In any era, human history has always witnessed series of attacks, killings and intolerance between people all over the world because of their differences. Religion is one of the most common reasons why people attacked and continue to attack each other.
In recent days, whenever one reads or watches the news, it is not surprising that he will meet some piece of news showing the intolerant environment between people belonging to different religions. For example, one of the most shocking news reports on this intolerance was the ban on minarets in Switzerland in November 2009. The nationalist Swiss People’s Party campaigned to amend the constitution to ban new construction of new minarets. The results of the referendum favored the decisions of the right, and as the majority of votes supported the ban, it will be added to the constitution. The controversy is that the Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. What makes this move much more shocking is that Switzerland is one of the European countries with a tradition of religious tolerance and it is in the continent where the rhetoric of freedom and human rights is used in every possible chance.
Another European country to be mentioned is France. France has been talking about banning the full Islamic veil. It is seen as a way to stop the converts and the influence of the fundamentalist forms of Islam such as Salafism which is popular among some of the young.
Although some say that the results of the referendum reflect the people’s fear of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies, it is hard to find a logical relationship between banning the minarets and countering extremist ideas. Or can the radical Islamist movements be stopped by banning the veil? It is not easy to decide whether these actions are just because of the fear of radical Islamism or if it is something more than that.
On the other side, in a mixed Christian-Muslim town of Egypt, Nag Hamadi, which has a history of religious tensions, Coptic Christians (10% of population) are complaining about harrassment and discrimination. There have been clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians from time to time. Recently, in a drive-by shooting outside a church, 7 people, including 6 Coptic Christians, died. The shooting was followed by angry Muslim residents attacking Christian neighborhoods of the town, smashing Christian-owned shops. Then Muslims and Christians set fire to one another’s homes and shops.
In Malaysia, Christians were forbidden to use the word “Allah”, as the authorities had insisted that Allah in the Malay language refers only to the God in Islam, which could only be used by Muslims. Then a court in Malaysia concluded that it was the constitutional right of the Christians to use the word “Allah” to refer to God. Following these events, the disputes over if Christians could use the word “Allah” rose. Three Christian churches were attacked with firebombs. Molotov cocktails were thrown at churches and a school. Many Malaysian Muslims believed that the word Allah should only be used to refer to the Muslim deity and use of the word in Biblical context may encourage conversion to Christianity.
It seems that some people even have a tendency to perceive even only words as the private property of a religion. Or attributing just one person’s wrong behavior to his whole religious community and trying to attack them in every possible way as if it would solve all the problems and bring a peaceful and fair environment to the whole society. Contrary to what is believed by them, these attacks and prohibitions do not bring something more than increase in violent movements and hatred between each other. One kills another, the other wants to take revenge; one bans or forbids something against the rights or freedoms of another, which creates an incurable vicious cycle.
In a world where the rhetorics of globalization, more freedoms, more human rights, more cultural and social interaction are commonly used, these unfortunate moves seem so illogical. Of course there is no need to be totally pessimistic, this does not mean there are not gladsome developments in the world. But if the mentality of these violent people, or the people who are opposed just to keep their own values at the top or perceive their own identity as the only valuable one does not change, the violence and negative discrimination do not seem likely to be eliminated in near future.
This is not to say that clashes are something terrible and should be stopped, which I believe is impossible. Clashes, as long as they do not lead to killing each other, attacking, shortly to violence, bring improvements. Therefore, there will always be differences between people, let it be religion, skin color or language, but if we all have to live on the same soil of the same earth, breathe the same atmosphere, bathe in the same waters and tan under the same sun, we have to show a tendency towards more tolerance, more conciliation rather than seeing ourselves superior.