So what if Islam is a religion of peace?
According to a recent study into the use of violent language in the Koran and the Bible, the former contains significantly fewer references to murder and destruction than the latter. Textual analyst Tom Anderson explained that his research was ‘inspired by the ongoing public debate around whether or not terrorism is connected with Islamic fundamentalism’. In his preliminary remarks, Anderson warns against the common misconception that ‘Islam incites followers to violence on a level that sets it apart from the world’s other major religions’.
The desire to educate an ignorant mass which apparently believes there is a link between Islam and extremist terrorism is certainly in vogue. Just last weekend, the UK celebrated its inaugural ‘Visit My Mosque Day’, which hoped to ‘provide a platform for Muslims to… explain their faith and community beyond the hostile headlines’ of the misinformed press. This sentiment runs parallel with many statements made immediately after the Paris terror attacks in November. Interspersed among tweets encouraging us to #PrayForParis, ‘noble’ citizens sternly reminded the Twittersphere that the attacks had nothing to do with true Islam.
While the suggestion that Islam is no more inherently violent than any other religion may be correct, its mechanical reiteration has morphed into a lethargic substitute for real debate. On discovering that an Islamic fundamentalist has carried out a terrorist attack, it is very easy to reel off 140 inane characters disassociating the action from Islam. What this ignores, however, is that denying a relationship between jihadi extremists and Islam inadvertently closes off any prospect of having a progressive discussion. You may well believe, as I do, that Islam is not inherently violent. But you can’t battle extremism by pretending it’s not there. You have to engage with it head-on.
This means having discussions in mosques, not about what brand of tea they are using, but about the fundamental premises of Islam. This means allowing platforms in universities for extremist views, so that they can be countered and destroyed. But fundamentally, this means creating an open debate focused on ideas and values, rather than one dominated by statistics and worthy remarks.
Jacob Furedi is a writer and student.