Islamic Violence

ImageAmericans are finally waking up to the fact that Islam is a worldwide phenomenon, and not just “over there,” although we seem to believe we are the first to have discovered this and are going at it like Marco Polo.  American media commentary about Islam would make you think that you were listening to the first broadcast from the moon.  “What’s it like?” America asks.  “We will tell you,” says the news.

For my part, I’ve read the Koran twice cover to cover, which is far less than many Muslims, and far more than most Christians.

The million dollar question today is whether or not Islam is inherently violent.  “Is it?” you are asking.  “I will tell you,” says I.

There are two popular lines.  One is the ranting and insistent “Yes!” which has on its side a vast array of very obvious evidence, namely, that some of the most terrorist-producing countries are Muslim.  Muslim countries are not good to women.  Honor killings are still practiced in some Muslim countries.  The people who point this out usually do so without much nuance.

The second popular voice is a more calm but less sensible, “No.” It’s the claim that Muslims are just people like everyone else who have a peaceful religion like Christianity or Buddhism.  They’re misrepresented by extremists the way sophomoric cynics try to group all Christians with Westboro Baptist Church.  This view is based on hope.

The Koran came to be when Muhammed entrenched the ethical code of the 7th century Arabian desert in an eternal religious being whom he claimed was speaking to him.  Thus Muslim ethics will always be tied to the nature of daily life in that cultural context.  In that context, if a tribe attacked your tribe, and you did not retaliate, you signaled weakness.  Thus the rival tribe would feel empowered to attack again, to take your women as property, to drive your people away.  “An eye for an eye” is the teaching of the Koran.  Forgiveness is encouraged only insofar as it causes a person to reform.  But territorial defense is essential.

Is that violent?  Sort of.  It’s also sort of basic, common-sense justice that you would expect of a culture that isn’t governed by a bureaucratic legal system.  It’s not the same as the Christian ethic of turning the other cheek and repaying evil with good.  It’s not the same as Christianity, and the two are not just different paths to the same God.  But it also isn’t crazy.

The problem is that masses of Muslims throughout the world are told that the West has already taken eyes and teeth from them in wars of incursion.  The sexual morality we dispense through our movies and our scandalous celebrities is fairly convincing proof that we’re not reforming.  So in a cross-section of the Muslim world, there is a wholesale belief that the West has attacked.  If they don’t respond in kind in some way, it will signify weakness and allow for further offense.  That’s just the way of the desert.  So rather than demonizing Islam, take its ethic for what it is: pre-Enlightenment myopia.  Combine that with abject poverty and you have something that is potentially volatile.  However, it isn’t of necessity violent.


13 thoughts on “Islamic Violence

  1. Nothing that a Christian and a Muslim can say to each other will render their beliefs mutually vulnerable to discourse, because the very tenets of their faith have immunized them against the power of conversation. Believing strongly, without evidence, they have kicked themselves loose of the world. It is therefore in the very nature of faith to serve as an impediment to further inquiry. Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the Earth, more than half the American population believes that the entire cosmos was created 6,000 years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect presidents and congressmen believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon the Ark of Noah, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the Earth and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, by the hand of an invisible God. This is embarrassing.

  2. Hi James. I think that there is sufficient evidence that Islam is violent. This is due to the inherent ideology of bringing the world into submission to Islam. The further fact that Islam does not contain a personal Saviour and that “salvation” can only be attained through Jihad is most certainly the demonic lie that adds fuel to the fire. You may be interested in a blog that I did on Islam yesterday, based on a video create my a Muslim who exposes radical Islam. It is very good and can be watched here

  3. Pastor, This topic is so relevant – particularly in light of the Boston Marathon bombing bringing it to the forefront and the President’s seeming refusal to identify it as a jihadist Islamic act of terrorism, despite the postings on the brother’s websites and the surviving brother’s admission to FBI interrorgators that they did it because of their religion…. Would you consider taking an evening to do a one session class at Glenkirk on something of the order of “The Truth About Islam – A Primer For Confused Christians” ? I’d sign up in an instant. (There are other hot button issues that could be in an extended “The Truth About” series – such as topics you’ve addressed in your blog column before — and you’d be ideal to address these – but could we start with this?) A lot of us would sure appreciate attending a session like this! Thanks for thinking about it…

    An eager student,

    1. Hmm…I think it’s a little more complicated than that. Our ideologies impose on other people all the time, and in that we are communal animals, I don’t think we can assume each other’s belief systems will remain independent of government. Personally, I don’t think someone who believes in bombing people is allowed to believe what he wants to believe. Each and every law limits someone’s freedom to act on their beliefs.

