Violence in the Modern World

A short talk about the events in Manchester and violence in the world in general.

“I strongly agree with President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia to Arab leaders. It’s ultimately going to have to be Arab and Islamic leaders — that speak to their own people of their own faith.”Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, speaking on The Hugh Hewitt Show

Notes

Cavanaugh, William T. The Myth Of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict . Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009.

The Value of One Life – What Is It In Western Civilization?

مِن أَجلِ ذٰلِكَ كَتَبنا عَلىٰ بَني إِسرائيلَ أَنَّهُ مَن قَتَلَ نَفسًا بِغَيرِ نَفسٍ أَو فَسادٍ فِي الأَرضِ فَكَأَنَّما قَتَلَ النّاسَ جَميعًا وَمَن أَحياها فَكَأَنَّما أَحيَا النّاسَ جَميعًا ۚ وَلَقَد جاءَتهُم رُسُلُنا بِالبَيِّناتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّ كَثيرًا مِنهُم بَعدَ ذٰلِكَ فِي الأَرضِ لَمُسرِفونَ

It was for the sake of that crime that We made it a principle for the Children of Israel that if anyone took a life — unless it be to punish a murder or to prevent the spread of chaos in the land — that it would be as if he had murdered the whole of humanity. Conversely, if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he had saved the life of the whole of humanity. However, even though Our messengers came to them with clear evidence of the truth — even after that — many of them continued to commit abuses in the land.Qur’an, 5: 32

I ask this question: “What does one life mean for us now?” Some may assume I ask this antagonistically as if — because I’m Muslim — I have some undying criticisms of the West, or more simply, I harbor ill will towards the West. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as I, all of my family, and my daughter, are all members of the West. I ask it because I wish for the West to be better: better tomorrow than yesterday. I say this to myself as well as to my fellow Muslims: we’re going to have to move beyond non-stop criticisms (which is not the same as being critical of) of the West and try and contribute to its much-need revival.

On April 10th, Cedric Anderson murdered Karen Smith as well as 8-year old Jonathan Martinez. Shortly thereafter, Steve Stephens murdered 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr., live, on Facebook. And then today, Kori Ali Muhammad appears to have murdered three white men because he felt there was a brewing race war. Stereotypically, Muhammad’s case is still under review as to whether it’s “terrorism” or not. But seriously, who cares? There’s a five-person body count; five people who are no longer here due to no fault of their own. I find myself unable to just get back to “business as usual”. This is not usual. This level of crime, killing, and indifference to human life is no usual. Is this the fate (and unintended consequence) of Facebook and our selfie culture? We have to not go back to business as usual but stop … arrest ourselves, arrest our movement, process what life means in western civilization. Does a person’s life have value anymore? Two lives? Three lives? Five lives? If it does, then when, where, and how shall we make this manifest again? We desperately need a return to meaning, one rooted in the transcendence that there is a God, that God cares about the affairs of humans, put in them indelible value because God created them, and we will be held accountable for our actions. Taking lives and then taking our own is no escape from the heinous crimes we commit against one another. We will face the consequences we reap. May God guide us all.

What Is Western Civilization Now?

وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَيَأْتِيَنَّ عَلَى النَّاسِ زَمَانٌ لاَ يَدْرِي الْقَاتِلُ فِي أَىِّ شَىْءٍ قَتَلَ وَلاَ يَدْرِي الْمَقْتُولُ عَلَى أَىِّ شَىْءٍ قُتِلَ

By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, a time will most certainly come when the murderer would not know why he has committed the murder while the victim would not know why he has been killed.Prophet Muhammad,
related by Abu Hurayrah – recorded in Sahih Muslim, #2908

What is western civilization? Does it mean that not only can one be the victim of a senseless crime, but even our elderly will have their demise live streamed on the internet? Robert Godwin, a 74-year-old elderly man, was approached by Steve Stephens in broad daylight and executed whilst being filmed on Facebook’s new live streaming feature, Facebook Live.

Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

I cannot sleep. There comes a point where the violence can’t be shrugged off; the cynicism cannot wash away the blood. We live in a civilization of terror.

The Secular State and Muted Violence

I know a lot of folks who consider themselves to be “secular” — including Muslims — in part due to misconceptions they hold about how religion is (inherently) divisive or even violent, but will turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the violence perpetrated by the secular state. Take for instance the black struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told the world,

“We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.”1

this, and other theological movements were heavily repressed by the American secular state, a state which still “mutes and manages” race, according to Vincent W. Lloyd, and religion, in a so-called “postracial regime of America”2.

