In yesterday’s Guardian, David Shariatmadari confronts the claim that Islam is an especially violent religion. The claim, he says, is undermined by the fact that jihadi terrorism is a very recent phenomenon. Yes, there is also the violence of empire-building in its history, but you could say this of Christianity too. ‘Aspects of Islamic teaching do indeed justify some kinds of violence. Islam isn’t a pacifist religion. But again, it has this in common with Christianity, Judaism and other world faiths.’
As I have said quite a few times before, it is simply wrong to say that Islam and Christianity have much the same view of war and peace. Judging from its founding texts, Christianity is a pacifist religion, for its founder rejected violence. Islam’s founder was a warlord.
As I have also said quite a few times before, the real issue is not violence or terrorism but theocracy. Islamist violence stems from anger that Islam’s theocratic potential is being thwarted. Again, it is Christianity that is different: its founding texts reject theocracy. For many centuries this was obscured, but then it was gradually understood and put into practice – which entailed the invention of modern politics, as I explain in my new book God Created Humanism.
The difficult truth is that Islam is a religion that, from its inception, idealises a very close unity of religion and politics, and that when this ideal is thwarted some of its adherents become enraged. I don’t know whether it can move away from its theocratic impulse, but I am pretty sure that we ought to speak honestly about it. And, by the way, let’s also be honest about Christianity, and how it is different.