I keep waiting for the Imam or Mullah of substance to say, “Every time a Muslim carries out an act of violence, he or she is desecrating Islam and the Holy Quran.” I keep waiting, too, for the Islamic scholar daring to suggest that the Quran needs a thorough editing, existing, as it does – we know for certain after the discovery of a Quranic graveyard in the Yemen of multiple variant texts – in numerous forms, mostly transcribed from oral sources. Like every other scripture, it is most definitely not the Word of God. It is also written in a form of Arabic so basic and obscure that a full third of it is incomprehensible. Thus, every translation of it is, of necessity, an interpretation. Muslims are not expected, or allowed, to discuss the text and its meaning, merely to recite it. The very word ‘Quran’ means ‘verses’ and its first injunction is to ‘recite’. The questioning of Allah, or God, is as forbidden in orthodox Islam as it is encouraged in Judaism and Christianity, where doubt is a valued aspect of faith. Muslims are told that doubt reveals the presence of Satan. Like the pre-Reformation Roman Church, Islam prefers its congregations to remain ignorant of the sacred text, its clergy preaching sections from it, or telling apocryphal stories related to it. Anyone who can read the New Testament in its original Greek can easily understand why the Church acted as if its own Latin translation was the authentic version – the Greek writing, with the exception of St. John’s gospel, is poor stuff, a vernacular form of the language barely recognizable to early scholars. Much of the Quran is similarly primitive, though can sound quite beautiful when chanted. Many Muslims learn it by heart, yet few can understand the meaning of what they recite. This leaves the religion open to chronic abuse by sects like the Saudi Wahhabites, as well as pseudo-religious organizations like Islamic Jihad, whose erstwhile leader I once had the dubious pleasure of interviewing.
With the current escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, I once again wait for that Imam or Mullah, and now the Rabbi willing to state that the appropriate response to violence is not more violence. If someone killed my children I would indubitably want to kill them with my bare hands – this kind of vengeance is human nature – yet I would not want to kill their neighbours, relatives, or anyone in the vicinity where they lived. The Palestinians have a legitimate grievance, no question, but every time they fire rockets at random into Israel they undermine the legitimacy of that grievance. And what do they expect in return? Well, they get it: air attacks from Israel, whose weapons are at least somewhat more accurate than the Palestinian rockets. In both cases, the result is innocents, women, children, the old and infirm, dead. Allied with Islamic Jihad, the Hamas militants, like ISIS or ISOS, with its spiteful, ridiculous ‘Emir’ al-Baghdadi, and the disparate al-Quaeda factions, are no more Muslims than a herd of swine. They are destroyers of the faith they profess, which is why they so despise the Sufis, and other Islamic factions, who teach love, not hate.
As I tried to tell factions in Iraq, during the U.S. invasion, Ghandi won his revolution through non-violence. If they sat peacefully in front of American tanks, the whole world would be watching, and on their side. If they adopted a policy of reconciliation, putting sectarian differences into the past, they would have a prosperous thriving country with a magnificent future. Instead, of course, the path of violence and revenge was taken, the road most often travelled – and the results speak for themselves.
Many in Israel realise that retaliation and increased violence are no solution at all. Many Arabs also recognize the same irrefutable truth. Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan is, I believe, the only person in West Asia who understands that the necessary dialogue for peace is between religious leaders, not politicians. He has, quietly, pursued the organization of such dialogues for years now. At least a dialogue exists; it is a start.
Just as I await the righteous Muslim cleric to condemn all forms of violence, I also wait for the righteous Rabbi willing to explain that “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is not the sanction for revenge, but rather an illustration of the impossibility of its rectitude – what human can judge the exactitude of his or her revenge? An eye for an eye would blind the whole world, without the remotest claim to true justice. Are we not also told, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord”? The silence of religious leaders on these issues is deafening, or else prevaricates with empty rhetoric. Let Pope Francis go and stand in Gaza, or under the Hamas rockets, and I will believe his sincerity. As always, though, I wait for someone with the courage of their convictions to speak and act, if they wish their various creeds and faiths to be taken seriously by the rest of us – and if they themselves wish to take them seriously.
Paul William Roberts