So this video has been spreading around the Internet with astonishing speed. What really surprised me was when one of my housemates here in the Solomon Islands wanted to show me this video, even though I don’t think that she’s normally very politically conscious. I’d already read about it in Jed Yoong’s blog and had a bit of a spat over it there, so my post here is something of an elaboration of what I’ve already posted as comments over there.
First of all, I think that the short film is woefully amateurish. Collating video footage of the gory aftermath of terrorist attacks interweaved with quotations from the Quran and speeches by firebrand Islamist leaders does not a solid argument make. It’s a blatant attempt to arouse an emotional reaction in viewers instead of attempting to advance a reasoned argument and as such isn’t really worth watching at all.
Second, even if we were to take the central premise of the film seriously, the correct question isn’t whether or not Islam is a violent religion, it’s whether or not Islam is any more violent than the other great religions. Christianity makes for a good point of comparison. It’s shares the same fundamental roots as Islam, and yet is mostly accepted around the world as a peaceful, safe and moderate religion nowadays.
But as I pointed out on Jed Yoong’s blog, for every shocking verse that you can find from the Quran, you can find an equally shocking one from the Bible. The book of Deuteronomy is a particularly rich minefield, with verses giving the Israelites very specific instructions on whom to wage war on and how to do it, for example:
- When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
- And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
- And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
- And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
- But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.
- Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.
- But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
- But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee:
- That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.
While it does say that they should first offer peace to the enemy cities they come across, it’s clear that the condition for peace is to become servants and slaves to the Israelites. And for Christians who want to claim that these are all from the Old Testament, it would do well to remind them of the words of Jesus as recorded in the book of Matthew:
This is Jesus reminding everyone that every part of the Old Testament is still as valid as it ever was.
As for atrocities committed by Muslims in the name of Allah, I also pointed out that it’s equally easy to point out atrocities on a much greater scale committed by Christians in the name of Christ. For example, Christians justified their participation in the slave trade for centuries by baptizing Africans as they were enslaved so that the good caused by the saving of their immortal souls would be more than outweighed than the evil caused by the harm done to their mortal flesh. While it is true, that in this case, the incentives and motives surrounding the slave trade were all about making money, with the baptizing angle as a way to justify it, just as the Crusades were really wars of conquest justified by naming them as holy wars, I believe it is equally true that the terrorist attacks were made by a relatively small minority of Muslims who were primarily driven by revenge and a need to satisfy what they feel is injustice while quoting from the Quran to justify acts that would normally be abominable in the eyes of their religion.
So my conclusion is that Islam can’t really be judged as being any more violent a religion than Christianity is. Again, as I pointed out on Jed Yoong’s blog, this isn’t to deny that many Muslims are, right now, more involved in acts of violence than Christians. This is inexcusable of course, but keep in mind that Islam is the youngest and currently the fastest growing of the world’s great religions. What we’re seeing now is, in some ways, the growing pains of a religion as it tries to find its place and feel secure in a world in which the most powerful countries are already dominated by a different religion.
There are plenty of ways that moderate Muslims can contribute to improving the public image of Islam and I believe that moderates should work hard to push for a reformation in Islam, in the same way that the Protestant Reformation in Christianity paved the way for a more personal and individual interpretation of scripture. But it is unfair to call Islam a violent religion and it is stupid to buy into the propaganda of simplistic messages like Fitna.