One of the very earliest lessons my mother drilled into me was this unforgettable warning: “If anyone tells you, ‘I am committing murder in the name of God,’ he is a liar. Liar, liar, liar!”
I have been reflecting on this over the past few days, wondering if self-proclaimed Muslims are indeed behind last week’s catastrophic terrorist attacks on the U.S.; wondering if the world will assume that they did their despicable deeds “in the name of God.”
Trying to save my own spirituality, I have prayed continually that the God of Truth we all worship will quickly reveal who is behind these unspeakable crimes. Now I am even praying that Osama bin Laden, whether guilty or innocent, will surrender himself. Why? To avoid the inevitable bloodbath that could take the lives of innocent thousands, even hundreds of thousands.
Tragically, those who would pervert or distort scripture to support their killings “in the name of God” are not exclusive to Islam.
Following the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, an unrepentant, even exultant, Yigdal Amir faced a judge and proclaimed, “According to Jewish law, you can kill the enemy.” The confessed killer then added, “My whole life, I learned Jewish law.” Fourteen years earlier, the popular Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated by a Muslim who also claimed to be doing the will of God.
In recent years, such crimes committed by self-proclaimed Muslims and Jews have been matched by Hindu attacks on mosques and Muslims in India, a Japanese cult’s poison-gas murders in the Tokyo subway, Christian vigilante assaults on abortion clinics in the U.S., and Algerian Muslims killing one another, all in the name of religion.
In 1994, former Presbyterian minister Paul Hill took shotgun in hand to a Florida abortion center, where he killed Dr. John Britton together with the doctor’s 74-year-old bodyguard. In the same year, Alabama priest Fr. David Trosch sent a letter to 1,000 people saying the time would soon come when “we will see the beginning of massive killing of abortionists and their staffs.”
Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” but that didn’t stop European Christian crusaders of 1100 A.D. who travelled to the Holy Land and slaughtered tens of thousands of Jews and Muslims in a single week — nearly 7 million people in relation to today’s world population.
The sad part of last week’s tragedy is that too many people are exploiting it to advance their own political agendas. While anti-immigrant “crusaders” and Muslim-bashers are emerging in Canada and the U.S., old and terrible enmities continue abroad: the British against the IRA, Israelis against Palestinians, the Spanish against Basque separatists, East Indians against Kashmiris, Russians against Chechens… and the list goes on. In every case, political exploitation is perpetuating the human tragedy, while the governments in charge claim to be fighting terrorism.
An ancient Roman proverb warns, “Beware the man of one book.” In today’s world, it seems the “one book” is sometimes religious scripture, and at others, a political agenda. But in the end, the result is tragically the same — thousands of innocent people lose their lives and most of them hold no books at all.
I remember once again my wise mother’s teaching about the poisonous lie behind “killing for God.” And I think how sad it is that this lie is still believed and used as a tool for terror by individuals, groups or states.
Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.