  4. I appreciate your post Jim. One of the last points you make involves “abject poverty”. Are you saying that poverty, rather than immorality, causes violence? Also, would you say, from your understanding of the Koran, that Muslims may condone violence if they perceive an attack solely based on acts contrary to teachings in the Koran? Would that include a secular lifestyle or homosexuality? I have read that there are many more verses that permit violence against non-Muslims (esp. those that are not dhimmi) than verses that warn against violence except in self defense. You seem to say that the Koran “doesn’t” permit violence against or killing of non-Muslims. Am I reading you right?

    1. Hi Todd. Crime rates always increase with rates of poverty, so call it immorality if you want, but that will fail to address some of the systemic evil that gives rise to the symptoms. As to the second group of questions, I don’t think most Muslims would misinterpret an immoral culture as an attack, but I think they would say that it confirms an unwillingness to reform, and willingness to reform is the only provision for a Muslim’s forgiveness. Does that make sense? To the final question: I’m not sure how you interpret the post to say that the Koran doesn’t permit violence – I said it permits retributive violence but not unprovoked violence. Hope that distinction makes sense.

  5. Hi again, Tom. The Koran does not mention suicide bombers (gunpowder wasn’t known in Arabia until the 13th century, I believe). It also doesn’t say anything about a certain number of virgins in heaven. It does say that people who fight for Allah will go to heaven and that there is marriage in heaven. The teaching on the 70+ virgins comes from a couple hundred years after Muhammed by a guy who claimed that Muhammed said it, but there is no verification of that.

    1. Jim,
      I’m learning a lot! Back to the violence matter…. If not in the Koran: 1. Where does the teaching (or at least the perceived teaching) come from that those who do not convert to Islam should be put to death? – 2. a related teaching – that Christians and Jews who don’t convert are allowed to live if they pay a tax and acknowledge the supremacy of Islam? – 3. That the goal of Islam is a global caliphate which can legitimately be achieved by waging war and conquering nations…whereupon conquered peoples are given the choice of conversion, death, or subserviance to their conquerors? Thanks for correcting my own misconceptions of the sources of these very common ideas… I assume they ARE being taught (from what I read) but where do these concepts come from? Your insights are appreciated! – Tom

      1. Jim,
        Will you kindly address this last comment / question posting? If these items are not in the Koran (which thanks to you I now know) where are these ideas coming from – somebody / lots of somebody’s seem to be teaching these concepts – so what is the basis for these teachings? Thanks…. -tom

  6. Jim,
    Will you address the assumption that the Koran authorizes any behavior that advances Islam – including lying, deception, and military conquest – or the idea that despite protestations to the contrary, all non-believers who do not convert should be put to death – except that Christians and Jews “The People of the Book” can stay alive if they acknowlege their inferiority to Islam and pay a tax…. Are these correct assumptions…. Appreciate your clarification on these points…. Tom

    1. Sure, Tom. The Koran does not authorize any behavior that advances Islam. There would be no way to get that interpretation out of it.

      The reading that non-believers should be killed comes from a selective reading of the texts. When the Koran threatens non-Muslims, it is in the context of those who threaten Islam. There are other seemingly contradictory texts in the Koran which talk about peaceful behavior towards non-Muslims. The gist of the book is that Muslims are to be readily defensive, but not wildly offensive.

      That said, I don’t like the tone of the Koran. It leaves open patterns of human behavior that Jesus never did. The ethic of Jesus is, I think, far more sacrificial, holy, and loving.

      1. Thanks, Jim… I am assuming then that the challenge with radicalized Muslims is from Imams who selectively interpret the Koran texts to promote a political agenda. I do know from history that Mohammed led an army and did encourage military conquest as a means of expanding Islam’s influence. But it quite revealing to learn the Koran itself does not condone violence… but what about the texts that identify martyrs as having their sins forgiven and the service of 77 virgins in heaven if they pull the trigger on themselves as suicide bombers?

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