Say What?

As yet another atrocity is perpetrated by alleged Muslims, allegedly in furtherance of Islamic goals, somebody shared this video on Facebook that was released shortly after the Paris shootings.  It’s a nicely produced, affable video that does a good job at putting faces and voices to what easily becomes intangible – the other.  Muslims.  Pakistanis.  Human beings.  In that respect, this is a good and valuable video as it helps prevent us from dehumanizing people that frighten us.



But the video is confusing, and I would suggest that it is deliberately so.

The video begins by emphasizing ethnicity, rather than religion.  One of the speakers identifies himself as a Pakistani Muslim.  The other speakers never identify themselves by name, region, or religion, leaving us to assume that they are all Pakistani and Muslim.

They make the claim that they cannot and will not apologize for the terrorist attacks in Paris because they can’t be held responsible for people who claim to be like them.  They then use the examples of Germans and Hitler, Chinese and Mao, and Russians and Stalin, in each example, emphasizing nationality or ethnicity rather than ideology or religion.  The implication is that it would be wrong to hold people of a certain ethnicity for the atrocities of those who share their ethnicity.  This is a red herring.  I don’t blame Germans for Hitler, just because Hitler happened to be German.  There were plenty of folks who supported Hitler who weren’t German.  I blame National Socialists for Hitler.  I blame the ideology and politics and religion of National Socialism, not a particular ethnicity.

The video emphasizes the ethnic link between someone who  betrayed his own people, his own ethnicity, based on an ideology.  It isn’t the ethnicity that is the issue but the ideology.  So by trying to say that Pakistani Muslims shouldn’t be held accountable for the terrorist attacks just because they’re Pakistani misses the point (were any of the French terrorists Pakistani?  Not that I’m aware of!).  The link isn’t ethnic, it’s ideological/theological.  By making an argument against the former, they’re attempting to lead us to a conclusion about the latter.    That’s cheating, because these are two separate arguments.

I don’t hold the Pakistanis accountable for the actions of Syrians.  But I can and should hold Islam accountable for the actions of  Muslims.  I should expect that if they as Muslims denounce these actions by other Muslims, they have a rational and theological reason for doing so.  The claim that I would never do such a thing doesn’t tell me anything about your religion.  Most Christians would never become a nun or a monk, but some Christians do.  Many Christians are lukewarm and haphazzard at best about what they believe and how they live their lives by the teachings of the Bible.  Their lives don’t necessarily teach me anything about the Bible and Christianity.  They should, but they might not.

The terrorists don’t just claim to be somehow like the young men in the video.  They claim to fundamentally the same.  More accurately, the terrorists claim to be faithful Muslims who are trying to spur Muslims like these young men to be equally faithful.  They claim to worship the same God.  They claim adherence to the same sacred text.  Those aren’t minor issues!  Those are pretty major claims and links, so that despite one being Syrian and the other Pakistani, I should expect that there are quite a few important places of congruence and agreement.  Theology/ideology generally serve to minimize issues of ethnicity and nationality, rather than explode them.

While I appreciate the intentions of the young men in the video, and while I trust that the majority of Muslims are peaceful (is that what makes them average?  The video doesn’t bother to say, but it sure implies it), what I’m concerned about is what their theology says, what their sacred text claims.  These guys claim to be average Muslims, and for that reason I’m pretty sure that ISIS would have no problem lining them all up against a wall and shooting them for being bad Muslims.  Which one of them is right?  How does the Qu’ran speak on this issue?

I expect the same from my own faith, I’m not creating a double-standard for Muslims.  I’m happy to engage in theological conversation with the Westboro Baptist members who advocate hate language.  I’m happy to theologically argue – using the Bible – with those Christians who mistakenly feel that murder is sanctioned by the Bible if the cause is righteous.  I don’t expect someone to just take my word that, since I’m nice and all, Christianity and the Bible are nice as well.

I’ve read the Qu’ran (in English).  I haven’t met many Muslims who have.  So I’ve had conversations where Muslims insist that the Qu’ran never condones or commands violence, despite the fact that it does – repeatedly.  That’s not a very helpful conversation to engage in.

I’d love to engage in conversation with a Muslim who knows the Qu’ran firsthand and can show me how the passages that command violence are not really saying what they’re saying.  That would go a long way towards making me less nervous about Muslims in general.  It won’t do much to alleviate my concerns about all Muslims, because clearly there are some very devout Muslims who are thoroughly convinced that the literal reading of the Qu’ran is not just appropriate, but commanded.

But at the end of the day it is Muslims themselves who are going to have to come to grips with these things.  They are going to need to lead the way in interpreting the Qu’ran and engaging in theological debate to refute the actions of ISIS.  Saying that you would never kill another human being is not a refutation of the ideology/theology of ISIS, it’s just a statement about your preferred way of being and acting.  Telling me that Nutella and soccer and coffee are your greatest concerns in life does not tell me anything about Islam.  It just tells me that these young men perhaps have every reason to be afraid as I do.



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