tag : bright yellow-green apples: killing in the name of

"I see little point in persisting in a discussion with one so obstinate as you" Martin White

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

killing in the name of

figure 34.7. the Sayyid Qutb in us all?

I thought I might wait a while before saying anything in relation to the recent bomb attacks in London. But bearing in mind Martin’s sensible point that we need to keep the balance of internet debate balanced on the moderate side, I thought I might just make a couple of observations on the way Islam is talked about in relation to violence. We do not yet know for sure whether there was some ‘Islamic ideology’ motivating the perpetrators, but even if it turns out to be some other inspiration there’s going to be a lot of consideration anyway.

Almost as soon as the news of the bombs came out, some pretty ugly reactions apparently kicked-off. A mosque was targeted by arson, and the Muslim Council of Britain got thousands of abusive emails. There are some, going right down to the extremity of the BNP, who seem to assume that all Muslims are a homogenous block of hostile aliens that must be ‘dealt with’ – either repressed or pushed outside our borders. This line of thinking is as ludicrous as that behind such wilfully broad-spectrum terrorist attacks. The conflation of the acts of a few, into a collective guilt for all, fails to take account of a reality that's essentially varied. Some British people may have contributed to the detriment of Middle Easter societies, such that many feel threatened and materially & existentially alienated - but by no means do most seek to harm. Some middle-eastern, and even native, Muslims may wish to see British people killed in an idea of retaliation or to make a strong point - but by no means the majority. It's intellectually and imaginatively bankrupt, and shows a total loss of any will - to face the real world in all it's wondrous intricacies.

There are, however more general concerns about the everyday use of everyday language in our media and public debate. Some have even questioned the use of the term Islam in relation to violent acts, of which Karen Armstrong makes a persuasive case. In fact, I suggest you read her book on fundamentalism, to get some sense of the historical background that accounts for some of religion's modern use of violence. But I would add, after hearing Mona Siddiqui’s reflection, that we shouldn’t be to quick in trying to decouple terrible acts from ideologies.

Of course we should recognise the inherent rightness of Islam, in regard to it’s general message of peace. The mainstream traditions - as expressed, for example, here - are certainly something that most could affirm as principles of valuing life. But that doesn’t mean we should be in denial about how our religions can be tortured into demons. It’s fair to say that the fundamentalism that George Bush ascribes to draws from Christianity. Though it's often a figleaf for disreputable rhetoric, we have to understand the place of faith in his worldview - and that of his many supporters and allies - if we’re to deal with it. And furthermore we Christians must face up to something about our religion. Either in it’s practised history, or in the various inherited traditions that have been passed through the centuries, there's summit that inspires or gives space for Bush's destructive acts & approach to the rest of the world – the bombings, environmental degradation, and economic injustices. In a similar way, I would suggest the Islamic badge of those who bomb and hate others must be acknowledged. They draw upon something latent within the faith, in it’s shared stories or various practised forms, no matter how much it’s taken hostage by them.

We who are unfortunate enough to 'share' some notion of our faith with those who cruelly mangle it must face up to them. Not only to understand how to deal with them - but also in order to see genuine practice more clearly, in disentangling those potentially dangerous threads in our faiths. A realistic responce needs imaginative vision and self-awareness.


Blogger ash said...

Very well done there. I think I will remain observant on this in a bloglical sense, and not write up my own views, in spite of Martin's call. I don't really have anything to add, merely to suggest that we all write a letter to out local Mosque, or to MCB, expressing love and solidarity.

2:45 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

I didn't really add much - there are always going to be a roll of sensible writings out there that some of us do best to defer to. I just want to be sure to contribute to the critical mass of internet affirmation, given how much lunacy it seems to foster.

I've found the address of Derby's mosque, and will try to muse on a suitibley supportive letter. This is perhaps all the more important in our county, after the news of a Derby Muslim being involved in Middle eastern violence a couple of years ago. Just so long as it doesn't seem like well-meaning interference.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

Who's taking words from Rage Against The Machine now, sunshine?

Ash - It's okay, I wasn't ordering people to write, just encouraging... I just got very concerned at the amount of writing about it that I'd seen from people giving the more extreme views (Speaking of which, I see that the BNP have demeaned themselves even more in their campaign to win a seat in the increasingly appropriately named Barking)

I think the best response in terms of relations to the Muslim community would be not to do anything, in all honesty.

The language thing concerns me, and I still have to reply to what RobertB asked me about it.

