An excellent article by Professor and Hindu Monk Ramdas Lamb.
Q: Is there a problem with proselytism overseas by U.S. religious groups? Isn’t sharing one’s faith part of religious freedom? When does it cross the line into manipulation and coercion?
Missionary proselytization has been an integral part of the two main prophetic religions, Christianity and Islam, since early on in the formation of each. It is precisely the reason they are the two largest religions in the world. It is also one of the darkest and most sinister aspects of religion and one of the main reasons so many people have a negative view of anything to do with religion. The basis and justification for proselytization is an extremely narrow minded and arrogant assumption: “My religion is the only right one, I have the only truth, all other religions are wrong, and it is my duty to get others to think and believe like me.” This belief has been used by Christians and Muslims for more than a millennium to justify the seduction, coercion, torture, and even murder of countless individuals in trying to get them to convert.
This does not mean that missionaries as a group have not done many good things for people over the millennia, and some continue to have positive impacts in the lives of the poor and needy. Examples of this can be seen currently in both Haiti and Chile. However, the negative actions of those who focus is proselytization far outweigh the positive.
Religion is simultaneously one of the best as well as one of the most destructive of human creations. Religions have inspired people like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King to selflessly serve others and work to make the world a better place. Religions have also given rise to an ideology of hatred and have provided justification for the kinds of evils perpetuated by the likes of Aurangzeb, Hitler, and bin Laden.
Proselytizers are fundamentalists whose ideology divides the world into “believers” and “non-believers.” The latter comprise all those who are different, those perceived as the “other.” One of the biggest difficulties that we face in this world is our distrust of others, a feeling that leads to fear, hate, and violence. In his 1991 documentary entitled “Beyond Hate,” Bill Moyers addresses concepts such as “insider and outsider,” “us and other,” etc. and the pivotal role this bifurcated view plays in justifying hatred and violence. Proselytizers thrive on these distinctions, these divisions, drawing sharp lines between their own beliefs and those of everyone else. Non-believers are seen as lesser, sometimes even as evil, and clearly in need to either being changed or, in the extreme, annihilated.
More wars have been fought because of narrow religious doctrine and beliefs than for any other reason, and Christians and Muslims have been at the forefront. Both their histories are punctuated with wars against people of other religions, and the paths they have followed are riddled with the bodies of millions of innocent victims. One of the more extreme examples is the case of Timur, the 14th-century Muslim conqueror. In December, 1398, he overthrow the reigning Muslim ruler in Delhi. His justification was that the ruling dynasty was too tolerant of Hindus and did not convert them. Timur happily recounts in his memoirs that in the process of taking over, his army slaughtered 100,000 Hindus in a single day.
Forced conversions continue, as is evident by events in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Egypt. Even in the Gaza strip, two western newsman were recently forced to convert at gunpoint. Just last week, two young Sikh men were kidnapped and beheaded by members of the Taliban in Pakistan for refusing to convert to Islam. While such actions clearly do not represent the vast majority of Muslims, they have been condoned and even justified by fundamentalist Muslim leaders, and very few Muslims speak out in opposition, often out of fear. A recent and welcome exception is Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri, an influential Pakistani Muslim scholar, who just released a 600-page fatwa (religious edict) condemning Muslim terrorism and suicide bombings. Although it is a powerful and needed statement, it is a rarity, and Dr. ul-Qadri has unfortunately put his own life in danger in the process. Fundamentalists, irrespective of their chosen ideology, find disagreement difficult to allow, and violence has increasingly become a common reaction.
Christian missionaries in the past were not much better. In addition to the violence in the name of Christianity that was perpetuated during the Crusades and the Inquisitions, a look at the early proselytization efforts in India, the Americas, and the Pacific makes it clear that many missionaries found relatively easy justification for the torture and execution of those who refused to become Christian or who challenged their beliefs. Although nowadays most Christian proselytizers have renounced such violence, groups like the Manmasi National Christian Army in Assam, India, continue to use threats to force conversion.
