Thursday, May 15, 2014
After posting an article dissecting the current responses to the Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria, and the ongoing imperialist agenda in Africa by the US and NATO allies, a friend of mine left a comment on my Facebook page that included the following lines:
"These men aren't Muslims. Let's be clear on this."
I started writing a response to her, but then realized it was getting long, so I'll offer it here as a blog post instead.
There has been a similar debate amongst Buddhists around the globe in response to the hatred driven violence of a group in Burma called the 969 Movement. I wrote this article last summer, and it's gotten worse over there since then, as the movement's influence has spread.
While I think these folks have gone off the rail, and have completely distorted Buddhist teachings to support their agenda, they're still Buddhists. Saying they aren't not only erases their identity, but also allows a false sense of separation from the evil they're producing.
So many Buddhists can't imagine that their religion/spiritual path could be so horribly co-opted and used to justify horrific actions and hatred, but this is only the most current example of a long history of such behavior in different nations. I think it's better to own all of this, recognize that nothing is beyond corruption, and join public calls to clean house. It's a subtle distinction perhaps. I want what the 969 Movement is doing to end, and those who won't stop to be stopped, even if it means they're disrobed, jailed, and tossed out of the Buddhist order (many of the leaders are monks). The difference is the starting point for me is their chosen identity, one which has often been lifelong, however wrong they've gone. What drove these Buddhist people to join this movement and believe the leaders of it? Why are they now turning on neighbors they've lived peacefully with for decades? These are the kinds of questions I have asked.
While I readily agree that the men in Boko Haram do not at all represent what Islam is about, I disagree that they are not Muslims. Especially if they have spent much or all of their lives as Muslims, and haven't just converted to join the fight. Which doesn't seem to be the pattern here. One of the biggest challenges is that this is so much more about poverty, human exploitation, sexism, fallout from colonialism, and fossil fuel power games than about religion. Many of the perpetrators were/are also victims of the elites in control of Boko Haram, and those dying and suffering from their actions are a cross section of Christians, Muslims, and folks with other backgrounds. Instead of saying they aren't Muslim, I ask "What drives these young Muslim men to join this group, and become murderers and oppressors? In addition to calls for this ending, how can we in the world community help diminish the likelihood of this happening again?
It may seem like semantics here, but I actually think it's crucial that these kinds of situations do not be treated as the actions of some small, evil "other." They are us, these folks who perpetrate the worst of atrocities in the name of whatever religion or philosophy they claim supports their actions. Nothing, however sacred and life-giving it may be, is beyond the realm of corruption and co-option. Owning up to this, and claiming the people who act so horribly as part of our communities, is the path towards peace and liberation.