The Guardian Newspaper
Perhaps as many as a million people today are marching in silent solidarity in France today. It is a testimony to the 17 people murdered by terrorists during three terrifying days last week, and a determination not to let them destroy the freedom that is a hallmark of France.
What I am hoping is that the western world will also be able to overcome the tendency to blame Muslims because they are Muslims for these acts of terrorism.
They are terrible, and there is no way I can condone defending one’s perceived rights using the barbarism we saw on 9/11,or have seen on the Parisian streets this week or in the agonizing viciousness taking place in Africa or the Middle East, or perhaps in disguised forms, in our own countries which separate church and state.
If Christians are in the slightest way tempted to blame the Muslim religion itself for these acts, perhaps we had better look at ourselves. Look at the burnings at the stake, at the stretchings on the rack, at the beheadings, at the mass destruction of cities and peoples orchestrated by institutionalized Christianity that went on for centuries. The Crusades were barbarous. Raping and murder were justified on religious grounds. Then look at how Rome evaluated thinkers like Galileo with whom they disagreed solely on scientific grounds. And then let us remember the religious wars which ripped through Europe and beyond as people used the battle cry of Christianity to slaughter other Christians who disagreed with some article of supposedly unquestionable faith.
No, it isn’t being a religious Muslim that turns people into terrorists.
As Kathleen Armstrong points out in her recent book, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, all wars have not been fought on religious grounds. In an exceptionally well-researched study, the author shows that for thousands of years, religion has been used to justify and support violence, but has also often shown people how to choose a different alternative to conflict. Religion, like politics, is used to defend whichever path we choose to tread. Sometimes it is violent. But sometimes it is a path of negotiation, of compromise, of peace.