Studies in Islam and the Middle East journal; SIME journalStudies in Islam and the Middle East journal; SIME journal: "Only “Them” Can Commit Acts of Violence?
By A. E. SOUAIAIA*
Linking Islam to violence is not new trend any longer. However, after the tragic Fort Hood shooting, many people are making the connection unabashedly. I am not about to write a rebuttal. I would state, instead, that Islam—as practiced by many self-proclaimed Muslims—does have a violent side. In fact, it has some indoctrinated notion of violence manifested in the institutions governing war and peace and social order. As a religion that developed in the arms of political entity (Madinah), Islam could not have escaped the use of violence because that is what state/government does: monopolize the institutions and the use of violence. What is also true is this: the use of violence in Islam is governed by the rules put forth by the founder of Islam, Muhammad.
But I am also absolutely sure that other religions have some indoctrinated notion of violence, too. But, the rules in the use of violence were not even put in place by the founders (or first leaders) of these religions. This is particularly true for Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. These facts, coupled with other historical facts, ought to make the case for the propensity of all humans to engage in violent acts, not just “them, Muslims.”
Here is an observation: People who single out one religion as violence-prone are narcissistically masking their own faith’s propensity to embrace violence. Moreover, the accusatory tone is generally indicative of a fractured self torn between the manufactured image of a faith’s pacifism and the naked reality of blatant reversion to violent means. Overcompensation for failure to follow-through with one’s faith-based teachings and the demands of reality may lead one to embark on a mission to demonize others in hopes of winning arguments by default rather than by merit.
Supportive evidence for this observation can be found in numerous specious arguments presented by many politicians, pundits, and commentators. The common link between these otherwise persons of different backgrounds is the shared commitment to supremacist ideology although most of them avoid making it the issue of discussion at any cost. It suffices to examine three figures: a Hindu commentator, a Jewish politician, and a Zionist ideologue. The first argues that Islam is inherently violent, the second claims that extremism is inherently Islamic, and the third contends that Islam is pure evil—no matter what shade of Islam; all of Islam is dangerous.
Recently, the commentator, Tunku Varadarajan, recycled the phrase “Going Postal” to suggest that, because of the violent nature of Islam, one must be wary of someone next to them “Going Muslim.” By reading his other commentaries, one would easily discover that Varadarajan sees the world as a static mosaic of good people—Hindus—and bad people—Muslims. In his mind, Muslims are violent the same way Hindus are tolerant. Let us consider what he thinks of his own faith to see the failure of his logic.
In an article entitled A Democratic Inclination, Varadarajan declared that “there is a strong correlation between electoral democracy and Hinduism.” To be sure, he added, “Hinduism, more than any other religion—with the possible exception of mainstream Protestant Christianity—has an intensely tolerant core, one that encourages religious and intellectual plurality in society… Indian society is predominantly Hindu, and mainstream Hinduism tends to be big-hearted, broad-minded, easygoing, indulgent... in my estimation, preponderantly Hindu societies will always be predisposed toward democracy.”
Of course, he is talking about the same Hinduism that enshrined the lovely cast system whose dehumanizing effects were only mitigated through secular institution; the same Hinduism whose adherents destroy mosques in India; the same Hinduism that produced Hindus who gleefully cut and murdered pregnant Muslim women alive in Gujarat; the same Hinduism that he himself described in a piece written for The New York Times, on January 11, 1999 by saying, 'What we are witnessing in India is the growth of a sort of Hindu Taliban movement.” Of course, he needed to use “Taliban” just like he used “postal” to indicate the foreignness of violence in “true” Hinduism.
The politician is Sen. Joe Lieberman who took advantage of the Fort Hood tragedy to push his political agenda of making connection between Islam and murder. Speaking to Fox News Sunday, Lieberman declared, 'If Hasan was showing signs, saying to people that he had become an Islamist extremist, the U.S. Army has to have zero tolerance, he should have been gone.”
Every word spoken by Sen. Lieberman is problematic and it is, I believe, deliberately worded to suggest to his listeners that Islam is a disease, an illness that has “signs” (symptoms). Then by suggesting that the army should have fired “Hasan,” he leaves no doubt that being Islamic extremist is bona fide criminal. I am not sure which part of the phrase denotes a crime, being Muslim, being extremist, or being extremist Muslim?
