Religious violence is all too real

TAUSEEF MUSTAFA AFP/GETTY IMAGES Kashmiri Muslims shout slogans during a demonstration against the controversial film “Innocence of Muslims” in Srinagar … Continued

TAUSEEF MUSTAFA

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Kashmiri Muslims shout slogans during a demonstration against the controversial film “Innocence of Muslims” in Srinagar on Sept. 13, 2012.

It’s hard to think about the Sept. 11 attacks without thinking about the place of religious violence in the world today. But whatever concerns I had Tuesday, were tragically magnified by the murder of J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three of his staff, in Benghazi, Libya.

Even if they had not been murdered though, the question of religious violence would have been on my mind as Sept. 11 approached and was observed.

How could it not be, when the single worst terrorist attack on American soil was done in the name of God? And, as I was reminded in the last few days, I was not the only one thinking about religious violence.

In the run up to the 11th anniversary of the attack and mass murder, my e-mail, Facebook page and Twitter feed were abuzz with competing messages all about religious violence, Unfortunately, the only think they all shared was how deeply problematic they all were.


View Photo Gallery: U.S. diplomatic compounds came under attack Tuesday in Egypt and Libya, where State Department employees were killed.

What I found then, and see unfolding today in the wake of the attack in Libya, is a verbal war between those who think that religion, or Islam in particular, is the problem, and those who insist that there is no problem of violence in Islam or religion in general. Essentially, we have reductionist haters lining up against dangerous apologists. Aside from each being wrong, the only thing they share is their need of each other to fuel their respective approaches – approaches which leave us all in greater danger and some of us as their actual victims.

The haters thrive on any bad act perpetrated in the name of whatever tradition they hate, conflating what some people do in the name of that tradition, with the totality of the tradition’s followers or what the tradition is all about. Not only is that inaccurate, it’s a deeply cynical use of other people’s suffering.

As much as those who hate Islam, or see religion as inherently foolish at best and dangerous at worst, decry events from Sept. 11 to the murders in Benghazi, they use them as pretext for what they already believed before the events occurred.

Those who insist that none of this has anything to do with either religion in general, or Islam in particular, are almost as bad. They refuse to accept that when people claim a faith and act in accordance with their best understanding of that faith, their acts are, for better or worse, a part of the faith and the violence they do is in fact, religious violence. The argument that one must separate issues of so-called culture from “the true faith” – common among the apologists found in every tradition — are simply ways to claim one’s own understanding of the faith while pushing away all of those with whom one disagrees, thus avoiding responsibility for how the tradition they both love is being used.

And although it should be clear, problems, including the problem of religious violence, don’t get solved by avoiding responsibility. Problems get solved when as many people as possible assume responsibility – especially those where the problems occur most.

Ultimately, though, this about cultivating a human capacity which we need not only to better address the problem of religious violence, but one we need simply to sustain healthier human relations with anybody or any tradition. This is about learning that we can love both people and traditions not because they are perfect, but because they are perfect for us. We need not pretend away the problems, nor deny the challenges in order to preserve the relationship. In fact, we do that only when the relationship is weak to begin with.

This is about offering critique, when needed; not denigrating whole traditions or entire populations as the basis for doing so. In fact, no tradition could survive a test which equated its worst moments or actors with the entire tradition or all those who follow it. If one doesn’t know that, one doesn’t know history, and now is the time to know enough history that we can create a safer present, not to mention a better future.

Related stories from On Faith:

Religion as pretext or cause in attacks

Chat transcript: Is religious violence real?

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • Rongoklunk

    . We are just as bad and just as irrational as Muslims are. We fought each other over who had the one true God for hundreds of years. And by now most of us in the west should be beyond supernatural thinking. After all we had an Enlightenment. But we are no better, no wiser than Muslims who missed out on one. What a tragedy. Voltaire would be totally disgusted that we still believe in fairies.

  • PhilyJimi

    We’re just humans. When we hear something go bump in the night, we ask “who is there”? Not “I wonder what made that noise?”. When something good or bad happens, we ask why? And we can come up with some strange answers.

    Like a self impregnating god who becomes a zombie to atone for the fruit eating crimes of a rib woman who talks to snakes. If you can believe that there isn’t much else you can’t believe.

  • SimonTemplar

    The Obama Administration is being asked to take action against the person who made the inflammatory movie which allegedly started the violence. I just saw on PBS that law enforcement is looking into the makers of the movie. If you (Phily) made a movie about Christ based on your statements, do you believe law enforcement or the Obama Administration would have the right to put pressure on you? Or does statements like yours fall under the protection of the First Amendment to the US Constitution?

    The Jesus Seminar is making a movie claiming that Mary was raped and Jesus was the product of that rape. Does that movie qualify for First Amendment protection?

    Which speech is protected and which gets to be policed by the rest of the world?

  • SimonTemplar

    Sorry, I meant to add the above comment in reply to a post below.

  • aby

    aby wrote:

    10:21 PM CDT

    I could not fathom what it is about the fourteen minutes video that seems to upset the Muslims. All the scenes depicting the actions of the Muslim prophet are documented in the Muslim Holy book, the Quran, and in the authentic Sirat , or history of the life of the prophet, as narrated by his companions and his wives.The Muslim accepted life story of Mohammad are relayed by the Muslim historians Bukhari and Muslim. It is true that the video lacks a lot in technical knowhow, but I do not think that was the source of all that anger.

