Muslims complain constantly that their faith is always – and unjustifiably – associated with terrorism. Many people believe that Islam is inextricably linked to violence and right wing demagogues like the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders have called the Quran an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror.
Look, we have to acknowledge that the vast majority of terrorist attacks carried out today are perpetrated by individuals claiming to act in the name of Islam. But Islam is not inherently violent any more – or any less – than any other faith. We have seen violence carried out in the name of numerous religions across time. Whether it is Christian Crusaders against Muslims and Jews, or Hindus in India against Muslims, or Buddhists in Myanmar against Muslims, or Orthodox Christians in the former Yugoslavia against Bosnian Muslims (hmm, is there a pattern here?), extremists can derive justification and exhortation from just about any divine source.
And this extends to those who are Jewish as well.
I got thinking about intolerance and extremism the other day in the wake of the CBC report about an Orthodox Jewish man who – it appears – did not want to sit beside a woman on a Porter Airlines flight and asked another passenger to be moved to accommodate his desire – see story here (some ultra Orthodox Jews demand gender separation on public conveyances). This reminded me of an incident back in 2006 when a YMCA in Montreal installed frosted windows so that the students at a neighbouring yeshiva did not have to see women in spandex exercising (the yeshiva apparently paid for the change, but that is besides the point, isn’t it?).
So, what to make of this? My late mother always advised me never to talk about religion because someone is bound to get offended (I clearly did not listen as I specialised in religious-based radicalisation as a career!). So, my mother’s words notwithstanding, it is hard to not see these incidents as examples of religious extremism. One person or group demands that another person or group act in a certain way because the former’s religion mandates a certain behaviour that has to be imposed on everyone, non-believers included. That, to me, is extreme.
In fact, there is little to separate this form of behaviour from what we see happening in the Islamic State.
Excuse me?? Am I comparing a slight inconvenience (changing seats or windows) to beheadings and throwing gay people off buildings? No, but I am comparing what the members of IS do to what happened in Jerusalem yesterday where an Orthodox Jew, Yisai Schlissel, knifed six people at a Gay Pride event (see story here), apparently because he was offended by public displays of homosexuality. The fact that the same man had carried out a similar attack in 2005 shows that his motivation was not spontaneous.
This is an isolated incident, right? Nope. Remember Baruch Goldstein? He was the US-born Jewish extremist who massacred 29 mosque goers in Hebron in 1994 (and wounded 125) before some survivors beat him to death. Goldstein, who is seen as a hero, not a terrorist, by some, apparently thought that he had to preemptively kill Arabs before they killed Jews.
And there have been similar acts of terrorism in the West Bank by settlers every bit as extreme as Baruch Goldstein or Yisai Schlissel. Another extremist assassinated Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 (and he too is seen as a hero by some). In fact, the threat of Jewish extremist violence is so great that former heads of the Israeli domestic intelligence service, Shin Bet, have stated that more needs to be done to thwart it (see here).
Okay, what to make of all this? Simply that the terms religious extremism or religious terrorism have to be used to describe incidents regardless of the type of faith involved. Anyone who invokes God to justify killing someone else is a religious extremist. It is not complicated.
Let’s not go to extremes trying to explain away religious violence.