‘Yeah, But:’ 2 Words Lead to Dark Side

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in London, I can’t help but despair at the ever-spiraling violence in our world today. And it pains me even more deeply that a significant portion of that violence occurs at the hands of Muslims in the name of Islam.

Of course, we have all condemned this latest attack in London. We have all stated that Islam is a religion of peace. We have all stated Islamic terror is neither sacred nor Islamic.

Yet, inevitably, I get a question from one — or more than one — reader which goes something like this: “Yeah, but what about the suffering of Muslims in Iraq? Isn’t that also wrong? Why don’t you condemn that?”

You can replace Iraq with a number of other hot spots in the Muslim world: Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and so on. Right then and there — with those two words of “yeah, but” — the questioner begins down a path of moral failure.

The “yeah, but” indicates that the loss of innocent life in London can somehow be justified; that if innocent Muslims are dying at the hands of the British, then the death of innocent Britons (perhaps at the hands of Muslims) is somehow acceptable. Utter moral failure.

Admittedly, that may not be the intention of the questioner, but — to me, at least — that is the impression that comes through; that is the connotation of the “yeah, but.” Our faith has absolutely no room for any “yeah, buts.” The sanctity of human life in the Quran is absolute, without condition or qualification: “Nor take life — which God has made sacred — except for just cause….” (17:33)

“And the servants of the Most Gracious are those who … invoke not, with God, any other god, nor slay such life as God has made sacred except for just cause….” (25:63-68)

By no stretch of the imagination could killing someone in London or Baghdad, or Kirkuk, or Beslan or Tel Aviv fall under the denotation of “just cause.” Yet, there is an even more profound statement in the Quran, one that solidifies the moral failure of “yeah, but.” In fact, I believe this statement to be one of the most — if not the most — profound statements in the entire Quran:

“Believers, stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: That is next to piety, and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (5:8)

Earlier in the same chapter, God says: “…. Let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the sacred mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancor: Fear God, for God is strict in punishment.” (5:2)

These two verses leave absolutely no wiggle room. They choke the air out of any argument that would begin with “yeah, but.”

No matter what evil has been committed against us, that does not give us license to commit injustice. And what worse injustice could there be besides taking the life of an innocent human being?

This idea permeates Islam, as it does Judaism, Christianity and other great religions. All have their fanatics willing to justify needless violence based on their own real or imagined persecution, but all must confront texts and traditions which clearly forbid it.

I am frequently criticized for my harsh criticisms of the sins of Muslims, especially when it comes to violence and terror, and the implication is that I don’t care about the countless loss of Muslim life. That is not true. The suffering of Muslims around the world pains me very deeply, and the way to end that suffering is to work to end injustice across the globe.

But, I have to take us back to the word of God: “Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice.” Our faith does not allow us to ever say, “Yeah, but.” It is the path to the dark side; once we start down that path, forever will it dominate our destiny.

Once we let “yeah, but” guide our morality, then we risk becoming completely amoral. We cannot take that risk — ever.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a pulmonary and critical care physician practicing in the greater Chicago area. He is also a columnist for the Religion News Service and Beliefnet, and co-author of the forthcoming book, “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” to be published by Doubleday in 2006.