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De-linking Religion From The Bombings
JNV Anti-War Briefing 85
1 August 2005

A shortened version of this briefing is available as a pdf here

1 August 2005


A poll in the Daily Telegraph in the aftermath of the London suicide bombings found that 19 per cent of those polled felt that Islam itself ‘as distinct from Islamic fundamentalism’ posed ‘a major threat’ to Western liberal democracy. A further 27 per cent felt that Islam itself posed ‘some threat’.

In Oct. 2001, the corresponding figures were 10 and 22 per cent. Now, one in five people believes Islam as a religion poses a ‘major threat’, and nearly half the people of Britain believe that it is some kind of threat to liberal democracy. This is unjustified fear.



When nine young Muslim men carry out, or try to carry out, brutal atrocities, Islam is blamed. But when small groups of Christians carry out brutal atrocities, Christianity is not. Why this double standard?

Between 1993 and 1998, seven people (doctors, receptionists, police officers) were killed in shootings and bombings by Christian anti-abortion activists in the US. This was religiously-motivated terrorism, but no one blamed Christianity itself.

When Christian anti-abortionist James Kopp admitted shooting dead Dr Barnett Slepian in 1998, was there a cry for all Christians to condemn him?

When David Koresh’s heavily-armed Christian fundamentalist sect resisted the FBI siege at Waco in 1993, did non-Christians rush to the Bible to understand what could have motivated this kind of apocalyptic survivalism?

When 800 or so members of the Christian ‘Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God’ group died of suicide or (mostly) murder in March 2000, did non-Christians refer to the Christian record of violence culminating in the development and use of the atomic bomb, as part of the cultural background to this tragedy?

When people see violence in, say, Democratic Republic of Congo, torn by savage civil war—and with 42m Christians making up 70% of the population—are they entitled to blame Christianity itself?



Do non-Christians scour the New Testament to pull out the most violent and frightening verses, linking them with the “Christian terrorism” of James Kopp and his colleagues?

For example, do they endlessly repeat the words of Jesus when he criticised the Jews of his time for not putting to death children who spoke evil of their parents, as the Law commanded? [Mark 7:9-10. Check all references online]

Do they trumpet the passages when Jesus exults in the prospect of destruction? For example: ‘I came to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already set ablaze!’ [Luke 12:49] Do they keep repeating that when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple, Jesus didn’t just overturn tables, he actually used a whip? [John 2:15] In one famous parable, Jesus does not seem to have any problem with the idea of owning, beating, or indeed killing slaves. [Luke 12:46-48]

What about Jesus’ call to his disciples to sell their possessions in order to buy swords? [Luke 22:35-36] And his ominous warning, ‘Don't assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ [Matthew 10:34]

Here are some frightening quotations: ‘You shall destroy all the peoples... showing them no pity.’ [7:16] ‘All the people present there shall serve you as forced labour.’ [20:12] ‘You shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, the livestock, and everything in the town—all its spoil—and enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy which the LORD your God gives you.’ [20:14-15] ‘You shall not let a soul remain alive.’ [20:16]

This is from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, the Jewish Torah, which both Jews and Christians consider sacred.

What if someone said these verses of Jesus and Deuteronomy were the essence of Christianity? It would be absurd. But with the Qu’ran/Koran, non-Muslims feel free to pull the most aggressive verses out of context. All major religions can be used in this way.



Christians focus on Jesus’ peaceful words, not his violent curses on unreceptive towns such as Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum [Matthew 11:21-24].

Ex-Catholic nun Karen Armstrong explains, ‘Like the Bible, the Qur’an has its share of aggressive texts, but like all the great religions, its main thrust is towards kindliness and compassion. Islamic law outlaws war against any country in which Muslims are allowed to practice their religion freely, and forbids the use of fire, the destruction of buildings and the killing of innocent civilians in a military campaign. So although Muslims, like Christians or Jews, have all too often failed to live up to their ideals, it is not because of the religion per se.’ (Guardian, 11 July)



After largely winning a war against his old tribe, who had driven him out with violent persecution (nearly killing him), and successfully blockading them, Muhammad could have destroyed the Quraysh militarily. Instead he led his followers in an unarmed, nonviolent, pilgrimage into the hands of the Quraysh, signed a peace treaty with them, and abandoned the blockade, paving the way for peace in war-torn Arabia. (Karen Armstrong, Muhammad, p. 214-223)

Karen Armstrong comments: ‘It is not true that Islam preaches a total intransigence and inspires a mindless fanaticism. Instead the Qu’ran evolves a complementary theology of war and peace, which most Christians would not find difficult to accept.’ (p. 225)



If Islam itself is not to blame, how is it that young British Muslims could carry out the London bombings? The British Government carried out a secret study of precisely this topic—‘Young Muslims and Extremism’—in 2004 (leaked to the Sunday Times on 10 July, p. 1)

This joint report by the Home Office and Foreign Office (with intelligence input) put together a list of factors causing ‘extremism’. First on the list was British ‘Foreign policy issues’: ‘It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment amongst Muslims including young Muslims is a perceived “double standard” in the foreign policy of western governments... in particular Britain and the US. This is particularly significant in terms of the concept of the “Ummah”, i.e. that Believers are one “nation”...’

‘This perception seems to have become more acute post 9/11. The perception is that passive “oppression”, as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to “active oppression”—the war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam.’

‘This disillusionment may contribute to a sense of helplessness with regard to the situation of Muslims in the world, with a lack of any tangible “pressure valves”, in order to vent frustrations, anger or dissent.’

In other words, British Muslims see themselves as part of a global Muslim community, and when they see the British government waging violent war on other parts of that global community—against ordinary civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, it hurts them.

It is their anger over violent civilian deaths at the hands of the US and UK, and their despair at the possibility of changing these foreign policies, which make some young British Muslims vulnerable to recruitment by al Qaeda. This is the Government’s own analysis.



Michael Scheuer, the CIA’s bin Laden expert from 1996 to 1999, says we must understand that ‘the motivation for the people fighting us has to do with our policies... it’s a mistake to think the Muslims don’t understand our policy... we need a shot of democracy inside the United States... If... the decision is to keep those policies kind of as they are—well, I think that might be a mistake. But... at least the country would be going into the war against Islamic militancy with its eyes open, knowing that those policies, more than anything else, motivate our enemy. We would go into it with our eyes open. We’d be expecting a very long war, and a very bloody and costly war.’ (January 2005)




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