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April 29, 2013

Terrorism, Islam and What The Christian Right Needs to Know About Judaism

By Amy Fried, Ph.D.

The Boston bombing has brought back a familiar RW argument: that "those Muslims" and "us Christians" are very different. That argument is deconstructed here.

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The Boston Marathon has predictably provoked a renewal of right-wing religious chauvinism, as Islamaphobes try to claim that one religion above all is associated with violent imagery. The logic often, and quickly, takes a turn that compares the Christian Old Testament (incorrectly equating it with the Hebrew Bible), with the New Testament. The argument goes that the Old Testament (and Jewish law) are focused on justice - i.e., crimes and their punishments - while the New Testament is focused on forgiveness and mercy. To make matters worse, another incorrect idea: that the United States is a "Christian nation" - usually gets added to the mix, creating a full circle of self-satisfying us vs. them mentality.

A perfect illustration of this logic came recently via Thom Hartmann's television show, The Big Picture, which airs on the American version of Russian Television (RT.com). In the section of the program Thom calls "Lone Liberal Rumble," Thom talks to Scottie Nell Hughes of the Tea Party News Network about the bombing. In this episode, (a little over 20 minutes into the show) Hughes declares:

" ... it is in their Koran, that when called to it, they will kill the Infidels. And you're an infidel, and I'm an infidel."

Thom tries to point out that similar passages can be found in the Bible, citing the book of Joshua. To which Hughes says.

"And then Jesus came, and everything changed " Christians are not that way."

With little time left, Thom graciously points out that extremism in any religion is bad. But what Hughes did requires both a liberal answer, and religion-based and Constitutional answer.

The liberal answer is in several parts:

1) Throughout history, there have been acts of violence advocated for, and perpetrated, in the name of many religions. Thom alluded to this earlier in this segment, but beyond a grudging acknowledgement that Eric Rudolph "was wrong" from Thom's other guest, the point that violence in the name of fundamentalist Christianity occurs in this day and age didn't quite get the emphasis it deserves;

2) Most major religions rely on ancient texts, which may be interpreted in a variety of ways by their followers. There are many - including George W. Bush! - who maintain that Islam is a peaceful religion that has been hijacked by extremists;

3) A tape of the late Roger Ebert - recently shown on Chris Hayes new show - showed the fallacy of taking the actions of the "other" as representative of their entire group, when we don't do the same for those we identify with. He angrily points out that whites are never expected to "represent their people" the way minorities are, in response to a criticism of Asian-American characters in a particular film at Sundance. Likewise, the alleged actions of the Boston Marathon bombers shouldn't be seen as representative of all Muslims.

Here are the religion-based and Constitutional answers: Hughes' comments are offensive for another reason. It is hard to pick up the exact wording, but in the above clip, she makes reference to "Jewish law" and "the world that we now live in" after Jesus, which gives two false impressions:

a) that Judaism and the Christian view of the Old Testament are equivalent. In fact, (as I've learned from those around me who are Jewish scholars) aside from the fact that the ordering - and thus, context - of the Hebrew Bible is different from that of the Old Testament, Judaism cannot be properly understood solely in terms of the Torah. It is the Talmud which gives context, life - and yes, mercy and forgiveness - to Judaism, which is often missed by Christians.

b) that - by virtue of being a "Christian nation" - the U.S. has moved on from the old ways of "Jewish law" (in which Old Testament and Hebrew Bible are conflated), so that we can speak as one culture, united under the banner of Christianity. This, of course, is untrue ; the U.S. has many religions, and many cultures.

All in all, Hughes comment - like many similar ones I have heard of late - has the unfortunate effect of maligning Muslims, misunderstanding Judaism, marginalizing all minority religions in the U.S., and generally feeding a false sense of Western superiority.




Submitters Website: http://www.amazon.com/Amy-Fried-Ph.D./e/B004QOOD04/ref=ntt_d

Submitters Bio:

Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism and the Religious Right.

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