- Posted September 16, 2012 by
Protect The Right To Be Different
Show me a country, a city, or a village where everybody has the same set of beliefs, values, and religious practices and I will show you a people deprived of their fundamental human right to be different.
The world has come a long way. These are not the days of the Inquisition or the Crusades or Papal/Roman expansionism. These are not the days of Caliph Umar and the Great Arab Conquests. The world has come a long way, but the wars of yore have persisted, changing in form, like an amoeba, and popping up unpredictably in times and climes where we thought we could find rest for our tired souls. But the blame is all ours that we artificially give fulfillment to the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:36: “A man's foes will be those of his own household.” The bloodiest religious wars have been fought by the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Of all the religions of the world, these three religions are, perhaps, the only ones which proclaim individually that they are the only way to God and that everyone that does not practice the faith they preach is an infidel and a worshiper of the devil. This ordinarily would not be a problem as long as the belief does not imply that the “infidel” be ostracized, persecuted, or killed.
In recent years, however, we have seen the renaissance of religious militancy from certain adherents of Islam, a religion I hold in high esteem. These individuals seek to compel – rather than convince - all others to follow their way of worship. This goal must be achieved by any means available, including ostracization, persecution, torture, maiming, and killing. Even the killing of other Muslims is compatible with their jihadist ideology. Not only that: we find that the parts of the world where religious intolerance is highest are the countries, cities, villages, and communities dominated by Muslims.
As should be the case among any people where the right of the individual to be different is respected, you can argue about any religion or about any religious belief or practice in the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Finland, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, and many other countries and still go about your normal business without fear of persecution. You can denounce Jesus or Mohammed and still walk about without fear of persecution. You can worship as you please and publicly proclaim your beliefs and still walk about without fear of persecution. In these lands, the right of the individual to be different is respected. The case, however, seems radically different in most lands and regions of the world dominated by Muslims.
Of the latest violence in the Middle East, the BBC reported, “At least seven people died in protests in Khartoum, Tunis and Cairo” over an American-made movie believed to have insulted the prophet Mohammed. We are aware that the Nigerian military had to disperse a similar uprising in northern Nigeria.
Give these events a little thought and consider the following. You are a Muslim and you live in a Christian-dominated city like Paris – far, faraway from your brother who lives in a Muslim-dominated city like Cairo. Believing that Islam is the only way to truly worship God, your brother draws a cartoon of Jesus and indicates that Christianity leads people astray. News of the cartoon filters into Paris. Your Christian neighbors, whom you have lived alongside with for decades, come to your house, burn down every material thing you have acquired in life, brutalize your wife, kill your children, and set ablaze your parents who live with you.
I am a Christian and I have a lot of Muslim friends – a lot. Some of them are the finest and most trustworthy and peace-loving individuals I have ever known. I will not trade them for anything else. In my numerous encounters with Muslims, I have come to believe that the vast-majority of Muslims are peace-loving individuals, who would like to live peaceably with their neighbors.
What I find perplexing is the absence of a solid effort by peace-loving Muslims world-wide to condemn and push back the activities of those radical sects that have been painting an image of Islam as a religion that is fiercely intolerant of every other religion and that endorses the persecution or killing of so-called infidels. Equally perplexing is the speed at which whole Muslim communities rise up to protest against and condemn anyone and anything that speaks against Islam, the Quran, or the prophet Mohammed. Why have we not seen the same uprising against Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, and other blood-sucking extremists claiming to be doing the work of Allah? Why have we not seen a concerted effort by peace-loving Muslims to condemn and push back such mass, Muslim uprising as the ones that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. Are these violent sects and mobs not worse enemies of Islam?
The driving force of all human progress and civilization is the ability to challenge the status quo and to question our belief systems. That force is unstoppable. Time and again, throughout history, the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have tried to stop that force. And every time, they have failed. Today, among the biggest challenges to this force of societal advancement are those radical sects and mobs that claim that the violent acts they commit are for the advancement of Islam. If we learn at all, we must know, as has been shown in history, that said societal vitality - the ability to challenge the status quo and to question our belief systems – cannot be entirely smothered. I am in consonance with President Obama in his rejection of “all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.” More importantly, however, I am in full agreement with him in his following declaration: “There is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.”
Yes, the world must rise to condemn and reject such acts of violence and attempts to take us back to the dark ages and undermine our right to be different. Not only should this type of senseless violence be condemned, individual communities, nations, and the international community have a responsibility to bring perpetrators of these violent acts to justice.
It is a mirage to hope that through violence or persecution all citizens of a country – any country for that matter – can be permanently prevented from questioning our highly cherished, sacrosanct religious beliefs as Christians or Muslims. That hope – if that is the hope of the perpetrators of said acts of violence – is only a dream and will never come to pass. The advent of Judaism was a challenge to the religions that existed before it; the advent of Christianity was a challenge to Judaism and other religions that existed before Christianity; likewise, the advent of Islam was a challenge to the religions that existed before it. Why are we at the verge of a world war every time someone challenges Islam, the Quran, or the prophet Mohammed? We must know that our religious beliefs are true only to those of us who believe in them. Yes, we must know that our religious practices are sacrosanct only to those of us who believe and practice them – not to anyone else. This is true of my Christian faith, of Judaism, and of Islam.
We have a responsibility then, if we seek to put an end to a war that will know no end (as long as we prosecute it), to re-enact in our individual lives and in our communities articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”