Given Sen. Lieberman’s political savvy, it would not surprise anyone if he responds that he is not anti-Muslim; which leaves us with him being against extremism. If this were to be the case, then why would Sen. Lieberman attach the adjective “Islamic “to “extremism”? In other words, is Sen. Lieberman ambivalent to extremism linked to Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, nationalism, and all other forms of isms that have been historically linked to acts of violence?
Since Sen. Lieberman is a self-described Jew, let me remind him that it was a self-declared Jew who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin (Prime Minister of Israel); it was in the fold of Judaism that the Stern Gangs, Meir Kahanes, and Baruch Goldsteins were born and raised… Judaism, Senator, has its extremists, too.
Here are the facts: in a democracy, neither being a Muslim nor being an extremist is a crime. There are extremists in every society and no civilized community ought to criminalize extremism. Doing so will take humanity back to the dark ages of absolutism. To put things in context, many Americans think that Rev. Wright, Minister Louis Farrakhan, David Duke are extremists. Many Americans, especially Democrats, think that Senator Lieberman is an extremist and that is why they fired him during the primaries last time he ran. Another Lieberman, Avigdor Lieberman, is by most accounts an extremist Jew who is now the Foreign Minister of Israel. Every Jewish prophet was dubbed extremist when he first arrived. The right to hold extreme views (as long as they do not break the law) is what separates a nation of laws from a nation of tyrants.
Christianity, too, has had its share of violence and extremism. Christianity nurtured the crusades and Spanish conquistadors who burned native Americans alive in bundles of 13 in honor of the Twelve Apostles and Jesus Christ. Not just in the past, but also in the present, Christianity continues to justify—in the mind of many—the murder of those who violate some Christian dogma: in the last two decades alone, 24 murders or attempted murders, 179 bombing and arson or attempted bombing or arson, 2795 of other acts of violence (invasion, assault & battery, death threats, etc…) were undertaken by self-proclaimed Christian activists against doctors who worked in clinics that provided abortion.
The most outrageous thesis is authored by Daniel Pipes who is in favor of interning all American Muslims during times of war because, in his mind, they cannot be trusted. In a piece written for The Jerusalem Post (Nov. 14, 2009), not only did Pipes compare Recep Tayyip Erdogan (the Prime Minister of Turkey) and Keith Ellison (US Congressman) to Osama bin Laden, but he actually declared them to “pose a greater threat to Western civilization.” Pipes dislike of Muslims extends to elected leaders, suggesting that Muslims should be shut down even if they come to govern through democratic means.
Unlike these representative demagogues, I am not suggesting that only religious people commit acts of violence; violent individuals are as diverse as American society. After all, it is American society that produced Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 students at Virginia Tech, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., who raped and murdered 33 young men and boys in Chicago, Illinois, in the 1970s; Robert Lee Yates and Gary Ridgway of Washington who murdered 61 women, and more than 125 serial killers who killed hundreds of innocent men, women, and children.
The idea of linking all of Islam to extremism is absurd given that there are 1.57 billion Muslims who did not “go Muslim” or “go extremist.” In the U.S. military alone, there are more than 5000 American-Muslim service men and women who served, continued to serve, and gave their lives in the most heroic fashion to save the lives of their fellow soldiers.
The Liebermans, the Pipes, and the Varadarajans will always continue to look for imperfections in an imperfect world, for faults in faulty religious views, for reasons to hate others. Yes, there is a propensity to violence in any religious and secular ideology. They are human discourses and as such, they are shaped by all that is human. If one feels the urge to condemn violence, one should have the courage to condemn it for what it is not for where it came from. In the end, we may all be complicit in fomenting hate and violence by preaching our own supremacy and by looking for foreignness to explain away instances that make one’s faith look like any other: to some extent, violent. There is nothing foreign about violence in human societies. There will always be criminals, psychotics, lunatics, murders, and rapists amongst us, especially among those who insist that none are amongst them.
*Dr. Ahmed E. Souaiaia teaches course in International Studies, Islamic studies, and law at the University of Iowa; he is the author of the book, Contesting Justice."