by Reid Fitzsimons
The neighbor up the road, a guy also born in 1958, stopped by while walking his dog the other week. We stood outside for quite a while discussing things big and small, personal and global. When the subject became ISIS, the San Bernardino shootings, etc he related a disquieting anecdote from the late 1970s. He was working at a gas station and engaged a customer in conversation, this being a time when intelligent young people were curious about the world and didn’t just accept the ramblings of their sociology professor as incontrovertible truth. Our neighbor recounted saying something such as humans cause so much conflict and war, shouldn’t religion serve as a way to counteract violent instincts. This customer turned out to be a Muslim of South-Eastern European origin, I think he said Albanian, and agreed that religion should be a means to achieve peace. He then added, in a conversational tone, once all non-believers were eradicated and only Muslims populated the earth, there would finally be peace. Not unexpectedly, this sentiment impressed our neighbor.
25 years forward, in 2002, I had just fallen off the turnip truck (actually a Kenya Airways 747) in Nairobi. I knew where I was supposed to be the next day but for that moment I was clueless. I had engaged my seatmate toward the end of the flight in friendly conversation, a soft-spoken Kenyan in a business suit, who mentioned he was a Muslim. In the baggage area he asked if I had a place to stay then suggested his friends picking him up would be happy to take me to a safe hotel. I readily accepted his offer and climbed into a small car with a mound of luggage and two or three other guys clad in what I believed to be traditional Muslim clothing. We drove around the city a short while then stopped at a decent looking hotel. They told me it was safe, not very expensive, and cautioned me to not go walking about, it now being dark. They totally refused my offer of compensation, and then waited until I was safely inside.
We often hear, since 9/11/2001, that Islam is a religion of peace. Admitting an embarrassing amount of ignorance, until I began some brief research the other day I assumed this was a historical description of some sort, like Peter the Great of Russia was great, or Santa Claus is a jolly old man. Apparently, however, this characterization, if the usual internet sources are to be believed, was made by George W. Bush post 9/11 in putting out a message that we could not extrapolate that all Muslims were terrorists because 9/11 was carried out under the banner of Islam. A couple thoughts on this: first, it was the correct thing to say at the time; second, one would have to be pretty stupid to not innately comprehend this; and third, with our more recently empowered political masters, such as Our President, spouting this same attitude reflexively every time there is Muslim associated violence, poor George W. gets no respect.
So when someone automatically declares Islam to be a religion of peace I wonder what is the basis for his or her claim? Is peace the absence of something or the presence of something? In considering world religions overall, can one be declared less or more peaceful than another, and on what basis? I doubt these questions could be answered by a politician who avails him or herself of the Islam is a religion of peace slogan any more than they could actually explain, “I’m for the little guy” or that “college is a right.”
Confessing I will likely not have chiseled on my headstone, “Among History’s Greatest Thinkers,” it has never been terribly difficult for me to conceptualize there are inconsistencies between scripture/core beliefs of a religion and the reality how it may be practiced. This understanding seems to have eluded Our President, Barak Obama, when he instructs the masses that violence committed by people claiming to be Muslims has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam while Christians have done some mighty awful things in the past 2,000 years. One way, I guess, to determine if a religion is one of peace or not, is to in fact look at its written foundations. With this in mind, some less attractive aspects of the three main Abrahamic religions (no slight to Baha’i intended) will be mentioned.
The Jewish Bible (Old Testament to Christians) contains some ugly commands from God to do seriously vile things. From 1 Samuel 15 (ordering King Saul): “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” From Deuteronomy 7 (traditionally considered Moses passing on the commands of God prior to conquering the Promised Land): "When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Gir'gashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Per'izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites, seven nations greater and mightier than yourselves, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to them.
These are two examples inconsistent with the idea that God is some warm and fuzzy supernatural Big Bird. So can we conclude Judaism is a religion of violence?
The New Testament, i.e. the primary Scripture for Christians, is roughly divided into four books called the Gospels, which pertain to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the rest, mostly consisting of Paul’s letters to various early Christian churches. Keeping in mind that the majority of Christians (incorrectly in my opinion) subscribe to the idea of the Trinity- God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one in the same- the unfortunate utterances of God noted above equally came from the mouth of Jesus. Notwithstanding this, the Gospels are free of any violent exhortations, actually quite the opposite, at least as far as earthly life go (to me the standard soteriology- the doctrine of salvation- is pretty questionable and even ugly, but that’s another lifetime of discussion and not pertinent here).