Most European and American Christian missionaries during the last two centuries in Asia have found offers of food, work, education, and health care to be better methods for gaining converts. In the late 1700s, missionaries followed on the heels of the British East India Company and began a concerted effort to take over the Indian soul. Once the British government took control the country, proselytizers had a relatively free reign to pursue their objectives. Again, some missionaries did good works, but those focused on proselytization showed little actual concern for the well being of those they sought to convert.
Many Hindus had hoped that Indian Independence would help curtail the more underhanded activities of the missionaries, but this did not happen. Less than a decade after Independence, a government study conducted in central India known as the Niyogi Report brought to light many of the underhanded and cynical methods that Christian missionaries were continuing to use. The Indian government did little about it, and as a consequence, many of the same tactics remain prevalent.
Currently, Americans donate millions of dollars annually to Christian organizations that advertise charity work they do around the world. While it is true that some organizations do help many people, the assistance of many such groups comes with a price for the people being helped. That is because the real focus of most missionaries is on their proselytization efforts, for which a significant portion of the money is used. Far too often, their activities have absolutely nothing to do with spirituality or real charity, and everything to do with getting names and numbers of converts, so the missionaries can go back to their funding agencies and supporters and ask for continued finances for their claimed “successes.”
In India, missionaries tell their supporters in the U.S. that they provide free or inexpensive services to the needy. However, once initial assistance is given, then conditions are often added for subsequent help. If free education is provided, conversion may then be a requirement for its continuance past a certain point. If aid is in the form of health care, then the quality of care or type of medicine and treatment available may be determined by one’s willingness to convert. This becomes a serious and difficult issue for parents who bring a sick or injured child to a missionary hospital. They may be told that the necessary care is only given to Christians, or that the required medicines “will only work” on Christians. For those who do convert in order to receive needed care, they may well be pressured to then convert other family members or else lose whatever aid they are receiving. I have seen families torn apart by such missionary activities in Central India where I conduct research. Again, this is not what all missionaries do, but these are fairly common occurrences.
In early 2009, Pope Benedict XVI met the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and agreed to stop all conversion attempts directed at Jews. A month later, Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, president of Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, visited India and was asked while there if he would offer Hindus the same respect. He refused. There is a degree to narrow mindedness in every religious tradition, but when that is coupled with fundamentalist arrogance and powerful backing, nothing good can come from it.
In his “Seeds of Contemplation,” the late Catholic Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton warns about those with spiritual pride who think of themselves as having the truth and humility while others do not, who think they are suffering for God’s sake but deep inside are becoming full of pride in their supposed sanctity, who think that everyone else must adhere to their truth. Merton writes that when such an individual thinks that “he is messenger of God or a man with a mission to reform the world. . . He is capable of destroying religion and making the name of God odious to men.”
I am a strong supporter of freedom of religion. Most proselytizers are not. They want the freedom to coerce vulnerable and gullible individuals into converting, and they can justify many nefarious methods to accomplish their goal. No matter how well intentioned, any attempts to push a religious belief or denomination on someone ultimately benefits no one and demeans the religion in the process. If missionaries actually have something of genuine worth and value, why do they need to seduce, coerce, or threaten people to get them to accept it? Maybe their methods suggest that what they have to offer is not that worthwhile.
The arrest of a suburban Pennsylvania woman known by the alias Jihad Jane, who allegedly plotted with Islamic radicals abroad to kill a Swedish cartoonist, has raised fears about homegrown terrorists in the United States who may be difficult to spot.
“This woman might as well have advertised in the Washington Post,” former White House counterterrorism official and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke said on “Good Morning America” today. “It was easy for the FBI to find her, but there are other people who are much more covert.”
“There will likely be more attacks,” Clarke said. “Hopefully, they will be small, and hopefully, we can catch them early.” Colleen R. LaRose, 46, of Montgomery, Pa., was arrested in October 2009 and charged with trying to recruit Islamic fighters and plotting to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist who made fun of prophet Mohammed, according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The FBI had kept the case secret while it looked for more suspects in the United States and abroad. The case was made public after seven men were arrested in Ireland this week, suspected of plotting to kill the Swedish cartoonist.
