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2007.05.14

Distinctions That Make A Point

It began with a post by Glenn Reynolds on InstaPundit:

THE ANSWER TO THE EXAMINER’S QUESTION [“And for once wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a college president show some real backbone when faced with unreasonable demands from activist minority students seeking exclusive privileges?” – GPE] IS SIMPLE: It’s because people are afraid they’ll blow things up.

Sooner or later, you know, fundamentalist Christians are going to pick up on this lesson, engage in similar behavior, and make similar demands. Because, apparently, it works fine.

To which Bryan Preston posting at HotAir.com took exception:

But he’s wrong that “fundamentalist Christians” are going to take this as a cue to start up their own terrorism to get what they want. And he’s wrong because he starts with an error on the basics: Namely, that Christianity and Islam aren’t the same thing, don’t believe the same things and don’t teach the same things. The foundational texts of the two faiths are very different, and the differences make all the difference in the world.

Reynolds replies that Preston has, quite simply, missed the central idea, he has missed the point Reynolds was making.

Preston correctly points out the differences between Islam and Christianity. But the heart of the matter is deeper than religion. Preston seems to be ignoring fundamental human nature. I suspect Reynolds is thinking in terms of logical conclusions whereas Preston is thinking in terms of faith and ideology. That’s the distinction I see.

I have to agree with Reynolds. My take away from Reynolds’ first post was that, indeed, the fundamental Islamists are ahead of the curve in getting what they want through violence and that one way (take note, I said ONE WAY) that can turn around is if other groups begin to employ similar terror tactics. These groups need not be religious in nature. In fact, Robert Spencer has made the arguement that Islamism is as much a political and social system as it is a religious faith. Reynolds could have made his point by writing “Sooner or later, you know, the Marx Brothers are going to pick up on this lesson, engage in similar behavior, and make similar demands. Because, apparently, it works fine.”

But context is everything. The thought of the Marx Brothers turning violent is laughable. Violent Christians, not so much. Preston concedes this point:

If you want to talk about the Crusades, well, they were defensive wars against imperialist Muslims who were spreading Islam by the sword.

At what point does Preston think Christians (or other faiths, for that matter) will begin to conclude a defensive posture is the needed response to the contemporary imperialist Muslim agenda? Never? His post, aside from seeming to speak for all Christians, suggests Christians will never press to violence. I believe he is mistaken. I’ve certainly had my share if experiences with Christians who’s fervor and “passion” had me making mental note of the fastest escape route. I believe anyone is capable of violence. And I believe there is an undefined critical mass for any group of people after which they will find it quite easy to turn violent. It would perhaps be fair to say that critical mass for Christians is significantly higher than it is for Muslims, nonetheless, it no doubt exists.

An early memory of mine is a picture of Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy intersection in downtown Saigon, Vietnam, in 1963. He sought to “bring attention to the repressive policies of the Catholic Diem regime that controlled the South Vietnam.” Years later, as I began my own Buddhist practice, this picture came up in conversation following a Zen sesshin I had just completed. I remarked, “I could never do that, set myself on fire.” A senior student replied quite matter-of-fact, “Sure you could. With a strong enough meditation practice, you could.” This struck me in a way that stayed with me and years later I understood. Yes, with a strong enough belief, or will or nerve or call it what you like, the most unlikely of people are capable of the most unlikely of behaviors. My understanding of how such beliefs take hold was further clarified as I worked my way up to Sandan rank in Aikido.

Most people do not understand aggression or violence. And those who don’t often give strong, scary emotions and behaviors blanket labels like “bad” and “evil” and make sanctimonious declarations that they themselves are free from such base drives. The more laughable among them become legislators and work to establish magical laws designed to rid the community of the “bad” and “evil.” They don’t know what they don’t know.

To Bryan Preston: Threatened and pushed far enough, yes, they will.

[Edit History]

2007.05.15

#1 – I made note that if other groups made use of violence to force their agenda as effectively as the fundamental Islamists, you would begin to see concessions made to those groups. Some pro-life advocates have done this as well as groups like the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. So far, what is different is the tactical scale and that is certainly an area where the fundamental Islamists have raised the bar. What worked for the eco-terrorists in 1998, for example, barely rates as a news item these days given the carnage, gore and destruction served up by the Islamic terrorists on a global scale.

However, there is undoubtedly a tipping point at which Joe Citizen will begin to take matters into his own hands to protect his property and family. I wouldn’t expect this to be some grand declaration. Rather a quite shift.

As far as Christians are concerned, I’ve known many to have made transgressions with the aim of protecting their own interests and with the understanding their sins could be absolved in the confessional or by prayer with their minister. And the ones I’m thinking of weren’t even life threating situations. Do I fault them for this? Not necessarily (assuming their transgressions do not break any of society’s laws.) The basic instincts of human nature are poorly understood by most and the human intellect is easily overpowered by emotions such as fear and anger. It takes training and practice to keep your wits about you in a storm such as a bomb blast in a public area. This is why I think Preston overreaches in his claim that Christians won’t turn violent. I think Preston has what it takes to keep his cool under dire stress. But it is naive to presuppose his strengths are derived exclusively from a common faith and project his capabilities upon others who do not have his training and experience. I would be hesitant to deny those around me the humility to discover their weaknesses and the requisite space to grow and learn.

#2 – Grammar fixes.