Which Came First?

chicken_or_egg

Pop quiz:

Robert is a 20 year-old black man who was raised in the ghettos of Chicago’s South Side by a single mother.  He has committed a violent crime.  The reason he committed the crime is:

A.  He is black

B.  He is a young male

C.  He comes from a single-parent home

D.  His economic situation (poverty)

E.  Insufficient data

I would hope that everyone picked “E” as the correct answer, because we simply don’t have enough information to answer the question.  Although “A” is obviously wrong, not that many years ago it was believed that blacks were predisposed to commit violent crimes.  Answers “B,” “C,” and “D” are all considered by social scientists to be factors that contribute to violent crime.

Let’s try another:

Ali is a 20 year-old Iraqi man who was raised in the Anbar Province by a single mother.  He has detonated a car bomb.  The reason he detonated the bomb is:

A.  He is a Muslim

B.  He is a Muslim

C.  He is a Muslim

D.  He is a Muslim

E.  He is a Muslim

Whenever the subject of violence committed by a member of the Islamic faith comes up, it is assumed (unless proven otherwise) that the violence was motivated by religion.  The same assumption of religious motives is made of things like so-called “honor killings” and female genital mutilation.  But is that assumption accurate?

From Wikipedia:

Islam is a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion originating with the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a 7th century Arab religious and political figure. The word Islam means “submission”, or the total surrender of oneself to God (Arabic: الله‎, Allāh).[1] An adherent of Islam is known as a Muslim, meaning “one who submits [to God]”. The word Muslim is the participle of the same verb of which Islām is the infinitive. There are between 1 billion and 1.8 billion Muslims, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity.

Islam is a religion of peace.

[…]

Islam is the predominant religion in much of Africa and the Middle East, as well as in major parts of Asia.  Large communities are also found in China, the Balkan Peninsula in Eastern Europe and Russia. There are also large Muslim immigrant communities in other parts of the world, such as Western Europe. About 20% of Muslims live in Arab countries, 30% in the Indian subcontinent and 15.6% in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country by population.

If you look at a map of all the countries where Islam is the majority religion, what do they have in common?  They are all Third-World or emerging economic powers.  Most or all of them are former colonies of the United States and/or European nations.  And most or all of them are patriarchal cultures.

When we see violence and the oppression of women in Central and South America, we don’t blame Catholicism, we blame poverty, colonialism, totalitarianism and the sexism of the culture.  Nor do we blame Buddhism for the violence and sexism that occurs in Asia.  But we blame religion for everything we don’t like in the Islamic part of the world.

Female Genital Mutilation is a barbaric cultural practice that is most common in Africa.  It is not part of the Islamic religion and its practice predates Islam.  The minority of Muslims that practice FGM are from cultures that practiced it before they converted.  However, because most of the cultures that practice FGM are now Islamic, we commonly see all of Islam blamed for the practice. 

Christianity is the world’s largest religion, and Jesus Christ is often called the “Prince of Peace.”  Yet millions of people around the world were murdered and oppressed in the name of Jesus, far more than by any other religion.  Was that Jesus’ fault, or was it the violent and imperialist European culture that claimed to act in His name?

The violence that takes place in and around the Islamic world has many causes, including economics, tribalism and nationalism.  That doesn’t mean that religion isn’t involved, but the Arab-Israeli conflict is not merely a religious war, nor is the dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir.

If every Muslim on Earth were to suddenly convert to Christianity would the violence stop?  Would they suddenly give up their cultural practices?  Would they denounce all violence, cast aside the patriarchy and give women full equality? 

Have we?

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