Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Are Judaism and Christianity Really As Violent As Islam?

That is the question addressed by Raymond Ibrahim in the current issue of Middle East Quarterly, quoting a number of apologists for Islam who defend violence in Islamic texts by claiming that other religions are no different. Ibrahim deals with the claim that
1. The sacred books of Judaism and Christianity are just as violent as the Quran and the Hadith. In the case of the Christian Bible, in the absence of acual violent passages, history in general--and the crusades in particular--are given as proof of Christian violent tendencies.

2. Muslim violence is "exacerbated by economic, political, and social factors"
In addressing the claim that violence in the Jewish Bible is somehow comparable to what is found in the Quran and Hadith, Ibrahim notes the distinction:
The answer lies in the fact that such observations confuse history and theology by conflating the temporal actions of men with what are understood to be the immutable words of God. The fundamental error is that Judeo-Christian history—which is violent—is being conflated with Islamic theology—which commands violence. Of course, the three major monotheistic religions have all had their share of violence and intolerance towards the "other." Whether this violence is ordained by God or whether warlike men merely wished it thus is the key question.

Old Testament violence is an interesting case in point. God clearly ordered the Hebrews to annihilate the Canaanites and surrounding peoples. Such violence is therefore an expression of God's will, for good or ill. Regardless, all the historic violence committed by the Hebrews and recorded in the Old Testament is just that—history. It happened; God commanded it. But it revolved around a specific time and place and was directed against a specific people. At no time did such violence go on to become standardized or codified into Jewish law. In short, biblical accounts of violence are descriptive, not prescriptive. [emphasis added]

...Does this mean that no self-professed Christian can be anti-Semitic? Of course not. But it does mean that Christian anti-Semites are living oxymorons—for the simple reason that textually and theologically, Christianity, far from teaching hatred or animosity, unambiguously stresses love and forgiveness. Whether or not all Christians follow such mandates is hardly the point; just as whether or not all Muslims uphold the obligation of jihad is hardly the point. The only question is, what do the religions command?
More specifically, Ibrahim points to the sword verses
Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way.[Sura 9:5]

Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day, and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden – such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book – until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.[Sura 9:29]
These verses are not historical, relating past events--instead, they are commands with legal standing that have dictated Muslim behavior and action for centuries:
unlike the bellicose verses and anecdotes of the Old Testament, the sword-verses became fundamental to Islam's subsequent relationship to both the "people of the book" (i.e., Jews and Christians) and the "idolators" (i.e., Hindus, Buddhists, animists, etc.) and, in fact, set off the Islamic conquests, which changed the face of the world forever. Based on Qur'an 9:5, for instance, Islamic law mandates that idolators and polytheists must either convert to Islam or be killed; simultaneously, Qur'an 9:29 is the primary source of Islam's well-known discriminatory practices against conquered Christians and Jews living under Islamic suzerainty [dhimmitude].

...Islam is to be at perpetual war with the non-Muslim world until the former subsumes the latter. Indeed, it is widely held by Muslim scholars that since the sword-verses are among the final revelations on the topic of Islam's relationship to non-Muslims, that they alone have abrogated some 200 of the Qur'an's earlier and more tolerant verses, such as "no compulsion is there in religion.
Ibrahim concentrates on a comparison of the language used in both cases and notes their focus:
When the Qur'an's violent verses are juxtaposed with their Old Testament counterparts, they are especially distinct for using language that transcends time and space, inciting believers to attack and slay nonbelievers today no less than yesterday. God commanded the Hebrews to kill Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—all specific peoples rooted to a specific time and place. At no time did God give an open-ended command for the Hebrews, and by extension their Jewish descendants, to fight and kill gentiles. On the other hand, though Islam's original enemies were, like Judaism's, historical (e.g., Christian Byzantines and Zoroastrian Persians), the Qur'an rarely singles them out by their proper names. Instead, Muslims were (and are) commanded to fight the people of the book—"until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled"[13] and to "slay the idolaters wherever you find them.
In response to the claim that words of violence against others are 'canonized' in the Jewish Bible no less than in the Quran, Ibrahim agrees--but only up to a point:
If by canonized he means that such verses are considered part of the canon of Judeo-Christian scripture, he is absolutely correct; conversely, if by canonized he means or is trying to connote that these verses have been implemented in the Judeo-Christian Weltanschauung, he is absolutely wrong.
In addition to the commands of the verses in the Quran itself, the model of Muhammed himself and his own actions have been used as excuses for killing non-Muslims by Islamists:
persons naturally inclined to such activities, and who also happen to be Muslim, can—and do—quite easily justify their actions by referring to the "Sunna of the Prophet"—the way Al-Qaeda, for example, justified its attacks on 9/11 where innocents including women and children were killed: Muhammad authorized his followers to use catapults during their siege of the town of Ta'if in 630 C.E.—townspeople had refused to submit—though he was aware that women and children were sheltered there. Also, when asked if it was permissible to launch night raids or set fire to the fortifications of the infidels if women and children were among them, the Prophet is said to have responded, "They [women and children] are from among them [infidels]."[22]
Ibrahim also addresses the second claim--that Muslim violence is not connected to the Quran and Hadith, but instead is tied to economic, political and social factors. He asks:
What about all the oppressed Christians and Jews, not to mention Hindus and Buddhists, of the world today? Where is their religiously-garbed violence? The fact remains: Even though the Islamic world has the lion's share of dramatic headlines—of violence, terrorism, suicide-attacks, decapitations—it is certainly not the only region in the world suffering under both internal and external pressures.

...Latin American and non-Muslim Asian countries also have their fair share of oppressive, authoritarian regimes, poverty, and all the rest that the Muslim world suffers. Yet, unlike the near daily headlines emanating from the Islamic world, there are no records of practicing Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus crashing explosives-laden vehicles into the buildings of oppressive (e.g., Cuban or Chinese communist) regimes, all the while waving their scriptures in hand and screaming, "Jesus [or Buddha or Vishnu] is great!" Why?
Ibrahim concludes with a response to the claim that the Crusades were a brutal holy war against Islam. He points out that in fact the historically, Crusades were a response to Jihad. He quotes Bernard Lewis:
Even the Christian crusade, often compared with the Muslim jihad, was itself a delayed and limited response to the jihad and in part also an imitation. But unlike the jihad, it was concerned primarily with the defense or reconquest of threatened or lost Christian territory. It was, with few exceptions, limited to the successful wars for the recovery of southwest Europe, and the unsuccessful wars to recover the Holy Land and to halt the Ottoman advance in the Balkans. The Muslim jihad, in contrast, was perceived as unlimited, as a religious obligation that would continue until all the world had either adopted the Muslim faith or submitted to Muslim rule. … The object of jihad is to bring the whole world under Islamic law.
Read the whole thing.

Considering Obama's speech in Cairo and his whitewash of Islam in history, Ibrahim's essay is especially timely.

Technorati Tag: and and and .

Post a Comment