Doing Unto Islam as We Would Have Done to Christianity
What an act of terrorism by a Christian can teach us
What is there to be said about the mass murder of 76 people in Norway last week that hasn’t already been said in response to every other tragedy of this sort?
We are once again horrified, terrified and shaken to learn that such evil dwells in the hearts of men and can be perpetrated so easily against ordinary people, even children.
But this act of violence is different in that it has American journalists, religion scholars, and political pundits debating whether or not the confessed killer is a Christian, as he asserts (or doesn’t, depending on who you ask and what your definition of a Christian is) in the 1,500 page manifesto that some of these folks are poring over.
Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and CNN Belief blog contributor, argued from the 9/11 terrorist attacks that Breivik is a Christian and, therefore, other Christians should denounce him.
“Osama bin Laden was a Muslim terrorist. Yes, he twisted the Quran and the Islamic tradition in directions most Muslims would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in that text and that tradition. So Muslims, as I have long argued, have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against Bin Laden and to look hard at the resources in their tradition that work to promote such evil,” Prothero wrote.
“If he did what he has alleged to have done, Anders Breivik is a Christian terrorist. Yes, he twisted the Christian tradition in directions most Christians would not countenance. But he rooted his hate and his terrorism in Christian thought and Christian history, particularly the history of the medieval Crusades against Muslims, and current efforts to renew that clash. So Christians have a responsibility to speak out forcefully against him, and to look hard at the resources in the Christian tradition that can be used to such murderous ends,” he thus concluded.
From the diverse quotes I’ve read from Breivik’s manifesto, I don’t believe he is a Christian, but I agree that Christians, like all morally responsible people, must denounce him, and I do.
It seems such an obvious thing, almost unnecessary, and yet, Muslim Americans have been asked repeatedly by their countrymen to denounce terrorism done in the name of the faith they hold dear.
What Prothero fails to consider is cultural context. Most Americans grew up in communities that were steeped in at least nominally Christian frameworks. Many had little or no exposure to Islam prior to 9/11/2001. Some did not know enough about the religion to judge whether or not it taught jihad, or what that meant. The word, like the actions of the terrorists, frightened them.
There was a chasm of ignorance and distrust that had to be overcome, and which, to some degree has been overcome, that is not a hurdle for many here in the United States in declaring that the Norwegian terrorist is diabolically deluded to assert that his actions are are a reflection of the Christian faith.
But we are not alone in our distrust.
A new Global Attitudes Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center affirms a mutual distrust between predominantly Muslim countries and Western ones. It indicates that nearly a decade after 9/11/2001, tensions remain high between these communities, although majorities in both expressed concern about Islamic extremism.
Perhaps the most shocking discovery to those of us who were personally touched by the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks is that more than 70 percent of respondents in predominantly Muslim nations still do not believe that Arabs committed the attacks.
That’s a huge emotional obstacle to overcome.
“Muslim and Western publics continue to see relations between them as generally bad, with both sides holding negative stereotypes of the other. Many in the West see Muslims as fanatical and violent, while few say Muslims are tolerant or respectful of women. Meanwhile, Muslims in the Middle East and Asia generally see Westerners as selfish, immoral and greedy — as well as violent and fanatical,” the report summary said.
I don’t generally cotton to the idea great tragedies are redeemed by the good that sometimes emerges from them, because the harm is always at least equal to, and is sometimes greater than the good. But I pray one good that comes out of the Norwegian tragedy is the opposite of what Breivik intended.
I pray his co-opting of the Christian faith for evil causes Christians to exercise considerably more restraint in talking about Islam and the roots of Islamic terrorism. I pray, in fact, that we’ll go the extra mile and resist those who do otherwise.