I don’t use the word shit often in class. But when I do, it is to make an important point about how religion can be negatively stereotyped. Let me explain.
About five years ago my daughter gave me a t-shirt as a gift. The shirt has printed on it a list of all the major religions, accompanied by a one-sentence definition of each religion. In each sentence (definition) is the word “shit.” It is rather comical. Here are some examples: “Hinduism: This shit has happened before”(referring to reincarnation), “Judaism: Why does this shit always happen to me?” (referring to a very long history of persecutions and pogroms against Jews)? My favorite, “Atheism: No Shit,” always draws a lot of laughter. However, the laughter quickly stops when I read the definition of Islam: “When shit happens, take a hostage.”
Islam is by far the most misunderstood religion in America. And whoever designed this t-shirt drew from their knowledge of our culture’s basic “(mis)understanding” of religions. Needless to say, my Muslim friends and students are sickened by the t-shirt.
One of the more important things I do in my religion class is to help students understand how religion is often used to justify violence against people. To teach my students how religion can become the soothing balm that medicates guilt, violence, and greed, I have them examine closely the idea of Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny was the nineteenth century catch-all-slogan for taking Indian land and forcing Native Americans onto reservations. Manifest Destiny was the idea that it was literally “God’s will” for native tribal lands to be taken. And once this idea took hold, it no longer mattered that Native Americans were here first – it was God’s will to exterminate and remove them. This idea was glorified in the nineteenth century painting (1872) by John Gast. The painting suggests that it was divine providence sending settlers west into Indian territory rather than greed for land. How convenient.
I make it very clear to my students that greed for Native American land existed long before Manifest Destiny came along to fuel and justify the Indian Wars. I also make it very clear to my students that Arab hatred toward the West existed long before Mideast “holy wars” were declared against the United States by radical Muslims. To make this point clear and understandable to my students I introduce them to Operation Ajax.
Operation Ajax was a covert CIA operation in 1953 that resulted in the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeqh. President Mossadegh, the “George Washington of Iran” and “Man of the Year” according to Time Magazine, was considered dangerous by the United States and the British because of his determination to nationalize his country’s oilfields. In other words, he was a threat because he was planning to take Iranian oil out of the hands of western oil companies and put it in the hands of the Iranian people (how dare he!).
Oh, and if you are looking for a very, VERY cool Operation Ajax app, the link is underneath the below photos. Check it out!
It is a well-known fact that the overthrow of Mossadegh and his government by our government – along with our support of the state of Israel – poisoned our relationship with many Arab people and countries. I try to help my students understand that hatred of America by some Arab groups is not because they are Muslims, but rather because of our aggressive – and dare I say shameful – history and foreign policy in the Mideast.
History tells us that Christians killed and slaughtered Native Americans during the nineteenth century, not because they were Christians, but because of their desire for land. History also tells us that Muslims have killed Americans, not because they are Muslims, but because of outrage and hatred with American foreign policy. In both cases, religion has played an important role in fueling unadulterated greed and hate – the REAL problems. Perhaps the American Nobel laureate, Steven Weinberg, was right when he spoke the following words:
“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.”