  • aby

    aby wrote:

    10:21 PM CDT

    I could not fathom what it is about the fourteen minutes video that seems to upset the Muslims. All the scenes depicting the actions of the Muslim prophet are documented in the Muslim Holy book, the Quran, and in the authentic Sirat , or history of the life of the prophet, as narrated by his companions and his wives.The Muslim accepted life story of Mohammad are relayed by the Muslim historians Bukhari and Muslim. It is true that the video lacks a lot in technical knowhow, but I do not think that was the source of all that anger.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Christians living in the West certainly have a point when they argue that their faith never pushes them to the lengths of abject barbarism that we observe in the Muslim world on a daily basis, anyone who argues otherwise is either a Muslim apologist or an imbecile. What Christians invariably fail to realize, however, is that when they look at modern Islam they are simply gazing at the medieval version of themselves. The difference? Christianity has been domesticated by some 600 years of hard-earned secular progress that began with the European Renaissance.

    The balance was not always this way. When Europe suffered for centuries under Christian hegemony, the Muslim world was the torchbearer of civil society. Look no further than Spain, which was spared the crippling backwardness of the Dark Ages because it was ruled by Muslims, who were the cultural and intellectual superiors of Christians for centuries.

    The problem with explaining any of this to a religious apologist is that they are simply unwilling to consider evidence that inconveniences their position. Christians believe that the Christian system is perfect in every sense of the world, therefore they cannot for a moment entertain the notion that the current positions of Islam and Christianity were once reversed.

    When you commit the small act of suicide that is sinking your individuality into a religious dogma, you also commit yourself to an encyclopedic ignorance of the history of religion. There are innumerable ‘dead gods.’ Religions rise and fall over time, and in each case the constituents are so hopelessly solipsistic that they never realize they are simply another thread in the great tapestry of self-delusion.

  • CherieOK

    Simon: Yes, makers of a movie are entitled to their First Amendment rights.

    But with all the conflicting information about this film and the filmmakers–including the possibility of fake identities and of one person violating parole–law enforcement officers are certainly right to look into these filmmakers, who they are, and whether they violated any laws in getting money and making this movie.

  • S8thRd

    Is there a problem of “religious violence” in the world, or is there a problem of Muslim violence? Yes, there is such a thing as Hindu, Christian, Jewish, etc. violence, but it is exceedingly rare and is usually perpetuated by tiny fringe groups. Almost all the religious violence in the world today — and, indeed, the vast bulk of the violence/instability/civil war etc in the world today, of any sort — is Muslim in origin. This doesn’t mean that Muslims are all bad, but it does mean that we obscure the real problem and make it tougher to solve when we speak of some phatom generic “religious violence.”

  • DRJJJ

    Correction, muslim violence is all to real!

  • DRJJJ

    Introspection can be painful!

  • TheRTN

    Religious violence isn’t the problem. Violence is the problem. It doesn’t matter if you are using violence (or threat of it) to force people to worship your God (see Middle East), or join your commune (see China), or be part of your welfare state (see liberal America). We will not have peace until everybody agrees to stop using coercion on others for any reason.

  • TheRTN

    The difference though is that Christianity was founded as a peaceful religion and was then corrupted when it was adopted by the Roman empire. The 600 years of reformation was the attempt to restore it to its peaceful roots. Islam started out as a violent movement. It’s founder was a warrior, where Jesus never was. There are no peaceful roots for it to return to. If Islam is to become peaceful, it will have to denounce its founder, which is much harder to do.

  • ThomasBaum

    CherieOK

    Do you really think that the “motivations” behind what law enforcement is doing is really what you present?

  • ThomasBaum

    DRJJJ

    You wrote, “Introspection can be painful!”

    Yes it can and so can pulling one’s head out of the sand.

  • ThomasBaum

    too

    definition 5. extremely; very: She wasn’t too pleased with his behavior.

  • ThomasBaum

    TheRTN

    You wrote, “We will not have peace until everybody agrees to stop using coercion on others for any reason.”

    I guess you do realize that we will never have peace, if this is how peace is to come about, seeing as some, quite many really, people seem to live to coerce others even to the point where they think that they are doing it for the other’s good.

    Someone even once said that the worst form of tyranny was when one did it for the other’s good.

  • Rongoklunk

    Religion is the problem. It used violence from the start, followed be 500 years of crusades against heretics and Islam and Jews. The Enlightenment moved religion to the sidelines, but here’s what the writer and observer Doris Lessing wrote;

    “We forget – and the young people don’t know since they don’t read history – that we are heirs of two thousand years, more or less, of a most tyrannical regime, beside which Hitler and Stalin are babes. Not that modern tyrants have not learned from the churches, some consciously. About the time of the First World war, the churches lost their teeth and ceased to become the major influence on our Western societies. Now they are amiable, often oriented towards work that is indistinguishable from social and charitable work, infinitely divided, and while some of sects are totalitarian. it is not possible for the church – as was the case till only yesterday, historically speaking – to dominate a whole society as the sole arbiter of conduct and thought. But for two thousand years Europe was under a tyrant – The Christian Church – which allowed no other way of thinking, cut off all influences from outside, did not hesitate to kill, extirpate, persecute, burn and torture in the name of God
    To remember this history is not for the sake of keeping alive the memories of old tyrannies, but to recognize present tyranny, for these patterns are in us still. It would be strange if they were not.”

    From “Prisons We Choose To Live Inside” p30, by Doris Lessing.

  • cs9243

    “Religious violence” The term is oxymoron, a true religion is not supposed to cause any violence. Unfortunately most of the violence we witness today is due to religions, even in the 21 century. Religion has no purpose in the 21 century.. Established religions have not evolved or caught up with the time we are living in causing all misery and turmoil. If religions cannot promote compassion and non violence what good are they? We are all fanatics who cling on to all these outdated religions. It is possible to practise all the virtues of these religions like non violence, compassion and forgiveness ,without being attached to any one of these religions. I hope that day will come soon.

  • Kingofkings1

    Religious violence and oppression of the “other” is a daily factor in Israel. I wonder if the rabbi is aware of this fact?

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