Do not fight hate with hate

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“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

YESTERDAY IN Sydney armed man Haron Monis, carrying an Islamic flag, took hostages in a Sydney café in a siege that captured the attention of the world. Less than a day later, it was over, and Monis, along with two members of the public, lay dead. There will be some who, I suspect, over and above mourning the loss of innocent life, use this event to reinforce their view that religion is uniquely dangerous. My heart sank as the story broke, both because of the horror faced by the poor victims, but also because of the inevitable backlash against Muslims in general that we may be about to see. This has nothing to do with what I think of Islam. I am hardly an advocate. But it has everything to do with the excuses we sometimes make to overlook the ways in which we fail to love others.

It pays to take note of the fact that back in 2008, six years ago, there was a call for Monis to be investigated. That call came from The Shia Muslim community.

While this fearful scene was unfolding, another was about to begin in Philadelphia. As I write this, 35-year-old Bradley Stone has shot and killed six people and wounded another. Stone’s religion is, as far as I know, unknown, and more to the point it has not been identified as a factor of any relevance. I didn’t go looking for this story, it was right there on the front page of leading news websites. A few days ago in my home city of Wellington there was a violent axe attack in which a woman was killed and two other people injured. Although what happened to those poor people in Sydney just hours ago is simply awful and must never be downplayed, in 2013 there were 430 homicide victims and 158 attempted murder victims in Australia. In how many of those cases was religion a factor at all, let alone a motivating force? In truth I have no idea, but my guess is that you and I both believe the number is close to zero if it isn’t zero. Let’s keep things in perspective.

The narrative that this thing called “religion” is uniquely dangerous is useful to some people, ironically, because it helps to advance their own hate. The belief reaches the heights of idiocy when people say things like “for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” Well, or tragedy that sends them over the edge. Or political ideology and brainwashing. Or mental unwellness (as was probably the case here and is the case in Philadelphia). Or pent-up frustration with authorities. Or a whole lot of possible things.

As I’ve said before and will doubtless say again – there is no one thing called “religion.” “Religion” is not one unified worldview any more than “unbelief” is a unified worldview. The differences between some religions is as great as the difference between Christianity and atheism. The differences between different varieties of the same religion can be striking enough. My intention is not to engage in “bashing,” but as I noted back in April 2012, nearly all terrorism deaths associated with religion are inflicted by Sunni Muslims. Yes, some were inflicted by Christian extremists, but comparatively very few indeed. More than six times that many are carried out by people in the name of secular political causes. Referring indiscriminately to the harm wreaked by this thing called “religion” then is simplistic and often self-defeating in context. Should we cast aspersion on secular politics since people die because of it?

You might be one of those who takes the tough, “honest” approach: “Look Glenn, I’m sure you mean well, but let’s face reality. As geniuses like Sam Harris and Bill Maher say, it’s a dangerous religion. Don’t try to be so politically correct about it.” As much as I respect the idea of facing the unpopular truth, you’d be missing the point if you go down that path with this. Globally, that may even be true, and it is certainly more true in some places than in others. But get your head into the “right now.” Right now there are Muslim people in Australia who – whether you think it’s consistent with your understanding of Islam or not – genuinely want peace and freedom. Right now many of these people are having to look over their shoulder, are at greater risk than you, are in fear and are under constant scrutiny and suspicion. Giving them Harris’s pearls of wisdom about how dangerous their religion really is will probably not do anybody any good.

Cool heads, people. Just as a pretty cold week last week doesn’t prove or disprove anything about climate change, actions like these do not offer any meaningful insight on “religion.” For what it’s worth, why not throw your name being the #‎Illridewithyou campaign on Twitter and Facebook? While we’re letting each other know that not all Muslims are the same, let’s make sure they know that we’re not all the same.  That some around us may be showing less love to Muslims is reason for us to show more.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Peter Grice December 16, 2014, 10:16 pm

    I do agree with everything you said.

    There is a principle there which perhaps should also apply to the narrative about bigots, and the media presentation in general, lest we overcompensate for the problem you mentioned, and end up never having accurate reporting and a mature conversation.

