Readers of this blog may know that I run a bible study. It's for those interested in understanding the Bible from a secular perspective. We're mostly atheists but we do have some Christian participation.
A couple of times instead of studying the Bible I've simply brought in a religious person. So once Roman Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong came. A lot of atheists regard Christian belief as extremely easy to debunk and I thought it would be fun to bring in someone that has thought through common objections and is able to turn it back on atheists. Make them exercise their brains a bit. We had a great time with Dave.
Last night we spoke with a practicing Muslim. I called the meeting "Grill the Muslim". Basically we were going to challenge him as much as possible. Why believe in Islam? What's this about Mohammad marrying a 9 year old girl? Are females regarded as inferior in Islam?
We moved to Islamic beliefs about violence as well. Isn't it a fact that the Qur'an is unusually violent and isn't it a fact that Islam as practiced consistently is especially violent?
There were two major points in response from our guest, which I'll summarize here:
1-Let's consider this question over two time frames. Consider the few centuries prior to 1980. People were living for centuries as Muslims. Show me major violence? Where was the violence in the world? Who started WWI? Was it Muslims? Who started WWII, which killed tens of millions? Who developed weapons of mass destruction? It was the Christians. I watch in America a show called Modern Marvels. They show off the development of bombs as if it was some sort of wonderful achievement. Is that what you see in the Muslim world? No. This is the Christian world.
One member of my bible study responded by pointing to Mohammad and how he used violence to conquer others. Our guest said fine. Let's suppose that happened. Still, we must contrast Islamic behavior over a specific time with the behavior of others at the same time. So let's focus on this time frame that we all understand better. During the few centuries prior to 1980, weren't Muslims reading the Qur'an? Didn't they understand Islam? Why weren't they violent as you claim their religion supposedly mandates that they be? Why were they far less violent than the Christian world? The claim that Islam is more violent focuses on a very narrow window of time. Is that reasonable?
2-Now let's consider after 1980 where violence from Muslims finally started to emerge. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan the United States saw this as an opportunity to deliver some blows to their rival. So they trained Osama bin Laden and other radicals. They said to them "You are supposed to wage jihad. Look at your holy book. It calls for jihad. Are you sleeping? Go. Fight the Soviets. This is your duty." At the time the concept of jihad was not understood as it is today. It was Christian/American imposition that impressed this idea upon the Muslim world.
So the Afghans did fight and did so on the promise that their schools would be rebuilt and that they would be provided with food. But when the Soviets were successfully removed the United States did not fulfill it's obligations. So what happened? These people trained in jihad by the United States turned their guns on the West. Suddenly everyone is outraged. "Look at these jihadi's. They are violent. They are wicked." What they are doing is very natural. They are angry about how they were treated. But what they are doing is also unusual from the historical perspective of Islam.
A member pointed out that Pashtuns have been violent for a long time. They are very abusive toward women and have been so for many years. Our guest agreed, but the question really is about whether Islam is outwardly aggressive and violent. It's true that Pashtuns are brutal towards their women, but that is based on their history which goes back 5,000 years, prior to the time of Mohammad. But focusing on outward violence, and the claim being made is that Islam is violent towards outsiders and aggressive, who is really more outwardly violent?
The conversation then spun off to other areas. But it's an interesting point and I don't recall a truly sufficient answer to this question from the members of my Bible study, some of whom are quite hostile to Islam. Even more hostile to it than they are to Christianity.
I have to admit I'm just not sure if our guest is right about this. But in addition to the Christian acts of violence he mentioned I'd add the Native Americans. This is tens of millions of people wiped out by terrorism. And it was done consciously from what I understand by extremely racist and violent people. The 6 million Jews were killed by Christians. The 4 million killed throughout Indo China by the United States during the Vietnam War timeframe were not killed by Muslims. Over the 300 years prior to 1980 was there comparable violence in the Islamic world to these massive atrocities?