The Sydney siege has given rise to a lot of discussion in Australia about the role of the gunman’s religious beliefs in either inspiring or contributing to his actions which culminated in taking arming himself and taking hostages in the Lindt Cafe in Sydney this week. Precedents have been cited of others with allegedly similar professed beliefs committing heinous crimes throughout the world.
The overly simplified argument is that Islam was founded amidst violence and that many adherents believe they are justified and encouraged to pursue violence against those who disagree, reject or convert away from Islam. True enough, there are examples of this. Perhaps most notable are the recent actions of the Islam State cult and the Taliban or Al Qaeda. In other instances there are national governments lead by an Islamic ethos that display strong prejudice and discrimination against non-Islamic minorities in their countries.
Yet, making an inference, whether implied or explicit, that all adherents of Islam are on the same trajectory for the same reason as those that motivate the Taliban or the Lindt Cafe gunman is poor logic and hypocritical.
Questions ought to be asked about the contributing factors inspiring a decision to take hostages and murder two of them. What role, if any, did a perception or interpretation of religion play in that decision? But to assume that all other adherents of that religion, regardless of degree of traditional orthodoxy or intercultural expression, are no different to the gunman or the Taliban, creates some dangerous precedents.
Asking questions in general or debating the merits of an ideology or religion ought to be welcome in the public square. Such discussion ought to be able to take place without degenerating into ad hominem attacks and insults. These only serve to create animosity, fear, hatred and do nothing for the interests of truth and justice.
If, when considering Islam, you make a leap from one gunman or one criminal association or even the habitual practice of a particular government to extend to each individual without exception, then why don’t you do the same with other ideologies and intercultural religious expressions?
For instance, to cite the example made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday, when the IRA terrorists were bombing the UK and killing innocents, is every Roman Catholic a murderer?
Likewise, when an Atheist regime in North Korea oppresses an entire nation, is every non-theist an egomaniacal abusive dictator bent on destroying the world?
Or, when a Christian minister or Catholic priest abuses a child, is every Christian a pervert and a paedophile?
You can no more argue that Islam always attracts or inspires violence than you can that Christianity always attracts or inspires crimes against children. It goes beyond the absurd and becomes a deviance of it’s own.
Let’s ask the difficult questions, and lets make sure that all ideas and actions are held up to scrutiny. But let’s do it in fair play. I for one, am more than happy for my beliefs and practices to undergo the same. I’m confident you can do it and disagree passionately with my religious conclusions, regardless of how well I might make an argument, and still not malign me at the end. (If you do, well it’s no loss to me that you’re an incorrigible hard case.) Neither do you have to endorse or agree with me to ask those questions and seek understanding and clarification.
However, if, in the course of your examination you find some gross inconsistency in my character, I’m confident that you’ll attribute that to my personal flaws without condemning 2000 years of Christianity or every other professing Christian of being guilty of the same for the same reasons regardless of their background and context.
I hope my Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist and all other friends are equal to the task also. There’s no need for us to reach a consensus to have the discussion or to reap the benefits of civilised society.