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Let’s Use the Same Yardstick

October 24, 2014

I was listening to CBC on my car radio on Wednesday morning when the news reports began to flow in concerning events unfolding on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I was amazed (or perhaps not) at the inflammatory rhetoric of those who would incite the culture of fear, the immediate assumption that the shooter was Muslim, and the single-minded doggedness to connect him to ISIS.

The morning’s tragic events in Ottawa and two days previously in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu literally brought home the issues of terrorism for Canada. They were cause for great personal sadness, but not surprise. After all, Canada has supported or has been directly engaged in military conflict against Arabs continuously since 1991 when we participated in Desert Storm.

What is it about these particular criminal acts that makes them especially alarming? After all, although Canada’s homicide rate has been steadily declining for years, almost 600 people are murdered each year in our country. What apparently makes these murders so egregious is the classification bestowed upon them—terrorism.

According to Canada’s Department of Justice website the definition of terrorism is “highly malleable”. The website acknowledges that one of the most significant factors impeding attempts to define terrorism is “the use of the term for political purposes”. It would seem to me that many define it as acts of violence perpetrated by others, particularly those we dislike, upon us and our allies. But for the violence we and our allies heap upon others, we use a different yardstick. Most certainly our violent acts are just. Most certainly they are not terrorism.

I have found many of the impassioned conversations (rants?) kindled by those events exasperating. Most Canadians know very little about either Arabs or Muslims. Many falsely conflate being Arab with being Muslim, when there are equally as many Arabs professing Christianity. In addition, Arab Muslims in Canada are far outnumbered by those of other ethnic origins. Most concerning is that for several years now, in the minds of many Canadians, terrorism and Islam have become virtually synonymous.

Attitudes toward Muslims have deteriorated markedly across the country. Though according to a Trudeau Foundation poll half of Canadians feel immigrants should be free to maintain their religious and cultural practices, those opposed seem to be particularly vocal. Hate crimes against Muslims, while still relatively infrequent, are rapidly on the rise. In a country that celebrates multiculturalism and has very recently opened its national human rights museum, this calls into question how we manage cultural diversity.

The accelerating creep toward intolerance has been fueled by a number of oft-repeated negative assertions. Among these are the belief that the Qur’an promotes violence and intolerance of other faiths, the understanding that Muslims have always been in conflict with those of other faiths, and the claim that the majority of Muslims support terrorism.

The contention that the Qur’an promotes violence is only as true as the contention that the Bible promotes violence. Everything hinges on interpretation, and there are always those of both religions that are more than happy to rely on their particular reading of their scriptures to justify hatred. Text without a context often becomes a pretext for persecution, violence and war. And there are also those on both sides willing to vilify the holy book of those they see as their enemies by making arguments based either on false quotes, statements taken out of context or gross misunderstandings of the text.

In fact both the Qur’an and the Hadith bestow special status on Christians and Jews—the People of the Book. They are to be respected and protected by virtue of their common ancestry through Abraham. The Bible makes no distinctions, simply mandating that followers of Christ demonstrate love for all.

The idea that Muslims have always been at conflict with those of other faiths is a fallacy. A close examination of history shows that although there have been periods of bitter conflict, Muslims have lived peacefully with others for the vast majority of years since Mohammed. In fact, those of other faiths living among Muslim majorities have often prospered, while Muslims and Jews have routinely been subjected to bigotry and violence when living among Christians. For Christians, to point to violence and war between the sects of Islam is hypocrisy; the pages of the historical record are stained with the blood of Christians who engaged in wars ironically blessed by ecclesiastics of the Prince of Peace, wars against each other in the name of their particular beliefs.

Christian violence against Muslims dates back to at least the Crusades, during which some of the gruesome acts of violence perpetrated under the sign of the Cross make pale anything committed by Muslims against Christians. On several occasions, European Christians carried out pogroms and forcibly drove Muslims from the lands they controlled.

When it comes down to it, the dilemma is the same for Muslims and Christians alike. Just as oftentimes the proclivities of some of Islam’s adherents are at odds with the true character of the faith, so does the commitment of many Christians to their culture and nationalism override the teachings of Jesus.

The actions of a few extremists are not indicative of the sentiments of all Muslims any more than the actions of Christian extremists are representative of the values of Christians as a whole. To define ISIS and its ilk as reflective of Islam is as ludicrous as defining the Ku Klux Klan or Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army as representative of Christianity.

The perception that Muslims as a whole support terrorism is patently false. Most are peaceable people who abhor and loudly condemn violence. These condemnations, however, are largely ignored by the Western media that routinely favour a negative portrayal of Islam.

For those of the Christian faith, there is no escape clause; intolerance of Muslims is unacceptable on a variety of fronts. If we fail to love our Muslim neighbours, we reject one of the central teachings of our Lord. Even if we characterize Muslims as our enemies we are called to treat them lovingly.

We must come together with people of all faiths to recognize and celebrate our commonalities rather than focusing on our differences. Together we must unremittingly condemn and resist violence of any kind, and continue the search for pathways to peace. To do so would unequivocally satisfy the edicts of both the Qur’an and the Bible.

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