Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Question of Violence and Apology

Post 8

This post being the 8th, this is a rather new blog. But already quite a few posts have been devoted to violence in a blog devoted to Christian-Muslim relations. I am in no way trying to convey that violence is the main characteristic of Christian-Muslim relations. I argued that no religion is violent by nature. Instead, violence inheres potentially in every human being. All we need is the right trigger and there we go, if not as individuals, then as groups, nations—or religions.

So, then, why do I keep writing about violence in this blog? Have I been carried away by the prevalence of discussions and reports on violence featured in the media? Probably. Who can resist the media's influence 100%? As Qamarul Huda of the US Institute of Peace wrote recently, "It is nearly impossible to speak about contemporary Islam without referring to the subject of violence." It is such a popular discussion and one so often derailed, that it is a good thing if you have something that helps diffuse the subject. Sometimes I think I have. I believe my idea of tracing the root of violence to human nature instead of religion should lead us to look in a different direction for the causes of violence and not blame any religion so automatically or quickly.

This brings me to the issue of apologies. Maher Arar, publisher of the online Canadian magazine Prism, criticizes Muslim leaders and organizations who seem so ready to apologize for all Muslims when some Muslims are arrested for alleged terrorist acts, even before they have been tried and judged guilty. Why should they? he asks. When Catholic priests are abusive, no one speaks of “Christian abuse” or “Catholic abuve,” for all know that both Christianity and its Catholic version vehemently reject abusive behaviour. But when some Muslims engage in terrorism, it immediately is touted as “Muslim terrorism.” What accounts for the difference? Arar suggests it is fear called up by sensational journalism that constantly interprets such acts as the natural product of core Islam, its logical outcome. Remember the statement by Verkouteren, that Dutch jurist in Post 3 of this blog, who insisted that you cannot blame the misbehaviour of an individual on his religion, unless you can prove it to be the natural result of that religion’s core beliefs. Arar’s argument is the same.

Of course, not all readers accept Arar’s argument. Bruce Howitt from Vancouver, referring to the readiness with which Germans today apologize for the Holocaust, asks rhetorically, “Is it too much to ask Maher Arar and other Muslim spokespeople to take a lesson from them [Germans] and apologize for the mayhem and destruction of lives and property caused by Muslims in the name of jihad and religion?” Alan Cooper, another Vancouverite, does not accept Arar’s critique of Muslim leaders. He finds that the Canadian Council of Imams is doing the right thing by their condemnations of Muslims involved in terrorism. Their statements tell us that being a “decent Muslim requires vocal condemnation of so-called radical Islam.” Herewith he urges Arar to get out there and apologize when Muslim leaders fail to prevent terrorism on the part of Muslims or “disgraceful treatment of women by others.”

So what gives? Who is right? The answer, I suggest, depends on the situation these writers either imply or assume. Arar’s argument seems to imply or assume that violence and terrorism by individual Muslims or by Muslim groups is a rarity. It seldom happens. That being the case, why blame their religion if some isolated group of extremist Muslims goes off the deep end? Howitt and Cooper imply or assume that such violence and terrorism occur frequently, so frequently in fact, that people have begun to think of it as common to Muslims and is a result of their religion.

I guess I need to give some direction here. A question: Is violence/terrorism by Muslims rare or frequent? I wish I could say “rare” and be done with the question. Unfortunately, the facts force me to admit it is a frequent occurrence.

I really would like to leave the issue of violence for a while, as if that were the only issue between Christians and Muslims. But there is this “but….” that still needs to be cleared away.

1 comment:

  1. There is an intellectual honesty in this post that is refreshing. I also appreciate the personalized and thus more thorough approach to this question of apology. The angles you captured by the contributing parties helped me better understand this question.