After decades spent studying, researching and writing books about the history of world religions, British author Karen Armstrong (pictured) appears to have arrived at a stunningly simple resolution: follow the Golden Rule.
In her new book, "Fields of Blood," Armstrong zeros in on myths and reality surrounding the role of religion in the history of warfare and violence.
With ISIS in the news, interviewer Kerri Miller of MPR asked Armstrong about the situation in Syria and Iraq, and the perception in the West that the violent leaders of ISIS are motivated mainly by their Muslim faith.
"First off, it is a mistake to think that all ISIS fighters are devout jihadists," Armstrong said. "Many are secular" militia, including troops left over from Saddam Hussein's armed guard. She said there had been a story about one ISIS leader who had ordered the book "Islam for Dummies" from amazon.com.
The resurgence of radical Islam in parts of the Mideast today, Armstrong said, is in part a response to the violence used to repress religion and impose a secular state in places like Iran and Egypt in the mid-20th-century.
Another factor, she said, "is a perception in many parts of the Middle East that the West is indifferent to human suffering."
While some have labeled Armstrong an apologist for Islam, she said she abhors the ISIS-sponsored aggression and says that it actually defies Islamic law that forbids violence against civilians and prohibits attacking any country where Muslims are allowed to practice their faith freely.
Armstrong has been a leader in the Charter for Compassion, a global effort to involving elected leaders, clergy and laypeople to sign on to this simple notion: "Do not impose on others what you yourself would not desire." She read an elaboration of that Golden Rule, which is available here.
Armstrong, who turns 70 on Nov. 14, lived in a convent, leaving it after six years, when she was 24. Since then, she remained unmarried and without children. She lives alone and spends much time in study, research, reflection and writing, so that her life today "remains very nun-like," she said.
But Armstrong is no stay-at-home. She travels globally to speak and promote her books. She has given TED talks and is a regular TV commentator. She has made numerous trips to Pakistan, where she has helped promote a chain of progressive schools.
While her topic is a serious one, Armstrong frequently displayed flashes of wit and self-deprecating humor. She acknowledged Britain's once-mighty status as a colonial power, but said "we now view ourselves as the poodle of the United States."
Star Tribune writer Graydon Royce recently interviewed Armstrong, here.
Armstrong's full talk is scheduled to be rebroadcast at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18, on Minnesota Public Radio.