As we witness the acts of violence taking place in the name of Jihad, it can seem that the world is on the brink of, if not fully engaged in, a war against Islam. This attitude has caused such a wave of anti-Islamic rhetoric that a new word has been coined to define it: Islamophobia. This fear of Islam has caused much unjustified discrimination and outright hatred against Muslims.
Is this fear unjustified, however? Haven’t we witnessed horrible acts of cruelty and vicious barbarity carried out by those who call themselves devout Muslims? A brief reading of sections of the Qur’an seems to strengthen the conclusion that Islam is a “cult of death” and that its adherents stand as the obstacle to world peace.
But what of the majority of Muslims who are good and decent people, who believe that their mission is to serve their God in peace? What of the vast majority of Muslims who condemn terror whether publicly or in their hearts? Have they not read their own holy text? Have they misunderstood the militant message of their own faith? Or perhaps they have done what we all have done with our holy texts and ancient traditions, reinterpreted them so as to better fit with our modern mentality.
No religion is a monolith. No religion has one core message; at least not one that can be agreed upon. An objective reading of any of the holy texts will leave one utterly confounded. Each religion has interwoven in its essence a strange cocktail of tribalistic barbarism and humanistic love, horrible cruelty and supreme morality. Such utter ambiguity has allowed religion to follow us into the modern era, whilst leaving our traditions and our scriptures intact.
Not long ago it was the Christians who, Bible in hand, attacked the very principles upon which our enlightened civilization now stand. Have we forgotten? Can we no longer hear the screams of the women burned at the stake for the made-up crime of witchcraft? Can we no longer smell the burnt flesh of the tortured Jews, Muslims and whoever else the Church deemed a heretic?
What of the Biblical Jewish people who under the leadership of Joshua carried out a genocidal campaign against seven nations? What of the Amalekite children who were slaughtered, by the Israelite pillagers for no reason other than their genealogy?
Nationalism is as culpable as religion for the heinous crimes committed in its name. People, it seems have been killing one another for the flags that fly above their heads ever since the first group of terrified homo sapiens huddled together bound by xenophobia.
What is the reason that even with religion’s tainted history and nationalism’s bloody past many of their adherents still seek coexistence with others of conflicting faiths? How can the same text be used to promote violence to one reader, and to inspire kindness in the next?
I think a careful eye will see the pattern, the string that connects all the bloody crusades, witch hunts, pogroms and the current Jihad.
We are certainly at war. Our enemy, however, is not Islam. Our enemy, the enemy of peace, the enemy of freedom, and the enemy that threatens once again to bring Armageddon is not one particular set of beliefs and rituals, it is not this prophet or that, it is not one flag or another – it is dogmatism. The belief that one holds the absolute truth, and that all other ideas contrary to his truth are flat-out wrong – this is dogmatism, and it always inspires hate.
Dogmatism has crept its way into every ideology. It has poisoned even the most well-meaning of mass movements. It has caused man to beat his plow shear into a sword to slay his blaspheming neighbor. To the one who admits his ignorance, to the one who is humble before the mystery of life, harming another because he holds a conflicting opinion becomes an abomination. To the dogmatist, killing the unholy, the impious, becomes a moral duty.
Islam is not the problem. Judaism is not the problem. Christianity is not the problem. Nationalism is not the problem. Each of these beliefs has caused as much beauty as they have chaos. They enslaved as they have freed slaves. They have murdered and they have demanded justice. They have inspired great evil and brought forth sublime good.
To combat dogmatism we must become critical of ourselves. We must smash our idols of conviction, destroy the temples of our vanity, and remember that the only thing we can know is that we know nothing at all.
Let us celebrate doubt, let us teach our children to think critically and question authority, let us remind ourselves that we might just be wrong and afford our neighbor the same right. Perhaps then – but certainly only then – we will vanquish the enemy that threatens to annihilate the human race.
The path to peace is paved with humility before the mystery of existence, doubt of even our most cherished beliefs and love of our fellow creatures that with us inhabit this small rock being tossed about in a very big universe.