Deep in a long puff piece about their fallen hero Al Gore and his breakfast, The New Yorker brings us Gore comparing Bush’s Christianity with the Islam of two jihadist hotspots: Saudi Arabia and Kashmir.
His analysis, has just enough of the intellectual pose in it to impress The New Yorker; but in fact it’s preposterous and dangerously misleading. Predictably, Gore doesn’t mention, possibly because he doesn’t know, the chief and decisive difference between Islam and Christianity: that the former has a developed doctrine and tradition mandating violence against unbelievers, while the latter does not.
No, I am not saying that Christians have never been violent and hateful. I am saying that when they are, they transgress the teachings of their religion; but when Muslims act the same way, they obey some important teachings of theirs. This again is not to say that all Muslims are terrorists; many, thank God, ignore these violent elements of their religious tradition. But to deny that these elements exist, or to treat Christian fundamentalism as if it has an equal capacity to inspire violence, is simply to deny the facts of the case — and to foreclose on the possibility of any growth of a genuine movement for Muslim moderation, since you can’t repair what you won’t admit is broken.
I recently came across a discussion on some bulletin board where someone was equating the Beslan massacres with the Columbine high school killings. The writer was criticizing those who spoke of the Islamic religion of the Beslan murderers, saying that the Columbine killers were Christians, but were never referred to as such. But in fact, of course, the Columbine killers were vocally anti-Christian. The bulletin board writer was assuming that the religion of the Beslan killers was incidental to their actions, when in fact there is abundant evidence to the contrary. And Gore is here assuming that all religions, or at least Christianity and Islam, are equivalent in their fundamentalisms, when again the evidence suggests otherwise.
The problem with all this is that it continues to keep us from looking squarely at the real problem and working to solve it. Until the Islamic roots of the Beslan killers, Osama bin Laden, and the rest is generally recognized and dealt with, the problem of jihad terrorism will continue. No one will dare go to its source and work there to cut it off.
Gore’s mouth tightened. A Southern Baptist, he, too, had declared himself born again, but he clearly had disdain for Bush’s public kind of faith. “It’s a particular kind of religiosity,” he said. “It’s the American version of the same fundamentalist impulse that we see in Saudi Arabia, in Kashmir, in religions around the world: Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. They all have certain features in common. In a world of disconcerting change, when large and complex forces threaten familiar and comfortable guideposts, the natural impulse is to grab hold of the tree trunk that seems to have the deepest roots and hold on for dear life and never question the possibility that it’s not going to be the source of your salvation. And the deepest roots are in philosophical and religious traditions that go way back. You don’t hear very much from them about the Sermon on the Mount, you don’t hear very much about the teachings of Jesus on giving to the poor, or the beatitudes. It’s the vengeance, the brimstone.”