Sunday, April 28, 2013

Religious Radicals And Terrorists

There are many tragic stories that have come out of the recent Boston Marathon bombing.  Stories that cause us to quietly contemplate the numerous events such as this, and whatever larger lessons we need to draw from their occurrence.  Lessons in the positive power of government and law enforcement working in cooperation, demonstrating public service at its best.  Stories of selfless heroes, rushing into potential harm’s way to help strangers in need.  These are the good stories we etch into our minds and speak of to others.

Then there are the other things we say that betray our real intentions.  I have written before that “words matter.”  They matter because words create images and impressions either for ill or good – depending upon the degree of thoughtfulness and the intentions of the speaker.  One of the worst of the thoughtless use of words is the media’s and public’s overuse of the terms “radical Islamist” or “Islamist terrorist” as they speculate on the bombing perpetrators’ sick motives.

Islam is a religion.  Islam is not a person.  Just as Christianity and other religions are a religion, not a person.  One who follows Islam has a different name – i.e. “Muslim,” one who “surrenders unto God” (as we all might well do).  Just as a follower of Christianity is a Christian but more appropriately a Methodist, a Baptist, a Catholic, an Episcopalian, an Evangelical, etc.  These are the actual people.  People who interpret and practice what and who they believe across a wide spectrum of words and actions regarding themselves and their fellow human beings.

When we accuse someone who makes extreme statements, or takes violent actions against innocent people, as being an “Islamist radical or terrorist,” we inherently (and inappropriately) confuse the religion with the individual.  An individual who has perverted an expansive religion into a misrepresented personal belief.  Islam did not call for those bombs on Boylston Street to be set.  Rather, two young, disaffected men compensating for their self-perceived inadequacies struck back to make a public, attention-getting statement – as is the case with virtually all terrorists and mass shooters.  But when we paint them with a broad “Islamist” brush, we betray the message of love and peace in the Qur’an nearly as much as those two men betrayed it.

For whatever reasons of history and cultural bias, we seem to find it easy to incorrectly link the religion of Islam with its disaffected radicals.  But we are self-servingly reluctant to apply the same reflex to disaffected Christian radicals and terrorists.  We are quick to criticize Muslim fundamentalists, even as we willingly accept Christian fundamentalists all around us; yet both are extremely rigid interpretations of their core religious teachings.  But what else can you call a North Carolina legislator who recently proposed that Christianity be declared the official state religion?  Or the callous Westboro Baptist Church members who picket funerals of innocent victims and servicepersons as being “an affront to God?”  Or the several Christian shooters and bombers who have killed supposedly “to save lives” from abortion doctors?  Or the Catholic Oklahoma City bomber who killed adults and children as a protest against the government?  Or the bigot who indiscriminately killed peaceful Sikh worshipers in Wisconsin?  Or the small-time minister in Florida who burned the Qur’an to protest Islam and incited ill-will the world over?  Or the Fox News commentators whose continual anti-Muslim rants – done to bump up their ratings – fall just a hair short of being legally classified as “hate speech.”  These people claim a Christian affiliation, purporting that their acts and statements are done “in God’s name.”  But theirs is a God most of us do not recognize.

If we insist on speaking of “Islamist radicals and terrorists,” then let us similarly label the many “Christian radicals and terrorists” who live among us.  Let us at least be consistent in our verbal slandering of good religions and good-hearted people because of the inexplicable and despicable acts of miscreants.  Or better yet, let us just leave religion out of our terminology altogether, and simply call all purveyors of hate what a Muslim acquaintance called the 9-11 perpetrators several years ago: “These people are just a bunch of thugs.”  No religion has a monopoly on thugs.


Anonymous said...

Hitting the nail on the head has become your specialty. So once again I say, "Preach on, Brother!!!"

Anonymous said...

I thought your essay on leaving out religious names when we speak about terrorists was very good. The example of using the label "Christian terrorist" (or even better Methodist terrorist, etc) was very helpful. If only the people who listen to FOX were reading your blog! (or are they? We can hope so.)