Uncommon Sense.

Heavily Armed French Police on the lookout for the Charlie Hebdo killers.

Heavily Armed French Police on the lookout for the Charlie Hebdo killers.

Christian Historian and Theologian Dr John Dickson seems to have sparked some heated discussion over one of his recent posts on his Facebook page.

Whilst the manhunt was still on for the killers of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, John posted the following:

Surely it is too soon for Muslim leaders to say, as I just heard a French Muslim leader say on BBC, that “Islam and its reputation are also victims in this current crisis”!

Whether or not you agree with his point, he shared some very important reflections a little later on, after a good number of people let their thoughts be known in the comments section below his post.

His reflections capture some very helpful ways of approaching this giant topic of Islam and terrorism, which is looming front and centre in our cultural conversation. And so I’m posting them here on my blog, as I think they deserve wider distribution.

John writes:

I think a lot of things as I look back on this thread. Please permit this ramble:

1. I do think it was too early – while the chase was still taking place – for Muslim leaders to describe themselves as victims in the public media (though, as I said, t
here might be an appropriate time).

2. I think we should all be able to make critiques of another’s faith tradition, without tipping over into unfairness, so long as it is informed. Much commentary on Islam takes place without ever having read the Quran, hadiths, or ever having interacted with sincere Muslims.

3. I fear that my criticism was interpreted by some as wholesale rejection of the Muslim community. Thus, on the one hand, some took it as permission to offer mean-spirited comments about Muslims/Islam, and, on the other, some rushed to offer an invalid defence of everything Islamic.

4. Comparisons above between Islamic violence and Christian violence seem to me more a trope than a sustainable argument. We can all admit that Muslims and Christians are equally capable of violence in the name, and for the furtherance, of their religion. The difference is: when Christians act this way, they categorically defy their Master who loved enemies, called us to love enemies, and who died for enemies; whereas when Muslims act this way, they are not necessarily contradicting their Prophet, who himself was a mighty and successful warrior, nor the vast Quranic and Hadithic tradition of jihad.

5. The comparison made above with church pedophilia is particularly off-target, since no pedophile priest would imagine he was serving Christ through his activity, whereas every Muslim terrorist sincerely believes s/he is serving God and their religion.

6. Importantly, as I have written before, I am sure the vast majority of our Muslim neighbours wish us no harm and just want to be good citizens, like the rest of us. And, yet, it can’t be doubted that there is a small minority of devout Muslims who follow a jihadist tradition of Islam. The key for our community right now is to ensure that our anger toward the dangerous small minority does not affect our friendship with the overwhelming majority. The ‘left’ and the ‘right’ get this wrong, in my view. The left rush to say that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, and the right make out like Islam is intrinsically terroristic. Neither accords with a careful reading of Islamic Scripture and history. Neither can possibly simultaneously care for the majority and deal effectively with the minority.

7. All of this said, I regret posting my initial comment, because it conveyed (and invited) a range of unhelpful caricatures.

Well said, John!

I very much agree that we need informed, civil discussion as we approach this topic. It’s an issue that I’ve tried to grapple with publicly on this blog (e.g. here, here, and here). May the above thoughts from John help give us all the (un)common sense necessary to approach this issue with the clarity and sensitivity that it deserves.

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