As for the matters of religion involved here - the discussion of which, incidentally, I feel offers far too great a dignity to the events - the impact that this will have on the Muslim community can only serve to act to the detriment and certainly to the loss of image of all religions.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Donna said...

Well thought post, Laurence! Bravo.

5:45 PM  
Blogger ash said...

It is suprisingly difficult to find the words to write when contacting the Mosque, but the email I sent earlier was, it seems, gratefully recieved- and I think I may have made a friend, which is always nice :o)

9:44 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Martin -

I don't much care for dignity in relation to what happened. Let's not kid ourselves that this can be discussed as 'religious expression' in some comparible way to Sufi meditation or Charismatic hymn singing. But great care must be taken here not to isolate the protagonists event from, as now seems likely, thier divining some meaning or purpose from what they see as the Islamic religion. Of course it's demeaning and saddening for the mainstream followers of a religion to see others misusing thier faith, but to deny that this spiritaul torture is going on won't help.

There are some, such as more extreme humanists, who've already long made up thier mind that religion leads only to dysfunction, hate, and death. And some, such as the BNP, who're doing thier best to mispresent one religion as representing these terrible outcomes. Perhaps thier irrationalities must be best faced up to with both realism and the imagination needed to dream up the best our faiths can manage.

11:54 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Donna -

Ta muchly, it's rather gratifying to have your approval.

Ash -

I suppose it's hard to predict the reactions, though I'm inclined to take your risk. Even if Martin's right to point out that, perhaps, the best and most positively affirming reaction is one of normalization - helping and allowing life to carry on as per for the communities concerned.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Martin said...


I see I've turned into a straw man again - I am under no illusion that the bombings can be discussed as a form of 'religious expression'. I can see an inherent contradiction in much of the commentary on this subject - in that we are supposed to comprehend the reasons for this (which are undoubtedly linked to belief) and yet divorce the perpetrators from the beliefs they are twisting. I am not arguing with you on that.

What I was actually trying to get at, and what I've been trying to encourage, is a move away from the focus here on subjective justifications, which is greater in the discussion of terrorism than it is the discussion of murder because terrorism demands ideological basis as a necessity, whereas murder requires only motive (which may be ideological, but does not need to be).

The problem that I see is that the more this crime is discussed in relation to the Muslim community, even in the promotion of peaceful relations, the more the greater the synonymy in public consciousness of the two things.

1:35 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Martin -

Apologies, that wasn't my intentions. Misrepresentation comes by accident rather than design. Let’s have a go at your clarification...

I can see what you’re saying there, and would agree that’s a problem – perhaps a fault with much current debate, of which I might well be a part.

I suspect there will be much discussion that works on the basis of a latent synonymy, no matter what we say. But I don’t think a blatant silence, on how some people may see their view of Islam as forming the basis for violent crimes, is the best way to help towards rectifying that.

If these bombs were set off by people with a view of religion that sees their having a mandate to do so, then this has to be explored. A danger, as far as I can see, is that too many of us will get complacent and fail to examine how our faiths might give license, or even give inspiration, for the killing of people. In straight terms this is a crime that can be investigated and judged. But the implications are wider, and will force themselves upon us ever increasingly unless people of religion reflect upon the traditions and beliefs that’re carried, and how they’re worked out in our times. This is something for Muslims to consider, and all people who have a faith – perhaps any self conscious ideology toboot.

For example. We can look at the bombing of Iraq as a simple case for legality and international law, or perhaps as a single moral case. But it cannot be fully understood without considering a Christian myth of redemptive violence (drawn out of the belief that God redeemed people through the violence of Jesus’ passion) or the myth of ‘manifest destiny’ (drawn out of the belief that a country or community can be in some way a direct incarnation of God’s mission and gospel rule on earth). With this in mind, it might be easier to see how such acts come about in relation to a whole outlook, and potential future of the protagonist’s approaches to others. And if Christians themselves don’t look these ‘heresies’ in the face, they’re left to continue unchallenged because of neglect.

2:17 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

ps. Given that the police seem to be narrowing down the focus of investigation, there does seem to be a lot of fear around that this could mandate a warped view of Islam - and of various Muslims in this country. See current reporting here. If the people concerned were from a faith background, then there are going to be a lot who draw the two automatically together. The subject cannot, therefore, be left to those with an ax to grind.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

I completely agree that blatant silence is not the answer. The quarrel I have, as I really must address in a separate post sooner or later, is the idea that when mass murder becomes terrorism its ideology suddenly becomes much greater currency.

