Faith & Reason: The West must not now search for demons in Islam

Just as Muslims are acknowledging the evil in their midst is not the time for Christians to do the reverse

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Religion, as we all know, is part of the problem when it comes to international terrorism. There was much rejoicing in the West this week to hear a leading Muslim publicly concede as much. "It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims," said Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, the general manager of the widely watched satellite television station Al Arabiya.

Religion, as we all know, is part of the problem when it comes to international terrorism. There was much rejoicing in the West this week to hear a leading Muslim publicly concede as much. "It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims," said Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, the general manager of the widely watched satellite television station Al Arabiya.

But another straw in the wind showed that things might be moving in a different direction in the West. "To the fundamentalists there are no good westerners any more - we are all part of the unfaithful," said Charles Lambroschini, deputy editor of Le Figaro, of the two French journalists still being held hostage. By "good" he meant that the French had opposed the war. But he might equally have been speaking of the Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni who was recently executed as a representative of the West despite personally being anti-Iraq war and a volunteer for the Red Cross who was returning from taking someone to hospital when he was abducted. Or he might have had in mind the two Italian women aid workers kidnapped as "spies" despite their charity's track record of campaigning against UN sanctions for over a decade; their captors have threatened to use them "to burn the hearts" of "the crusader criminal Italian people" whose government has troops in Iraq supporting the US occupation.

It is easy to despair at all this. But the danger in Mr Lambroschini's words is that they tempt liberals in the West into a mirror-image blanket demonisation of the kind which Bernard-Henri Lévy so vividly chronicled in his book Who killed Daniel Pearl? He concluded that to be an American, a Jew, and a journalist (i.e. spy) was sin enough.

But religion has more to offer here than Mr Lambroschini might allow. Mr Rahman al-Rashed went on to describe Islam as "an innocent and benevolent religion, whose verses prohibit the felling of trees in the absence of urgent necessity, that calls murder the most heinous of crimes, that says explicitly that if you kill one person you have killed humanity as a whole"; he condemned the "neo-Muslims" who have turned this vision into "a global message of hate and a universal war cry".

His not a solitary voice. Criticism has been heard in the past fortnight in Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and even Palestine. Cynics might suggest this is all just realpolitik but it is significant that all the criticism has been couched in religious terms. The talk is of reclaiming Islam and its noble values from the men "who grow beards and demand the wearing of veils" and who "have fixed the image of Muslims in the eyes of the world as barbarians and savages".

Christianity, too, faces both ways on this. There have been those in America, President George W. Bush among them, who have persistently sought to paint a Christian face on the war in Iraq. At the outset it was a "crusade". Then it was, blasphemously to Muslims, "Operation Infinite Justice". Next, right-wing US evangelists heaped vicious abuse upon Islam and its Prophet. Then Christian relief groups, including one close to Mr Bush, announced that they would use the rebuilding of Iraq as an opportunity to proselytise. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and the Vatican, both made politically naïve remarks which were taken as anti-Muslim. Rome even recently, with inept timing, beatified a Crusader friar.

Next William G. Boykin, the US deputy Under-Secretary of Defence for intelligence, began appearing at evangelical rallies, in military uniform, describing the war in Iraq as a Holy Crusade against Islam, a religion aligned with Satan. Finally the White House has even had a secret meeting with End-Time Christians vociferously lobbying against a Palestinian state since it would hinder the Second Coming.

But Christianity has a different message at its heart. Central to its theology is the notion that Jesus Christ absorbed into himself the hurt of the world thus putting an end to the onward transmission of violence in an inevitable cycle. As Martin Luther King put it:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

A failure to appreciate this, combined with the brutality of events in Iraq and Russia, must not drive us into George Bush's conservative camp on what to do next. Religion may be part of the problem, but it is part of the solution too.

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