There are few Americans — if any but extremist Armageddon (of any religion) and anti-government militia supporters — who feel anything but the deepest of sorrow for the victims of the Boston Marathon apparent religious act of terrorism – conducted by what appear to be a radicalized permanent resident and his younger brother, an American citizen. It was — as was 9/11 — a heinous, shocking act.
But the insightful Juan Cole puts into perspective that most followers of Islam are peaceful people. The Jihadists and their networks compose a small percentage of believers in the Islamic faith.
Perhaps it is a little too early to start comparing the death tolls caused by different religious faiths in the last 100 years, but Cole takes a stab at it — and this is what he finds. In the 20th Century, of the estimated (and this is hardly a firm figure, understated if anything) 120 million people who were killed in wars and war-like acts (terrorism is war, generally upon civilians, by a non nation-state) only a small fraction of that figure was the result of Muslim killings. Cole offers a chart that visually displays the dramatic lopsided accountability of Christian nations: mostly those located in Europe plus the US and Canada.
Many Americans will react with dismay that Cole is setting the record straight. But it is vital to point out that he condemns terrorism and war for empire of any sort. He is simply pointing out that to think that Christianity and Christian nations are more virtuous and less blood thirsty than followers of Islam is statistically incorrect. As Cole concludes in his commentary on relative blood lust in the name of a divine force or nationhood,
Terrorism is a tactic of extremists within each religion, and within secular religions of Marxism or nationalism. No religion, including Islam, preaches indiscriminate violence against innocents.
It takes a peculiar sort of blindness to see Christians of European heritage as “nice” and Muslims and inherently violent, given the twentieth century death toll I mentioned above. Human beings are human beings and the species is too young and too interconnected to have differentiated much from group to group. People resort to violence out of ambition or grievance, and the more powerful they are, the more violence they seem to commit. The good news is that the number of wars is declining over time, and World War II, the biggest charnel house in history, hasn’t been repeated.
Nothing can further exemplify the deep roots of a Christian need to force others to accept Jesus Christ as savior than the gory, bloody rampage of the Crusades, which over years left countless “infidels” slain. Or one can look at the inquisition where non-believers in Christ were tortured and executed.
Add to that, just for the sake of example, the missionary slaughter that took place when Spain and Portugal colonized Central and South America for Christ (and gold and other riches). Or the savagery of European Christian nations conquering Africa and engaging in slavery.
No, there are no excuses or sympathy to be expressed for the Tsarnaev brothers. Their act was horrifying, incomprehensible – causing the most profound grief at a finish line that is a symbol of triumph. So are the acts of suicide bombers, bombers of buses, etc. Public acts of terrorism are gruesome, terrifying and heart-wrenching; but so are many acts of war in the name of nationhood, ethnic identity, religion — often all of these together.
But rather than proceed on another post 9/11 government and FOX/Limbaugh decade of Islamaphobia, we need to look into our own religious and national identities to find pathways toward peace with all religions. Faith in a divine force has been a historical spiritual need for most of the world, but the need to impose a given faith on others has been a ghastly virus that breaks out from time to time. The result is inevitably maiming and a gruesome loss of life.
There is no virtue in the history of the Christian Western World when it comes to wars and killing. We need to prevent as many acts as we can similar to the Boston Marathon massacre, but to do so, we must also look inside ourselves and recognize that killing under the flag of any religion, nation or tribal identity is abhorrent – whether it be the Tsarnaev brothers or wars for religion, tribal identity (including nationhood) or empire.