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Je suis triste

I am saddened by recent events. The killings in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Kosher market were uncalled for.
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I am saddened by recent events.

The killings in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Kosher market were uncalled for. 

I understand that the shooters — Said and Cherif Kouachi — shouted slogans suggesting their attack was revenge for insulting the prophet Mohammed. 

The fact is that the brothers were barely religious themselves; Cherif once described himself as “an occasional Muslim”.

It is more likely that, as has been the case with other so-called “lone wolf attacks”, the Kouachis were simply angry, disenfranchised young men who blamed society for what they saw as their sad lot in life.

An article on the website Religion Dispatches goes into much more detail n their background, and draws comparisons with other so-called “religious” attacks, including the Boston Marathon massacre and the Norwegian youth camp assault. The article notes that some of these attacks were perpetrated by Christians, and others by Muslims, and others by those with no particular religious attachments.

Read the article here: http://ow.ly/HfLr3

But it isn’t just the attack that saddens me.

I am also saddened by some of the reaction to the attack.

It’s all too easy to paint with a wide brush, decrying all Muslims as being in some way responsible for these atrocities.

To blame Muslims in general, and their religion — Islam — as being the root cause of such evil and despicable actions is completely wrong. It is, I believe, a result of ignorance, of a lack of knowledge of the tenets of Islam. 

This attack had nothing to do with religion. Muslims, in general, do not hate Christians nor any other religion. Neither al Queda, ISIS, nor any other extremist group claiming to champion the cause of their religion actually speaks on behalf of the true believers.

Theirs is an extremist and self-serving point-of-view.

The media has not helped in this. “If it bleeds, it leads” has long been the motto of the media, and “bad news” stories of violence and conflict get more ink — or airtime — than stories about people getting along.

In this respect, when there is violence committed by someone not of the mainstream, that story grabs headlines. By highlighting the attackers  faith background — or what, ostensibly, is their background — the impression is given that this is an “us-versus-them” situation.

In fact, it is an “us-versus-them” situation, but… it’s not the us and them that we were lead to believe.

There has been a lot of discussion in the past week or so about how the Charlie Hebdo attack was an attack on western democracy, and on the western way of life.

The “us” is the attackers, most often a “lone wolf” perpetrator — an individual or very small group — seeking to bring honour to themselves, satisfy a need to publicly vent their anger, and to further inflate their own sense of self-importance.

“Them” is anyone else, whomever they choose as their targets, whomever they see as being against their own views, as being their oppressors.

Again, it is far too easy to point fingers and state that they were Muslim, and they are typical of all Muslims — extremists and jihadists, biding their time like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, waiting for the right moment to strike.

Utter nonsense.

The fact is that many here in the west — in North America, particularly — do not understand Islam. For that matter, there is a groaning segment of the population that does not understand any religion, including Christianity.

The growing trend of secularism has caused many to distrust any and all religions, although not without cause.

Religions, especially Christian denominations, have not always done a good job of following their own tenets. From the treatment of the First Nations people in North America to the child sexual abuse scandals, and a great deal of hypocrisy thrown into the mix, religions have often been the authors of their own misfortunes.

This is not to say that all religions are corrupt, nor that all the faithful are hypocrites.

However widespread these problems may appear, the fact remains that most of the faithful are indeed faithful to  the ideal and ideology of their religions, and those religions — when practiced according to the sacred laws and precepts — are agencies of peace and goodwill.

But the corruption that has occurred has caused some to again paint with a wide brush. Many who have little regard for Christianity will certainly not take the time to learn about Islam or other religions.

And it was one thing when the followers of those other religions lived half-way around the world. But now that they are coming here and living among us, it become more disturbing to those who do not take the time to understand.

“If they want to come here, they should learn our ways.”

Hmm… like we did when we came here from Europe, and we learned from and adopted the ways of the North American Indians, right?

Let’s face it; we’re a very ethnocentric people here in North America. And really, there’s no good reason for this. 

The United States was the “melting pot,” where it didn’t matter where your family came from, once you arrived you were an American.

Here in Canada, we adopted the “cultural mosaic” approach of multiculturalism, sharing and celebrating each others’ cultural heritages.

But it never really worked out in either case, did it?

Americans still very much hold an “us-versus-them” attitude, and aren’t terribly open to accepting anyone different from themselves.

Here in Canada, despite two hundred years of immigration, the only thing that has really changed is the target of our prejudice.

I remember growing up in a time where — even here in the Sault — Italians and Portuguese were looked upon with scorn and derision. I won’t print the names they were called, but those epithets were common in everyday speech in the 60s.

Later, as other ethnic groups arrived, they became the targets: Serbs and Croats, Chinese and Japanese, Pakistanis, and Arabs.

