christianity has evolved and civilized to where violence is not the norm but a very obscure abnormality; whereas violence for Muslims is a daily occurrence, and a sought after means to their ends.
The other article said that: ” ¦ the way of God, the One true God, Whom Islam tries to use to lay claim to its legitimacy, is wholly different than that of Muhammad and Allah. The way of the God of Israel, as most pointedly exemplified by His incarnation and appearing as the Lord Jesus Christ, is about laying down the life for others, not about taking others’ lives for oneself in the name of an imaginary and bloodthirsty god. Jesus Christ demonstrably did not come to set up an earthly Kingdom by material conquest. He told His followers that His Kingdom was not of this world. He instructed them not to fight back with the sword when threatened for their faith, much less did He lead them to go out and subjugate mankind with carnal weapons of coercion, be they political, economic, psychological, and least of all, military. He laid down His life, even unto death by crucifixion, and showed everyone that the Kingdom of God is not about the things of this world. It is not about the things that Muhammad and Muslims scheme over, fight over, and even dream of and promise to the ignorant and susceptible as their reward in Heaven if they will sacrifice their bodies while murdering and destroying. What a diabolical religion!”
I could chalk these articles up as the ramblings of a few nut cases. I could assume the fallacy and hypocrisy in these statements was obvious to all Americans–but it is obviously not. Here are a few statements from important figures in the U.S. government and military, for example:
“Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for Him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you.” said John Ashcroft, former Attorney General of the United States.
Maj. Gen. William Boykin declared that he was “God’s Warrior” and that “America is a Christian nation.” He demeaned the entire Muslim world by stating that his God was bigger than a Muslim warlord’s god and that the Muslim’s god “was an idol.” And, he said all of this in uniform.
Let’s look at the premise that “violence is not the norm” in Christianity. How to measure something like this is tricky, but this was certainly not true throughout large portions of history.
Whether it is true today is arguable. One look at our cities, our schools, or even our homes, and violence by Christians, and every other group, is apparent. Since 9/11, there has been a rise in hate crimes against minority groups, and the aggressors often identify themselves and their motives as being Christian.
Looking at the bigger picture, what country is the primary supplier of weapons to the rest of the world? Hint: it is not a Muslim country. What country has the highest military expenditures per capita of any country on earth? See previous hint. Which country has proposed bombing other countries into the Stone Age? The answer to all three is the United States, which no one would identify as a Muslim country.
Those who developed and dropped the atom bomb were a multicultural group–but none were Muslim. Looking outside the U.S., where have arguable violent and repressive systems like fascism, communism and Nazism been produced? Not in Muslim countries. Was it Muslims who carried out the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides? Are the Italian and Russian mafias Muslim?
Are the South American drug cartels Muslims? Who talks about sanctions, pre-emptive strikes, invasions? Who allows the torture of Muslims in various secret and not-so-secret prisons? What religion was Timothy McVeigh? The IRA?
So, the idea that ALL violence or terrorism is Muslim is laughable. All these examples show, as would a simple glance at any collection of court documents, that there is an unfortunately common occurrence of violence today, and it does not all involve Muslims (not even close). By population, violence is an aberration found in EVERY group.
In the first half of this decade, from 1990 to 1995, 70 international states were involved in 93 wars which killed five and a half million people. Most of the casualties were civilians, noncombatants.
At the beginning of the 20th century, most of the war casualties were military (85-90 percent). In World War II more than half of all war deaths were noncombatants. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, more than three-fourths of all war deaths are civilians. Were any Christians involved in these wars? Of course.
Jesus may have asked his followers to lay down their lives for others and to concern themselves with the heavenly kingdom and not to fight with the sword–but the reality of the last 2,000 years has not been typified by such actual behavior except in the case of small groups like the Amish and the Quakers.
More typical have been clergy like Charles Stanley, “pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, whose weekly sermons are seen by millions of television viewers, led the charge with particular fervor.
“We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible,” said Mr. Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. “God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers.”
In an article carried by the convention’s Baptist Press news service, a missionary wrote that “American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Stanley was not alone as a number of other clergymen and their flocks supported the war in Iraq. “As if working from a slate of evangelical talking points, both Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the editor of the conservative World magazine and a former advisor to President Bush on faith-based policy, echoed these sentiments, claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims.
Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the hugely popular “Left Behind” series, spoke of Iraq as “a focal point of end-time events,” whose special role in the earth’s final days will become clear after invasion, conquest and reconstruction. For his part, Jerry Falwell boasted that “God is pro-war” in the title of an essay he wrote in 2004.
The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president’s decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war.
But what surprised me, looking at these sermons three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasion with Christian “just war” theory, but such efforts could never quite reckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a last resort. As a result, many ministers dismissed the theory as no longer relevant.
In an article entitled “Praise Bush and the Iraq war,” Chris Stephen pointed out: “Cornerstone Church, a vast squat white temple in San Antonio, is rapidly becoming the movement’s epicentre, thanks to the charismatic founder, Pastor John Hagee, the rising star of America’s TV evangelists. For these evangelists, the war in Iraq is not a disaster, but the beginning of the fulfillment of biblical prophecies that culminate, possibly very soon, in a mighty struggle between good and evil at Armageddon ¦.
“Listen up, president of Iran,” booms the pastor. “We are going to be your worst nightmare, Mr Ahmadinejad. The pharaoh threatened Israel, he ended up fish-food in the sea. When you say Israel is going to disappear in a sudden storm you may be predicting the way you disappear.”
Other articles have pointed to the same sentiments being common among certain segments of the Christian population of the U.S. Jim Lobe wrote an entire article on the subject: “Conservative Christians Biggest Backers of Iraq War.”
Sounds a tad bit violent to me. And, even those who declaim the violence are not averse to benefiting from it. Max Blumenthal in “Onward Christian Soldiers” comes to the conclusion that: “Conservative fundamentalists with close ties to President Bush are planning a new missionary push in Iraq ”and they might already be converting U.S. troops to their cause.”
Is basing a missionary campaign in the ashes of violent endeavors a form of “subjugation” or a “carnal weapon of coercion” like that which the second article ascribed to Islam?
This “positive” missionary aspect has been widely discussed. For example: “Christian Missionaries Battle For Hearts and Minds in Iraq,” “Bible Belt missionaries set out on a ‘war for souls’ in Iraq,” “Why Iraq Beckons Missionaries,” “God and Country,” “War in Babylon has evangelicals seeing Earth’s final days.”
This response is to the concept that violence is somehow unique–or even more common to–Islam than to other religious groups. It is currently common to EVERYONE. Addressing the moral and ethical arguments that revolve around the concept of “justified violence” is a separate matter altogether. If your response to this article is that some violence is justified, you have missed the point.
However, in this author’s opinion, the message of Jesus Christ was correct. Violence is not the answer. Indeed, if people of faith (every faith I can think of) were to follow the actual teachings of their scriptures (not some crazed pastors’ or imams’ distorted agenda), then the current violence would end. No legitimate representatives of any faith can both follow the teachings of their faith and preach violence.
Sheila Musaji is founding editor of The American Muslim. This column is reprinted with permission.