Breaking the Violence Cycle

May 7, 2007

In the face of the torture and murder of three Christians this past month in Malatya, we must offer the Turkish people the same trust asked of them during the Reconciliation Walk, writes Matthew Hand, a specialist in Turkish history.

Hundreds of Christians visiting Turkey in the 1990's on the Reconciliation Walk to mark the 900th anniversary of the Crusades, apologised for the atrocities committed against Muslims in the name of Christ. Hand, Lynn Green and others on the Walk asked their Turkish hosts not to brand all Christians as Crusaders or associate Christ with the violence.

So too, writes Hand, must we now accept the remarks of Turkey's secular and religious leaders who say that this monstrous act is not real Islam, that murder cannot be sanctioned by Islam.

'The people and leaders of Turkey have spoken clearly that the murderers betrayed Islam and dishonored Turkish Muslims,' said Hand in this month’s Reconciliation Walk newsletter. 'This is hopeful, since it indicates there is a growing understanding of the need to confront the myth of redemptive violence, one of the primary goals of the Reconciliation Walk. 'Unfortunately, some reports had falsely tried to describe this horrible crime as the natural result of Islamic beliefs, continued Hand. This crime should not be used by anyone to demonize the people of an entire religion, he wrote. 'Lashing out like this may feel good for a moment, but it is short-sighted and dangerous.'


Hand writes further: 'Precisely such demonizing had allowed the murderers to think their blood-thirst was sanctioned by Islam. At sometime, someone filled the heads of these young men with stories of the great threat that Christians posed to them, how the Christians were out to destroy their nation from within. Someone told them stories of vicious crimes that Christians committed against Muslims in Bosnia, and no doubt they also invoked the Crusades.

'Those who stigmatized these Christians by linking them to atrocities committed by Christians in the past would like nothing better than for us to follow in their footsteps by using this recent crime to stigmatize the Muslim community. Violence thrives on such reciprocal cycles – let us not become its slaves. We must do all we can to put an end to the cycle of victimization and the justification of vindictive crimes. Turning the other cheek is hard to do, but violence is only deterred as the cycle of imitation and retribution is turned back by a refusal to react in kind.

'As the Turkish press has pointed out repeatedly this week, the Malatya murders occurred in a social environment that was open to exploitation by rabble rousers. As freedoms for Christian evangelists have increased in the past few years, it has become popular and lucrative to broadcast and print salacious reports of "missionary activity" in Turkey. 'It is popular for the same reason that talk of "commies" once motivated America. Today the fear of the "terrorist" is used in the same way, as a means to stir up an unspecified suspicion aimed at justifying some policy or deed. For Turkey, the fear of the "missionary" has equal emotional resonance: "missionary" feels like "terrorist." It carries the connotation of a threat to national security and identity.

'For this reason Christian evangelists have to be sensitive and cautious. In our efforts to preach the Gospel we must be very careful not to reinforce the suspicion that shrouds the Gospel across the whole country. This can easily happen, especially when foreign money and peculiar western cultural practices are mixed into the process of making converts.


'At the same time the Turkish state must responsibly enforce the freedoms of religion and speech and clarify loudly that there is no threat from Christian missionaries to the security and wholeness of the Turkish state. The mythology must be confronted by the secular state. It is encouraging to see that Turkey's civil and religious leaders have made powerful and clear statements demanding this very thing over the past weeks. Turkey's senior imam made a national speech saying in no uncertain terms that Christians must be free to evangelize in peace.

'One other word about Turkish history: Newly secular Turkey was equally guarded towards ascendant Islam. In this nation one was first a Turk then a Muslim, not a Muslim who happened to be a Turk. Consequently, the state banned the Islamic tarikats, or brotherhoods, and put all religious education and institutions firmly under the authority of the secular state.

Turkey hanged its Prime Minister in the 1950’s because he was seen to be too fond of Islam. It is little known that the most heavily prosecuted – many would say oppressed – religious group in Turkey, has been Muslims who operated outside the control of the state. 'Today, we can add another facet to the violence inducing conflation of nation and faith. There is now a perception in Turkey that US foreign policy is influenced by Christian end-times beliefs. President Bush responded to 9/11 by invoking the word Crusade. No amount of damage control after this incredible gaffe will erase the view that the (Bush) administration agrees with Bin Laden that the "war on terror" is a fight between the existential Islamic and Judeo-Christian civilizations. Christian influence on foreign and military policy (is) a popular topic in Turkey. Turks previously feared that Christian missionaries were a threat, but they now suspect that the United States military is also in on the fight for their souls.

'The murder of the Christians in Malatya is not a Muslim crime. Primarily, it is the crime of the young men themselves. There is nothing that can justify such brutality. Meanwhile, the rest of us should repent of our complacency. We should work hard for understanding and reconciliation. We must dispel the poison of alienation. We urge you to join us in doing everything within your power to speak this complex truth in the face of deceptively simplistic mythologies.'

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Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

Till next week,

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