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It’s Time To Confront Violent Radicalism

If I hear one more time that Islam is a religion of peace, I’m going to puke.

Yes, many Muslims are peaceful, but Islam in general has a serious problem with violent radicalism. Sunni and Shi’a factions often violent campaigns against each other, and against non-Muslims too.

Of course, Islam isn’t the only supposed “religion of peace” that regularly promotes violence. Christian Protestants and Catholics have largely stopped waging war against each other, after hundreds of years of violence, but Christian violent radicalism has turned outwards, against non-Christians, with many Christian leaders regularly promoting new wars, and even praying that soldiers on their side will be victorious in mortal combat.

The violent radicalism of Islam and Christianity converged this week when, after Muslim Omar Mateen slaughtered 49 people in a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, Christian preacher Roger Jimenez celebrated the attack, saying that homosexuals “deserve to die” and that “the tragedy is that more of them didn’t die.” Jimenez gave a sermon against LGBT Americans, telling his congregation that, “I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.”

In response, Manly Perry, a Christian preacher in Texas, defended Jimenez’s call for the deaths of gay Americans, saying, “The Bible is very clear that homosexuals should have the death penalty.”

Yes, many Christians are peaceful, but Christianity in general has a serious problem with violent radicalism.

Let’s not stop there, though. Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists also have radically violent religious movements.

Religious people aren’t the only violent radicals, either. Atheists don’t like to talk about it much, but large-scale violent atheist political movements were a huge and brutal force of oppression in the 20th century. They called themselves Communists.

Yes, many atheists are peaceful, but atheist organizations have had a serious problem with violent radicalism.

Most Muslims, most Christians, most Jews, most Hindus, most Buddhists, and most atheists are not violent people. However, most Muslims, most Christians, most Jews, most Hindus, most Buddhists, and most atheists prefer to pretend that the violently radical aspects of their ideology are not there. They prefer to, despite ample available evidence, depict their ideologies as peaceful, and only criticize the violence of other groups.

It’s time for that to stop.

It’s time to confront violent radicalism, but we can’t confront violent radicalism by becoming violent radicals ourselves. The only coherent way to confront violent radicalism is to be radically nonviolent.

No matter how we choose to identify ourselves, we need to recognize that our beliefs can, if taken too far, be used to justify brutality against other people. We need to stand against those who use our own ideologies to perpetrate and to justify violence.

Go ahead and be as radical as you like. Radicalism isn’t the problem. Thoughts don’t hurt people. Behaviors do, and the act of confronting violence by people whose ideology you share may be the most radical behavior you’re capable of.

5 thoughts on “It’s Time To Confront Violent Radicalism”

  1. Eric Dunn says:

    Pretty good until you ridiculously conflated atheism with a religion and communism.
    What atheistic ideology is there? Atheism is the rejection of claims of a god. That is it.
    Communism may have been atheistic in so far as god claims. But a lack of belief in gods doesn’t lead to communism.
    The attrocities committed by communist states weren’t done in the name of atheism. They were done in the name of the state or the party or the party leader. There is no atheist holy text, there is no central authority.
    So why the hell do I, as a non-communist atheist, have to take any account of the actions of communism?

    1. J Clifford says:

      Eric, you have to take account for the actions of Communists because, in spite of what you claim, Communists did actually commit atrocities in the name of atheism. It’s simple denial for you to claim differently. Sure, the Communists had other points of ideology they were acting on, too, but that’s true for any human behavior.

      Communist organizations have been the largest avowedly atheist organizations ever to exist. I’m atheist, and I’ve got to deal with that, just like Muslims and Christians have to deal with what has been done in the name of Islam and Christianity. It’s just not enough to say that violent atheists don’t really count as atheists. You’ve got to deal with what there is in your ideology that, when warped, can lead to violence, and condemn it, and work to make it better.

      There is no central authority for atheists. There is no one definition of atheism that’s controlled by anyone. There has been no single controlling authority for Christians for the bulk of the history of Christianity, or for Muslims for the bulk of the history of Islam. What difference does that make?

      You have to take account of the actions of violent atheists for the same reason that Muslims have to take account of the actions of violent Muslims. Saying that you’re part of a different faction, so you don’t have to confront the violence, is insufficient, just as we all, as Americans, have to stand up and say that we oppose the ideology of Donald Trump. Just saying that we aren’t Republicans, and so we don’t have to bother denouncing Trump, is foolish. Donald Trump is a manifestation of certain aspects of American culture that we are all connected to.

  2. Charles Manning says:

    Thanks for the constructive thinking.

