Two stories in the news this morning got me thinking (and sometimes when I’m thinking I have to write things down so that I don’t forget to ‘carry the one’ as it were).
Firstly a story from Norway of human solidarity inspired by religion, which I think, is something to get excited about:
http://www.timesofisrael.com/1000-join-muslim-ring-of-peace-outside-oslo-synagogue/ – “More than 1,000 people formed a ‘ring of peace’ Saturday outside Oslo’s main synagogue at the initiative of a group of young Muslims. The event in the Norwegian capital follows a series of attacks against Jews in Europe, including murderous terror attacks in Paris in January and in neighboring Denmark last week.
“One of the eight independent organizers of Saturday’s event in Oslo, 17-year-old Hajrah Arshad, said the gathering shows “that Islam is about love and unity. ‘We want to demonstrate that Jews and Muslims do not hate each other,’ co-organizer Zeeshan Abdullah told the crowd, standing in a half-circle before the white synagogue. ‘We do not want individuals to define what Islam is for the rest of us.’ ...Ervin Kohn, head of Oslo’s Jewish community, called the gathering in sub-zero temperatures ‘unique.’”
I'm really hoping that label ‘unique’ quickly becomes inappropriate - I want to see more of it. It has the feel of the student sit-ins and anti-war protests of the Vietnam war era which – along with the popular music, books, and movies of the time – has produced several generations whose appreciation for cross cultural solidarity (among other things) has displaced and marginalised the theocratic war-mongering, racism, and (paradoxically) moralising of the ‘old guard’ throughout the Western World.
We are told that targeting ‘disaffected youth’ with jihadist propaganda is the primary recruitment strategy of the terrorist organisations against whom this ‘ring of peace’ stands (and who, by the way, are ‘Young Earth Creationists’ who believe that ‘God’s Plan’ includes an imminent apocalyptic conclusion to ‘His Creation’, and – on the off-chance that the apocalypse is not quite so imminent – world-conquest and slavery for all!)
So if there is to be a group – a movement if you will (and there is good reason to hope that the children of many of these warring factions are mobilising for peace; a quick google for “youth palestine israel peace” returns an encouraging list of titles) – of young people who are proud of their Islamic culture and want to effect a change so that the rest of the world will associate it with human solidarity then I am inclined, provisionally at least, to wish it a fair wind.
The second story is related to the one above:
At the funeral of Omar El-Hussein, the 22 year old responsible for the shootings in Copenhagen “which targeted a meeting on free speech and Islam, and the capital’s main synagogue,” a man who asked not to be named, speaking of those who had come to pay their respects and support the family of the dead man said: “There were a lot of young people that you don’t normally see there… because they knew Omar. Some of them were gang members. They are my brothers too because they believe in Allah and the Prophet Mohammed, but their lifestyle doesn’t have a lot to do with Islam,” http://www.timesofisrael.com/hundreds-attend-funeral-of-copenhagen-terrorist/
So again even at the funeral of a terrorist there is a cautious distancing between 'whatever it is that the terrorist’s friends believe', or their lifestyles at least, and the Islamic beliefs of the speaker. But the phrase which caught my eye here is “They are my brothers too because they believe in Allah and the Prophet Mohammed.” It is meant, under the circumstances to be inclusive and to extend the arm of brotherly protection and concern to those with whom the speaker feels little moral affinity or kinship, but it inadvertently exposes the divisiveness which, though sometimes only implicitly, seems to be baked into the substance of all religions. That is: “he is my brother because he believes what I believe.”
So whilst human solidarity inspired by religion is a good thing, and extending the arm of friendship to those whom you deem to be in error is a good thing, these are only stepping stones to a greater good. The human race will not reach its full potential until we can all say –
You are my brother because you breathe the same air as me and feel the warmth of the same sun as me;
You are my brother because the atoms which make up your body are indistinguishable from those which make up mine and they were all forged billions of years ago in the cores of the same exploding stars;
You are my brother because our fearful and superstitious (and almost extinct) ancestors may well have huddled together in the same African cave before successive generations of their offspring gradually populated the lands between that cave and the places we each call home;
You are my brother because you feel the same hopes and fears as me; and
You are my brother because you celebrate my joy and understand my pain.
So yes, let's rejoice when we see human solidarity inspired by religion, but let's not be satisfied until it is recognised – by all – that the greater good is to be found in human solidarity in spite of religion.
(Oh, and don't forget to check out my book)