Religious extremism threatens from both sides

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PHOTO BY SHANNON SMITH
PHOTO BY SHANNON SMITH

By Phil Brown
OPINION EDITOR

In the wake of the tragic Parisian attacks by members of religious extremist group ISIS, the ever-present threat of religious extremism seems to have swept the nation.

Social media is often the method used most, with hateful tweeted tirades garnering growing support and angry Facebook videos being disseminated throughout the Internet. Even in our own backyard, that undercurrent of religious hate has spewed out into the vandalization of a church in Omaha: the Islamic Center of Omaha.

This violence is nothing new. America has long been host to this cancerous strain of religious ideology. It didn’t start on our shores, however.

It was brought over by immigrants, who eventually followed in the inglorious traditions of their foreign forbears.

And like the church vandalization in Omaha that happened last week, this strain of violent religious fanatics has always tended to target members of other religions. Turning back the clock as far as a thousand years ago, we can see the same pattern. Roughly, 1 to 3 million people died in the campaigns against Islam that extremist Christians started back in 1095.

While not the first series of religiously-motivated atrocities, and certainly not the last, the “Holy Wars” demonstrated in a massive way the destructive power of religious extremism, a power that those in political power have eagerly leaped to wield in the millennial since.

Nothing appears to have changed much, and the destructive, divisive potential of Christianity is more evident now than ever. Many modern politicians have risen to power solely through exploiting these tendencies.

Ted Cruz, for instance, has long used extreme, overtly religious positions to provide himself with a prominent political platform. And Cruz is in the news again after announcing his intentions of introducing legislation that would block refugees from any “terrorist-controlled” nations, unless they could pass an exhaustive series of tests by federal agencies proving they were not a security risk.

This legislation is openly motivated by religious preference, as evidenced by Cruz’s own words. Cruz told Fox News that Muslim Syrian refugees should be sent back to “majority-Muslim” countries, as opposed to Christian refugees, of whom, in a speech at a South Carolina middle school, Cruz said “there is no meaningful risk” they would commit “acts of terror.”

Cruz passes over his own religion’s violent historical tendencies, even the most recent history. The Klu Klux Klan arose directly out of Southern religious tradition, wore hoods and robes inspired by Catholic religious trappings, and bore a cross insignia drawn directly from the Gospel.

Cruz also ignores centuries of exploitation of indigenous peoples by imperial powers, which was almost always justified by religion, including American slavery itself.

Any Christian claiming that Islam is a “religion of violence” while their own religion is a “religion of peace” is closing their eyes to history. When they lash out against those who believe differently, with threats, divisive language, destruction, and vandalism, they are also proving themselves to be hypocrites.

America faces a crisis in the form of religious extremism, and it may very well tear the nation apart. But Islam is not the predominant form in question, and in America, not the one counseling the wholesale rejection of thousands of people in need.

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