Tom Regan in the Christian Science Monitor Blog (thanks to DC Watson) takes issue with Jeff Jacoby's Qur'an flushing column, which was remarkably similar to mine, and engages in an extended exercise of the theological equivalence that I have argued against for several years now, and which I believe interferes with effective resistance to the jihad.
Last week conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe looked at this "dark side of the force" as he saw it manifested in recent events. Jacoby asked an important question: why are we so upset with reports that Newsweek printed a short piece about the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo, but not at the reaction in Afghanistan that led to the deaths of at least 16 people?...
But then Jacoby writes that this kind of reaction to a perceived slight is one reason why Muslims are so disrespected in the West - violence, it seems to Jacoby, is second nature to Muslims and to Islam, but not to other religions.
Christians, Jews, and Buddhists don't lash out in homicidal rage when their religion is insulted. They don't call for holy war and riot in the streets. It would be unthinkable for a mainstream priest, rabbi, or lama to demand that a blasphemer be slain.
The above paragraph makes an interesting point. There's only one problem with it - it's wrong.
Christians, Jews, and Buddhists don't "lash out in homicidal rage when their religion is insulted"? Would that it were so.
Unfortunately, even a cursury scan of the headlines from the past few years, or even this past week, shows how wrong it is.
Shall we talk about the religious leaders in Israel who have threatened violence and riots, and perhaps worse, to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his supporters, if he goes ahead with his disengagement plan?
Bait and Switch Alert: I thought we were going to get examples of Christians, Jews, and Buddhists lashing out in homicidal rage when their religion was insulted. And the first one Regan offers is a political matter: Jews protesting against Sharon's disengagement plan. In what way is their religion insulted by this? Did Sharon flush a Torah? Of course not. They are angered because they think his plan threatens Israel's survival, not because they think Sharon has insulted Judaism.
These religious leaders believe they have a 'God-given right' to the Gaza (and the West Bank), and have inspired their followers with the same belief. By defending the settlements through force and threats, they are carrying out God's will.
Maybe they do. This is still a red herring. They are defending land, not lashing out at those who don't share their religous point of view. "God gave us this land and we will defend it" still doesn't equal "We will murder innocent people because some other people insulted our holy book half a world away."
Let's not forget that one Israeli leader has already died at the hands of a Jewish religious zealot, who believed in 1995 that there was "a religious commandment" to kill Yitzhak Rabin.
One. He said, "one." He said "one" and expects to be taken seriously. You still have him, and only him, versus thousands of Islamic jihadists who have committed innumerable murders around the world in the name of Islam.
No Christian violence? Ignoring the whole decades-long situation in Northern Ireland, there are many other examples.
"I won't mention Northern Ireland," he said, casually mentioning Northern Ireland. And a good thing he didn't mention it, as it is another weak argument. The war in Northern Ireland was over political power in Ireland. The participants were fighting over land and political power, not killing innocents over a perceived slight to their religion.
It was Christian militias who murdered hundreds of people in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982, and it was Serbian Christians who murdered 20,000 Muslims in 1995.
And did these Christian militias commit these murders because Christianity had been insulted? No. Both conflicts were again political, not religious.
The Associated Press reports that "Members of the Pentecostal religious community in the former Soviet republic of Georgia have been harassed and beaten this month" by members of the the country's dominant Orthodox Christian faith. The attacks, the report noted, had been taking place for years.
Did the Pentecostals flush an icon? The question here is not whether or not Christians commit violence. Of course they do. Human nature is everywhere the same. The question Regan is doing his best to obfuscate is whether or not Islam as an ideology exhorts people to violence. Manifestly it does, and violence committed by members of other religious traditions does nothing to mitigate that fact: Islam is unique among world religions in having a developed doctrine mandating violence against unbelievers. This has spawned in our day a global network of Muslims dedicated to jihad. Are these Orthodox Christians targeting Pentecostals worldwide? Of course not. It is a local dispute. Until the Muslim and non-Muslim world are ready to acknowledge the role of Islam in inspiring people to violence, that violence will continue on a global scale.
The recent Terri Schiavo controversy is chock-a-block with incidents where Christian religious leaders encouraged their followers to react in a manner that was often violent. Michael Schiavo and his family, as well as the Republican judge who ruled against Terri's family, have all received numerous death threats from Christians.
Schiavo himself is still in hiding, after being "Salman Rushdie'd" by the religious right in America.
And we all know how Republican House leader Tom DeLay made a not-so-veiled threat that these judges would get what was coming to them. He later said he "regretted the remark but not the sentiment." And there have been similar provocative remarks by other Christian right leaders.
Numerous people on the side of Terri Schiavo pleaded against violence. And in fact, no violence occurred: just a few people crossing police lines with glasses of water. No one, except Terri Schiavo, died. No Christian Church has endorsed or called for violence against Michael Schiavo, and I challenge Regan to come up with one. On the other hand, calls for violence against unbelievers are so common in mosques that the world yawns: they aren't even reported as news.
And what about Christian preachers who say, quite publicly, it's OK to kill abortion providers or the people who work for them?
Names, please? The murder of abortionists has been condemned by all mainstream Christian traditions. Where are the mainstream Muslim traditions that condemn jihad violence? The Free Muslims March Against Terror drew 50 people. Fifty. Why?
And Buddism? Many in North American see Buddhism personified in the presence of the Dalai Lama. But in Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, and Thailand, violence against religious minorities is a serious problem.
Look again at Thailand. Search the archives here. The violence is coming from Islamic jihadists, not Buddhists.
In Sri Lanka, thousands of people have died in clashed between the Tamil Tigers, who are Hindu, and the Buddhist government. Catholic churches have been attacked as well. And the Thai government has come under heavy criticism for its treatment of its Muslim minority.
Mmm-hmm. Once again, except for the jihad in Thailand, these are political disputes that have nothing whatsoever to do with innocent people being killed because of a perceived slight to a religion.
And let us not forget Arum Shinrikyo, the Buddhist-inspired Japanese cult that carried out one of the worst acts of pre-9/11 terrorism the world had seen.
OK. Let's not forget them. When they start operating in countries around the world, exhorting their followers to violence by the millions, get back to me.
I could give you countless other examples of religious violence of the kind Jacoby ascribes to the Muslim world being committed by non-Muslim religious groups. But for me, the more important question is why is there religious violence at all....
And while it's right to decry any violence in the name of religion, as Jacoby did, it's wrong to say only one religion has a problem in that way. To do otherwise only serves to prevent us from stopping all religious violence, and keeps us from focusing on the messages of hope, justice and meaning that all religions contain at their cores.
No, it is not true that only Muslims commit violence. It would be silly to affirm that. But Regan's analysis only serves to prevent us from acting against Islamic jihad terrorism, as we divert our energies to fighting chimerical Christian Identity types or chasing Buddhist shadows.
Our need to consider this is not just Judeo-Christian boosterism, a chant of "Yea, team! The West is Best!" The nature of jihad violence has serious consequences for the Bush policy of attempting to destabilize terrorism by establishing democracies across the Middle East. It shows how difficult it will be to export the live-and-let-live attitude necessary to make for a society that enacts the will of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. Thomas Jefferson said: "If my neighbor believes in one god, or twenty, is of no concern to me, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." But is that exportable as a political credo to societies in which the legal tradition includes death for blasphemy and apostasy?
All religions are not the same, and do not have the same capacity to inspire violence. As un-PC as that is, it is the truth. It must be faced. Regan reflects conventional PC wisdom, to be sure -- views that are held across the spectrum, from the New York Times to National Review -- and until this wisdom is seen for the hollow and deceptive thing it is, we are all that much more vulnerable.