Is Christianity really better than Islam?

Since the 1930s the body count produced by the soldiers of Christ far, far outnumbers the deaths caused by other faiths
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The Independent Online

Former Archbishop George Carey has just made, he claims, a thoughtful speech about the problem with Islam today. He believes the faith is associated with violence and political dictatorships; that a dark age has descended on Muslims in recent centuries which has led to creative stagnation.

Former Archbishop George Carey has just made, he claims, a thoughtful speech about the problem with Islam today. He believes the faith is associated with violence and political dictatorships; that a dark age has descended on Muslims in recent centuries which has led to creative stagnation.

He acknowledges the great Muslim civilisations of the past and their contribution to global progress (so he is not quite as ignorant as Robert Kilroy Silk), but now, he claims, we are a people without direction with hate in our hearts and bombs in our pockets.

He accuses Muslims of not condemning enough the suicide bombings in Israel. In his 5,000 words he never asks more British Jews to denounce the murderous policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Ah well, we Muslims are getting used to doublespeak and double standards from our great and good.

All enlightened Muslims (yes there are millions of them) feel a terrible pessimism and foreboding that authoritarianism, philistinism and barbarism are now the hallmarks of most Muslim states and too many Muslim immigrant communities - a barbarism which is killing hope, excellence, ambitions, life itself. We need reformation.

But we are also keenly aware of how leaders in the west - most of them the products of a Christian sensibility - have encouraged this backward state because it benefits their interests. How else do you explain the fact that the sanctimonious governments of the US and UK actively support the tyrannical despot in Uzbekistan, which has an appalling human rights record?

Not a week passes by without Islam being put in the dock. Carey says he meant to provoke a reaction. Well I mean to provoke a reaction with this in return, my own sober reflections on the influence of Christianity today.

What with Easter round the corner and Mel Gibson's Christ dripping with blood and money, it is time to interrogate the faith and its role in the world. Let us not go to the Atlantic slave trade or apartheid, both of which distorted parts of the bible to justify the unjustifiable. Good Christians, after all, were central to the movements to overthrow both. But look elsewhere over the last 75 years and assess the impact Christians have had. Has it been wholly benign or often destructive?

I do believe Christianity, as originally envisaged, is a great faith, one I have learnt much from myself. Gandhi once wrote of Jesus: "He was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became a ransom of the world. It was a perfect act." But faiths are more than their texts, their ideals, their stated principles or their heroic exemplars. Culture and politics invade, change, misuse belief to ignoble purposes, sometimes so much so that the faith becomes nothing more than useful spin. (A good question is whether it is faith which corrupts societies or societies which corrupt faith.)

Christianity seems to me the most redemptive and merciful of all the major religions. I remember as a child trying to comprehend this. Underneath the statue of Christ on the cross at the church near one of the four cinemas in Kampala were his words of sublime forgiveness: "Father Forgive them for they know not what they do".

Many individuals do live by this testing doctrine. I listened to a British woman on Radio 4 this week who was married to a Tutsi killed in the genocide. She is going back to find the killers so she can forgive them. But where, oh where is that essence of forgiveness among the merchants of power today? Christians such as George Bush and Tony Blair are so consumed with the madness of vengeance that they feel they have the right to "punish" the guilty and the innocent in their thousands because they can. The religion of peace has not prevailed. These faithful practitioners have become executioners and self justifying bullies. Blair himself said in his speech in Sedgefield that he found a new uncompromising toughness in himself after the attacks on 11 September. The US will not budge on Guantanamo Bay, a purpose-built concentration camp.

Christ had humility and called for perseverance in the face of provocation - turn the other cheek and so on. Yet since the 1930s the body count produced by the so called soldiers of Christ far, far outnumbers the deaths caused by other faiths on this good earth. I am including the two world wars and the Holocaust. Same story today. Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Pagans, Buddhists, Bahais, or believers in Voodoo do not own most of today's weapons of mass destruction. Christians do.

Look at domestic policies and the view is just as ugly. Criminal justice systems in the US and UK are becoming so punitive they are almost totally un-Christian. Nothing, it seems, can expunge guilt any more. In Florida 600,000 exfelons, including those who have done time and repented, are denied the vote and civil rights for life. Death row bulges with the mad and young, whom the state will put to death without national shame.

The gift of love and hospitality to strangers is another tenet which has been crushed by the laws of Christian countries and their populations. It is OK to hate asylum seekers and people desperately seeking a small living. Think of what we would do today if a swarthy, bearded, impoverished Joseph arrived with a pregnant wife looking for a place to stay for a few nights. In truth, although Muslim states have much that disgraces them, on this they have shown themselves more worthy than Christians. Even in Iraq, even as we were starving them first and then bombing them to bits, Iraqis gave surprised British journalists food, tea, warmth and care.

Then there is the issue of wealth. The rich in the west get ever richer (and the poorer ever more wretched) and human value is now measured in pounds and dollars. So what of Luke's account of what God wants: "sell all that you have and distribute it unto the poor and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven"? This demonically self-obsessed and trashy modern culture of ours is a travesty of all that is good about Christianity. The Ten Commandments are ignored. Blair deceives the nation, Thatcher destroyed the will of working miners, and Christian children cannot go to school in Northern Ireland without a police escort to protect them from, well, other Christians.

By now, some readers may be splitting with indignation. You can't, they will say, blame the faith for the actions of politicians, princes, business people, and states. True. These people like Bush are not real Christians. True again. What about the great contribution Christians are making to science, medicine, the arts and literature, to freedom, human rights and democracy?

Yes, I must accept these objections. We once were but now Muslims are not at the forefront of these developments. It is also unfair to focus solely on the bad that Christians do when they have also given the world so much.

But Islam and Muslims are constantly faced with such unfair generalities, disrespect and sweeping accusations. How does that make us feel?

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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