    I believe humans are born with a moral seed that grows into a moral tree as we mature. When the moral tree is properly nourished, it grows leaves of compassion, love, empathy, sympathy, forgiveness, tolerance, respect, mercy, generosity, patience, understanding, and fairness (there may be others). When the tree isn’t properly nourished, it fails to grow, or some of the leaves don’t develop or are deformed. The growth of the moral tree is affected by disease, trauma, and belief systems. Belief systems include religions, political or social systems like communism, and even organizations like political parties. Belief systems sometimes promote proper growth and sometimes don’t. They decorate the moral tree with their particular rules and doctrines that sometimes enhance the beauty and strength of the tree, but sometimes damage or destroy the leaves and branches.

    Belief systems assert various sources for their tenets, but should be evaluated on the basis of how they affect the moral tree within us, either making it better or damaging or destroying it. Accordingly, I applaud you statement that, “No matter how we choose to identify ourselves, we need to recognize that our beliefs can, if taken too far, be used to justify brutality against other people. We need to stand against those who use our own ideologies to perpetrate and to justify violence.”

    Perhaps the most important idea that somehow sneaked into the media reports about the Orlando shootings was the claim by Mateen that he was carrying out revenge against those who have bombed and otherwise decimated Muslims. I think revenge isn’t morally acceptable. The Bible phrase so favored by Donald Trump, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” is toxic to the moral tree. Vengeance is a disease infecting the moral tree. However, we can’t just condemn Mateen. The actions of our government, which I describe as killing at a distance, help to feed the vengeance that plagues us. I often think about how the men who flew the bombers that dropped bombs on Japanese and German civilians, including unborn children, rested easy after their deeds, as do present-day drone operators, whereas anyone who commits torture and murder the way Mateen did is deemed a monster. Morally it makes no difference: unjustified killing at a distance is not excusable just because you don’t actually see, hear, and smell the horrible process of killing a human being.

    Another thought in connection with Orlando: no one mentions that Mateen sought martyrdom. It appears Ramadan played a role in this. The doctrine that one enters paradise, or heaven, by vengeful killing, is toxic to morality. We need to learn more about the role of martyrdom in all of these atrocities by “Islamic extremists.” Never do people like Trump even think about that. Nor, I’m sorry to say, do people like Clinton.

    Finally, one thing seldom mentioned by the media is that the toll of death and injury in Orlando was modest. Several times more people have died and been injured by guns since Mateen’s despicable attack than suffered death or injury at his hands. Those who want to spend billions on armies and weapons, and coerce civilians like you and me to buy and carry guns, are responding to sensationalism, not reality.

  3. Dave says:

    I just knew there would come a day when you and I see eye to eye on something, J. I think this is a well considered and very well written piece. Also, your response to Eric Dunn above is spot on. When we find ourselves in a group that shares a belief of ours, dealing with those in the group who would mistreat others is a personal responsibility. As difficult as that can be, add to it the difficulty of dealing with those who do not share our views at all. Mistreating others is out of the question, but confronting violent radicalism with radical non-violence seems to only work when there is a reasonable expectation that the violent radical has a conscience that can be appealed to. When a conscience is informed by the Koran, I think we may eventually find that confronting the rads will take more than a greeting card and a basket of fruit.

    I personally have seen that turning the other cheek is a great way to gain respect when I am mistreated, however, that is a personal decision, the cost is my own, but considering the dangers that radicalized Muslims pose, as small as that danger may be, I have difficulty with the idea that I should use my family, friends and those I care about as currency for obtaining my non-violent goals. It is not likely that anyone I know will end up like those who went to Pulse in Orlando Saturday night, but then, it wasn’t likely that any of them would end up like that either.

    As with any of the belief systems you mentioned in your article, when the radicals got out of control someone outside of the group got tough on the radicals, whether Communists, Inquisitors or what have you. Did you see the video of this perp’s Imam in Orlando saying gays should be killed? This guy should be in jail right next to the Christian preacher Roger Jiminez. Nothing much will change their minds, especially not going to the vigil to light a candle and sing and sway. It takes prison, extradition, things like that, to avoid more bloodshed. In the end, it’s often the only way to show the world that we value the way of peace and the lives of those in our communities.

  4. Charles Manning says:

    Dave, when you say, “confronting violent radicalism with radical non-violence seems to only work when there is a reasonable expectation that the violent radical has a conscience that can be appealed to,” you imply that violently radical persons lack such conscience. In my opinion, the attempt to confront such people in the manner J Clifford suggests is morally necessary. We must not assume others somehow lack humanity. We have a moral obligation to be ready to forgive wrongdoers, but actually forgiving them depends on their earning forgiveness. While this process of appealing to conscience and being ready to forgive continues, “prison, extradition, things like that, to avoid more bloodshed” may constitute legitimate self-defense and defense of others, in contrast to violent retribution. Candle-light vigils and other gatherings like those in the wake of Orlando are important in showing the world that we — or at least some of us — value peace and love.

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