Here is a snap question: which does more harm to the image of Muslims, especially in the Western media: the political maneuvering of Egypt’s now outlawed “Muslim Brotherhood” or the savage acts committed by the self-styled Boko Haram in Nigeria? Boko Haram is well named, if you remove the Boko. I would have a hard time thinking of a more bloodthirsty and irrational group calling themselves Muslims, and there are far too many examples to choose from historically. Their kidnapping of some 276 Nigerian girls from a school to essentially enslave them is bad enough, but reports now surface of an indiscriminate killing spree in a crowded Nigerian market with over 300 said to be dead. The death toll from this group is measured in the thousands, both Christians and fellow Muslims becoming victims. Boko Haram espouses such a distorted view of Islam, that it is more accurate to label them a political terrorist group using the umbrella of Islam to carry out their barbaric acts.

Boko Haram is not alone. It is this kind of volatile mix of politics and religion that has plagued human history, probably from the start of recorded history. If one steps out of the Western preoccupation with the biblical tradition, the idea that any kind of just God would tell his ragged followers to kill every man, woman, child, ox, sheep and ass in a Canaanite city is a clear attempt to justify what most of us would rightly see today as a violation of human rights. The crusades and the bloody wars in Europe between Protestants and Catholics turned religion into yet another excuse to justify killing others. Hindus and Buddhists also have their blood-soaked moments, as do most known religions. The point is that “religion” is never separate from the real world except in some imaginary. It is myth that drives belief, whether from a sacred text written in a shroud of mystery or the quotidian alibi of personal experience. Those who take on the mantle of “God” show how little faith they really have. If there is evil in the world that one’s God does not like, why should humans be the ones to be the judges? The idea that one can enjoin others to do good and admonish them to avoid evil begs the question of what really counts as “good” and “evil.”

Boko Haram will eventually be stopped, even with the ineffective policies of the Nigerian government. But the kind of hate that fuels such atrocities will never be eradicated from our species. Humans are capable of extraordinary acts of goodness, which is why Christians revere Jesus and Muslims look to Muhammad as an example of how to live morally. It is the ultimate shirk of putting oneself into the judgement role of Allah that damns Boko Haram, not only in the eyes of their victims but for any Muslim whose faith is based on the mercy and love of Allah for humanity.