Violence is a human legacy. We must refrain from stereotypes and generalizations about others when seeking to establish why people turn to violence because clearly the violent few don’t represent the non-violent majority of any country, religion, or culture.
The world is plagued with different forms of violence. Certain societies have normalized certain types of violence as acceptable while abhorring and condemning other forms of violence. To be certain, most forms of violence are avoidable but exist because human beings create, perpetuate, or exacerbate the conditions from which violence emerges. This is a problem in every known society from time immemorial. Humans are violent creatures, some of whom know no limits and aren’t in any way persuaded by secular or sacred consequences for their actions. Humans are also merciful and good creatures, but that is another subject.
When hearing of occurring or past violence most people look for simplistic causes and reasons. They produce all sorts of explanations for why others are violent. Most people don’t bother to really do any meaningful research into violent events or people and thus fall back on their simplistic and often emotionally contrived views. Many forms of violence can readily be condemned, as clear criminal acts are discernible from more complicated situations that lead to violence. Condemning violence is the easiest part. Trying to figure out why violent acts happen is another matter.
We get most of our news about violence from the news media. Our corporate news media exists to create capital/money. Viewers and advertisements are important parts of this business. Without viewers and advertisements, a media corporation will collapse. Since human beings have an attraction to violence and real-life drama, these subjects dominate the news media. Some publications are dedicated to only covering these aspects of human reality. People gradually come to understand that reporting on violence and drama domestically and globally is far more profitable than reporting on charity and acts of altruism. This reality creates the overly negative and imbalanced view that humans are nothing but violent and tyrannical beings. However, there are many people who demarcate/assign this overly negative view to certain groups of people on the planet while painting themselves and their own society with an almost opposite brush. Racism and xenophobia are easy ways to demonize other groups of people, by simply equating acts of violence as an essential/natural condition of those people. In wartime enemy societies are thoroughly demonized in racist and xenophobic ways to make violence towards them appear acceptable and even good. Governments, (even so called “civilized” ones), often take an active role in propagating or establishing views of other societies that make violence towards them worth the price of whatever barbaric ways of war are made upon them.
I will now repeat how I began: Violence is a human legacy. We must refrain from stereotypes and generalizations about others when seeking to establish why people turn to violence because clearly the violent few don’t represent the non-violent majority of any country, religion, or culture.
Intelligence compels us separate the violent from the non-violent, the good from the bad. When this is applied to sections of Muslims protesting whatever is offensive (stereotypical cartoon depictions of the Prophet, Qur’an burnings, or anti-Islam documentaries), it eventually becomes clear that there are almost always far more peaceful protesters than those with crooked intentions and hidden agendas. When these protests become violent, our responsibility as viewers and commentators should be guided by intelligence and not emotional judgments that fall back on stereotypes or judgments that equate the peaceful with the violent. It is intelligent and important to dismiss such explanations of events and seek more accurate ones. This is usually not the case when it involves Muslims.
Numerous hate-blogs, websites, newspapers, magazines, and cable shows methodically focus all of their attention on less than .00001% of the Muslims in the world who protest violently. People are so misled by media images that very few question how less than .00001% of Muslims are in any way representative of the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.
Intelligence also compels us to distinguish between Muslims who react violently to insults towards Islam and what Islam itself instructs about such things. When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) lived among many of his adversaries, he often bore their insults and threats. Some of his adversaries had physically assaulted him while others stoned him for preaching against idol worship. In reaction to these insults and attacks, the Prophet would remove himself from the situation and pray for his persecutors. In some cases he would visit them when they became ill. He could have reacted in numerous ways, but he chose peaceful and reconciliatory ways. Reactions like the Prophet’s go a long way and so over fourteen centuries later, many Muslim scholars point out the excellence of peace over revenge. Their positive use of the Prophet’s example in this and many other cases almost never reaches the West. What does reach the West are examples of Muslims violating their own religion. Yes, sharia (or valid interpretations of Islam) condemns wanton violence and threatening behavior.
The protesters, especially those who turn to violence, make use of anger, rather than being peaceful. They make use of threats rather than doing something constructive for their cause. Anger is the strongest emotion these Muslims display when they want to express disapproval. Anger is how the whole problem starts. The Prophet counseled his followers about the dangers of anger many times. In one case he stated, “Anger comes from the devil”. In another he said, “The best of you are those who are slow to anger and swift to cool down…Beware of anger, for it is a live coal on the heart of the descendants of Adam”. A famous saying of the Prophet on anger is the following: “A strong person is not the person who throws his adversaries to the ground. A strong person is the one who contains himself when he is angry”. And finally, he stated, “Whoever controls his anger at the time when he has the means to act upon it, Allah will fill his heart with contentment on the Day of Resurrection.” Anger is what leads to most of the violence, destruction of property, and murder of innocent people. Anger also creates more antagonistic feelings between Muslims and non-Muslims. Suppressing anger, as advised by the Prophet, would prevent violence, destruction, and death. The Qur’an itself states: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.”
Muslims have a right to protest insults to their religion, especially when the insults make use of racist, stereotypical, and xenophobic views. To say that Muslims should instead take it because Christians and Jews have long endured criticisms of their religions and religious founders is to miss the point entirely. The majority of criticism that Muslims object to are racist and stereotypical depictions of Islam and the Prophet that have a long history in the West (despite being challenged periodically by Western scholars themselves) and do nothing to engage in positive or constructive discussion about these subjects. They incite rather than engage. To oppose distortions of any religion, philosophy, group, or way of life is to engage in the appropriate struggle against wrong. Violence, however, can never be part of such struggle. When it does become a part of it, let your intelligence figure out why, instead of your emotions.
Links to articles about this issue:
Anti-American Protests: Cutting Through Media Propaganda, by Deepa Kumar http://www.zcommunications.org/anti-american-protests-cutting-through-media-propaganda-by-deepa-kumar
The fallacy of the phrase, ‘the Muslim world’, by Sarah Kendzior http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/09/20129168313878423.html