Sharks kill an average of 10 people per year, while mosquitos kill roughly 750,000. So why are people so much more afraid of sharks than mosquitos?
Likewise, terrorism kills an average of 17 Americans per year, while falling furniture kills 300. Again, why are Americans so afraid of terrorism?
The answer, according to Hussein Rashid, has to do with human beings’ poor ability to evaluate risk. Hussein, founder of islamicate, L3C, a consultancy group focusing on raising religious literacy, delivered Thursday’s Interfaith Lecture on religious violence from the Hall of Philosophy. He argued that, from the Enlightenment on, nations found ways to declare violence against minority groups, and then to form a narrative that condemns other groups from using the same violence.
“It is ultimately about who gets to commit violence in a permissible way, and it is always the nation,” Hussein said. “That violence can be directed to other nations or to internal population whom we call savages and declare as uncivilized.”
According to Hussein, the Enlightenment formed a system of Christian-centrism around the Christian nations that were forming at the time. Its key thinkers made explicitly anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks, and their hateful undercurrents still manifest themselves today.
“To think that the Enlightenment was not engaged in a process of explicit inclusion and construction of the nation-state and the implicit — and sometimes explicit — violence against other groups of people is to miss the way in which the Enlightenment was shaped by its time,” Hussein said.
Citing contemporary examples, Hussein pointed to several recent high-profile mass murders including the 2015 attack in Charleston, South Carolina, and the 2010 suicide attack at an IRS building in Austin, Texas. He said these acts of murder are not regarded as terrorist attacks despite their malignant and fear-inducing intentions.
“We treat their [the attackers’] violence closer to the accepted forms of violence than we would care to admit,” Hussein said. “What we call terrorism is actually a threat to the monopoly on violence that our nation exercises.”
Despite the double standard for violence that nations set, Hussein acknowledged the association of violence with religion. However, he also argued humans are innately violent creatures, despite what the façade of civilization would suggest.
He said religions are not violent, but reinterpretations of the religions, which silence doubt and dissent, are used to manipulate people for non-religious means. However, he said, these reinterpretations cannot be fairly considered religions. He made specific reference to efforts of groups like the Islamic State group, Boko Haram or al-Qaida to limit or ban education and force adoption of their interpretations of religion.
“Faith without doubt is ideology, and they have destroyed religion to make their ideology supreme,” Hussein said.
Changing directions, Hussein then delved into Muslim prayer, along with prayer in general, and what it can accomplish in today’s world to work to end the violence.
“We have to create a world in which we are not asking why there is religious violence, but why there is violence,” Hussein said. “Think about prayer — the conversation with God — as a demand on us to make the world a more merciful and compassionate place. To create a world where we pre-empt suffering rather than respond to it. To recognize in each other the wonder of God’s creation and our obligation to each other because of our obligation to God. That is what prayer is. That is the radical idea of religion.”
As a form of prevention of further violence, Hussein offered two suggestions. The first was greater understanding of other people and their beliefs, as the more one knows about “the other,” the less likely he or she is to bear malice against them. The second was to evaluate a country’s own use of violence before criticizing another’s.
“That is our challenge, to hold the mirror of otherness to ourselves first before we do so to others,” Hussein said.