20 April 2007

Religion & War

My colleague Professor Henry Gonshak recently chaired a “Silent Minority” forum where several students spoke about the life of minority students at Montana Tech. This was an excellent lesson on cultural diversity and acceptance for the student community, and there were a few sad stories about racial and ethnic prejudice suffered by students and their families while living in Butte.

As a professor of history and culture, however, I was set off by one comment made at the forum. A Saudi Arabian student was perplexed that another student had "accosted" him, linking his religion (Islam) with terrorism. The Saudi Arabian student responded, “I’m not from Iraq, and I didn’t hurt anybody… My religion is all about peace.”

Surely everyone is aware that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers in the September 11 terrorist attacks were Saudi Arabian. The attacks were planned by Osama Bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Osama was a Saudi Arabian, a rich man’s son, and the founder of al-Qaeda. Khalid was a Pakistani raised in Kuwait and educated in the United States. Al-Qaeda’s principal center of operations was in Afghanistan. None of the hijackers were Iraqi, and neither Osama, Khalid, nor al-Qaeda had links to Iraq.

In the aftermath of September 11, many Americans became prejudiced regarding Saudi Arabians and Islam. Though no one can condone such prejudice, its cultural basis is understandable given the religious views that guide some people’s lives.

Islam, like its sister religions Christianity and Judaism, is not “all about peace.” All three of these religions, at various times throughout history, have fomented war and violence.

The Old Testament is full of stories about Israel’s wars to conquer other nations—cf. King David’s battles against the Philistines, Arameans, and Ammonites.

Christendom waged the Crusades as a series of holy wars to wrest Jerusalem and other "holy lands" from Muslim rule from about 1095 to 1273 A.D.

Today, various representatives of Islam are waging holy war, or jihad-as-warfare, against the West.

Many, many passages from the Koran and Mohammed’s teachings lend support to this jihad: “The only true faith in God’s sight is Islam” (3:19); “Slay them [infidels] wherever you find them” (2:190); and, “Those that deny our revelations shall be punished for their misdeeds” (6:43) The Koran exhorts its followers to fight, and promises great rewards to holy warriors: “Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you” (9:123); and “The believers who stay at home…are not equal to those who fight for the cause of God with their goods and their persons” (4:95). This view of reward for jihad is amplified through many hadiths (traditional sayings about the words and deeds of Muhammed): “A day and a night of fighting on the frontier is better than a month of fasting and prayer;” “He who dies without having taken part in a campaign dies in a kind of unbelief;” and “Paradise is in the shadow of swords.”

The enemy here is not Islam, or Judaism, or Christianity. The enemy is religious faith and religious zeal that outweigh reason and respect for other persons. If religion is a private matter that guides your path in life, then fine. But the moment that religion becomes a tool for telling other people how to act or for attacking them, religion is the enemy of reason and of all humankind.

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