Equal opportunity brutality

I got irritated by an article in the Spectator by Jackie Mason ‘Why you never hear ‘Muslim jokes’’ (http://www.spectator.co.uk/article.php?id=7317&issue=2006-02-11). Of course, it’s intended as Jewish humour, the idea that Jews are naturally peace-loving/reasonable/cowardly etc. But it’s of the same type as a lot of more serious articles that claim that somehow some ethnic groups/religions/non-religious beliefs are intrinsically peace-loving, in a way that other religions (normally Islam) are not.

This prompted me to produce a brief list of modern (WW2 and later) examples of brutality in a variety of religious and atheist societies:

Christianity: terrorism (IRA, Basque ETA), massacres (Lebanese Phalangist militia, 1982), ethnic cleansing (former Yugoslavia)

Hinduism: terrorism (Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers)

Judaism: terrorism (Stern gang, Irgun), religiously motivated murder (Yigal Amir – killer of Yitzhal Rabin, Baruch Goldstein – shooting in Hebron)

Atheism: genocide (Nazis, Khmer Rouge), mass murder (Stalin, Mao)

This is just a brief list, and more knowledgeable people could probably add to it, particularly for Asia. I’m also not trying to argue that all these examples are equally bad, and some might even be claimed as justified (e.g. pre-State of Israel Jewish terrorism). My point is only that no tradition is exclusively, invariably peaceful and that all religions (and atheism) can turn to violence in particular circumstances.


3 thoughts on “Equal opportunity brutality

  1. Then it’s not real religion. It’s being used as a justification or mask to hide behind by thugs. Violence is only ever justified in any religion of whatever variety, in self-defence. By that meaning during unprovoked attack.

    They would have used another excuse such as tribe, race, colour etc for their barbarism if there was no religion. All religions, at their core preach tolerance and respect for other living beings. A lot of it’s common sense really. Extremism belongs totally outwith true religion which seems to have been pretty well hijacked at the present.


  2. If it’s just a case that religion has been hijacked, then the question arises of why it’s been hijacked so often. Christianity, for example, has been used to justify aggression for the majority of its 2000 years of history.

    I think religious people have to accept that violence is not purely external to religion. I don’t know about Eastern traditions, but the sacred books of Chrsitianity, Judaism and Islam all contain texts and stories that legitimate violence that is not purely defensive. You only have to look at the Old Testament to see divinely sanctioned aggression and even genocide. However, these religions also contain holy texts/stories and traditions of a different sort, that extol peacefulness, restraint and non-violence or that teach that violent struggle should be seen only as a metaphor (the Christian soldier against the devil, jihad as mental striving).

    I think believers have to be more open about saying that there is a violent tradition in their own religion (and other religions), but that it is not the only one and that a peaceful interpretation is a better one.


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