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re: ethno-religious race baiting needs to stop

October 24, 2010

Today, I received this comment to my relatively recent post, ethno-religious race baiting needs to stop:

In respect to your last paragraph, I found this webpage this morning:

The owner of this site is an atheist, btw.

To be honest, I have mixed ideas about this. On the one hand, religion is, among other things, a creative expression of our search for happiness, meaning and truth in a seemingly infinite universe. Religion can be a beautiful thing that brings communities together, as well as bring individuals closer to a happiness that transcends much of the suffering and unsatisfactoriness seemingly inherent in this fragile thing we call life.

I’ve heard people express their desire to “kill religion” (e.g., Dawkins et al.), and I can understand some of their reasoning for making such statements, especially when you have people using religion to justify suicide bombing and discrimination against gays, women, etc., but I also can’t help but think that doing so would come at a great cost to humanity in that we’d be losing an important part of what makes us human.

On the other hand, religion is, admittedly, being used to justify and even instigate violence and oppression, and that’s a real problem. Nevertheless, I think that when we dig a little bit deeper, it becomes apparent that there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. For one thing, it’s not just the religions themselves that need to be scrutinized, but also the cultures that are influenced by these religious traditions and in which these religions traditions initially took shape.

I think it’s fair to say that certain people and cultures are more intolerant and prone to using religious teachings to justify violence, but I’m not sure it’s fair to single out a specific religion, such as Islam, for example, because, they way I see it, it’s not religion that makes people dangerous so much as it’s people who make religion dangerous. And the same can be said about almost anything, especially political ideologies. (It was democracy that killed Socrates, after all.)

Regardless of what certain Muslims have done, I think my point still stands that what people term ‘religious intolerance and violence’ more often than not has to do with cultural attitudes and influences than the religions themselves. I’m originally from Michigan, which has the largest proportion of Arab Americans in the country, and I’ve never seen or even heard about anything remotely like this going on there, and I’d argue that this is mostly likely due to differences in this particular community’s culture than in their religious beliefs (which, of course, is predominately Muslim).

That’s not to say religious teachings don’t contribute to these attitudes in general (Lev 20:13 and the discrimination against gays immediately comes to mind), and I’m not saying that people and groups who follow Islam don’t ever resort to violence, but I do question the reason why people automatically single out the religious identity of Muslims who commit violent acts but rarely seem to do them same when it comes to non-Muslims. For example, there’s been a fairly large number of what I’d call ‘Christian’ terrorists throughout the world using their political and religious beliefs as a justification for violence in the past four decades (e.g., the IRA, the Orange Volunteers, the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Army of God, Timothy McVeigh, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, the National Liberation Front of Tripura, the 2002 Soweto bombings, Scott Roeder, Hutaree, etc.), yet nobody in the US really seems to be calling out Christianity because of it.

And despite the fact the Jesus never killed anyone, as the link provided above points out, his ‘heavenly father,’ if we believe the accounts in the Old Testament, is arguably responsible for a great number of deaths. It seems to me that to be consistent in their theology, Christians need to do one of two things: (1) accept the validity of the Old Testament and all the things that God supposedly did/said, which includes accepting that God ordered the deaths of every man, woman and child in Canaan (Deut 20:16-18), or (2) reject the Old Testament completely and stop including it as a part of their Bible. The way I see it, either God mellowed out a whole lot after the birth of his son, Jesus, or the God of the Old Testament is an entirely different deity from the God of the New Testament.

But I’m getting slightly off-point here. I’m not trying to write a polemic against Christianity, I’m simply suggesting that people, atheist or otherwise, shouldn’t be going around claiming that Islam is a more violent and less tolerant religion than Christianity when Christianity’s own history is, quite frankly, full of violence and intolerance as well (e.g., the various Crusades, which we against fellow Christians, Jews and Muslims; medieval pogroms against the Jews, etc.; and then there are things like Uganda’s anti-homosexual bill that was inspired in part by an American, evangelical conference, held a month before, whose theme was “the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda”).

This brings me to another point. I think that even beyond the cultural and religious roots of violence, there are other factors which should be taken into consideration as well. One question I think needs to be asked is whether one considers ethnic/political/territorial violence the same as religious violence if the people involved also have different religious views.

Much of the violence in Gaza and the West banks, for example, has to do with land/border disputes that’s also fueled by ethnic, political and religious antagonisms, yet many people only focus on the religious identity of one side. The same applies to Darfur, where I’d argue the violence is predominately ethnic in nature, i.e., the majority Arab/Muslim north is fighting with the majority the non-Arab (‘African’)/Muslim south.

Then there’s Somalia, which is in the mess it’s in due to a variety of factors, from the collapse of its government following a bloody civil war to foreign ships dumping nuclear waste and heavy metals off its coast and overfishing their coastal waters. The consequence of all these events has been Somalia fishermen turning to piracy to survive, and extremist militants who also happen to be Muslim exploiting Somalia’s power vacuum.

As for Afghanistan, which has taken centre stage in the ‘War on Terror,’ it has elements of all the above. Not only is it composed of a combination of competing ethic, religious and political groups, the country itself hasn’t had a relatively stable and viable government since the assassination of President Daoud by the PDPA. Prior to that, Afghanistan was in the process of developing its modern industries and education system, as well as reaching out to the outside world (e.g., joining the League of Nations, establishing ties with the USSR, UK, US, etc.).

And to make matters worse, besides seeing its fair share of violent coups and civil wars, Afghanistan has experienced a slew of foreign invasions by predominately white, non-Muslims, from the Brits, to the Russians, and now us. It’s no wonder that many average Afghans, who are often young, poor and illiterate, deludedly join the Taliban in an effort to defend their country and their faith. It should also be kept in mind that the US via the CIA supported the Mujahideen’s Islamic/nationalist resistance against the Soviets, going so far as to help arm and train Mujahideen resistance fighters.

Certainly we can say that much of above mentioned violence has religious roots and/or underpinnings, but I think that simply blaming Islam is not only misleading, it’s a serious mistake since doing so ignores many of the equally important and often overlooked causes for the continuing violence (e.g., ethnic tension, political instability, territorial disputes, etc.).

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that simply blaming everything on the Islamic religion, without acknowledging any of the other underlying factors contributing to the violence we’re currently seeing, is a gross oversimplification of the problem, and the push by the right to single out Muslims is little more than a new form of red-baiting a la Joseph McCarthy. All one has to do is look at the recent comments from Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, singling out Rep. Keith Ellison’s religious identity for that to be apparent:

He has a ZERO rating from the American Conservative Union. He is the only Muslim member of Congress. He supports the Counsel for American Islamic Relations, HAMAS and has helped Congress send millions of tax dollars to terrorists in Gaza.

Just replace the word ‘Muslim’ with ‘communist,’ and forget the fact that the claim by Phillips and Lynne Torgerson, Ellison’s opponent, that CAIR is linked to Hamas and Hezbollah is completely unsubstantiated, and you’ve got the 1950s all over again.


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