“We would gladly burn a hundred if just one among them were guilty.” This was spoken at the beginning of the thirteenth century by Conrad of Marburg, the first man to bear the title of Inquisitor haereticae Pravitatis (Inquisitor into heretical depravity). Appointed by Pope Innocent III, who was far from innocent of the torture and execution of suspected heretics during the formation of the Inquisition, Conrad’s words are being echoed today in the voices of aspiring political leaders as well as in the angry, fearful raving of otherwise kindhearted Americans. I have even heard this sentiment spring from the mouth of family members who I love and otherwise respect. Today however, instead of targeting free-thinking individuals who choose to stray from Church dogma, the “hundred” whom many Americans would sacrifice in the hopes of killing one evildoer are Muslim citizens.
I found this quote eerie and striking. Although I do believe that those involved in the violent activities of certain radical Islamic groups need to be identified, apprehended, and punished for their criminal misdeeds, being willing to kill hundreds (or thousands) of innocent people in hopes of snuffing out the lives of a few terrorists is, in itself, a terrorist mind-set. I fear that this destructive way of thinking is one that we are subscribing to in greater numbers with every shooting that occurs, even those proven to be unrelated to any terrorist group. We are edging closer to not only a religious war, but a race war, a cultural war, a war against men, women, and children who are just like us in their desire for peace and to live their own lives while others live theirs. This reality is horrifying and it is absolutely true.
In the Dhammapada, a book bursting with wisdom, the Buddha said, “Hatred will never cease by hatred at any time. Hatred ceases only through love. This is an eternal law.” This is the quote that our beloved Martin Luther King, Jr. taught as he led African American peacefully into a brighter future. It is the philosophy embraced by Mahatma Gandhi as he let his people peacefully out from underneath the unwanted umbrella of British tyranny. To me, this quote does not mean that we are beholden to throw flowers at those who seek to murder and kill. What it does mean, however, is that we have a spiritual imperative not to throw babies out with the bathwater. Not to kill civilians freely simply to try to bring terrorist activity to heel. When we respond to violence with hate, anger, and a disregard for innocent life, those who do hate us will multiply – springing forth in ever greater numbers like the mythological Hydra who, when one head was severed, two would grow back in its place. If we kill innocents, those who mourn the loss of their loved ones will become fertile ground for the commission of more violence. The war will never end.
It is time to stop the madness.
Cohn, Norman. Europe’s Inner Demons: An Enquiry Inspired by the Great Witch-Hunt. New York: Basic Books, 1975.
Easwaran, Eknath. The End of Sorrow: The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, Volume One. Berkeley: Nilgiri Press, 2008.