And I see that much discussion will be had around the subject of Islam, but you don't help dry an ocean by pissing in it.

4:17 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

I think it'd be good for you to expand your thinking in your own post - sounds like it'd be a helpful contribution.

I'd also object to the notion that a murderous form of Islam should in some way get greater credence, is taken more seriously, than murder for any other reason - simply because of its scale, international resonance, or potency. Ultimately it should be looked at carefully only insofar as it might be countered and defused, or to teach us all how to avoid mistaken interterpretation and practice of religion and ideas, and certainly not seen as seriously comparible with mainstream 'moderate' expressions.

I like your ocean metaphor, even if I'm not sure I'd agree. Perhaps I'd take the image along the lines of our trying our best to be those who add water to it, rater than salt.

6:40 PM  
Blogger ash said...

I should so read the title of things more. Nice to see you've been converted to the Way.

9:32 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

By no means; I still think they're a bit excessive most days :P

A fine song, though it must be said this is the second time I've been told my title is a quote without even realising...oh the shame of it...

10:55 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

I managed to spark Sarah into a political rant yesterday, and I'll just paraphrase what she said:

This is a political act, in response to the actions of the British Government, mostly still going back to the partitioning of Palestine. The use of Islamic teaching to justify it is exactly the same as plenty of other historical examples (I think the Spanish Inquisition got a mention, because we got sidetracked onto Monty Python again) where religion has been used as a moral and sacred ideology to justify otherwise unjustifiable actions.

What I think she was getting at is that there is actually something about religion itself, by virtue of calling upon a higher and indisputable moral power, that historically and currently legitimises otherwise very dubious acts, like killing large numbers of people.

Not necessarily what I think, but I always find her take interesting.

11:13 AM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Her thoughts normally are, I find.

I would be wary of singling out religion as a uniquely or inherently destructive agent, in terms of it’s latent potential to cause, inflict, or inspire death and misery. It’s more about the way the various elements are lived out, in their contexts, that determines how the resources of religion might find expression. Historically we have a countless number or factors that have variously gone into destructive acts by people; from nationalism to insecurities – they must be understood where relevant, but not then used as a means to bash all who might draw from them. To be incredibly simplistic (which I do so well!) we wouldn’t call hands inherently violent, even if they are sometimes put to the harm of other people.

As for the possible contexts and historical backdrops for the bombings, some give me cause for concern. Few people have not condemned the killing of innocents. But some, such as this writer, have come close to suggesting that this act springs from righteous impotence in the face of international injustice – such as the civilian deaths in Iraq. Fine and good, but how many fundamentalist Muslims are willing to die on behalf of the oppressed in Bolivia, or the dying in Zimbabwe? Most people are selective in their care to some extent, and this is an inevitable consequence of our being finite beings. But there’s an astonishing selectivity at work in the choice of causes, and this seems to indicate that those who set out to kill to make a statement are not purely righteous actors for suffering per say.

Having said all this, fundamentalism and religious violence for a cause are thoroughly tied up together with the political machinations of European and Middle Eastern history.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Martin said...

I'm thinking of the Sarah in my flat by the way, the Lebanese one.

Is it possible that Christianity, as an older religion, has had the growing pains of atrocities done in its name?

I wasn't suggesting, nor was she suggesting, that this is a response to human suffering. (Incidentally, I'm not sure that Bolivia and Zimbabwe can be considered analagous - neither of the oppressed groups in these cases are Muslim, are they? This kinship issue is hardly limited to "fundamentalist Muslims", after all). I'm slightly - no, very - confused as to why you're bringing it up actually, as nobody I've heard - not me, not you, not any commentators, politicians, not even groups who support these actions - have actually referred to them in such terms. As you know, I certainly wouldn't.

I hold to the view, and will continue to unless I see a good reason otherwise, that the events in London, Istanbul, Madrid, Bali, New York etc. are acts of political violence as much, if not more, than they are acts of religious violence. As you note, the language used (and used carelessly) can imply ideologies qualitatively different to those which are actually being put forward.

8:34 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

"...acts of political violence as much, if not more, than they are acts of religious violence."

Absolutely. Though a lot of religious imagery and terms of reference are used, it's easily questionable as to how much they can be see as inherently ideological...bearing in mind that religion takes in the social and political concerns of its day.

As for the rest; you've said what I wanted to with perhaps greater clarity.

12:57 AM  

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