If you were to ask the average citizen, the eponymous ‘man in the street’ (as sexist as that may sound), about religious intolerance, hate and violent extremism and which particular faith, if any, is most guilty of these crimes, I would be very, very surprised if the answer you did not receive is ‘Islam’. We are, after all, living in a post 9/11 world where Islamist terrorists have dominated the headlines, and with good reason. Not a day goes by without a major attack by any one of thousands of terrorist groups which hew to the Islamist extremist creed. Ignoring this is the same as ignoring reality.
More narrowly, however, is the same true for attacks by religious extremists on those who hold to another faith? In other words, are those that believe in God #1 more likely to strike those that believe in God #2 than the reverse? Again, you would be hard pressed not to put Islamists in the top spot. Yesterday’s attack by an Islamic State (IS) affiliate in the Philippines on a cathedral in the southern Island of Jolo, killing at least 20 and injuring a further 81 or so, is but the latest of these atrocities. It would take me a lot of blogs to go over Islamist terrorist attacks on people and locales associated with other faiths. So yes a lot of violence is perpetrated by those who call themselves Muslims.
And yet, Islamists are not the only ones who think it is ok to target believers in other religions. Buddhist monks are among the most vile instigators of violence against minority Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In India, Hindu extremists target Muslims who are engaged in what they call ‘love jihad’ (i.e. marrying Hindu women and forcibly converting them) as well as the largely Muslim-dominated cattle slaughtering trade (as cows are deemed sacred by Hinduism). In Israel, Jewish extremists in the West Bank have targeted Palestinians – a recent case is in the courts right now – for ‘occupying’ land that God promised to the Jews.
And what about Christian extremists? At a recent Friday prayer session at an Edmonton mosque, two men, one wearing an ‘infidel’ toque, entered to “to catch real Muslims walking in to possibly answer questions”, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. The toque-wearing man has ties to Soldiers of Odin, a far right anti-immigrant group. He may or may not be religious, but there is a strong whiff of Christian extremism in many far right groups. We cannot forget the January 2017 attack on a mosque in Quebec City that killed six and a recent survey showed that a significant percentage of hate speech online in Canada is anti-Islamic. Again, I do not want to state unequivocably that those who post are Christian extremists but many who are against immigration – including Muslim immigration – want to keep Canada (Christian) white.
So while today’s blog was inspired – not a great word to use when speaking of the killing of innocents – by a horrific attack on a Christian place of worship by a terrorist group that thinks it has hold of the ‘truth’, it is unabashedly a promotion of my upcoming book When Religions Kill (to be published by Lynne Rienner this fall). Religious terrorism is not monopolised any one creed. There are adherents to most religions who justify the use of violence, including violence targeting specifically members of a different faith seen as – pick one – apostates, atheists, enemies of God, etc. After all, that is one of the criteria often cited in defining terrorism: an act of serious violence committed for ideological, political or religious reasons.
Religion can lead to amazingly beautiful works of art and acts of kindness and charity. It can also lead a small number to kill in the name of divine justice. We need to support the former and condemn (and prevent) the latter. Somehow I don’t think the Gods we profess to worship are smiling much over the violence committed in their names.