I was horrified to learn that 13 percent of Muslims in America approve of the killing of civilians in some situations. Could this really be true? How is that possible? Who are these people? How is it that I don't know them? Don't they know of the clear and categorical prohibition of killing noncombatants in Islam? Are they not aware that killing one human being is like killing all of humanity (Quran 5: 32)? Although 78 percent of Muslim Americans do not approve killing civilians for any reason, it was not enough for me. Still skeptical of this PEW poll, I let my fingers do this wondering aloud on the web by searching for what our neighbors think about killing civilians. And it was even worse: according to a December 2006 study conducted by the University of Maryland's highly respected Program on International Public Attitudes, 51 percent of all Americans approve of intentionally targeting civilians under certain circumstances, as well. May God save us.
Why are so many of us so insensitive to life? With the Quran and the Bible being from the same source, God clearly states that saving one life is like saving all of humanity. But why do so many of us approve of the killing of civilians? Although not all Americans are attached to religious Scriptures, faith-based opinions must have an impact in a country where almost 40 percent claim to attend weekly worship services. Maybe we as a nation need to think about the culture of violence that we are absorbing and exposing our children to everyday. Movies, video games, toy guns, real guns, bad guys and good guys toy characters, television shows and films depicting killings and violence, virtual and real make it a part of our daily lives. Over 1,000 studies attest to a connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children. By age 18, an American youth will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence on television.
Not only are our minds being adulterated by violence in our leisure time, but via the media and in public discourse, we have become accustomed to the reality of war and killing that our nation initiates and sanctions in countries all over the world. The United States is the world's leading arms supplier and user just as our nation is currently funding and killing hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and other places. In fact, the US takes part in funding dictators who strip the civil rights and freedoms of their own people. By this year, we are spending $451 billion on our "defense" budget which is far higher than that of the countries represented by the "axis of evil" and "alliance of the willing" put together. It is not just we who are supplying arms around the world. Almost all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are leading exporters of arms. No wonder peace always looks so distant. We set the example by which arms manufacturing and exporting is being conducted by many Third World countries as well. Instead of upholding the rule of law, we have become a mentor for the torturers of the world. We are recruiting thugs globally to act out different versions of Western movies replete with bounty hunters, mercenaries, and other outlaws.
It is my belief that our culture of violence as represented by the game industry, the entertainment industry as well as a national acceptance of the arms race is a major contributing element to the fact that 51 percent of all Americans, including 13 percent of all American Muslims, say it is acceptable to kill civilians in some situations. I am certain that must have played a role in our glorification of the "shock and awe" video game which is eerily set up like the Iraq war. We were too easy to approve of lies. We may continue to do so if we start bombing Iran now. We have been so desensitized to the violence of everyday life that any explanation in favor of war arouses little suspicion in most people.
Maybe some of this insensitivity is what is frustrating Cindy Sheehan, the peace mujahida. Sheehan, mother of late Army Specialist Casey Sheehan and a peace activist, recently renounced her informal title as the "face of the American antiwar movement". She wrote in an online diary that, "Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives."
It is a small relief that 78 percent of Muslim Americans as compared to 51 percent of their neighbors say violence against civilians can never be justified. We live in the same country. We are in the same boat. We are the leading nation of human civilization. We must remember, teach, remind each other and live committed to the principle that all lives are precious: ours, those of our enemies, those of civilians as well as of soldiers. We must continue to remind each other that virtual killing desensitizes real killings. There is a direct connection with cruelty at home and cruelty abroad. Let us never forget this when we watch our young sons gleefully blast away another human target on their favorite video game or our daughters barely blink when the next Hollywood blockbuster's hero fills the film's designated enemy's body full of bullets.
It is time for Americans of all faiths to speak out against the culture of violence that has desensitized us to human suffering, whether at home or abroad. Imams, priests, rabbis and leaders of all religious groups must address the issue of the sanctity of life and the protection of civilians even during wartime, in their congregations. It is the least we can do to live according to our firm belief that truly, killing one individual is like killing all members of the human family.
"Children טף" by Eitan f - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Children_%D7%98%D7%A3.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Children_%D7%98%D7%A3.JPG
"US Navy 041228-N-5345W-006 Operations Specialist 2nd Class Sherod Melvin looks through the crosshairs as he mans an M240 machine gun on the fantail" by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Kristopher Wilson - This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 041228-N-5345W-006 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_041228-N-5345W-006_Operations_Specialist_2nd_Class_Sherod_Melvin_looks_through_the_crosshairs_as_he_mans_an_M240_machine_gun_on_the_fantail.jpg#mediaviewer/File:US_Navy_041228-N-5345W-006_Operations_Specialist_2nd_Class_Sherod_Melvin_looks_through_the_crosshairs_as_he_mans_an_M240_machine_gun_on_the_fantail.jpg