What saddens me is that we hold ourselves up to be a shining example to the world, the country that everyone loves, and that everyone wants to come to. But when people do come we scoff at them and ridicule their beliefs and cultural practices. 

We insist that they shed the ways of their “old country” and blend in with the rest of us.

We forget that we all descend from “immigrants”, even if our families have been in this country since Cabot, Cartier and Hudson.

We forget that many of our families came here to escape oppression, or famine, or economic hardship in the land of our forebears, that we came to the “New World” to find a new way of life.

We forget that the “old ways” aren’t all forgotten, but over time have been both adapted and adopted into a new cultural milieux. 

We forget that, living in a country that celebrates and protects “freedom” that all who arrive here are also entitled to enjoy “freedom”, including the freedom to celebrate their own religion and culture.

No one has to “blend in.”

Never mind the argument, “If we moved to their country we’d be expected to…”. What happens in other countries is not the measuring stick by which we live our lives here, nor do most of us actually know what would be required of us in another country.

What matters is how we treat one another here.

Still, before we judge others too harshly, we should try to find out something about them, and their backgrounds.

Before we condemn all Muslims as “radicals,” we should perhaps try to understand what it means to follow Islam.

The name “Islam” simply means to surrender oneself to the will of God.

Islam calls humanity to the service of the One, Omnipotent Creator, Who is known as "Allah." It teaches people how they may live together in peace and harmony regardless of race, class or beliefs.

That description seems at odds with the general perception of Islam as a sort of “warrior religion,” one that seeks to annihilate all opposition. That perception is one which we are left with after reading and hearing of terrorist activities and speculating as to their root cause.

Once again, terrorists — whether lone wolf or an organized collective — are not representative of the religion they claim to be defending.

I have heard the point made several times over the past few weeks, that the vast majority of Muslims are just as upset and shocked by terrorist attacks as anyone else. 

Again, the trend toward secularization has given people a poor background from which to judge any religion, and especially one which most westerners are unfamiliar.

Even those who claim to be faithful Christians often have difficulty separating the speculation from the fact, with regard to Islamic extremists.

Many religions grapple with a dichotomy in their teachings. Christianity, as is the case with Islam, teaches that we should live together in peace and harmony with others. 

But both religions — and many others — also teach that they are the “one true religion.” If my religion is the one true religion, then how can yours be the one true religion, too?

I heard Mary Hines, host of CBC Radio’s “Tapestry”, pose the question, “So, are we all just looking through our own religion-coloured glasses at the same Light?”

That has been my view for quite some time now: each religion IS the one true religion, for its followers. I embrace Christianity, you embrace Islam, and another embraces Hinduism, and so on.

Religion can be a problem, but more so because we make it so.

It saddens me when people become defensive of their religion, to the point where they are both angry with and fearful of others.

You may recall that a few years ago the Atheists — a growing religion in North America — bought some bus advertisements. Posters on the sides of transit busses across North America proclaimed that “There is no God.”

At a Church Council meeting as that was taking place, one of our elders raised this as a concern, and asked “What are we going to do about this?”

I asked him what he was afraid of. He insisted he wasn’t afraid, but his words and, frankly, his intensity belied this statement.

He was afraid that this “There is no God” movement would catch on, and that Christians would see their numbers dwindle.

He saw this campaign as an attack on Christianity… and maybe it was.

Atheists are often quite adamant in their beliefs — and make no mistake, they do hold beliefs, in much the same way as the religions they claim are irrelevant. (In fact, that is one of their beliefs.)

People will believe what they will, or not. 

What we all have to do, whether believers or not, whether we consider ourselves to be among the “Faithful” or among the “Free Thinkers”, is to accept that we all have the right to our own beliefs.

I am reminded of the song, “For What It’s Worth.”

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong

I can’t stress enough; Muslims are not “the enemy” of Christianity, any more than Christians are the enemy of Islam.

If religion brings you comfort and peace of mind, that’s great! Embrace it, and embrace it fully. Know in your heart of hearts that there are only two commandments to follow: Love God. Love one another.

That is the basis of every religion.

If you’re not comfortable with religion, if you consider yourself “spiritual,but not religious,” thats great, too! Spirituality — a connection with the “Divine” — offers a similar path to follow, and certainly raises “Love one another” as a principal tenet.

And if you’re neither religious nor spiritual, that’s great, too! If you believe that people can lead a moral and upright life without the need for the trappings, traditions, and rituals of “religion”, then why not? Certainly a sense of morality will lead you to treat one another with respect.

Whatever your belief, whatever tradition you follow, isn’t the whole point just to treat one another as we would want others to treat us?

I believe that if we all follow this simple premise, there would be much less sorrow in the world.

 

But… That’s just my opinion.