Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Christianist Terrorist?

Thanks to Integral Options Cafe for posting the following about religion and terrorism.

I've written about the issues of gun violence, terrorismand the psychology of labeling in the past. And specifically, I've made comments about how media outlets and the general public in many nations routinely label violent acts done by Muslims as "Islamic terrorism," while at the same time, pointing to similar acts done by Christians, Buddhists, Hindus or others as having nothing to do with the person's religious background. Here is the first two paragraphs from the article posted on Integral Options Cafe:

Jury selection starts this week in the trial of Scott Roeder, who has confessed to the assassination last May of George Tiller, a doctor vilified by pro-lifers for performing late-term abortions.

(There's a trial because Roeder pled "not guilty''; since he considers abortion to be murder, he doesn't believe he committed a crime by walking into Tiller's Wichita church and shooting the doctor in the head.) Roeder has a history of mental disturbance but he's also deeply religious, according to his ex-wife, who says he "turned to the church and got involved in anti-abortion.'' So was his the act of a nutcase? Maybe, instead, we should consider it "Christianist terrorism''?

Scott Roeder's case was what prompted me last spring to really consider how commonplace this kind of mislabeling is. Have you ever heard the phrase "Christianist terrorist" anywhere? I know I haven't. And is it even accurate? Where in the Bible is there a call to murder doctors who are performing abortions? Where is there any justification for murder whatsoever?

There continues to be a lot of hand-wringing over the case of Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, who murdered 13 of his colleagues and injured 30 more in November. And yet, nearly every description of this horrible act is explicitly linked to Islam, whereas Roeder's acts is almost never linked in such a way. Both Hasan and Roeder took very extreme views of certain teachings in their faiths, and then chose to act in the most extreme way possible. However, neither man represents even a conservative view of their traditions. They've stepped out of bounds with their acts, and as far as I'm concerned we need to condemn their acts individually, and not attach any religious tag on it. In addition, we need work to understand why people use religion to justify horrific acts like terrorism, and look for systemic ways to prevent such things from happening in the future. And when I say systemic, I don't mean body scanning machines, which are simply reactionary measures. Maybe they provide some level of security, but they don't root out terrorism.

Buddhism is all about going to the roots, and uprooting that which is preventing us from being liberated. I believe this is what will be necessary to change the cultures of terrorism that have stolen religious teachings, and taken down so many lives in the process. Lets begin with how we label acts in the world - using simple, clear speech instead of labels bathed in suspicion and hatred.


Adam said...

Buddhist Pacifist!!!!

Just kidding. You're right though. The "terrorist" label is just a 21st century way of saying Us vs Them. Another means by which to dehumanize and dismantle our "enemies" into something other than people.

I wonder if those in Islamic countries in which we(the U.S.) have a military or heavy economic presence label us as "Christian terrorists"?

Anonymous said...

You sure seem to like pulverizing things into smaller and smaller pieces. Where's the Buddha in all that?

Nathan said...

I haven't a clue what you mean anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan,

Yes, if this fella acted according to Radical Christian beliefs and was supported or inspired by a network of people that advocate Christian terrorism, then I agree with you that he should be called a Christian terrorist.

But I'd also sugest that the reason you don't often hear the term is because it so rarely occurs.

When did you last hear of someone trying to blow up a plane due to their Christianity?

The point is, with Muslim terrorists, their actions are supported across whole swathes of the Muslim world. Not the majority by any means, but many preachers and people in positions of religious authority across the Islamic world support and encourage terrorism and the same can not be said of other faiths.

Ignoring this obvious and simple fact does nothing at all in helping those moderate Muslims who do not support terrorism and who has the most important job of convincing their co-religionists that terrorism is wrong.

Sadly, those Muslims that support terrorism are in the ascendance across this world, and ignoring their motives does nothing to challenge their behaviour.

I mean, it now seems clear from the Defence Department review that in the case of Foot Hood those responsible for overseeing Maj. Nidal Hasan's performance had many times voiced concerns over his Radical views on Islam and on his inappropriate behavior, and yet they continued to allow him to progress upwards in his career.

Basically, political correctness, refusing to state the obvious in the case of Radical Islam for fear of creating offense, allowed terrorism to happen.

So yes, if it's Christian terrorism, let's say as much. And if it's Muslim terrorism, let's say as much. Anything else is positively dangerous.


Dan said...

In answer to Marcus's post, a couple of points

The 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland were at least in part motivated by sectarian Christian interests. Bombers and murderers on both sides enjoyed wide-spread support from the general church-going community yet the conflict was usually portrayed as Republican vrs Nationalist rather than Catholic vrs Protestant.

More generally, there is a gross imbalance in the way stories of violence are told. If you look at suicide bombing, you'll see that it for a long time was the preserve of non-Islamic Middle Eastern activists. Surprisingly, and in direct contradiction to the popular understanding, Hezbollah suicide bombers in the Lebanon were overwhelmingly leftist, not Islamist. Interestingly, Lebanese Christians have volunteered as suicide bombers. Robert Pape wrote a very well researched - and footnoted - book on this. Of 38 suicide bombers whose background could be checked, 27 were leftist, 8 Islamist, and 3 Christian. This is not something which stands easily with the media portrayal of the world.

More generally still, "we" tend to pick out Islam as problematic but remain utterly blind to "our" failings. Western nations have invaded overtly or covertly - and all clearly in violation of international law - countless countries. They've killed millions and these actions have enjoyed widespread support. Somehow, this seems natural - a mistake here and there perhaps, but you've got to look long and hard to find citizens of western democracies who see that this is built into the structure of "our" societies. For example, "we" pull the strings of international trade and finance yet "we" tolerate a world which condemns 30,000 children a day to die of poverty. Contrast this with perceptions of Islam. "Our" actions are an unfortunate feature of the world, the way things are. American and British soldiers spend two decades killing millions of Iraqis and it's - at worst - an accident; a nutcase tries to blow up his underpants and Islam is wicked and the Islamic world is to blame. There seems to be a slight imbalance in views there.