Christianity and Islam
I was travelling on a train the other day and someone had scrawled ‘Islam is evil’, a view I suspect is more widely held than certain people think. I have had discussions with people back in my home town who think that it will one day be overrun with mosques, a pretty unlikely thing given that there are virtually no Muslims in Barrow-in-Furness. This attitude is reflected to some degree among some Christian scholars here in the UK.
It shouldn’t need saying that these views are of no merit whatsoever. But why do so many people think like this? One reason is (as ever) the role of media. There has been a great deal of media coverage on Islam here in the UK, increasingly so after the recent London attacks. Various things are repeatedly discussed and reported: the difference between ‘extreme’ and ‘moderate’ Islam, Muslims suppressing militants, a hook handed comic book cleric, etc. Some of these concerns have been echoed by Tony Blair. No matter how well meaning some of the journalism might be the overall effect creates a context whereby Muslims are treated as potentially dangerous fanatics, putting ethnic communities here in the UK under serious threat every day.
But were not the London attackers, the Sept. 11 hijackers, the Bali bombers, all Muslim? Well yes of course. So what is the assumption here? Is Islam is somehow differently violent from the religion of ‘our’ supposedly civilised societies? Perhaps ‘they’ haven’t quite evolved in some way? Hopefully few people would say such things because they are so clearly absurd but those constantly questioning Islam in the British media and British public life should come clean about their assumptions. They should also ask why Christian violence doesn’t get such coverage.
After all, George W. Bush claims to be a committed Christian as does Tony Blair. Between them they share a great deal of responsibility for the lives of what is now suggested as 25,000 civilians killed in Iraq, thousands in Afghanistan, and God knows how many more have suffered directly or indirectly due to US and UK foreign policy. It could be argued that these two coincidentally happened to be Christians who were not fighting in the name of God. But Blair explicitly justified the Iraq war apocalyptically in terms of good and evil and Bush has been even more explicit. What about some of the Christian 'fundamentalists' and their continuing connection with the American political right? So should we ask why Christians would produce such people who have presided over profoundly unjust wars and continually support brutal dictators (like Saddam of course)? Many Christians would be offended by this with some justification just as many Muslims are by questions constantly levelled at them. Many, many Christians have opposed such behaviour and would not want to be linked with figures such as Reagan, Bush or even Blair, just as many, many Muslims have openly condemned the recent atrocities in London. Most prominent Christian leaders opposed the Iraq war and many Christians have been vocal opponents of British and US foreign policy over the years. But as some Muslims have supported aggressive actions in the name of Allah so some Christians have supported aggressive actions of their Christian political leaders in the name of Jesus Christ, both sides no doubt deluded in such instances. So is it really fair to frame this in terms of 'religion'?
Thousands and thousands of innocent people have died in New York, Iraq, London, Afghanistan, Bali, and so on and so on. By framing the discussion in terms of Islam, hatred of ‘our values’, and even religion in general misses the point to some extent. It does nothing to prevent more innocent deaths and if anything is only contributes to the sorry state of affairs. Whether a violent Christian or a violent Muslim in this so-called war or terror, religion is only the surface of much deeper issues.