Question

What are the dangers in seeing ourselves as victims?

David Arnow Jewish

There are two dangers here— first, in forgetting that individuals and groups have in fact been victimized through absolutely no fault of their own, and second, in building an identity around victimhood. Innocent victims need acknowledgment, empathy, a chance to heal and to see that a proper measure of justice is done. They don’t need to be blamed for what has befallen them. Jewish sources also invite us to ponder a grey zone in which distinctions between innocence and guilt are not so clear: sometimes victims unwittingly contribute to their fate. The Talmud notes that Jacob’s favoring Joseph over his other sons set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt.* Similarly, an important modern commentary attributes Israel’s ordeal in Egypt to Joseph’s previous treatment of the Egyptians who “would take their revenge on Joseph for having reduced them to slavery, by enslaving his people.”*

Building an identity around victimhood keeps the wound raw. An ancient midrash uses the story of Exodus to teach a difficult lesson about the importance of moving on, of allowing wounds to heal. “If a person does evil to his neighbor, it never leaves the aggrieved party’s heart; but not so God. Israel was in Egypt and the Egyptians enslaved them. . . . After all the evil they had done to Israel, God still had pity upon them and decreed, ‘You shall not abhor an Egyptian . . .’” (Deuteronomy 23:8) but pursue peace, as it is said, “Seek peace, and pursue it” (Psalm 24:15).* God manages to move on and so should we.

Mary C. Boys Christian

Over the centuries, Christianity has been a powerful force in many lands, and thus tempted to misuse its power. Without question, Christianity has too often victimized others, particularly Jews and Muslims in the Crusades and in other outbreaks of intolerance. Even its well-intentioned missionary initiatives often contributed to the colonization of peoples and thus the imposition of foreign cultural norms and mores. Yet in certain times and places, Christians, too, have been (and are) the victims of despotic governments, intolerant leaders, fanatic fundamentalists of other religious traditions, and greedy corporations. The world continues to make martyrs, who pay for their deeds of justice with their lives.

So Christians are both victimizer and victim. In recalling those vilified or persecuted or killed in the name of Christ, we resolve to change direction. In remembering those among us who have suffered or died (and are now suffering and dying) because of following the Way of Christ, we give thanks for their fidelity and deepen our resolve

To dream awake
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already
resurrected! [25. From the poem “Threatened with Resurrection” by Julia Esquivel (Nos han amenzado de Resurrección) in Threatened with Resurrection: Prayers and Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan, trans. Ann Woehrle (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1994), 101.]

Muhammad Shafiq Muslim

God is very Merciful and Compassionate (Al Rahman al Rahim). He is the Most Forgiving (al Ghafur). God is our Master (Malik) and we are His humble servants (`Ibaad). No one shall be disappointed with His mercy and blessings. In Islam the word Al Rahman refers to His mercy and blessings for all of His creation in heaven and on earth. No matter how sinful a person may be, or how deprived or denied the person may feel, one day God’s mercy will reach him/her. Hopelessness is a disease leading to sickness and inferiority complexes. Hopefulness is a believer’s way to contentment with patience and perseverance, though the person may have been afflicted with many sufferings.

When I was in college in the ‘70s, I had a friend who had a Master of Science degree but could not get a job. He received another Master’s degree, but still could not get a job. I had just finished my Master’s and got a job. When I met this friend and saw his situation, I invited him to live with me until he got work. He was very hopeless and disappointed, feeling he was a victim of God’s wrath. He would not ask God for help. When I asked him why he refused to beg God’s help, he said it was because God was punishing him for some reason. He had prayed and begged for His mercy but none of his prayers were accepted. After some time he got a job and his sorrows were gone.

God hears and answers your prayers in the Muslim tradition. No one shall feel deprived, left out or thinking he or she is a victim of God’s wrath. God is closer to a human being than his/her jugular vein (50:16). When some one prays and asks God for a favor, God answers it in one of three ways: accepting it right away; blessing him/her with something else; or removing some hardship or suffering that was due to fall upon him/her.

God in Islam is just and loving. He loves His creation and especially us humans, who are the best of His creation. He wants us to live with justice and love with ourselves and with the world at large. God is there to help, to assist and sends His mercy and no one shall be disappointed with His mercy. God does not destroy but people destroy themselves through unjust deeds and corruption on earth.

Victimization of people by people is forbidden and is against God’s way. It would be hard not to accept that Muslims have not victimized people of other faiths and non-faiths in the past and especially during the Caliphate period. However it is also true that comparatively, Muslims have treated non-Muslims better than some other faiths have done. The Abbasid capital of Baghdad during the Abbasid rule and Muslim rule over Spain in the medieval period were known for their tolerance and promoting interfaith dialogue.*

Muslims today are victims of their own rulers, especially in the post-colonial period. Muslims living in many of the Muslim majority countries are deprived of their basic human rights and necessities of life. Many can blame the West for supporting the cruel rulers, but at the same time many of these despotic rulers are responsible for the victimization of the their own people. It is due to persecution and lack of freedom that Muslims are taking their refuge in Western countries. Muslim living conditions are much better in Western countries, including America, than in many of their countries of birth. This is true even after 9/11, which caused a rise in discrimination against Muslims.

Note: Translation of the Qur’anic verses and many of the Hadith translation with references were taken from Islamicity.com; some translations of and references to the Hadith were taken from ahadith.co.uk.

One response to “What are the dangers in seeing ourselves as victims?”

  1. npirani says:

    Great commentary. My favorite quote comes from David Arnow on self-victimization, which reminds us that “Building an identity around victimhood keeps the wound raw.” The harms of self-victimization far exceed the benefits, if there even are any.

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