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The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

Having been a very strong advocate of religious tolerance and pluralism, it is with great reservation in my heart that I publish the Understanding Jihad Series, which compares violence and war in the Judeo-Christian tradition to the jihad of Islam.  Certainly, the intention is not to target one particular faith or religious group.  Quite the contrary, the goal is to prevent religious majoritarianism, whereby the dominant religious and cultural group is able to target weaker, poorly represented minority populations.  These articles are meant to prevent a certain level of religious smugness that has become quite prevalent today.  In the words of Prof. Philip Jenkins, “Jews and Christians…so ignore their own scriptures that they become self-righteous” towards Muslims and Islam.

The aggressive way that anti-Muslim propagandists have pushed the Islamophobic idea–that Muhammad/Islam/Quran/Sharia/Allah are so uniquely violent and warlike–has made it almost impossible for me not to write such articles.  The data makes my case overwhelming: a recent Pew Research poll found that almost half of U.S. adults think that the Islamic religion is more likely to encourage violence than other religions, a figure that has almost doubled since 2002.  A clear majority of conservative Republicans (66%), white Evangelicals (60%), and Tea Baggers (67%) believe Islam is more violent than other religions, with a plurality of whites (44%) and older folks (42-46%) also thinking this.  (Of note is that blacks, Hispanics, and liberal Democrats are significantly less bigoted towards Islam.)  The idea that Islam is more violent than other religions–held most strongly by old white conservatives–is a key pillar to the edifice of Islamophobia.  The need for the Understanding Jihad Series seems self-evident.

Any time Islam is mentioned on the internet, pseudo-experts ferociously start copying and pasting a litany of Islamic texts to whack Muslims over the head with.   This anti-Muslim sentiment, fueled by profound ignorance (of both their own scriptures and Islamic), is no longer limited to fringe elements and has found its way into the mainstream.  Pro-Israeli hawks, in particular, have tried to transform this bigotry of Islam from a merely theological tussle into state policy.  It is hoped that pointing to Judeo-Christian scriptural sources that are far more violent than what is quoted from Islamic sources will instill in the extremist Zionists and Messianic Christians a level of religious humility.

My fear in so doing, of course, is of offending well-meaning Jews and Christians.  Indeed, while it is true that there is a definite link between Zionism and Islamophobia, it is also true that some of the most effective defenders of Muslims are in fact Jews.  These include such notable personalities as Glenn Greenwald, Richard Silverstein, Jon Stewart, Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Max Blumenthal, and–without naming names–even some writers of LoonWatch (gasp!).  To be absolutely clear, I do not think that Judaism and Christianity are violent religions.  What I am simply trying to prove is that just because certain Quranic verses seem violent, one cannot make sweeping statements of the religion based on this…no more so than showing certain violent Biblical verses would prove the inherent nature of Judaism or Christianity.  When people from the majority group realize that their own religious tradition also has “problematic” texts, they are usually more hesitant to rush to judgment about other faiths.

Although in the past I have compared Islam to Christianity–such as when I compared the traditional Islamic concept of “dhimmi” to the traditional Christian concept of “perpetual serf”–in the Understanding Jihad Series the comparison will more often be made with Judaism.  The reason for this is that it is much easier to compare Islam to Judaism because both are very similar in basic structure.  The Jewish Halacha is equivalent to the Islamic Sharia and the rabbinical tradition is analogous to the Islamic jurisprudential tradition.  The similarities between the two religions are actually quite uncanny. Therefore, it makes sense to invoke this comparison.

The reader should not think that I believe that a certain religion or another is violent.  Rather, there exist peaceful and violent interpretations of religion.  I reject the view held by religious orthodoxy that the human mind is simply an empty receptacle that unthinkingly “obeys” the divine plan.  Hundreds of years after their prophets have died, believers (of all faiths) are forced (by virtue of not having a divine interlocutor) to exert their own minds and ethics to give life to texts, to render 3D realities from 2D texts.  Such an elastic idea–that a religion is whatever its believers make it into–is certainly anathema to orthodox adherents who simply desire a step-by-step instruction manual to produce human automatons.  But the truth is that even these orthodox adherents necessarily inject into the religious texts their own backgrounds, beliefs, and biases.

One can see why I do not think that simply showing a Biblical verse here or there would prove that Judaism or Christianity are violent faiths. There is a long journey from what is on the page to what is understood and put into practice.  And once this reality is comprehended, it is hoped that Jews and Christians will gain a larger perspective when they approach Muslims and their religion.

It should be noted of course that not all Islamophobes are Jewish or Christian.  Many are ex-Muslims who feel that their former religious affiliation gives them a free pass to be bigoted.  This is hardly surprising, given that historically the worst oppressors of the Jewish minority in the Western world were actually ex-Jews converted to Christianity.  Though they think of themselves as truly special, there is nothing unique about apostates from a religion; they have existed throughout history, and it was not uncommon for their zeal for their new religion to convert into wholesale bigotry for what they left behind.

When I argued that Moses was more violent than Muhammad, one critic pointed out that atheists would condemn both.  Yet, one only needs to glance at anti-Muslim websites to see that these atheistic Islamophobes try to (and need to) prove that Muhammad/Islam/Quran/Sharia/Allah are uniquely violent.  Short of proving this uniqueness, their agenda fails.  Thus, it hardly matters to the effectiveness of my article whether or not one believes in Jewish or Christian prophets.  If we use the exact same standards applied to Islam to all religions and find them to be as violent or more violent than Islam, then what exactly is their point?  This question is what my articles force onto them, to which the “I am not a believer” excuse hardly suffices.

There will definitely be those militant atheists who genuinely can’t tolerate any religious faith.  These are the equal opportunity haters.  But because they do not single out Islam, I am less bothered by them.  Although many of their rantings are childish, they are not as destructive because they do not specifically target vulnerable minority populations.

Having thus expressed my general discomfort in writing these articles, I hope my readers can take into account context and intent.  If, for example, a white supremacist site compiled a list of all criminals that are black, this would be a clear case of bigotry.  An effective and appropriate way to counter this list would be to produce an even longer list of white criminals.  Even though the action is the same (producing lists of criminals of a particular race), it is the context and intent that are all important.  It is in a similar fashion that I am producing a “counter-list” of Biblical verses to counter the popular list of Quranic quotes that Islamophobes like to share.  LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series will categorically answer the question that an alarmingly high number of Americans answered incorrectly: is Islam more likely than other religions to encourage violence?

I would nonetheless strongly caution overzealous Muslim readers from using these articles to stir hatred against Jews and Christians, noting that Islam has no shortage of “problematic” texts.

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