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In the wake of the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting, many political commentators have been quick to criticize Republicans for being unwilling to call Robert Lewis Dear a “Christian terrorist” though those same Republicans want to call ISIS and its agents “Islamic terrorists.” Here’s a representative example of this argument from (of course) Think Progress:
But while some famous conservatives such [as] Mike Huckabee were eventually willing to call the massacre [Does this really count as a “massacre”?] a case of “domestic terrorism,” many on social media demanded that right-wing politicians refer to Dear as a “Christian terrorist.” They noted that it is hypocritical for GOP presidential candidates such as Marco Rubio to mock President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for not using the phrase “Islamic terrorism” when discussing militant groups such as ISIS, but avoid ascribing the same standard to terrorists who cite Christianity as their inspiration.
On the face of it, that criticism seems valid. If you think it’s important to cite the religious affiliation of one religiously motivated group, its seems like you should be equally concerned to cite the religion of another religiously motivated group. But right there, in that little word “group,” you have the reason why the phrase Christian terrorism makes far less sense than Islamic terrorism. The shooting at the Colorado Planned Parenthood was the solitary work of a deranged individual, not a group, whereas the terrorist acts in Paris were the concerted work of a self-professedly Islamic group that has been quite busy committing terrorist acts as part of its stated purpose for existence.
Robert Lewis Dear may have claimed to be Christian, but he was not part of any wider Christian community. He may have been inspired by the loosely organized and barely active so-called Army of God, but Dear himself was just one single messed up guy. And he was clearly not faithful to Christianity either privately or publicly. His ex-wife had these words to say on that topic:
“[Dear] claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic, but does not follow the Bible in his actions,” Ms. Micheau said in the court document. “He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end.” [Emphasis addded.]
And that’s not just Micheau’s perspective. Overwhelmingly, the global Christian community has condemned Dear’s actions. His murderous act is not supportable through Scripture by any reasonable interpretation. He may claim to be Christian to salve his conscience, but he is not living a life consistent with that claim.
But the situation is very different for Islamic terrorists. Very obviously, there is a group of Islamic radicals who self-label as Islamic. Duh. And they very much consider themselves to be faithful Muslims. Furthermore, the larger Muslim community has not overwhelmingly condemned their actions. Sure, you can find a number of Muslims here and there who will say that Islamic practice should be peaceful, but most of those Muslims live either here in the US or in more moderate secular Muslim societies. There are plenty of large Muslim communities around the world with a far different take. And anti-jihad Muslims are generally considered liberals and sellouts by an extremely significant number of those self-labelled “orthodox” Muslims.
Just look at what happened before a soccer match between Turkey and Greece when fans were asked to honor a moment of silence for the Parisian terror victims. What did the overwhelming majority of Turkish fans do? They booed and whistled. Some shouted, “Allahu Akbar.” That’s not an isolated incident. Huge numbers of Muslims all over the world have been cheering ISIS on.
And this is probably more significant: take a look at terrorists claiming a Christian justification versus terrorists claiming an Islamic justification. Deaths from so-called “Christian” terrorist acts are in the hundreds. And even when people are really stretching for cases (like including Timothy McVeigh, for instance, who was obviously not motivated by much more than anti-government sentiment), the death toll is pretty tame and the incidents are few and far between.
Consider that the terrorist act on 9/11 killed more people than all of the acts of “Christian” terrorism in the US combined. And that isn’t even bringing in worldwide Islamic violence. Muslims have been killing each other, killing Christians, killing Jews, and killing everyone else in the Middle East (and all over the world) in huge numbers for hundreds of years. And nearly all of these killings have been “justified” by the Koran. But don’t take it from me. There are dozens of verses from the “infallible” Koran that advocate, and even command, violence for individual “true believers.”
So the Muslims who choose not to engage in terrorism are not really the orthodox of the Muslim world. They are choosing to interpret the Koran loosely in order to pursue peace. Whereas the so-called Christians who commit violence in Jesus’ name are interpreting the Bible loosely in order to reject peace.
After all, the Koran has a perpetual doctrine of jihad established by Muhammad himself. Islam was literally founded on violence. Let’s not forget that Mecca, the holy city of Islam, was conquered by Muhammad and his military force. The only commands you find for violence in the Bible are carefully limited by either historical or jurisdictional context. To use any of those verses to condone individual violence for Christians in the modern day is to take those verses wildly out of context and flatly distort orthodox Christian teaching. But the Islamic doctrine of jihad has no expiration date and the vaguest contextual limitations. It still stands for the Islamic faithful.
So, in the end, the line of questioning should look like this: “Can you be a faithful Muslim living a life reasonably in accord with your religion’s inscripturated teachings and also be a terrorist?” The answer is yes. It is possible to live in accord with the interpretive consensus of any number of national Islamic communities and believe firmly that Islamic jihad requires acts of international terrorism. And on the other hand, the related question would be: “Can you be a faithful Christian living a life reasonably in accord with your religion’s inscripturated teachings and also be a terrorist?” The answer is unequivocally no.
All “Christian terrorists” are either lone wolves or are living in cultish, infinitesimal minority fringes. They are clearly extremist. If you are going to claim that ISIS holds an extremist version of Islam, you have to say then that there are entire countries who hold to an extremist version of Islam. That starts to really abuse the idea of extremism. Jihad and its attending acts of terrorism are not extreme in many Islamic communities. They’re the norm. Islamic terrorism is not merely an isolated fringe reality within the larger Muslim community. For large swaths of the Muslim community, Islamic terrorism and holy war against the infidel West is orthodox Islamic practice. There’s not really any way around that.
I am not falling prey to special pleading here. The flat fact is that a reasonable Muslim can also be a terrorist. A reasonable Christian cannot be. So it is perfectly fair to link at least a few orthodox branches of Muslim thought to jihadist terrorism. It is not fair to link any orthodox branches of Christianity to terrorism, as there really is no reasonable interpretation of Christianity that would justify terrorist acts. It really is that simple.