News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 29, 2013

READERS’ FORUM: April 29, 2013

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Avoid language of extremism

I’m continuing the discussion about religion because I’m concerned that recent letters published in the Trib-Star misrepresent our community, which is generally welcoming and tolerant. I was heartened to read (in his April 15 letter) how well Dr. Sarkar was received by Christians and Jews when he arrived in the United States. I hope first-generation American Muslims can someday look back and say the same about their reception by people of other faiths here.

All religions have been targeted by people of other religions throughout history, including Muslims who recently have been victim of genocidal ethnic cleansing in Bosnia at the hands of Christian Serbs. Six million of my people during World War II were exterminated by Nazis, most of whom considered themselves Christians. But Christians like Irena Sendler and Jan Karski in Poland and Oskar Schindler in Germany risked their own lives to save thousands more Jews from extermination.

People from untargeted religions need to come to the aid of those who are targeted. Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu, knew this well when he advocated nonviolent action as he worked side by side with Indian Muslims in South Africa, then in India, toward freedom for Indians of all faiths. What a loss for the world that he was killed, ironically by a Hindu extremist.

I respectfully take exception to Dr. Sarkar’s recent letter stating that Islam is the only religion that claims its God to be the only God and does not tolerate other religions. Many Muslims feel their God is the same God others pray to. Many are accepting of other religions. And there are individuals of all religions who think their God is the only God and that those who do not follow Him are sinners: A verse from John in the New Testament is often quoted that Jesus is the only way to God; some Jews quote passages from the Old Testament to support their claim they are the “chosen people,” giving them rights and privileges over people of other faiths; and yes, a small percentage of Muslims cling to the external jihad as justification to kill others, including fellow Muslims.

Individuals can always find something in holy texts to justify extremist views. While that should never invalidate the importance and sacredness of these great books, all must stay vigilant about passages that can be construed to support intolerance, feelings of superiority and the violation of the basic human rights of others.

Behind all major world religions is the doctrine of love thy neighbor, doing charitable acts for the needy, respecting others and following the Golden Rule. Violent extremism violates these primary principles and therefore is the enemy. All of us should avoid language, attitudes and actions that feed extremism. And when it does appear, one should stand up against it, knowing full well it can show up — and historically has shown up — in every religion, even one’s own, and that no one religion has a monopoly on violent extremism.

— Arthur Feinsod

Terre Haute