David Bone is a former director of the Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations at the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths in Cambridge. His reflection was broadcast on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire on 8th February and published in the Friend, 27 February 2015.
Labels are a method of shorthand that we use to embrace a concept. They are very useful and very powerful.
However, the power of labels can also be misused and can be very dangerous. Under the Nazis in Germany we saw the word Jew come to be given extreme and negative connotations. To the German people being labelled a Jew was to be made an outcast and, ultimately, to be denied your humanity. In denying the Jews their humanity Adolf Hitler was able to legitimise the oppression and slaughter of millions of innocent human beings.
What we see today is the same process being applied by public figures and the mainstream media to the Muslim community.
Islam, a word rooted in the concept of peace – Salaam – is being persistently linked to acts of grotesque violence. It would sound farcical to talk about ‘peace terrorists’ yet we are hearing about ‘Islamic terrorists’ every minute of every day. This is deeply offensive to more than 1.7 billion Muslims across the globe and is an association that is only beneficial for Islamophobes and the depraved extremists that seek to justify their barbarism through some perverse interpretation of the faith.
This approach is only being used for Islam. When we watched the carnage in Bosnia we rightly didn’t talk about the Serbs as ‘Christianist extremists’, even though they crucified the imams and severed all but three of their fingers to represent the trinity. We didn’t because we recognised that this was not a ‘Christian’ problem. This was a problem of radical extremists hiding behind a pretence of religiosity.
The pope and the archbishop of Canterbury were never asked to account for and denounce the behaviour of those barbarians, yet we are constantly hearing calls for Muslim leaders to denounce ISIL, even after they have done so repeatedly and unreservedly.
We were all horrified to hear of the Jordanian pilot who was burned to death by ‘Islamic extremists’ – yet every established scholar of Islam across the globe, from every school of thought, agrees that such a barbaric act was wholly un-Islamic and forbidden by Shariah, which states that fire is so extreme that it is only permissible to God to use for punishment.
The impact of this on public perceptions is clear. Recently, research was publicised on terrorism in Europe. It revealed that less than half a percent of European terrorism was carried out by people who were Muslims, yet when I have asked people what their impression is, they consistently guess that it is seventy per cent or more because of the completely disproportionate coverage in the media and the emotive and bigoted language of our political leaders that promotes hatred and division.
As a community the way for us to truly combat radicalisation and extremism is to promote and ensure the mainstream understanding of the true followers of each faith.
The Qur’an states clearly that the sin of killing a single innocent person is equal to that of destroying the whole of humanity. It also acknowledges, in the same verses, that this is the same teaching given to Moses and Jesus uniting the Abrahamic faiths on this divine truth.
We need to work together to promote a true understanding of our own faith and that of the other faiths to build peace, understanding and a united community.