Was recently involved in an interfaith discussion on the topic of Faith and Violence. The starting point was of course the usual : religious wars, terrorism, in the local and foreign context. So it was fascinating to me of course, when the discussion took an unexpected but yet very relevant turn.
My group expanded the concept of what ‘violence’ was in the course of discussion, when a participant introduced her work engaging religious leaders on the issue of marital rape, and how some people believed marital rape should not be criminalised because religious texts gave the right for spouses to demand/force sex. Another participant then shared, very emotionally, her experience of being abused physically and sexually by her ex-husband in the course of forcing her to go to church (she is a Muslim). Someone spoke from the Hindu faith and using Ghandi as an example, said that the concept of non-violence applies to the ‘strong’ — in that the ‘strong’ should refrain from retaliating against the ‘weak’. He explained that if a ‘weaker’ party did not retaliate against a ‘strong’ party, it was usually because the ‘strong’ party was bullying the weaker one —- this ‘non-violence’ would not be one of choice but simply being a victim. Everyone agreed with this view, and thought that witnesses to such bullying who were apathatic and did not help/stand up against the bully, can be considered being part of the violence as well. This stemmed from teachings of most religions to help the weak and oppressed.
The group viewed violence not in black & white terms — violence or non-violence — but as a continuum where riots/terrorism/physical violence was on the most serious extreme end. On the mildest end, the seed of violence is the belief that one is always right and others are always wrong. Along this continuum would be forced conversions, prevention of family members from practising their faith, incidents eg. AWARE, Rony Tan’s videos, fights over carpark space at places of worship, forcing people to fight in wars people did not agree with, etc
So as you can see, it was very enlightening a discussion for me