Religion and Violence

The content originally appeared on: The Barnacle News
Lenrod Nzulu Baraka

By Lenrod Nzulu Baraka

Christians and Jews have a jolly good time pontificating on the intimate connection between Islamist violence and the Koran.  Christian evangelist Franklin Graham is on record stating that the Koran preaches violence.  Many religious and political conservatives assert that the religion of Islam is a religion of war. The late televangelist Pat Robertson went a step further by stating that Islam is not a religion but rather it is a violent political system bent on the overthrow of governments of the world and world domination.

Christian, Jewish and secular critics of violent Islamist groups are convinced that members of these violent groups derive their motivation from Suras in the Koran that encourage Muslims to wage war or jihad against unbeliever. Ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Mosab Hassan Yousef have added even more gasoline to the flame by exposing more of the deadly and violent innards of their reputed faith.

The is no denying that in the West, a nexus has been created between the religion of Islam and terrorism.  While it would be a calumny of the highest order to even hint that all Muslims are terrorists, the Western media has most decidedly created an association between Islam and terrorism.  Suicide bombers today are associated with Islam in pretty much the same way that Kamikaze or suicide pilots were associated with Japan during World War II.

People of African ancestry who gravitate to Christianity or Judaism are often told by their respective religious authorities that the violence perpetrated by Muslims is mandated by the Koran which commands Muslim to wage jihads against idolaters or unbelievers. In all fairness, it cannot be denied that the religion of Islam is no stranger to the sword.  In Islamic thought, a state of tension exists between places where Islam is freely practiced and places not under Islamic dominion. Muslims are therefore challenged to bring as much terrain as is practical under Islamic dominion.

Jewish and Christian religious authorities are far more circumspect when dealing with the issue of violence in the Old Testament.  There is almost a conspiracy of silence surrounding the extreme violence sanctioned and demanded by the deity of the Old Testament. Moses, Joshua, Samuel and many of the names we associate with the great chain of Jewish heroes of the faith, by contemporary standards, would be hauled before the International Court of Justice and charged with committing genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

A comparative study of the Koran and the Old Testament would reveal that both texts are very supportive of religious wars to advance the cause of the respective religions. Both Old Testament Judaism and Islam expanded through warfare.  Surprisingly the Koran comes out slightly ahead of the Old Testament where humanity in warfare is concerned.  The Koran is explicit that Muslims should wage jihad against unbelievers. The Koran however also requires that mercy be shown to enemies who have the good sense to surrender. This compares favorably with the passages in the Old Testament that required the total extermination of everyone inclusive of women, children, geriatrics, and animals.

The Koran does not contain any explicit support for suicide bombers apart from the general call for jihad.  The Old Testament story of Samson however provides a precedent for Jews and later Christians engaging in suicide terrorism. Samson’s terrorist act of destroying the Philistine house of worship along with the elite of Philistine society did not in any way exclude him from being mentioned in the great hall of faith in Hebrews 11.  It should also be noted that it was the Jewish deity who restored Samson’s strength, thus enabling him to commit this heinous terrorist atrocity against a Philistinian house of worship.

Jews and Christians sometimes advance the argument that whereas, the commands to violence found in the Bible are restricted to the past, the Koran, in contrast, commands continuous acts of violence even in the contemporary setting. The world should be thankful that most Jews and Christians disavow the Old Testament commands to commit acts of violence and reject any contemporary application of these violent passages. The recent genocidal reference to Amalek made by Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel suggests regrettably that all the Old Testament commands to violence, genocide and ethnic cleansing have not been totally retired.

In his insightful book Laying Down the Sword, Philip Jenkins cites a story from the seventeenth century in which some Scottish Protestants drowned eighty Catholic women and children after being told that a curse would fall on anyone who spared or allowed an enemy of God to escape.  Jenkins points out that the Protestant Scotts referred to the Catholics as Amalekites. Clearly Prime Minister Netanyahu is not the only one who knows how and when to trot out the ancient Biblical calls to genocidal violence.        

As religious fundamentalists become more politically sophisticated and involved in the modern world, we can anticipate a renewed attempt to resurrect many of the features of theocracy found in the Old Testament.  Fundamentalists in political office are already exerting significant influence internationally.  In the US, fundamentalists may have lost the LGBTQIA+ battle but they have been eminently successful in repealing Roe v. Wade which has consequently brought to an end women’s right to abort their pregnancies in many US states. The unwavering support for Israel among Christian Zionists suggests that many Christians, Evangelicals and otherwise, have no problem with the genocidal rhetoric coming out of Israel.  Apparently, the genocidal, ethnic cleansing violence of the Old Testament is back with a bang and many Christians and Jews are loving it.

Lenrod Nzulu Baraka is the founder of Afro-Caribbean Spiritual Teaching Center and the author of The Grand Failure: How Christianity Became a Source of Evil in the World.