Following the attack on the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo that left 11 people dead, the logo “Je suis Charlie” circulated widely, and heads of state joined together to march in Paris. Islamic organizations denounced the attack which, though framed in the language and name of Islam, does not represent it.
On Feb. 15, another attack in Copenhagen in the name of ideology sparked the copying and pasting of the “We are all Danish” mantra.
The links between religion and violence have always existed when ideologies, politics and power struggles intersect. That does not mean all religion is evil, linked to violence or endorses its use. Muslims around the world should not have to speak up against such ideological terror as we have seen in Paris and Copenhagen. All people need to speak up against the narrow attitudes of hatred, misunderstanding and intolerance of religion, which all lead to further violence.
Where are the social media banners declaring, “We are all from North Carolina” or “We are all from Fort McMurray” in the face of acts of violence directed against people precisely because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds? What is being treated as an overblown misunderstanding about a parking spot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina needs to be understood as a hate crime directed towards three people because of who they were and what they believed in. In writing this, I do not tar all those who hold to a worldview of atheism because of the ideological act of violence committed by one who is a self-declared atheist.
In our western world, it seems we’ve become intolerant of religious faith. Atheism is the new fundamentalism to which many subscribe, and some will use this paradigm as an opportunity to dismiss and reject others. Religion has become dated, so that when an atrocity is committed in the name of religion, adherents and followers feel the need to step up and say it is not representative. What is needed more is for adherents of all religions to step up and say no to stereotyping and dismissing or acting against people because of beliefs and practices. What is needed is understanding, compassion, sensitivity and openness, even if we disagree with people’s religious perspectives or practices. The former provincial government, the Parti Québécois, tried to force people to abandon symbols of faith with a charter of values aimed to secularize the province. It seems there’s a suggestion that there is something wrong with religion and it may be a small turn towards condemning not just faith generally, but one religion specifically, especially when we can easily but incorrectly link that religion to ideologies of hatred or violence.
We need to stand against ideologies of hatred, racism, intolerance; and more, we need to stand with the people not engaged in such pursuits, the ordinary people of all religions and worldviews: Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists and others. We need to talk with each other, eat with each other, share life with each other.
And while we continue to witness and be horrified by acts of hatred and violence, we need to respond with love, kindness, hope, faith. “I am from Chapel Hill” and “I am from Fort McMurray,” we might say; it doesn’t matter where because what has taken place there could also be here. I write this on Feb. 14, noted for the observance of St. Valentine, a church leader who was condemned to death for faith but who persevered and encouraged his followers to continue in love, even in the face of persecution. I choose to be other, for hope will triumph over despair, love will triumph over hatred, goodness will triumph over evil, acceptance, kindness and compassion will triumph over racism and in the end, light will triumph over darkness. We are all people, together.