A common expression used in “explaining” an apparent animosity among the members of different faiths is to say that “they are opposed to our lifestyle.” While this phrase is used often and carelessly, few people seem to stop and think what it really means and if it is an accurate assessment. Questions such as “Who are they?”, “What is our lifestyle?”, “How much do they know about our lifestyle?”, “Does our lifestyle have any impact on them?”, “How different is their lifestyle from ours?”, “Are they opposed to every group of people who practice the same lifestyle?”, and “Are there people who benefit from framing conflicts in this way?” are seldom asked. Consequently, these questions are almost never answered in a systematic, objective way. In this article we will try to explore some of these issues and shed light on some hidden answers in the context of Christian-Muslim relations.
Stereotypes and Identities: Who are “They”?
In the context of conflicts that are faith-related or that appear to be faith-related, the term “they” typically represents a media-driven stereotype of a group of persons who seem totally out of “our” world. They speak a different language, they look different, they dress differently, and their values are different. Let’s examine these factors: The fact that some people look or dress differently is not a problem for most. Mexicans speak a different language than Americans. They look and dress differently. The same can be said of Chinese or Japanese. Yet these differences, in and of themselves, do not carry any negative connotations. How about the values? Do Muslims have essentially different values than Christians, Jews and Buddhists? Not really. Indeed, the vast majority of the fundamental values are shared by all these faiths.
Defining Lifestyles: What is “Our” Lifestyle and what is “Theirs”?
If we look for common traits of lifestyle of American Christians we realize that most of these traits are shared among Christians in the so-called “Western World”; in fact these can be found, to a great extent, throughout the Christian world. If we go on to compare these traits with those of the Muslim lifestyle, we then realize that Muslims also share these traits. This also answers one of the other questions we asked at the beginning: How much does their lifestyle differ from ours? The answer is, not much; certainly not to the extent that these differences should lead to hatred. Similarly, we should not have any animosity toward other peoples of the world whose lifestyle is different from ours.
Communication of Lifestyles: How Much do They Know about Our Lifestyle?
Most Muslims around the world have never met an American Christian in person. Their means of learning about the lifestyle of Americans is through the media. So the question of “how much do they know about our lifestyle?” becomes, rather, how accurately does the media reflect our lifestyle? Most readers might agree that the answer to this question may not be very reassuring.
Impact of Lifestyle across the Borders: How Much does Our Lifestyle have an Impact on Them?
For Muslims living in the same society as Christians in the US, this impact may be significant. For most people living outside the US though, the lifestyle of the people in the US has very little impact on them. What does have a great impact is the foreign policies of the government. Therefore, if we assume that there are some people out there who are opposed to the people of this country, then, with this image, foreign policy carries a greater weight. What then needs to be explored is whether the foreign policy of a country reflects the values and choices of the people of that country accurately. Unfortunately, this may not be the case in many situations.
Hidden Agendas: Who Benefits from the Lifestyle “Explanation”?
Making the rationale for an attitude that develops into a love/hate relationship between lifestyles helps to achieve group solidarity against another group. By positioning the conflict as a conflict of lifestyles, those who are trying to hide the real reasons behind a conflict or those who benefit from the conflict tell the masses: “It is your problem, they do not like you.” Thus, various entities who cannot act by themselves begin to legitimately act on behalf of the people.
When we hear the phrase “they do not like our lifestyle” we should be very careful. We should analyze the context and make sure that this is not simply a spurious “explanation” put out by an entity who benefits from conflict or which is trying to hide the real reasons behind conflict.