The remainder of the New Testament is generally inconsistent with earthly violence (except for the violence inflicted on Christians), with perhaps a few indirect exceptions. I am no fan of Paul (actually I’m not a Christian) but I think he wrote something both contemptible and historically inaccurate in1 Thessalonians 2:
“14 For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:
15 Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:
16 Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
Oy vey! Nothing like giving nitwit Christians, who shed the teachings of Jesus like a tight pair of pants after returning home from the lunch buffet at the Golden Corral, and secularists as well, permission to slaughter Jews for the ensuing 2,000 years! I wonder if during that time anyone paused to ask, “Where would Christianity be if Jesus lived well into Medicare age and died of prostate cancer?”
Regarding Islam, it is not difficult to extract disturbing excerpts from Muslim Holy Books, especially if the search is “violent quotes from the Quran.” (Surah, I learned, means chapter):
"Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God's religion shall reign supreme." (Surah 8:36-)
"Slay them wherever you find them...Idolatry is worse than carnage...Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God's religion reigns supreme." (Surah 2:190-)
"Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them." (Surah 9:121-)
And many more, so we can conclude that Islam is all about violence. The thing is, I suspect Islamic scholars and apologists could make pretty convincing arguments that these and similar quotes cannot be interpreted on a stand-alone basis, and if taken in context their meanings are not as obvious. Regarding Paul, for example, I doubt he intended his unfortunate statement regarding the “Jews” having killed Jesus to give license for pogroms and massacres in the ensuing centuries.
So at the moment we find ourselves in a rather inane argument as to if Islam is a religion of peace or, according to our President, Barak Obama, that a millennium ago Christianity was a religion of aggression so therefore Christians should forever hold their tongues. Part of the problem with these more violent admonitions in Muslim scripture is that they seem to be, or could too easily be interpreted as, instructions for the present, recommendations for the here and now. Jews might have been told by God 3,000 years ago to show no mercy to the Per'izzites, but it would actually be pretty difficult to find a Per'izzite today to slay without mercy.
Subsequently, up until several centuries ago, Christians were too easily whipped into frenzies to kill their fellow believers and non-Christians alike in the name of God and righteousness. I mean what good Trinity believing Christian wouldn’t sanction the immolation of a fellow Christian who didn’t subscribe to the Trinity doctrine, even though it doesn’t actually appear in the Bible?
Eventually, thankfully, the lust for violence was sated so we, with rare exception, don’t today see Catholics slaughtering the Protestants or Orthodox, Protestants slaughtering the Catholics, or all of them slaughtering the Jews. One might speculate that, among innumerable reasons for this, was the Western phenomenon called the Age of Enlightenment. From a Christian standpoint, the Enlightenment was generally embraced and there was an eventual realization that their Savior actually wasn’t all about killing everyone who disagreed with you, theologically or otherwise. This doesn’t mean the West found peace, only that secularists suddenly discovered the joy of killing.
Ultimately, of course, we’re not really talking about religions, peaceful or otherwise, but means to arouse people into mobs, incite violence, and perpetuate hatred. There is nothing new here, just the same evil asses who have been among us from the beginning, exploiting and manipulating susceptible people for the tiresomely predictable ends of money, power, sex, recognition, and more recently celebrity. So is Islam a religion of peace or one of violence? I personally don’t have enough knowledge to say one way or the other, and I doubt those who chant, “Islam a religion of peace,” do either. I do fear there are enough disconcerting tenets of Islam, however, to provide ammunition for evil people to whip up mob fury, and probably a bit more so than Christianity and Judaism.
It’s too easy to claim that the masses are susceptible to hatred because they are uneducated, poor, unsophisticated, or whatever. Actually the overwhelming numbers of people who share these conditions don’t find relief or satisfaction in brutality and murder. Curiously, or perhaps not so, the West is in the midst of rejecting the wonderful liberal ideals of the Enlightenment, humanity at its historical best, so that the wealthiest and most pampered among us are manning the progressive barricades. Ignorant Muslims shouting “Death to America! Death to the Jews!” in Iran, Pakistan, or the Palestinian Territories have a message of hate and intolerance not all that different from the privileged popinjay activists on university campuses. Fortunately, while the latter might have the same level of emotional intensity, they lack the technical knowledge of means of destruction and can’t sustain momentum, what with needing to get another latte at Starbucks, watching the Walking Dead, or keeping up with the Kardashians.