Murdered missionaries

If US news has lately been dominated by the Virginia Tech shootings, news from Turkey has been full of the recent murders of three Christians. It appears that five students staying at a religiously-based dorm got outraged by the missionary activity linked to a local Christian publishing house. So they decided to do something about it: torture and then murder a German missionary and two converted Turks associated with the publisher. The Turkish media is full of expressions of shock and anger that such barbarism can be committed in the name of Islam. (Turkish Islam is usually a lot more easygoing than puritan varieties found in places like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.)

There’s all sorts of weird and nasty stuff involved here. First, lots of youths get radicalized by political Islamist movements, some which explicitly condone violence, a lot more which are just full of praise of extreme action in defense of the faith without thinking through how impressionable idiots might interpret striving for the faith. Then there is the widespread resentment againt missionaries — not hugely surprising, given how missionary activity often means an attempt to replace a centerpiece of the local culture with a foreign imposition. And, well, I guess there’s the sheer on-edge nature of much of politics and religion in Turkey today. Bad combination.

I wonder if religiously colored violence especially bothers me because from my perspective there’s an extra air of pointlessness and even stupidity about it. But that’s not all. In many parts of the world events such as murders of the representatives of a rival religion signal the possibility of serious communal clashes down the road. They’re often bloodbaths, and you don’t want to get caught in them.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University