Islam is a religion of peace and other stereotypes

I got thinking about this, and it has led to some pretty deep thoughts, which as usual are likely to offend all parties involved indiscriminately, so if you are easily offended, do yourself a favor and stop reading.

I have no doubt that Muslims who say Islam is a religion of peace believe it from the bottom of their soul. I also have no trouble understanding the outrage at some happenings in the name of Islam. Most people are horrified that Muslims don’t condemn killing of non-Muslims. For example, the ghastly mob killings at the UN office in Afghanistan, because some obscure pastor in the back of beyond burnt a Koran. There were massive protests. It isn’t like a few people quietly killed a few more people.

However, Terry Jones does make the point he started out to make – challenging this facade of Islam being a moderate religion. While I have no doubt that Muslims do believe that they are genuinely peaceful, I find that the more religious they are, the more their descriptions of peace and justice and other good values become unrecognizable, though we use the same word “peace”. To many peace loving Muslims, there is absolutely nothing wrong in someone desecrating the Koran to be killed. The killers are heroes and defenders of Islam. We can’t even call them inhuman, because their laws ARE different from ours and so is their spiritual guidance. Death is not something they shy from – possibly are more honest about it than the rest of the world. By our standards, this is wrong, but the part the world does not get is that they aren’t applying our standards. They have not idolized life and death and sanctity and such things, which frankly, the world has idolized in claim, but does not respect. I am not calling them good or bad, but it is clear that calling a Muslim peaceful is extremely misleading, not because they aren’t – they are, but because their idea of peaceful includes many things ours doesn’t. And then again, it isn’t all Muslims. Many have adopted western standards, so when they say peaceful, they mean it exactly like we do.

It is not good or evil. It is simply a different culture, and the faster the we accept that, the better it is going to be for the world. The middle east is not the west. In their rush to be accepting of people of a new culture, they have chosen to believe things and now they are blaming Muslims for not living up to those standards. What standards? It was never a Muslims idea to let a Koran burning go unpunished though a few may have agreed on being asked/challenged. We want to make friends of them, but on our standards – even in their country.

It is like going to some nudist beach and judging the people by their lack of clothes, or judging a cannibal tribe for eating people. Its food, damnit! I had read about a tribe I don’t want to name here and they aren’t cannibals anymore, because it isn’t about them, but a quote remains in mind “How much more can you defeat your enemy than not just kill them, but eat them!”. An utterly alien thought that makes perfect sense in a different culture. Or the outrage of the guest in another tribe to find that his dog had been considered a gift and was now on the table for dinner. The Dalai Lama is a symbol for peace, but if you read the history of Tibet and some of the nightmarish tortures that were routine punishments… There is a huge diversity of cultures, which are coming closer as the world is better connected. Even among the so called standardized “values” that are eating up individuality, we have conflicts – torture of prisoners is routine in many countries regardless of what anyone says for or against it.

Terry Jones makes an important point, that governments the world over need to consider – to stop using cliches and labels to define an entire category of people, because this leads to confusion. In India, for example, the public has mostly accepted this. We have accepted completely the reality that regardless of how things should be, we are a people who will rise to kill and die for religion, and because we don’t want that, we make extra effort to avoid such triggers. Religious insults are rare and usually by political figures rather than religious leaders (not always). There is a strong narrative for respecting all religions, which holds the people to sanity and the voice calling for violence then is the jarring note. But we went through hell before we realized the value of not avenging everything.

Sometimes it fails, as it did in the communal riots (actually it was born then), or at Gujarat. Modi couldn’t have done one bit of harm if people weren’t in the mood to be intolerant. This was a failure to integrate that gets blamed on one man so others can excuse their own petty hates. The main reason that Gujarat could recover has nothing to do with Modi either. It is the strength of the voice that rose against those actions. AND it was the Hindu voices disowning and condemning those actions that had impact. The Muslims would have condemned of course. It was only to be expected. A clear line was drawn – this shit has nothing to do with avenging Hindu honor.

Less noticed was the outrage against Vastanvi for asking Gujarat to move from complaining to progress, but it was an important milestone for Indian Muslims. When the traditional line was outraged at this seeming pacifism, the masses recognized it for what it was – moving with purpose. Another line was drawn – don’t make it a rule for Muslims to always be hostage to some or the other agenda and prevent growth.

I am not attacking or defending anything at all. I am, myself an atheist and happy to burn any book in the world, as long as I am able to reference the knowledge I want. I am simply trying to look into the factors that result in these clash of civilizations kind of scenarios.

It appears to me that our stereotypes are failing us. When one person says “peace” he may mean peace as in non-violent. Another may mean the peace of being true to your value systems. You can see how a value system that honors killing in the name of religion does not connect killings of religious offenders with lack of peace. In fact, they would probably call it making the world more peaceful by getting rid of the sinners.

By whitewashing the whole thing, we disable ourselves from seeing the bite sized chunks that can be addressed and resolved. If we were able to look at it as say “day to day functional interaction” or “country above religion” etc – the ones who are not able to do this become visible and something can be done to resolve the situation rather than making assumptions that them calling themselves peaceful means that they will accept that the Supreme Court is greater than the Mullah.

I remember reading on some “anti-jihad” variety forum, where the chief occupation of people seems to be criticizing Islam and Muslims for perfectly logical reasons repeated infinitely. There was this utterly, beautifully, delightfully naive Indian who commented something along the lines of “We all should live like brothers because all religions are equal”. The thread erupted in pandemonium. There were people who called him a Muslim pretending to be a Hindu, asked him about not speaking up against extremists, terrorists, etc, convincing about the evils of Islam…. the works. I cannot dispute any of the data they brought up, it is true. However, what I found ironic was that this was a group of people blaming Islam for being intolerant of other religions bringing the roof down because someone suggested co-existence!

Reminds me of those much ridiculed posters during the cartoon riots – Kill those who say Islam is a violent religion.

We are easily outraged by the inconsistency of another, but we fail to recognize it within us. And I include me in this. I remember going to the Jama Masjid one Eid night many years ago. I wanted to see how it is. It was glorious. Wonderful. Bright lights, Happy people, much celebration, excellent food…. but, in the background, I was totally terrified that someone would find out that I was “Hindu” and “something would happen”. I had never been around so many Muslims before. Thankfully, nothing happened. The friend whose house I visited teased me mercilessly about my fears, but to help me feel safer, sent her brother to escort me out of the area after my visit was done. Said brother was Muslim of course, but that’s different. I knew him. Huh? Illogical.

Stereotypes have an important function in life. They give us the broad understanding on something. However, they usually fail on intimacy, as they are a generalization, and emerging individual details demolish them. Then these stereotypes become dysfunctional.

All the arguments are correct. I am not disputing the logic of anything. I am asking for creativity out here. What else can we try? How else can we define the terrorists/extremists or other wrong actions so that we don’t amputate a leg to remove a wart? Are there more useful ways of achieving this merger of civilizations other than wars, judgments and ill will?

Note: I am not recommending anything at all. I am throwing in a few things that came to my mind, and asking if we can be more innovative in how we manage our shared world.

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1 thought on “Islam is a religion of peace and other stereotypes”

  1. Well said Vidyut……I grew up as a Muslim girl and was forever stumped by the conflicting values I received at home and at school. They sounded the same but had very different “interpretations”.
    So much so that it has eventually led me to become “not a Muslim” anymore (if you go by the definitions of the Muslim Law).
    My only hope is that the community at large wakes up in time to embrace the real world and truly live the dogma of universal brotherhood that is shouted off roof tops of minarets and the like.

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