LaRose’s case is rare, Clark said, but it shows the capability of international dissident groups to reach out to Americans via the Internet.”This is a very rare case of a disturbed woman,” he said, but it signifies how “the Internet not only allows them to communicate, it allows them to recruit.”
Their persuasive speeches and sermons, which have been effective in recruiting men and women in the Middle East, are “beginning to work for some misfits in the United States,” he said.LaRose was arrested in Philadelphia Oct. 16, 2009, and has been in federal custody ever since, without bail. She has not entered a plea. If convicted, she faces a potential sentence of life in prison and a $1 million fine.
Her three federal public defender lawyers have yet to return calls from ABC News.LaRose could easily fit the part of a soccer mom. She was described by neighbors as an average housewife.”Oh, my God, unbelievable, I can’t believe that,” one neighbor told ABC News.
Another said the news was an “amazing, shocking surprise.”Clarke said there is likely a small group of people like LaRose. But their numbers are less of a concern than the idea that radical groups can convey their ideology via this “remote control through cyberspace,” he said.”I think it’s very small but it doesn’t have to be very large,” he said. “So it’s not so much a matter of size. It’s the fact that it’s going on.”
Authorities said LaRose’s U.S. citizenship and appearance made her appealing to the Islamic radicals she first contacted on the Internet.”The terrorists figured out that they can’t all look like Middle Eastern people, whether they be male or female,” former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said. “And so they’ve put a lot of time and energy particularly into the Internet, of recruiting people.”
LaRose is better known to federal authorities as Fatima Rose or Jihad Jane. On June 20, 2008, LaRose allegedly posted a video on YouTube calling herself JihadJane and stating she was “desperate to do something somehow to help” ease the suffering of Muslims, according to news station WPVI.
The indictment, obtained by ABC News, charged LaRose with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, and making false statements to a government official and attempted identity theft.
Alleged Traget Identified as Lars Vilks
LaRose is also accused of making false statements to a government official and of attempted identity theft, a passport she allegedly stole with the intention of giving to an Islamic fighter. The court papers alleged that LaRose reached out through the Internet to jihadist groups saying she was “desperate to do something to help” suffering Muslim people, and that she desired to become a martyr. She stated in her e-mails “that her physical appearance would allow her to ‘blend in with many people’ which ‘may be a way to achieve what is in my heart,'” the indictment stated.
In her e-mails with five unindicted co-conspirators in South Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, LaRose allegedly agreed to recruit men and women for jihad, to raise money for Islamic fighters, and agreed on the Internet to one jihadist’s request to “marry me to get me inside Europe.”
In March 2009, the indictment stated, she allegedly received a directive to “got to sweden… find location of [Resident of Sweden] … and kill him … this is what i say to u.” LaRose was instructed to kill Vilks in a way that would frighten “the whole Kufar [non-believer] world.”Federal officials identified the target as Lars Vilks, who had drawn Muhammed with the body of a dog.
Source: ABC News
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Barry Rubin is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle-East.He says how the Islamic Jihad factor played a very major role in this gruesome incident.
It drove Maj Hassan to kill fellow soldiers
How do we know the attack at Fort Hood was an Islamist terrorist act? Simple, Maj Nidal Hassan told us. He gave a number of clues but nothing’s more impressive than this one: Maj Hassan is the first terrorist to give an academic lecture explaining why he was about to attack. Yet that still isn’t enough for too many people — including the US President — to understand that the murderous assault was a jihadi attack. Maj Hassan also told us how the tragedy could have been avoided. But no one seems to be paying attention.
Instead of speaking about a medical topic, Maj Hassan’s lecture was: ‘The Quranic World View as it Relates to Muslims in the US Military’. He used 50 power-point slides.
