On Muslim terrorists and collective responsibility

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DZHOKAR_TSARNAEV.jpegI am more than sympathetic to the desire of American Muslims to put as much distance as they can between themselves and the Tsarnaev brothers. We Jews know only too well what it is like to be blamed collectively for things we didn’t do, beginning with the crucifixion of Jesus.

But when a Jew does something terrible, we do not get to pretend that he is not one of us. For example, as much we may abhor the behavior of Baruch Goldstein, who gunned down dozens of Muslim worshipers at the Shrine of the Patriarchs in 1994, we cannot deny that he belonged to the people of Israel. Such is the nature of Jewish ethno-religious identity.

Muslim identity seems different. Responses when a Muslim kills innocent people tend to be that the perpetrators are not real Muslims or are heretics, that people like that do not merit Muslim burial rites, that the true Islam is embodied in Koranic injunctions against such killing.

I’m afraid that this approach, understandable as it is, essentializes Islam in a way that plays into the hands of Islamophobes. The latter, selecting their own proof texts, picture a uniformly negative religion that is simply the mirror image of what the apologists portray.

Better, I think, to acknowledge that faith traditions with centuries of history, complex scriptures, diverse and mutually antagonistic sub-groups, and millions of followers encompass examples of the worst as well as the best that humanity has to offer. To own the worst as well as the best is to put your enemies in a position of having to recognize the best as well as the worst.

  • Gea

    Jews and Judaism teach: CHOSE LIFE!

    Islam and Qur’an teach: DON’T BE LIKE JEWS WHO LIKE LIFE! Strive for “Eternal life after death”. If you die as a “shahid” (a martyr) you will be get on a fast track to Muslim Paradise with 72 virgins and 12 prepubescent boys “to do with them as you please”. .

    Unlike any other religion in USA, Islam is incompatible with US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and thus has no place in any society that respects liberty, justice and human rights. Muslims who still practice “true Islamic teachings of Qur’an) should be treated as members of the Nazi party, since they are learning to hate all non-Muslims and particularly Jews. Islam also condones pedophilia, polygamy, dhimmitude, misogyny, and murder for Allahu Akbar because Mohamed was a pedophile, polygamist, rapist, looter and murderer who in any decent society would be tried as a criminal he was and not extolled as a role model by 1,500 millions of Muslims world wide. .

    Islam must expunge 65% of hateful Quranic verses and toss out Mohamed as a role model to be compatible with good life for all people.

  • People who claim that true Islam is peaceful, not violent, may be perfectly correct. But this doesn’t explain why such a large proportion of terrorists are Muslim. Is Islam more susceptible to misinterpretation than other faiths?

  • James Keegan

    Keith – Isn’t the more relevant number the small number of Muslims who are terrorists, i.e., x over a denominator of a billion Muslims rather than the “known
    number” of terrorists worldwide? If you apply your formula with Ulster in mind you’d find “a large proportion of terrorists are” Irish. Too many to be sure but likely a small percentage of the Irish in the world. I’m sure someone can make my point better than I just did.

    I also agree with Mark that whatever the tribe involved, you gotta own it. JK

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Do you make the same claim for Christianity and, say “Christian Identity” or the God Hates Fags “church?” Christians need to own ’em? I think not.

    Seems to me that it’s perfectly logical and even theologically appropriate for members of a faith to read out people acting in the name of that faith if those actions are antithetical to the tenets of said faith. Catholics *and* Jews have a history of expelling heretics, for instance.

    Beyond that, while Jewish identity is ethno-religious, Islam is decidedly less so. Many many nations have indigenous Muslim cultures. While Jews are found in many nations, there’s almost always an ethnic separation of populations. That’s because becoming Muslim is much more like becoming a Christian. It’s belief, not blood.

  • Jeff,
    As I implied (or tried to), Jewish identity (ethno-religious) is distinctive — different from Muslim (and, as you point out) Christian. (Though in the Jewish case the bounds are not infinite. If you convert to another faith — except Buddhism, these days — then you are out of the people.) Yet Muslims (and Christians) draw their boundaries in different ways, at different times. Evangelicals, for example, now consider Catholics within the fold (Mormons not so much); Catholics consider evangelicals “separated brethren.” My claim is just that it’s a bad idea politically, prudentially, to take the position that those who act badly are not “real” Muslims (or Christians). Better to accept bad actors as part of your tradition who have gone astray than to read them out of the tradition and then get into debates with your opponents over what singular thing the tradition “really” is. In other words, use the Jewish model in this regard: “It’s not that the Tsarnaevs aren’t Muslims or are heretics, it’s that they’re Muslims who behaved badly, or bad Muslims.”

