The rise of ISIS and the recent outburst of sectarian violence and the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers have put Islamic extremism on the front pages again. It has also put Muslims in the now familiar position of having to defend their faith or remain silent. Either choice seems to result in a no win game.
If you remain silent you run the risk of being accused of assenting to the violence. You are silent not because there is nothing much to say to people who will not listen but because you secretly agree with the evil agendas. On the other hand, if you defend your faith too loudly, you may be accused of being edgy, nervous and defensive. If you defend too articulately, you may be accused of cleverly lying to cover up the truth. If you defend too sincerely, it may be mistaken for naivety and stupidity as if, being a western Muslim, you may not even know the evils of Islam first hand. Whether you speak or whether you are silent, you are an accomplice to crime you did not commit.
Whether Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu or Buddhist we have to be boldly honest with ourselves and with others about the atrocities which are done in the names of our faiths. In the world, at this moment, that responsibility falls disproportionately on Muslims. I will let the sociologists, anthropologists, historians and political scientists explain why that is. There are reasons why at particular times, some groups will use religion to justify violence and cruelty. "Islam" is not that reason. Anyone who has taken the time to study Islam in any depth or detail will understand that there is not some evil hidden in the DNA of Islam that makes this inevitable. These are rather choices, evil choices that can even strip a beautiful faith of much of its beauty.
Muslims are not the only ones making those kinds of choices. We live in a world where Hindu nationalists march with spears, Jewish settlers sit on hilltops armed to the teeth fueled by an intolerant messianic ideology, Christian preachers frame the “War on Terror” as a new crusade, and goon squads of Buddhist monks burn mosques in Burma. It is clear that Islam has not cornered the market on violent ideologies, and that many of these other violent ideologies are headed in their direction. We, non-Muslims also have a responsibility to address the dangerous ideologies now growing in your own communities and perhaps in our own hearts.