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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Extremists not reflective of religion

Last week in Chapel Hill, three Muslims were shot.

The shooter, Craig Hicks, is an atheist — or, as religion scholar Reza Aslan described him to NPR, an anti-theist, which goes beyond run-of-the-mill atheism to “virulent opposition to the very concept of belief.”

Vicious debate has ensued on news and social media alike over whether Hicks’ beliefs were a motivating factor in the murders.

The overall argument has followed the narrative driving the recent American story — a narrative that links extremist terrorism to the peaceful religion of Islam. Of course Islam has motivated terrible acts before, people say. The only question is whether atheism can play or has played a similar role.

Islam is a religion many people do not understand. In fact, in the week prior to last, President Barack Obama made a comment at the National Prayer Breakfast explaining that Islam is not the only religion to experience extremism. With that, he opened the floodgate to hundreds of critical comments.

In October 2001, “The West Wing” aired an episode shortly after the 9/11 attacks in which Josh, an advisor to the president, wrote an analogy on a white board: “Islamic Extremist is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity.”

Obama is not alone in asserting that Islam is not the only religion to have extremism in its history. Virtually every religion — Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism — has its extremist sects.
The fact is that the U.S. has created a culture where only Islam is synonymous with terrorism.

Though Obama was correct in his assertion that terrorists hail from all religions, races and ethnicities, he failed to make his argument without attacking others. Instead of criticizing equivalent acts of terror in Christianity, he should have mentioned that many modern-day Muslims denounce worldwide acts of terror. He should have focused on the fact that, while all religions have their terrorist entities, the majority of every religion’s followers denounce its forms of extremism.

His message was muddled because Americans became defensive of Christianity. The Ku Klux Klan did claim to be a Christian organization and did commit horrendous acts of terror, especially in the South. But most Christians deplore using the name of Christ to legitimize these acts. Obama’s message should be similarly framed: This is not Islam. This is a faction of extremists who have twisted words of peace into words inciting fear in the hearts of others.

Just as we recognize Christianity to be a peaceful and loving religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, we should know Islam as a peaceful and loving religion based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. The KKK is no reflection of Christianity, and Islamic State is no reflection of Islam.

Let’s be honest about history when we are criticizing Obama’s speech. Religions of all kinds have been used for sowing goodness and greatness. They’ve also been used to further evil. The latter shouldn’t poison our opinion of the former, and the latter certainly shouldn’t be laid at the feet of Islam alone.

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Maddy Bynes is a junior studying political science and history. Follow her on Twitter.

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