So long as religion remains a mythical beast which must be tamed by the secular, we are unlikely to see any significant shift away from violence in the modern world. In fact, the more that religion is maligned and its leadership marginalized, we will continue to see ever greater and amplified violence inflicted on parts of the world who tragically have also had their voices muted and their narratives managed, all in the name of “peace”.

Our violence, being secular, is rational, peace making, and sometimes regrettably necessary to contain their violence. We find ourselves obliged to bomb them into liberal democracy.”3

Notes

1. Kahn, Jonathan S., and Lloyd, Vincent W. Race And Secularism In America. New York, Columbia University Press, 2016. Pg. 2.

2. Ibid., Pg. 2.

3. Cavanaugh, William T. The Myth Of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict . Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009. Pg. 4.

The Violent Scourge of Modernity

Seldom do I reply to such tragedies as we saw today in London. Not because I am not bothered by them but mostly because I do not wish to politicize loss of life. But I do become weary of the world and its non-stop dirge of violence, as was also seen in NYC with James Jackson, white supremacist and vet, who traveled all the way from Baltimore to New York City in hopes of creating a publicity storm when he murdered Timothy Caughman. I can only offer these words in hope of giving hope to those who feel all hope is lost:

مَنْ قَتَلَ مُعَاهَدًا لَمْ يَرَحْ رَائِحَةَ الْجَنَّةِ، وَإِنَّ رِيحَهَا تُوجَدُ مِنْ مَسِيرَةِ أَرْبَعِينَ عَامًا

“Whoever kills the one with whom there is a social contract will not smell the scent of Paradise though its fragrance is perceived from a distance of forty years.”Prophet Muhammad

I chose to translate the Arabic word “mu’ahad” as “social contract” because in essence, any Muslim who comes to live in a non-Muslim country has entered into a social contract of mutual cooperation and benefit. Such actions are an abomination and violation of that.

Of course the case will have to be investigated, but if it does not prove to be a cause of mental health (something rarely afforded to Muslim perpetrators of violence), then it points to what I feel  the problem: a lack(ing) of Islam, not a problem because of it. Many Muslim youth have been misled as to how they ought to process their grievances with the world (perhaps equally import is for to know that some of their grievances are legitimate, others not). I feel that if there was an actual encouragement for them to (a) read the Qur’an and (b) embody it1, a message coming from religious leadership, we might actually begin to tackle this issue.

الَّذينَ إِذا أَصابَتهُم مُصيبَةٌ قالوا إِنّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنّا إِلَيهِ راجِعونَ

“Those who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘We belong to Allah and to Him we will return’.” Qur’an, 2: 156

Part of what makes this difficult is the point from which western secular democracies depart when they view what is perceived to be religiously motivated violence. William Cavanaugh echoes this in his book, The Myth of Religious Violence,

“The idea that religion has a tendency to promote violence is part of the conventional wisdom of Western societies, and it underlies many of our institutions and policies, from limits on the public role of churches to efforts to promote liberal democracy in the Middle East.”2

Particularly grabbing is Cavanaugh’s insights in the root or essence of violence in the modern world, including acts of violence committed by religious groups or individuals. Immediately after the tragic attack in England, Londoners took to the streets, rightfully angry, and began drawing swift conclusions from the event stating that such violence has been ongoing for 1,400 years, unarrested.

What Cavanaugh brings to our attention is that this violence is not “transhistorical and transcultural”3 but is in fact locally situated to its environs. A cursory study of Muslims living in various non-Muslim countries will show the vast majority amply assimilated; clearly the problem is more complicated than simply “they hate us for our freedoms”.

My feelings that the heart of the issue will never be solved by sidelining and excluding meaningful religious leadership. This is all too often the case as secular societies seek to “tame” religion and “restrict its access to public power”4, even if that power is to simply communicate effectively to disenfranchised individuals who, because of modern technology, can greatly amplify their capacity to inflict harm on the world.

Notes

1. Cavanaugh , William T. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

2. Ware III , Rudolph T. The Walking Qur’an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa (Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

3. Cavanaugh. The Myth of Religious Violence.

4. Cavanaugh. The Myth of Religious Violence.