  • amanda

    The Muslim community kind of has to do this. They’ve been pushed into it by the American ignorance and fear culture. Judaism is too well known in the U.S. to merit a negative image from one incident. Everyone learns about the Holocaust and Jewish persecution. Muslims don’t have that luxury. There are different branches, and different interpretations. It doesn’t matter to an ignorant public, who lumps them all together. So they have no choice but to exile violent extremists as false believers. If they don’t, America thinks they’re cheering it terrorism on.

  • Amanda,
    I disagree. After 9/11, when there was no organized Islamophobic industry, President Bush could more or less get away with simply calling Islam a “religion of peace” that couldn’t be blamed for the attacks. Now there’s too much in the way of negative proof-texting — to say nothing of actual knowledge of the complexities of the Islamic tradition — for that to fly. Islam does, however, lack an ingrained discourse of pluralism within itself, and that makes it more difficult for Muslims than Christians to acknowledge the bona fides of forms of their tradition that they believe mistaken.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Respectfully, I still disagree. If these folks were thugs who happened to be Muslim, I’d say you would be right. In the same way that Mafiosi can be really bad Catholics. But still Catholics. Or that Meyer Lansky was a really bad Jew. But if it’s true that they were acting in the *name* of Islam, which appears to be potentially the case, that’s a *theological* claim that could qualify for the Muslim equivalent of excommunication.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The Catholic Church does keep its bad actors. In fact, one of the most common phrases heard in the Church is that we are a community of sinners. But the advantage of having strongly defined orthodox teachings is that, most of the time, even a non-Catholic can see when a Catholic is behaving as a bad Catholic-like Joe Biden being one of the biggest promoters of Gay “marriage” and abortion in American politics. Yet he blathers abouit always carrying a rosary.

  • With respect, acting “in the name” of a religion — i.e. with a religious motivation — does not in itself entitle someone to excommunication, or to be considered as not a “real” member of a faith tradition. If a member of the Westboro Baptist Church accepts Jesus as her Lord and Savior and embraces the Nicene Creed, why isn’t she a Christian? Because she fetiishizes one of the abominations of Leviticus?

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  • I find your criteria for labeling Joe Biden a “bad Catholic” to be both inaccurate and too narrow.

    First, I know of no instance in which Biden has positively “promoted” abortion or gay marriage. He has defended the Constitutional rights in both cases of those whose religious or philosophical worldviews are at variance with the magisterial teaching of the Catholic hierarchy. In other words, Biden takes the view that the Catholic hierarchy’s position on such issues should not infringe on the rights of, say, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Jews, or secularists in these areas.

    Second, why focus on just abortion and gay marriage? By your narrow criteria, Catholic officials who support the death penalty or who adopt the views of Ayn Rand in direct contradiction to the social teachings of the Catholic bishops are allowed to retain their standing as “good Catholics.”

    Perhaps a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be Catholic (or anything else) in a pluralistic society is called for.

  • ay

    Many misinformations, Mark! 1. Watch the documentary (or read the book) ‘Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.’ 25% of ALL Hollywood movies, including cartoons such as ‘Alaaddin vilifies Arabs (%15 of Muslims) and Muslims in general. They have NEVER been depicted as ordinary human beings, until last years. After 1967, Arab-Israeli War, their invariable image turned into violent terrorists, supporting Israel and transforming the rights of native Palestinians into terrorism. The same with Iran: the most ancient and amazing culture is under thread of being attacked, based on similar representations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_AHJQiMxIw
    Simply, Islamophobia is in your blood for a long time. As a simple Muslim, I can clearly see why American Muslims feel radicalized.
    2. “Islam does, however, lack an ingrained discourse of pluralism within itself.” Deeply wrong!! Muslim societies have been much more pluralistic than others. In the absence of a totalitarian religious institution, they have been able to produce pluralistic discourses (e.g, from 12th century: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFat_KWG9oI). The problem is not the absence of pluralistic discourse, but it is the absence of an Islamic authority that can radicalize violent interpretations in this post-colonial mess. A rich terrorist can write some crap and present it a religious expert opinion – a fatwa. You see the point? Moderate Muslims need support to radicalize these guys: instead, Russia and America have constantly supported the jihadists in their coldwar, and the ones who most suffered at their hands have been the Muslims, still so! We, simple Muslims, keep suffering.
    Mark, please learn more about the religion you write; I know you have pure intentions. May God bless you all.

  • Patrick Callais

    The foundation of Christian theology is expressed in the early ecumenical creeds which contain claims predominantly accepted by followers of the Christian faith. These professions state that Jesus suffered, died, was buried, and was subsequently resurrected from the dead in order to grant eternal life to those who believe in him and trust him for the remission of their sins.:

    Check ya later

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