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Speakers discuss relationship between religion, terrorism

Interfaith Dialouge Student's Forum addresses misconceptions regarding Islamic extremism

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

Hasan Arslan spends most of the hours in his day monitoring terrorist groups and activity. In fact, he said, he and his organization spend 24 hours a day, 365 days a year doing so.

Arslan isn't part of the FBI or CIA, he's the assistant director of Sam Houston State University's Institute for the Study of Violent Groups. While terrorism has increased dramatically in the past two decades, he said, much of it hasn't been in the form of Islamic extremism.

Arslan addressed common misconceptions about the relationship of Islam to modern terror groups Tuesday at the Interfaith Dialouge Student's Forum, which focused on religion's relationship with violence and terrorism. The forum, "Religion and Violence: The Role of Religion in the Age of Violence," addressed issues like the impact of terrorism and a proper religious response to acts of violence.

Dean Bresciani, A&M's vice president for student affairs and a speaker at Tuesday's event, said colleges and universities must be places where sensitive issues like religion and its relationship to violence are discussed, but are often avoided because people are afraid of what they might learn.

"Colleges have been environments where it's very difficult to have 'out of the box' conversations," Bresciani said. "With the rich diversity we have at A&M, why do we avoid public conversations about history, religion or sexual preference and a host of other supposedly controversial topics?"

Bresciani said that humans are often scared of what they don't know - and that leads to a fear that what they do know might be wrong. Attitudes like this prevent proper discussion, and instead lead to misunderstandings and conflict.

While religion seems to be the cause of so much of today's violence, Arslan pointed to underlying factors, like political struggle and poverty, as leading elements in terrorist action.

"One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter," he said. "Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist by the United States government until 1990."

Arslan said that many people link suicide bombings with the religion of Islam, but most incidents are carried out by nationalist groups like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a militant group in Sri Lanka. While people in the West view the typical suicide bomber as a young Muslim male, he said, many bombings committed by the Tamil Tigers are perpetrated by women. The Tigers even pioneered the use of scuba divers as suicide bombers, Arslan said.

Sgt. Jackie Maynard of the Bryan Police Department's Criminal Investigations Division, said terrorism and violence affect everyone, and that people's response can help lessen the impact and work to prevent similar action.

"Not many of us come in contact with, or are affected by terrorism," Maynard said. "But we can still prevent violence and promote understanding by being kind and practicing the Golden Rule."

Maynard said gangs represent a local form of terrorism, but being a mentor or joining a group like the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America can help eradicate that problem in the Bryan-College Station area.

When it comes to a religious response to terrorism, Rev. David Elton said that Christians must take to heart Jesus' words about responses to violence. The Christian community's interpretations of its religious teachings varies greatly, but "turning the other cheek" needs to be put into practice, said Elton, a pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in College Station.

"When Jesus called for turning the other cheek, it was not a call to be passive or to accept violence, but rather a radically active response to violence and insult," he said.

That response entails a sincere compassion for victims, an active involvement in the healing and reconciliation process and the fight for equity and justice that prevents that kind of violence before it can start. Not a retaliatory justice, Elton said, but a situation that doesn't create the inequities that lead to terrorism.

"Jesus called us to respond, not with violence, naiveté, passivism or apathy," he said. "He called us to a proactive, human good will, that grows from a faithful response to a very proactive, loving God."

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