Maj Hassan is very logical. This is clearly not the work of a mad man or someone confused about what he was doing. Three topics are covered: What Islam teaches Muslims, how Muslims view the wars in Afghanistan and Iran, and how this might affect Muslims in the US military. Maj Hassan defines jihad as holy war, of course.
Now here’s Maj Hassan’s central theme. God forbids Muslims to fight against other Muslims in an infidel army. He quotes the Quran extensively to prove the point. Allah will punish anyone who kills a Muslim. A believer must obey Allah. Those who do enjoy great delights; those who don’t suffer torments in hell.
Next, Maj Hassan introduces the concept of ‘defensive jihad’, a core element in radical Islamist thinking. If others attack and oppress Muslims, then it is the duty of all Muslims to fight them, quoting the Quran he explains, “Allah forbids you…from dealing kindly and justly” with those who fight Muslims.”
Consequently, Maj Hassan understood his situation perfectly. To be a proper Muslim given his beliefs, he had to pick up a gun and join the jihad, Muslim side. He was not shooting Americans because he caught battle fatigue from soldiers he treated but because he believed that these soldiers must die at his hands.
The choice to act was forced on him when he received orders to ship out to Iran or Afghanistan. Would he choose the side of Allah and the Muslims, to be rewarded in heaven? Or would he join with the infidels, to be punished with hell? He made his decision.
In practical terms, if not in religious ones, his analysis misses an obvious and important issue: What if two groups of Muslims are fighting, cannot one side with one group, even if it has non-Muslim allies? After all, Americans don’t go to Iraq or Afghanistan simply to ‘kill Muslims’ but to defend Muslims from being killed. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Egyptians had no problem with using Western troops to save them from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991, for example. The Iraqi and Afghan Governments, made up of pious Muslims, do the same thing.
Arab nationalists who are Muslims can take this position more easily. But Islamists are fighting to seize control of all Muslim-majority states and perhaps of the entire world.
The true problem, then, is not that some Muslims help infidels kill Muslims, but that some Muslims help infidels kill Islamists. Maj Hassan never considered this point, in part and ironically, because he was a native-born American and real Middle East issues were abstractions for him.
But Maj Hassan tells us the possible ways out of his paradox, using quotes from the Quran. First, if the Americans ended the wars, then Muslims wouldn’t have to kill them. Second, it would be okay to be in the US Army if the Americans accepted Islam or agreed to become subservient to Muslim rulers (dhimmis).
Third, if the Muslim messiah came, he’d destroy Christianity as a false religion and set off the post-history utopia. He didn’t mention that this also involved murdering all Jews.
This brings up a valuable insight into Maj Hassan’s character. Although a Palestinian, he never verbally attacked Israel or the Jews. He considers himself American by nationality, neither Palestinian nor Arab. But he has a religion that directs his thinking. That’s why he is an Islamist and supports Al Qaeda, not Hamas.
As one moderate Muslim from Canada pointed out, the clothes he wore the day before committing his jihadi attack was not (as some sources put it in a silly manner) some martyr or even Arab garb but the clothing of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is an Al Qaeda jihadi, having changed sides in the war on terror.
His conclusion takes on tremendous significance in light of what would happen at Fort Hood. He writes: “If Muslim groups can convince Muslims that they are fighting for god against injustices of the ‘infidels’; ie, the enemies of Islam, then Muslims can become a potent adversary ie: Suicide bombing, etc.”
And of course, these groups did so convince Maj Hassan. Why? Maj Hassan tells us: “God expects full loyalty. Promises heaven and threatens with hell. Muslims may seem moderate (compromising) but god is not.”
And at the very end, he proposes what might have been his own escape route: “Recommendation: Department of Defence should allow Muslim soldiers the option of being released as ‘conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events.”
The fact that Maj Hassan’s lecture has not been the centerpiece of the whole post-massacre debate is a true example of how impoverished are the ‘experts,’ journalists, and politicians at dealing with these issues.