On Organizing a Response to Linguistic Violence Against Religion

September 5, 2007

Responding to an e-mail discussion that started with the article Islamic Fascism: The Propaganda of Our Times.

There is little doubt that the language we use and hear shapes our perceptions — and action — in the wider world (cf Sapir-Whorf hypothesis). Is it accurate to call someone who is a "terrorist", who is a Muslim, and who is motivated by his religious beliefs, an "Islamic terrorist?"

In the technical sense of the language that would be true. But not necessarily helpful or meaningful — and indeed potentially very harmful and disunifying, particularly when the media sources using this term fail to make similar references to "Islamic peacebuilders" or to "Islamic charities" (except when one is being investigated by the IRS and/or Homeland Security here in the U.S.). Without balanced references, it seems self-evident that people who constantly hear terms like "islamic fascism" will forget that two words do not intrinsically go together — indeed do not at all support each other.

I applaud any action by URI members and supporters that calls media and politicians to account for the language they use in addressing the threats to security that all of humanity face. At the same time, I hope that the religious dimension (regardless of the religious leaning) of those threats is not completely dismissed out of a desire to be "politically correct."

Regardless of the teachings of the Prophets, Enlightened Ones, and Holy Seers of the ages, there are countless souls who have twisted their religious beliefs into a pillar upholding a philosophical paradigm that allows the desecration, destruction, and humiliation of "others." To ignore the dimension of religious conviction is, in my humble opinion, to ignore the most difficult barrier to achieving a unified vision of human peace and security.

Anne Roth mentioned the Darfur working group that came together in 2005 to encourage cooperative action by URI members, suggesting that I be asked about that process. I documented what we did in a piece for the URI /Partners in Leadership/ guide, and have posted an updated version of that document on this website.

A couple of intriguing-looking resources for possible further study:

I'm sure there are many more interesting studies out there. I found these two with a search in Google Scholar.

My apologies if this post jumps a bit from thought-to-thought — I probably will not have a chance to follow up further, so I lumped several thoughts together with implied, rather than fully drawn-out, logic connecting them. I do hope that those who have spoken up already will take up continued leadership in pursuit of the collective wisdom & action on this issue.

1 Comment

Hi Stephen. I looked at safnet and could not find a "contact" page; the link to the "about" page is dead. Since I couldn't find your email address on your site, I'm writing to you this way. You have an interesting site. I was reading Milly Collins' wonderful tribute to the Guardian http://www.safnet.com/bahai/docs/tribute.guardian.html (by the way, "Bab" is mis-spelled as "Bib" once there) and found it very moving. What a pure heart he must have had. I have never heard such love in the human voice, as when I heard people who had met Shoghi Effendi, speak of him. I have recently moved to Manchester, New Hampshire so Vickie can continue her studies http://www.spiritualadventurers.org in international community economic development. It's great to be only one hour from Green Acre. All the best with your continued wonderful services -- Brent