On HBO’s “Real Time” on Friday night, host Bill Maher entertained UC-San Bernardino professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism, who maintained that despite the events in recent days, religious extremism isn’t only a product of Islam.
But Maher took issue with that claim, calling it “liberal bullshit” and said there was no comparison.
“You know what, yeah, yeah,” Maher said. “You know what — that’s liberal bullshit right there … they’re not as dangerous. I mean there’s only one faith, for example, that kills you or wants to kill you if you draw a bad cartoon of the prophet. There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith. An ex-Muslim is a very dangerous thing. Talk to Salman Rushdie after the show about Christian versus Islam. So you know, I’m just saying let’s keep it real.”
To my shock and dismay I find myself agreeing with Bill Maher. But I guess even the Devil tells the truth some times.
As I’m sure you all know I was raised in a fundie Christian church until I was about 17 years old so I am very familiar with Protestant theology. Then in college I majored in history including courses on the history of religion and the history of Islam. I am no expert in Islam but I know quite a bit about it.
It is true to say that Christianity has a very bloody history. That history includes witch hunts, pogroms, inquisitions and “holy” wars. But there is currently no major Christian sect that advocates violence against non-believers, blasphemers, apostates or heretics.
Christianity started out as a religion among the slaves and proletarians. It was not until several hundred years later that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity’s violent phase generally coincides with its “official” status. The separation of church and state effectively ended Christianity’s violent phase.
Islam, on the other hand, began as a violent religion that expanded by military conquest and forced conversion. The earliest converts to Islam were the warlike Bedouin Arabs whose primary source of income was raiding and robbing trading caravans that were passing thru the desert. During the first 150 years of Islamic history the religion expanded westward from the Arabian Peninsula to North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, northward into Europe and eastward across the Middle-East and Central Asia.
The Koran (Qur’an) is the holiest book of Islam. They believe it is the literal word of God (Allah). The hadith is the collected teachings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad. The different sects of Islam rely on different sets of hadith collections. Just as in Christian theology, if you pick and choose among the Koran’s suras (verses) and various hadith, you can justify positions for or against most subjects.
This is particularly important in regards to one tenet of Islam called “jihad”. All the textbooks will tell you that jihad means “struggle”. The politically correct translation refers to an inner spiritual struggle. But it also refers to a physical struggle against the enemies of Islam. Some Muslims believe that jihad means “holy war” against non-believers.
This latter group are the ones that become terrorists.
But terrorism is only one of the problems with Islam. Muslim nations and communities in the West don’t have a very good track record when it comes to things like women’s rights, LGBT rights and tolerance of other religions. It is one thing to celebrate diversity and provide for freedom of religion, but things like honor killings, stonings and female genital mutilation are unacceptable.
Defenders of Islam claim that the violence and oppression associated with Islam are attributable to a small minority of Muslims. I am not going to dispute that here. But assuming that is true then the rest of the Muslims in the world must unite with civilized people in ending the violence.
That means cutting off all support for those who use or promote violence. That means identifying them to law enforcement, and testifying against them in court. That means living at peace with non-believers. It means condemning the oppression and murder of women and gays. It means repudiating violence.
In other words, they need to pick a side. They can join the civilized peoples, or they can join the savages.