Some, perhaps many, Muslims hate the West. The dislike varies according to what question is asked, when it is asked and where. Generally speaking, what is detested is sexual freedom being exported around the rest of humankind. And there is anger about the West’s political support for Jewish occupation of Palestine.
What is controversial is the degree of minority support for terrorism: the extremist Islamists who turn themselves into suicide bombers killing people at random in busy streets in the West in revenge for what is seen as the dropping of bombs on innocent Iraqi and Afghani citizens.
I would suggest that to try to begin to understand Islamic terrorism, one needs to consider a similar attitude towards violence, for religious ends, centuries ago in Christendom, when atrocious actions were justified by religious authority: the cruel methods used in the Inquisition: the Crusades seen as holy wars: and the burnings and beheadings of heretics during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Terrorism and Christ’s message
Down through the ages, both the Quran and the Old Testament, appear to support the violence inherent in terrorism. One notion of jihad in Islam is the idea of armed struggle against what is seen as persecution and oppression.
The threat of retaliation is the norm in world politics; not surprising, given the extent of violence in human history. An instinct for getting our own back seems to be a natural knee-jerk reaction when a great injury is suffered.
“It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works.” (Confucius)
The violence present in Islamic and Christian reprisals, contrasts dramatically with Christ’s message about goodwill towards those who we count as the enemy.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Jesus Christ)
Many Palestinian Christians in the intifada, resisting Israeli occupation, are frustrated by Christ’s unique teaching about turning the other cheek and loving the enemy: it stops many from engaging in terrorism.
So what logic is there is in loving one’s enemy, a teaching that even if it were possible to fulfil would seem to amount to appeasement?
Violence of terrorism provokes violence
Were we to follow the old idea of revenge embodied in the teaching of `an eye for an eye’, would we not have a more fractured and divided world? With escalation of retaliation, people would be provoked into more feelings of hate. Conflict and social disorder would be more likely to emerge. Soon everyone would be blind.
In response to Apartheid in South Africa many commentators had thought that bloodshed and violence were inevitable because a people can take only so much injustice and despair. But they were wrong. There were outbreaks of violence by black people but the overwhelming response to the violence of oppression was peaceful protest.
“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.” (Noam Chomsky)
Despite the great anger felt, the struggle was to be based, not on hatred, but on the hope of freedom and reconciliation. Not only was this in line with Christ’s teaching but it actually prevented civil war and dismantled segregation. What makes more good sense than something that works?
Spirit of forgiveness contrasts with terrorism
It is hard to stop resenting someone who has done you wrong, and who lacks any remorse. The trouble is that bitter resentment eats away at us. It is possible to harbour anger for years especially if we continually avoid someone or allow ourselves to slip into the habit of not conversing with them when we do have an opportunity.
However many have discovered that if they allow a spirit of forgiveness to enter into their hearts then their anger subsides. I believe that the regular practice of forgiveness can reduce anger, depression and stress, leading to greater feelings of hope, and confidence as well as better relationships and physical health.
Pacifism and terrorism
I do not believe ‘turning the other cheek’ is about masochism which would be the case if it were to be taken in a literal way. Actually, I don’t even think it is about pacifism. The trouble with pacifism is that peaceful protest doesn’t stand much of a chance of working when the perpetrators of injustice are in too powerful a position to be bothered by critical popular opinion. Sadly, it seems that there are some evil people who only understand the language of force. And so many Christians fought for their country in the last world war believing it to be a just war against the tyranny of fascism.
No, I see ‘turning the other cheek’ as a picture of not mindlessly retaliating when we are injured. I see Christ’s message about love as a basic principle of goodwill to be applied as appropriate according to the demands and needs of circumstances. The spirit of loving the enemy ideally is to look for ways of resisting those who are an enemy to what is good: fighting the foe and using force where necessary but not feeling hate. You could even say practising tough love.
Hate of terrorism versus love of God
The command “Love your enemies,” certainly appears as a hard saying to the naturally minded person. It certainly is a problem how can we actually love those who we know hate us, and would, if they had the power, destroy us.
One important strand of religious teaching is if in our hearts we genuinely open ourselves to the power of a Divine Spirit of mercy and compassion, then our character can be transformed into a non-hating one.
This assumes a God with an unconditional love to all people who wants the best even for those who have fallen into wicked ways. A God, who as Jesus Christ, whilst even suffering the agony of crucifixion himself prayed for his enemies.
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems