I'll go out on a limb and suggest that it may well be the most difficult verse in the bible. After all, if someone attacks us shouldn't we defend ourselves?
Perhaps it is the ignoring of this scripture that is seeing the world plunge head-long towards the fascist abyss and the resurrection of Nazi-esque politics in which adherents of one religion attack another.
It's a little ironic then, that we are witnessing Christians attacking Islam in the name of freedom and democracy and 'our way of life'. Of course, not everyone who has taken on the mantle of protector of our freedoms is Christian. Many right-wing hate groups are peopled by non-Christians, however the message of Christ, the message to 'turn the other cheek' still applies.
Following the 2016 federal election, Australia woke to find that Pauline Hanson's One Nation had won four seats in the Senate. Their platform is predominantly opposing all things Islam.
Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states:
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
Hanson finally realised that One Nation's anti-Islam platform is unconstitutional so she is now calling for a Royal Commission to determine if Islam is an ideology rather than a religion. Yep. Hanson wants to overturn 1400 years of religious history not to mention the theological faith of 1.5 billion Muslims.
The Commonwealth cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. Whether it be Islam, Christianity or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Not all Christians in Australia have been turned over to the anti-Islam hate and fear-mongering of conservative politics. A number are standing beside our Muslim brothers and sisters, attending Iftar events, visiting mosques, befriending and loving Muslims, and welcoming refugees.
One such Christian is Father Rod Bower of the Gosford Anglican Church. Father Bower has a billboard in front of his church in which he often promotes messages of loving Muslims and caring for refugees. Messages which are at odds with the hate and fear that is being preached or promoted through social media by some right-wing politicians and Christians.
On Sunday, 14 August 2016 a right-wing hate group called the Party for Freedom stormed Father Bower's church dressed as Muslims and terrorised his congregation, warning them to stop promoting Islam and giving them a taste of what they consider the future to be if Islam were to be the dominant religion in Australia.
The Party for Freedom showed that it clearly had no concept of the word 'freedom'. They attacked Bower's freedom of speech and attacked Islam's Constitutional right to freedom of religion.
It then came out that the Party for Freedom are followers of Pauline Hanson. Did she condemn the attack? Where was the outrage from the right-wing?
Hanson simply said that the attack was 'counterproductive in the serious argument One Nation are calling for in our Parliament'. Counter-productive to One Nation's unconstitutional message of hate and intolerance. She said that Australia needs to listen to the anti-Islam sentiment or there will be more of this violence. A threat? A call to action for the easily-led?
What we are seeing is a right-wing response to a perceived attack on our way of life. Attacks such as the installation of squat toilets which will 'destroy our way of life' according to Hanson(1). But what is our 'way of life'? Hanson has even criticised the way of life of the original inhabitants of Australia with her message of white supremacy. Nonetheless, for around two centuries, Australia has welcomed people from all over the globe and been a multicultural nation. In fact, the Southern Cross flag, first flown at the Eureka Stockade in 1854. Rafael Carboni, an architect of the rebellion, made the following declaration under the Southern Cross:
'Irrespective of nationality, religion and colour, I call on you to salute the 'Southern Cross' as the refuge of all the oppressed from all countries on earth'
Ironic then that some on the right-wing have hijacked this flag and use it to promote a message of intolerance and refuse to offer refuge to the oppressed from all countries on earth.
Australia's 'way of life' is one of multiculturalism.
Anti-Islam sentiment is a result of people fearing Islamist terrorism and linking it to a misconception that it is the goal of Islam to conquer the world and install a brutal and barbaric version Sharia Law.
Yet it isn't Islamic nations who have attacked the West. Terrorism is the result of people who have been radicalised as a result of the West's attack on Islamic nations. It is the West has has invaded and bombed Islamic countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Pakistan and so on. It is the West who supported the illegal creation of Israel and the on-going genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Rabid right-wingers who merely blame Islam for terrorism clearly lack self-reflection and fail to understand world events. Nothing happens in a vacuum. To think that the West hasn't contributed to global terrorism is to deny the funding and training that the United States and other Western nations have provided to various Islamist groups or regimes such as the Mujahideen in 1980s Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bin Laden, the Shah of Iran, President Suharto, not to mention billions of dollars in aid that America provides to Israel as it illegally expands its occupation of Palestine. Many of these regimes committed genocide and gross human rights abuses against their own populations.
Islamist terrorism arose out of decades of bombings, despots, brutality and oppression sponsored or undertaken by the West.
If Australians feel aggrieved enough to become radicalised and justify violent attacks on Islam simply because of issues such as halal, burqas and a misconception of Sharia, then surely this vindicates Muslims who become radicalised as a result of their grievance and anger with the West's attacks on Islamic nations.
The bombings, the drone strikes, the invasions and occupation of Islamic countries is providing impetus to the radicalisation of some Muslims. Imagine if Australia was the target of bombings, drone strikes, invasions and occupation by Muslim nations. How would we react? The radical right-wing groups such as One Nation, Reclaim Australia, Party for Freedom, United Patriots Front are all using the perception of an Islamic invasion and occupation to justify their hatred.
This is why Christ said to turn the other cheek. He didn't say to hate those who are different to us. He didn't say to preach hate and fear. In fact, he said to love our neighbour and to love our enemy. Most Muslims do not see Christians or any non-Muslim as their enemy. However, many right-wingers, including Christians, view Muslims as their enemy and constantly vilify them even though they are commanded to love their enemy. Vilification is not love.
Failing to turn the other cheek results in radicalisation, retribution, violence, hate and fear. A better way is to love and understand. Instead of building walls, build bridges.
Turning the other cheek doesn't mean turning our back on terrorism. While there radicalisation and terrorism needs to be addressed, there is nothing productive in attacking Islam or quoting the Koran out of context. There is nothing productive about blaming innocent people for the actions of others. In fact, this sort of generalisation of a people group is the basis of racism. Yet many Islamophobes will say Islam isn't a race therefore attacking Muslims and Islam isn't racism. Well, if you don't want to be called a racist, don't act like one.
To effectively address terrorism an radicalisation, we need to involve the Muslim community. Terrorists attack innocent people for political, religious or ideological reasons; whether that be in the name of Islam, Christianity, Australia, patriotism, nationalism, democracy or 'freedom'. Becoming a terrorist to oppose terrorism is the ultimate hypocrisy. Yet this is what we are seeing from the right-wing. Only a couple of weeks ago, a leader with Reclaim Australia was arrested on terrorism charges(2). A few months ago a car was fire-bombed in front of a Mosque(3). And then there have been numerous attacks, both verbal and physical, on Muslims going about their daily business. Mosques have been vandalised and businesses run by Muslims have been attacked. Such incidents are being reported and documented through the Islamophobia Register(4).
The anti-Islam brigade are alienating Muslims and playing into the hands of Islamist organisations who preach that the West hates them, that Christianity is waging war on Islam. Alienation and exclusion breeds anger and hate. Whereas if people feel welcome and included in society they are less likely to become radicalised. It also means that those who have a tendency to radicalisation are more easily identified and their families and friends have the social support needed to hose down those radical ideas.
The ongoing violence and verbal abuse of Muslims, raids and vandalism of Mosques, the storming of a church, the attacks on those who support Muslims is terribly reminiscent of 1930s Germany. A time when conservative Christians sided with the Nazis to attack Jews, socialists, unionists, homosexuals, gypsies; essentially anyone who didn't fit their idea of a perfect society.
The populist politics of conservative parties is fanning the flames of bigotry purely for votes and power. It is normalising hate crime, making it acceptable in the eyes of many.
It is time for right-wing politicians, conservative media and Christian ministers to reign in their bigoted rhetoric and stop encouraging and feeding hate and violence before we see a Kristallnacht-type event or worse.
Islam isn't the problem.
Hate is the problem.
1. The Insider, Max Chalmers, Pauline Hanson says a new toilet could destroy 'Australian way of life', 15 August 2016, https://newmatilda.com/2016/08/15/pauline-hanson-says-a-new-toilet-could-destroy-australian-way-of-life/. Accessed 15 August 2016.
2. The Saturday Paper, Martin McKenzie-Murray, How Reclaim Australia hid a 'terrorist', 13 August 2016, https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/law-crime/2016/08/13/how-reclaim-australia-hid-terrorist/14710104003610. Accessed 16 August 2016.
3. ABC News, David Weber and Nikki Roberts, Perth mosque attack: Car fire-bombed, anti-Islam graffiti sprayed in 'act of hate', 29 June 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-29/firebombing-ant-islam-graffiti-attack-at-thornlie-mosque-school/7552394. Accessed 16 August 2016.
4. Islamophobia Register Australia, http://www.islamophobia.com.au/