Violent, Right-Wing Extremists

27 06 2017

Early in the morning on Monday, June 19, a 47 year old man plowed a van into a crowd of people leaving a British mosque in Finsbury Park, England.   The people targeted were on their way home after having just broken their fast and prayed during the holy season of Ramadan.  One person was killed and eight others were seriously injured.

British newspapers reported that the man had a Twitter account that he used to monitor the tweets of far right British party leaders; one of which serves Britain First, whose mission statement boldly declares “We will restore Christianity as the bedrock and foundation of our national life as it has been for the last one thousand years.”

Without a doubt the vast majority of the violence being carried out in the world today is coming at the hands of people claiming to be followers of Islam.  In what can be described as nothing less than a gross distortion of the Muslim faith, misguided and misled extremists tragically misrepresent the essential teachings of the world’s second largest religion by setting off bombs in train stations, beheading foreign journalist, and massacring entire villages.  In behavior that denies a healthy understanding of both God, as well as the Islamic tradition, such extreme attitudes need to be boldly rejected, and the perpetrators of such actions need to be held accountable for the crimes against humanity.

But last week’s events make it clear once again that none of the world’s major religious institutions are without their share of . . . can I just say it? . . . crazies!  For while on the world stage, radical, Islamic extremism is one of our greatest problems; the man who attacked people in Finsbury Park claims to be a Christian.  Consequently, the rest of the world has now had a chance to witness what we here in America are finally beginning to understand.  And that is that while one of the world’s greatest problems is radical, Islamic extremism; one of America’s greatest problems is radical CHRISTIAN extremism.

While generally less physically violent that the Muslim extremist, the Christian extremist is the one who would still have us believe that women are to be under the authority of men; that the gay ‘lifestyle’ is an abomination to God; that those who do not “believe” as they do are destined to an eternity in a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth; and that America was founded as a beacon of light for all the world, and thus needs to remain Christian, AND white – for that is God’s desire.  Their literalistic view of the Bible creates a very frightening world view: one believed to have been pre-ordained, and when violated, requires God to step in to punish offenders.  For these people, God is so holy and set apart, that He . . . and yes, God is HE . . . cannot look upon sin; and thus requires the violent shedding of blood in order to forgive the brokenness of humanity. And such Christian extremists contend that because people continue to sin and stray, God doesn’t merely use, but actually sends natural disasters, national calamities, and personal tragedies – all to teach and instruct, to reprimand and restore, to punish and to purify.

So with these two extremes before us, is it any wonder that people are walking away from religion, and expressing all kinds of doubts about belief in God?  Both the extremists claiming to be Muslim around the world, and extremists claiming to be Christian right here at home, are not only misrepresenting their respective faith traditions, but they are actually deterring people from finding the peace, hope, justice, and love, that their traditions seek to offer.

 

Perhaps this is why some are hesitant to attribute the violence taking place in the world today as the work of radical Islamic terrorists; because while much of it is certainly taking place at the hands of those who claim to be followers of Islam, the extremist views they represent simply do not speak for the Muslim world.  Islam is not the problem. Extremism is!  And that extremism cannot be confined to one religion.

What we need to be condemning today is not Islam.  And neither is it religion.  What needs to be condemned, here in America and around the world, is radical, right-wing extremism.  And while I know that may well offend many people on the right side of the political spectrum, studies have revealed that the vast majority of today’s violent and radical extremists are not on the left, but on the right!

Countless organizations and studies have all concluded that since the 1970s, the vast majority of violent extremism in America has not come at the hands of extremists on the left, but from extremists on the right!  And one simply cannot argue the fact that since the election of Donald Trump, what we are witnessing all across the United States is both an increase in violent behavior, and the legitimization of it!

Does it exist on the left?  Of course it does.  The shooting in Alexandria, VA several weeks ago reveals that to be true.  But as hesitant as many are to admit this, much of the violence that exists in America in 2017 is coming at the hands of the alt-right:  radical and extreme, right-wing terrorists!

The University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database registered 65 attacks on American soil associated with right-wing ideologies since 9/11, versus 24 attacks by jihadist extremists. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has indicated that in the decade after 9/11, there was an average of 337 annual attacks by right-wing extremists, including a total of 254 fatalities.  And while not not a darling of the ‘right’, Daryl Johnson, a former domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, has reported that the rise in militia groups since the election of Barak Obama in 2008 should frighten all of us!  He has said that there is simply no equivalent threat from left-wing extremists.  “Unlike the 1960s and 1970s, there are few, true left-wing extremist organizations operating in the United States.” (Right-Wing Resurgence: How A Domestic Terrorism Threat Is Being Ignored, 2012)

So what do we make of all this?  Well, again I say, there is plenty of blame to go around. We’re all — each one of us — responsible for the violence that we are tolerating, encouraging, and even perpetrating in our world.  And while we can’t blame one religious group, or people of one political persuasion, clearly radical, right-wing extremists are the ones that need to be resisted!

So, let’s continue, or in some cases start, to resist!  Muslims – let’s continue to boldly declare that Islam is a religion of peace, and then so live!  Christians – let’s avoid the holier-than-thou attitude and stand against those in our own tradition who would have us quench or reject the reforming power of the Spirit that is moving in the Church today! Democrats – let’s resist the temptation to paint everyone with a different party affiliation as perpetrators of fake news; as advocates of the racist, alt-right agenda; or as supports of Donald Trump’s bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, or Islamophobic views.  And Republicans – let’s be sure to continually lift up and maintain the traditional, conservative voice that is so vital to the political dialogue in our country, and to vehemently separate our selves from those who have abdicated the agenda of the party for personal gain.

All of us are Americans:  Muslims, Christians, Democrats, and Republicans.  And we CAN live together in peace, pursuing liberty and justice for all, without killing one another! We simply need to balance our passion, with a bit of dispassion.   For good leadership requires both; and if I might paraphrase the words of Bertrand Russell, “sometimes, opinions that are held with passion, are opinions for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holders lack of rational conviction.”

It might do us all well to remember that.  For only then will we be able to work together to stop . . . the radical, right-wing extremist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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