Friday, March 17, 2006
I have been letting thoughts about Islam, Judaism and Christianity roam about the back recesses of my mind. In particular, comparisons between these three religious philosophies have been plaguing me of late. As a Christian, a Roman Catholic to be precise, as well as a lifetime student of history, I am trying to come to grips with some paradoxes that I cannot reconcile. The completely inappropriate response (at least in Western eyes), to the fairly innocuous cartoons of Islam’s founder has given me pause to reflect on the response by different societies to perceived cultural ‘insensitivity’ and tolerance of religious diversity.
From a historical standpoint, I know that there have been periods in Christian history that should leave us less than proud. From a beginning as a new sect of Judaism, to the centuries when Christians were brutalized and demonized, Christianity ascended to the status of official religion of what would become the ‘Holy Roman Empire’. As the dominant religion, it was a short trip from being oppressed, to becoming the oppressor. Christianity became intolerant of other religions, particularly Judaism and Paganism. Institutionalized bigotry became accepted. With the rise of Islam in the 7th Century, this antipathy was extended to Moslems. However, because of the methods in which Islam was spread, primarily through conquest and forced conversion, there is arguably justification for this attitude. Later, during the Reformation, and the subsequent establishment of Protestant religions, hostility between the various Christian denominations became common, and is still with us today, although to a lesser extent.
What I find difficult to understand is the transition of the Christian and Jewish religions from intractable dogma to a more moderate stance of tolerance and understanding, while Islam seems to have taken the opposite course. All three religions are based on premises contained in the Old Testament, including the 5 Books of the Jewish Torah. Both Christianity and Judaism have kept the moral values contained in these tomes, but have disavowed the extremist positions on such items as adultery, diet, adherence to arcane rituals and restrictions, and many other areas of the Old Testament. No longer do Christians or Jews stone adulterers to death, imprison or execute ‘blasphemers’, or send people into exile for violating a dietary rule. In other words, the evolution of Western Society has allowed us to become more tolerant of both dissent and difference. Christianity and Judaism have espoused less violent methods of dealing with differences, and adopted the view that religion is both sacred, and personal.
Islam, on the other hand, appears to be regressing in its views. The rise of Wahabism within the Muslim world has led to a more extremist, less tolerant attitude towards non-Muslims. The use of the term “Infidel”, once rarely heard or understood by most Westerners, is now commonly understood as a point of reference to identify those of us who are now considered the enemies of Islam. What has made us a perceived enemy is not our attitudes toward Islam, nor our actions with regard to Islam. We have become the enemy simply because we are not Moslems. “Infidel”” is an all encompassing term used by the extremist Moslem. It includes all Christians and Jews, Buddhists, polytheists such as Hindus, and the Animist and Traditional theologies such as those found in Africa, Australia and America in their native populations. Quite a broad spectrum to direct animosity towards.
While broadening the scope of the worlds people they consider enemies, Islam has also taken a giant step backward with regard to its interpretation of how God wants sinners or transgressors treated. Islamic Law, as now practiced in a number of countries, includes stoning women for adultery, genital mutilation of female children, beheading for converting from Islam to another religion, imprisonment and torture for ‘disrespect’ toward Islam, and death by various means for blasphemy. While publicly calling itself the ‘Religion of Peace’, many Moslem clerics are telling their congregants in Mosques that Jews are the sons of pigs and apes; Christians, as the children of whores, are not worthy of any place in society; and Polytheists are heretics that must be exterminated. A quick comparison of two similar events, and the reactions to them, will illustrate the difference between Islam, and most other theologies.
How many remember during the early stages of the Palestinian Intafada, when a large number of terrorist Palestinian gunmen invaded the sanctuary of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem? These thugs took over one of the holiest shrines in all of Christendom. They even shot at Israeli soldiers from within the Church, since they had taken their weapons with them. While inside, they abused and intimidated the clerics trapped within, and deliberately despoiled and debased the religious symbols revered at this site. Defecating and urinating on relics; defacing icons, statues and other religious artifacts brought only laughter from these men. After a lengthy standoff, safe passage to other countries was arranged for the terrorists, and they finally abandoned their occupation of this shrine. The Israeli defense forces never attacked the church, nor shot at the terrorists while they were near the building. In other words, the Israelis respected the Christian shrine, which the Moslems defiled. As part of this respect, the Israelis allowed known murderers and terrorists safe passage, to insure the safety of the Church which most Christians consider the birthplace of the Christ, and well as those held hostage within.
