Thursday, January 8, 2015

Blaming Religion

"Praying Monk"
- in my meditation garden-

The senseless murder of 12 journalists in Paris yesterday has once again sparked a storm of outrage in the Western world, specifically directed at Islamic extremists who attacked the French journalists for daring to satirize the prophet Muhammad.  The media is once again flooded with strident assertions that there is something about Islam in general that is inherently violent and intolerant to others who are different.

An Op-Ed piece by columnists Nicholas Kristoff in today's New York Times offered a very thoughtful and balanced response to those claims about Islam as an essentially violent and intolerant religion, suggesting that there are fundamentalist extremists in each and every one of the world's major religions and that the extremists are most often very far from the core beliefs and teachings of what any given religion professes:

The great divide is not between faiths.
Rather it is between terrorists and moderates, 
between those who are tolerant and those who 'otherize.'

Yes, of course the name of Allah was invoked yesterday as the terrorists killed those journalists, just as the name of God was invoked when Islamic extremists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. But as I see it, these were acts of anti-Western terrorism more than acts of religion. 

I read a "tweet" yesterday claiming that what happened in France is one more example that somehow people in the Middle East are more prone to violence than "other" cultures. But all we have to do is look at what has gone on in this country and in Western societies for the past few years - shootings, racial violence, child abuse, and statements like that become ludicrous. 

Back in 2012 when Adam Lanza brutally murdered 20 innocent children and 6 teachers by shooting them to death in their Sandy Hook classrooms, no one blamed religion for causing this to happen, no one said he did this because he was a Catholic, no one ever speculated that somehow the Vatican had a role in what was done. And, other than gun control protests,  I heard very few Americans say that those horrific Connecticut school shootings happened because Americans are more prone to violence than other cultures or other societies.

Actually the majority of religious people in most societies fall into the "moderate" category when it  comes to practicing their faith, and rather than provoking violence most of the time it's the "peace-loving" religious people who are the healers and reconcilers. 

In the Middle East most of the people who are standing up to Muslim fanatics are the seriously devout Muslims. They get up every day, read the Quran, say their prayers and do their best to live a life of compassion. I know the stories of many Christians in places like Iraq who were persecuted by terrorist groups like ISIS who claimed that, were it not for the help of their Muslim neighbors, they would have certainly been killed. I personally know many faithful Muslims who are sickened by what happened yesterday in France and stand in bold opposition to it. 

So yes, it was a great tragedy and an outrage that those journalists were brutally "gunned down" yesterday. They may have been murdered in the name of religion but they were actually murdered in the name of politics, and the two are not the same. 

My hope is that, in the wake of yesterday's terrorism, a new wave of senseless anti-Islam backlash will not creep back up into the social fabric of our everyday life. 

It's time to stop blaming religion.  


  1. Worth reading in this light:

    Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence
    Karen Armstrong

  2. Great book suggestion.