    For example, in the media here, everyone was at pains to say it was just political motivation. Except for the gunman himself, who was at pains to say something different. He deliberately chose a location directly opposite to a major television studio, had his religious motivation plastered against the window for the world to see, and made a demand for an IS/ISIS/ISIL flag (we didn’t hear that in the Aussie media, and understandably so). So, sure, political motivation. And without question, religious motivation. Islam in particular. So what? Just report it. Don’t mollycoddle. Why does the media think that the word itself is taboo? I’m not sure I ever heard “Islam” mentioned when discussing the man or the flag. Are there really all these bigots out there in Australia who are poised to impugn the many with the actions of one guy? I think I heard the phrase “Right wing extremists,” in the context of those who might retaliate with hate crimes. We’re not America or Europe. We have no “Australian Defense League.” If you’re presenting in the media, and concerned about that, just issue the caution. It’s not your job to construct narrative. By all means, say “lone wolf” and “damaged goods” and point out how criminal and unstable he was known to be. Make sure you get an emphatic condemnation from legitimate Muslim leaders, lest there be any doubt. All of that is fact-based and helpful for allaying concern. Once we know that, we have context to understand. But why say things like “It may not even be a flag… could be just a piece of material.” and “People see some Arabic writing and jump to conclusions!”—as though the writing didn’t have known religious significance?

    If any other religion or ideology had been presented so unambiguously, there’d be no hesitation to use the right term. Because we’re grown-ups, and we know the difference between a one-man-show and something sanctioned.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite sure that Muslim communities are the brunt of some bigotry here. In the terror threat about beheadings here a few months ago, there was a report of graffiti at a local mosque, some Muslim women being verbally abused in a car at the traffic lights, and a Muslim woman having coffee splashed at her at a shopping center—detestable, bigoted stuff. Beyond that, I don’t recall, but I’m sure there would have been more. Except that how do we know that this was a spike in bigotry, or that any particular ethnicity receives any more bigotry than any other, or that it is even a problem Australia struggles with more than most comparable countries?

    In other words, why impugn the many with the actions of a few? Why does the media so readily imply that there’s this groundswell of anti-Muslim bigotry in a Australia, ready to explode like a powder keg, when they’re so diligent not to say the man’s own motivation and declared affiliation?

  • Glenn December 16, 2014, 11:08 pm

    That’s interesting Peter. Over the ditch here they reported plenty of times that he had a Muslim flag and had requested an IS flag. But yeah, I guess over here the media wouldn’t think that they needed to avoid an anti-Muslim backlash so much.

    I don’t really know what sentiment towards Muslims is like on the ground over there, I’ve just picked up this sentiment (exactly from where I’m not sure) that Australia is pretty racist among the working class – Not that I necessarily bought it, but that’s what I’ve picked up as a common opinion of what it’s like.

    Basically like this: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=1033942769955549&pnref=story

  • Peter Grice December 17, 2014, 12:07 am

    We’re a work in progress, but in my estimation far better than some other places where it might be more appropriate to worry about a racist undercurrent. We’re very egalitarian, like NZ I suspect, and “Aussie mateship” has been the way this has been thoroughly narrated and etched into the working class consciousness in particular. So while Muslims remain overtly less assimilated than other more historical immigrant minority cultures, I think that generates the perception in some that “we” are somehow being snubbed by “them.” Which is ignorant, and naive regarding assimilation, but not necessarily racist at its core. Of course I am not likely to be in touch with it all, not being on the receiving end. But in terms of what I’m picking up across the board, no we’re really not racist in any way which should anticipate any kind of hate crime, generally speaking.

    You’re always going to find exceptions, like the guy in the video. But the rest were just looking at him like he’s a freak and mostly ignoring him, which is indicative of the wider culture. Although spouting an unbalanced view, it didn’t sound seem like he would actually cross over into any kind of harm.

    I stand corrected about an “Australian Defense League.” Apparently so.

  • Peter Grice December 17, 2014, 3:47 pm

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