05/20/2014 12:27 EDT | Updated 07/20/2014 05:59 EDT

Blame Human Nature For Boko Haram, Not Islam

The world has reacted with outrage to the barbaric kidnapping of school girls by the organization Boko Haram in Nigeria, generating guarded optimism that perhaps Nigeria will make a concerted effort, with international support, to combat this extremist and fanatical group.

Boko Haram has been violent for years and has killed thousands of innocent Christians and Muslims. Its main demands -- to impose Shariah and curb western education, particularly for girls -- violate Islamic principles and Nigeria's best interests.

Its opposition to girls' education defies the Islamic injunction to all Muslims to seek knowledge. It is, however, in line with the views of leaders in some former colonies who felt that the West colonized them to plunder their resources and convert them to Christianity. Boko Haram's call for Shariah rule violates Islamic teachings because Islam tells its adherents to respect other people's beliefs. The Holy Quran forbids compulsion in religion. Nigerians follow Islam, Christianity and other faiths and imposing shariah on Christians and idol worshippers makes no more sense than would imposing Christianity-based laws on Muslims.

Boko Haram's killing of innocent civilians, kidnapping people, destroying property, and rebelling against its own government for no legitimate reason also violate Islamic teachings of loyalty to your country and leaders and respect for other living beings. Boko Haram neither understands nor follows Islam. But at a time when extremism is fashionable by governments as well as organizations it too has built a following.

This is because in a country that has an annual revenue or about $55 billion, more than 90 per cent of the people live on less than $2 a day and in the Muslim north on about a dollar a day. In the age of social media, the word gets to the common people that their leaders and their corporate and military backers are enjoying the fruits of corruption while the masses cannot meet their basic needs. They succumb to the enticement, or threats, of organizations like Boko Haram or the Lord's Army in Uganda.

News from some Muslim countries also remains depressing. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights states that more than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria. Over 2.4 million registered Syrian refugees are huddled in sordid conditions in neighbouring countries, 5,.5 million children are traumatized and 9.3 million within Syria need humanitarian assistance according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Libya bomb blasts and attacks on civilians kill and maim innocent people. In several such countries masses suffer while the rich enjoy luxuries.

Of course violence and injustices also govern non-Muslim countries too. In Canada people are still shocked over the senseless killing of five innocent people in Calgary in April. The son of a police officer has been charged with fatally stabbing five fellow students.

In the United States gruesome murders are common and merit only passing attention. In a shooting spree, also in April, three people were killed at a Jewish community centre near Kansas City. The media did not mention the religion of the accused. Had they been Muslim their religion, and perhaps Muslims in general, would have been maligned.

But North Americans are discovering, that criminals and killers hail from all religions and that Islam and Muslims are not responsible for the crimes of deranged minds. So there is no rush in Canada and the U.S. to blame Islam or all Muslims for the lunacy and cruelty of Boko Haram.

Interestingly, a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes study, released in April, listed countries with the rates of murder in 2012. The most dangerous places for ordinary people were in the Americas and Africa. Not one Muslim country was in the top 20 such countries.

Canada was among the safer, with a murder rate of 1.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the global average of 6.2 victims. Five Muslim countries, however, were among the safest with the lowest rates of murder -- Kuwait 0.4, Bahrain 0.5, Indonesia 0.6, Algeria 0.7 and Saudi Arabia 0.8.

A Christian priest, a rabbi and I were recently invited to speak at Carleton University in Ottawa on the basic teachings of our religions. We stated that our religions emphasize compassion, justice, forgiveness, truth, honesty, respect and view mankind as an extended family.

In the question and answer period a Muslim asked me why there is so much violence and injustice in some Muslim countries though Islam teaches just the opposite. I answered that horrible though the situation is in some Muslim countries, the record of the followers of some other faiths was no better.

I said that the 100-year-war in Europe, the genocide of the Aboriginal people, the kidnapping of people from Africa for slavery, the colonialism that ravaged much of the world, the two world wars, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the manufacture and use of chemical, biological and other weapons, the Holocaust, illegal attacks on countries, occupation and ethnic cleansing, and the manufacture and selling of billions of dollars of destructive weapons that cause wars, deaths and destruction but provide jobs to workers in industrialized countries have not been the work of Muslims.

True, some Muslim countries are riddled by violence, cruelty, corruption and oppression. But followers of some other religions have a worse record. So let us not blame Muslims, Islam or any other religion. The responsibility lies with human nature. None of us has the moral authority to cast the first stone or any stone at all.


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