R. Scott Appleby:
Christ, in a sense, was an exemplar of non-violence, and thats important.
Catholic New World photos
David V. Kamba
A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect todays Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.
|Scholar examines religious
roots of violence
R. Scott Appleby was one of the few Americans not surprised at the major terrorist strike at the United States Sept. 11, 2001. In the weeks and months following the attack, one of the questions dominating the airwaves and coffee shops was Why do they hate us? The better question, he said, would have been, Why dont we know why they hate us? because that gets to the root of American power and Americans lack of concern and knowledge of the rest of the world. Appleby is the John M. Regan Director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and a history professor with a specialty in American Catholicism and fundamentalist religion around the world. He spoke Feb. 24 at Loyola University Chicago on The Struggle for the Soul of the Believer: Peace, Justice and Violence in the Contemporary Religious Imagination. He spent a few minutes before his lecture with Catholic New World staff writer Michelle Martin.
The Catholic New World: There is a fear that a war with Iraq would be perceived as a war on Islam. Is that a valid perception, that it would be a war of the Christian West on the Islamic East, or is that camouflaging other issues?
R. Scott Appleby: I think theres concern that any kind of war against Iraq would be interpreted by extremists on both sides as a cultural war, a war against Islam. I think that would be the wrong interpretation because, first of all, Saddam Hussein is no friend of Islam, and Muslims know that. His regime has persecuted Shiite Muslims in the south of Iraq. He effected kind of a conversion to Islam some years ago now, when he was trying desperately during the first Gulf War to rally Muslims around Iraq during the first invasion. It was futile, because the Muslims recognized that for what it was.
But the world has become even more polarized since then. These quotes weve been hearing from Osama bin Laden over the past couple of weeks are construed to be an interpretation of any kind of encroachment by Americans on the Middle East, or on lands that are Arab or Muslim, as a cultural war, as a war against Islam. The tapes give permission for Muslims to fight with Saddam for Iraq, and that very phrasing, give permission, means it would not be prohibited.
TCNW: What does that indicate to you?
RSA: It indicates two things. One is that the Islamic extremists recognize that Saddam is not a true Muslim, and thats why you have to have permission to fight with him. Immediately Colin Powell came out and said, You see, this shows theyre in cahoots. It shows just the opposite. It shows an exception is being made, because the enemy of my enemy is friend.
It showed that, and then it showed that Saddam, within the world of Islam, is no hero, but it showed the polarization that Osama wants to create between the West, capital W, and the rest. Its in al Quaedas interest and the interests of Islamic extremists for these movements and these cultural forces to be polarized. What he wants is a crisis, and he wants people to make a choice and to side with one or the other. Thats the only hope he has. His movement and other Islamic movements are minority movements within their traditions. Theyre not considered to be mainstream or anything other than a tiny minority, so its in his interest to try to mobilize people around global issues.
Unfortunately, our government also plays into those hands. Even though President Bush has at times been careful to make it clear were not warring against Islam, theres still kind of a dualistic mentality of us vs. them and theres no shades of gray and were on the side of the right and theyre evil. That kind of rhetoric plays into the hands of those who would divide us.
TCNW: What can or should religious leaders do to promote the cause of peace in this situation?
RSA: Religious leaders can first of all denounce interpretations of the Quran or of the Bible or of the Torah that are extremist and that lend themselves to violence, that somehow justify violence. They need to make it clear that this our religion, our faith and that the fundamentalists, so called, do not speak the fundamentals of our religion.
Thats part of it. Also, there are a number of religious organizations already aborning that work on reconciliation, conflict negotiation. There are faith-based NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that bring relief and development and peace and justice teaching, education and workshops around the world.
One thing religious leaders could do more of is to promote within their traditions, among their co-religious, their congregants, their parishioners, their fellow worshippers, a focus on peace-building as central to their faith in the 21st century. That form of activism that we need to endorse and lift up as central to our time is the work on reconciliation, the work on collaboration, the work against injusticestructural injustice, personal injustice, including injustice that might be fomented by our own nation-states, whether its the United States or Iraq or France or wherever. Were far from a just nation in many respects.
Thats not to flatten everything and say theres a moral equivalency, but to indicate that religion stands apart from the radicals and the extremists and can be a force for dialogue, collaboration, conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation and structures of transitional justice. For example, religion has some expertise in restorative justice that can balance retributive justice.
TCNW: Christians, especially Catholics, tend to think of Christianity as an instrument of peace. Is that an accurate view historically?
RSA: Well, we call Christ the prince of peace, and this is someone who forgave his detractors, his opponents, and embodies peace. The first word after the resurrection is peace. Now, we can also look at a history of crusades and religious extremism and violence in the name of Christ that makes that claim that Christ is the prince of peace ring hollow.
On the other hand, there are more peace activist movements within Christianity, and by the way within Hinduism, than there are within Islam or within Judaism. I think its not unrelated to the fact that there is that foundational resource in Christ. In other words, Mohammed was not non-violent. Moses was not non-violent. Christ, in a sense, was an exemplar of non-violence, and thats important.
It doesnt mean that Christians are more peaceful that Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists, but it does mean that on the positive side, theres more of a warrant for pacifism and non-violence than in the case of Islam, which theoretically, conceptually, theologically says, Were in a world of violence. Were going to have to do violence. What we want to do ethically is to contain it and to have conditions under which its valid and under which its invalid. Thats different from saying, We eschew all violence, Were non-violent, or Were pacifists.
It makes a difference who your founding figure is. It doesnt make an absolute difference, because unfortunately Christians are still a very bloody people, with blood on their hands.
Front Page | Digest | Cardinal | Interview |
Classifieds | About Us | Write Us | Subscribe | Advertise
Archive | Catholic Sites | New World Publications | Católico | Directory | Site Map
Subscribe to the the Catholic New World