To avoid unscrupulous suspicions of emotionally driven bias towards my argument, I think it is helpful to note that I am not a Muslim, nor do I have any particularly strong ties to Islam. I was raised Catholic and quickly became an atheist, I grew up in the Dominican Republic with virtually no contact with the Arab world beyond the occasional Kibbeh I would eat with the most unwitting ignorance of where it originally came from.
I have not had the pleasure of traveling to a Muslim country yet, so I’d like to think that the only bias that I have regarding this issue is for logic and reason and against unfairness and irrationality. But enough with my petty unworldly self, let’s get down to business.
The Power of Media
If you were to turn on the TV (I know, I know, TV sucks, nobody watches it anymore and new internet media is the sh*t, but just bear with me) and tune in to any one of the highly established, self-proclaimed trustworthy cable news channels, it’d be a remarkable feat if you could watch for just a few hours. In that way, you could manage to escape the notion that Muslims are a tribal pack of terror-driven savages who just want to blow us all up back to the seventh century. The feat would be even more remarkable if you watched Fox News.
In fact, I dare you to watch Fox News for two weeks straight, without getting any information from any other medium. I challenge you to not come out with some sort of rampant Islamophobia that made you crap your pants with fear every time you smelled Halal food and called for help screaming “Sharia LAW!!! Sharia LAW!!!” every time you saw a masjid. Just take a look at this clip of Judge Jeanine Pirro ferociously and repeatedly shouting at a camera that “We need to kill them!” to see what I mean.
Redundant point being: there tends to be an overblown depiction of Muslims as violent and of Islam as a violent religion that causes people to decapitate others and blow themselves up in the name of Allah.
No, Not All Terrorists Are Muslim!
Now, obviating the war propaganda tactics that propel this depiction of Muslims and Islam in mainstream media, people who see this depiction as true often justify it by noting that the grand majority of terrorists are Muslim. They believe that The Quran is an especially violent book that calls on its subjects to wage the holy war or Jihad and kill all the infidels who leave, disrespect, or are not subjugates to the Word of Allah.
The first part of this irrational justification is fairly easy to debunk. Anybody with a simple grasp of rudimentary mathematics, from counting to adding, can realize that, even if we were to assume that the grand majority of modern terrorists are Muslim — a fact in and of itself blatantly false and plainly ridiculous, as is noted by this report from the Global Research Center, and many more — the grand majority of Muslims are not terrorists. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be any major buildings left, everything would’ve been blown to rubbles. A majority of 1.3 billion people, a majority of nearly one-third of the world’s population, is a lot of people. If you think that there are that many people coming out to get you, then you probably suffer from schizophrenia, or you watch Fox News, or both.
Interpretations of The Quran
But, nonetheless, there are those that say, like United Kingdom Independence Party candidate Anne-Marie Waters in a debate in the Oxford Union, and a surprising number of academics, like Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins, that even if terrorists are a very miniscule part of the entire Muslim population, that doesn’t make Islam a non-violent religion, because peaceful Muslims are only “creatively and deliberately misinterpreting The Quran.” Such people believe that true Islam is what Osama bin Laden and what all the radicals interpret it to be; that all the Muslims who function actively and productively in democratic societies, and recur to The Quran to find peace, solace and purpose, are just simply wrong in their interpretation of the book.
To that, I only point that all the Christians and Jews that believe this — that only the radical and most literal interpretation of a holy book is the correct one — should then concede that the only true believers of the Bible are those who believe that “whoever curses his father or his mother should be put to death” (Exodus, 21:17) or that homosexuality is an “abomination” (Leviticus, 18:22) or that “women should not dare to teach and should be silent” (Timothy, 2:12), or that everybody “should kill witches” (Exodus, 22:18). Yes, the only true believers of the Holy Bible, by this logic unfairly used on Muslims, would be the kinds of the genocidal gang of medieval maniacs that went around burning people as per their whim and putting women to the stake 500 years ago, or the Westboro Baptist Church.
For the atheists that think that The Quran, or any religious book, actually causes people to be violent just because some few extremists fill their blood-craving minds with them, I would say, what about Eric Harris, one of the guys who perpetuated the Columbine high school massacre in 1999? In his journal, he clearly singles out Thomas Hobbes as a justification for his murderous plans. What about the Nazis, who used philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to justify their actions of genocide? Would you say that Leviathan, one of the greatest books ever written about political philosophy, or any of Nietzsche’s writings, acclaimed for their insights into epistemology and psychology, actually caused people to go from decent human beings to full on murderous psychopaths willing to kill anything that moves? Clearly, the simplicity and irrationality of this logic becomes apparent.
The fact is that no book, no matter how inflammatory its rhetoric might be, causes people to be good or bad, and no religion causes anyone to be violent. Holy books in particular are an especially clear example of this because they allow for many interpretations, and for an ongoing discussion of those interpretations.
If someone is angry, that person will most likely find something, some book, some passage, some rationale, to justify that anger with. The only difference in this sense between holy books and other books is that holy books are incredibly more popular, and are somewhat more susceptible to be used to justify violent thoughts. But the point is that someone has to be angry first; the book does not cause anyone to be angry.
Oppression, scarcity, having a dear friend or relative blown to pieces by a hell-fire sky robot — those are the types of things that could potentially get people angry enough so that they interpret what is otherwise a beautiful and peaceful book for many, as a violent war manifesto telling them to kill every infidel on sight.
Maybe we should try to amend these political and social injustices that cause people to turn to such radical violence, instead of just irrationally branding out an entire culture and religion of people — a culture and religion that has done so many good things for mathematics, science, philosophy and overall human progress — as inherently evil, violent, or backward.