Should we fear Islam as much as Islam needs to fear us?
One of the difficulties for non Islamic people trying to work out the motivations and actions of Muslims is that on their TVs and in their newspapers they see regular and spectacular examples of violence initiated by those they consider to be Islamic terrorists and since such forms of extreme behaviour are designed to be very visible, Islam then becomes a synonym for what is seen as irrational violence. When innocent people are killed as they often are in a terrorist attack, relatives and friends and indeed whole communities respond with outrage. . This type of situation naturally reinforces the notion that those responsible are reprehensible if not evil in intentions. Most Muslims (and most Christians) do not take part or sanction violence. For example here in New Zealand there are many Muslims living –but as yet no terrorist incidents. Unfortunately for the vast majority of Muslim people who are in fact very moderate in their views and behaviour, moderate behaviour is hardly newsworthy. Because the good behaviour is not noticed, many will judge Muslims on the basis of the extremist attacks.
Perhaps it would do us well to remember how we too are misinterpreted. It is forgotten that the same frustrated outrage that we feel upon hearing civilians are killed by terrorism is also felt in some distant community when innocent civilians are mistakenly killed by soldiers at war on our behalf. The 107 000 plus official civilian deaths in Iraq reported by the Body Count project of official deaths in October 2010 is clearly an extreme underestimate of the total – but it still trumps the under 3000 civilian deaths in the Twin Towers.
Yes it is true that there have been literally thousands of Islamic terrorist attacks since 9/11 … and thousands of innocent victims. What is also true is that thousands of innocent Islamic civilians have also been killed by those at war on our behalf. A flying shard in the eye causes great anguish whether it be from a suicide bomb or from a fragment from a grenade flung during friendly fire. Whether or not a child is killed by a terrorist act or killed by so called friendly fire, the antagonism towards the killers is the same, and the same resentment held towards those who have ordered the action. This creates a cycle of violence. One of the more obvious theatres where such sequences are played out is Israel. Militant Palestinians based in nearby border territory such as Gaza, frustrated by what they see as injustice curtailing their freedom and denying them access to land they believe is theirs by right, launch random attacks with the intention of causing the Israelis to grant concessions. The Israelis outraged by what they see as irrational attacks on civilians, launch severe military counter offensives against the areas from where those who launch the rocket attacks are based. Since these areas are usually also civilian areas, civilians die causing more outrage and setting the scene for further attacks.
If by dangerous, we think about numbers killed rather than on chosen mode of killing, we would have to admit the Muslims are in more danger from Christians and Jews than are the Jews and Christians from the Muslims. The Israelis count the number of rockets landing on their populations and feel great anger. The Palestinians count their dead and are unconvinced that the Israelis were justified in their reprisals since at the end of each year there are many more Palestinian casualties than Israeli casualties. The Iraqi citizens count their dead and are unconvinced it is morally justified on the grounds that it was legal military action under difficult circumstances. It does not seem to occur to either side they are conveying a message of hatred to civilians – no matter what the true intentions might be.
It is often said by Christians that the real problem is that there are writings in the Koran which call for violence.
It is probably fairer to say there are also passages in the Bible advocating violence as a last resort towards non believers that match the passages in the Koran advocating violence as a last resort. In practice however, as with the Bible, with thousands of verses to choose from to guide behaviour, violence is not part of a way of life either for most Muslims or for most Christians. Yes there is a verse in the Qur’an (Koran) calling for death for those Muslims who convert to other faiths, yet although there are no doubt places where this still happens, none of the converts to Christianity I have met appear to be in fear for their lives. Concerns for issues of charity and kindness are more important in the eyes of most. For those concerned primarily about the Islamic extremists honesty should compel us to remember too there are the very visible crazies amongst the fundamentalist Christians as well. There are also surveys showing the so called hawks in the US are typically drawn from conservative or fundamentalist Christian groups. Just as with Christianity, in Islam there are different emphases within different sub groups. We note in passing that the Qur’an (known better in the west as the Koran) commands Muslims not to be divided into divisions or sections but rather be united under a faith in Allah (cf Qur’an 3: 103 But differences there are and those differences extend to making Islamic followers different both in customs and attitudes. For example the Sufi usually appear to Westerners to be peaceful and mystical. The Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia with their insistence on the importance of Sharia law, come across as a much more hardline group within the Sunni grouping while the Shi’ites appear to the untutored Western eye to be more hierarchical with a totally different political structure. Between such groups despite their rhetoric there are disagreements, and in practice long running disputes between the major groups cause what Westerners might see as terrorist acts, with militants from rival sects occasionally attacking each others mosques and religious festivals. A memory of religious disputes between rival Christian groups through the centuries should suggest to Western observers that such disputes are not unique to Islam.
There are probably also national differences. For example the recent Pew survey of attitudes in Pakistan revealed a much greater acceptance of honour killings than would be the case in a more liberal Muslim country like Turkey. Again the actual physical fears need to be kept in perspective. For example in Saudi Arabia there is a very low crime rate and virtually no murders each year whereas in the US despite all the freedoms the crime rate is high and the gun crime rate one of the highest in the world. Your chances of getting killed in the claimed Christian nation of the US are greater than in most Muslim countries.
Look again at the proposition that Islamists have more to fear from Christians than Christians from Islamists and have your say.