During all of this, there was no outcry for vengeance against Moslems from any Christian sect, although all of Christianity was insulted, belittled and disrespected by these events. Indeed, the reaction of Christians was primarily one of patience, and cooperation with the authorities to achieve a peaceful resolution. Many of the Moslem criminals went to predominantly Christian countries as part of the agreements ending the siege. To my knowledge, there has been no retribution brought on them by any Christians.
As a counterpoint, the false report of a Koran being mistreated at the detainee facility at Guantanimo triggered worldwide Muslim protests, arson, rioting, and deaths. With this response as an example of the extremist reactions by many adherents of Islam, the cartoon response should not have come as a surprise. The murders, rioting, looting, arson and calls for the beheading of the Danish cartoonists and editors who published the drawings stand in stark contrast to the response by the West for the violations of the Church of the Nativity. Indeed, the publications by a Danish newspaper have resulted in the deaths of Christians in Nigeria, and the burning of their churches. Yet, by no stretch of the imagination, are Christian Nigerians connected in any way to the publications that have inspired the Moslem reactions.
In another study in contrast, the terrorists and their enablers in Iraq have repeatedly used mosques to store weapons, train killers, assemble bombs, recruit new members, and launch attacks against American and other coalition troops. Indeed, they often fire at our troops from inside the mosque itself. Yet, American commanders continue to honor the sanctity of the mosques, avoiding collateral damage to the edifice even if this puts their troops at risk. If a mosque is threatened by coalition forces, the clerics vow that any action against a holy place will bring massive retribution. Yet terrorists, who claim to be the true followers of Islam, continue to kill fellow Moslems by the score, even going so far as to destroy Mosques. But these offenses have yet to inspire any significant or sustained outcry from the Moslem world.
At last count, of the 18 main areas of armed conflict in the world, 15 of them involved Moslems. I have not read the Koran, and have no intention of doing so. The contents of the Koran are not relevant to any of the issues that face us today, and there is a simple reason I say this. If the Koran authorizes the beheading and brutal murder of defenseless people, enslavement of those deemed unworthy, genocide against those of another religion, forced conversion of people to Islam, the rape and murder of children, and all the other horrors that are even now being committed by these monsters, then Islam cannot claim to be the religion of peace. In fact, it cannot be called a religion, but rather a cult-like movement incapable of any rational tenets.
On the other hand, if these barbarous acts are being carried out by seemingly large numbers of Moslems in defiance of the teachings of the Koran, then the entire Moslem community shares responsibility for not stopping this insidious movement from spreading evil in the name of Islam. If they don’t vigorously and publicly take action against the beast within their faith, they have shown that they agree with the terrorists, their methods, and their goals. If that is the case, the Koran itself has become irrelevant, as the proponents of Islam are ignoring their own teachings.
I will be called intolerant for my thoughts. Many will say I am a bigot, a racist, or that I am Islamophobic. I can’t stop the name calling, and I won’t be drawn into debates with those who do not know history, and cannot see what is clearly happening. As my grandfather would say, I have been called worse names by better people. What I would say is where is a substantiated argument against what I have stated? And I am not referring to revisionist history, or what happened in the 12th century. I am talking about 2006, and what is occurring now. We cannot change the past (although some would rewrite it), but we do have control over the present, and can influence the future. So what say you, the sons and daughters of Islam? Are you an enabler of terrorists and their goals, or are you indeed part of the ‘Religion of Peace’? If the former, at least have the courage to say out loud what you mutter in the mosque. If the latter, where are the massive protests against the killers and the horrors they are bringing down on the innocent? Again, where do you stand?
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