In the eighteenth century, the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire wrote that, “if you can make people believe absurdities, you can make them commit atrocities.” It is, sadly, every bit as much a truism today as it was before the tulmultous events of the Revolution which followed his death at the close of the century.
It is important to note that at the time of writing, it is unknown who committed the latest atrocities which struck at the heart of France though of course that hasn’t stopped unscrupulous ‘journalists’ and by extension the twitterati from baseless speculation. Inevitably, the phrase on everyone’s lips is, “Muslims.”
It’s become an unfortunate cliché to begin such a discussion with, “of course most Muslims are peaceful, but…” Non-Muslims can only imagine what it must be like to have to defend their faith in times such as these. We do not require Christians to answer for Anders Breivik or the bombers of family planning clinics any more than we demand contrition from the Saudis for Osama bin Laden. Neighbourly ribbing aside, no one judges millennial Germans for the actions of their great grandparents, Iraqis are not held to account for the crimes of Saddam Hussein, and yet following every attack on civilisation by Islamic extremists we cast a suspicious eye on our Muslim citizens, waiting with baited breath to chastise them if they voice anything but the most vocal and heartfelt condemnations.
Religious terrorism is the great evil of our age. There is no explanation, excuse, or circumstance which justifies the actions of those who would strike at our friends and family in their homes. And yet there is no doubt that these fractions of men, these cowards and curs, feel entirely justified in their murder. They are as indignant in their slaughter as we are in our outrage. They go to hell covered in the blood of innocents with pride and joy because old men taught them to hate, as those old men were taught before and though it flies in the face of accepted tolerance in the West, to ignore religion as the direct cause of the rage that beats at our door is an abandonment of reason.
Debating the difference between mainstream religion and fundamentalist or extremist religion is to sidestep the obvious. There would be no religious extremism without religion. From human sacrifice in Mesoamerican civilisations, through Egyptian slavery and the Crusades, right up to the Ku Klux Klan’s so called ‘white pride’, the Vatican’s protection of child molesters and ISIS waging war on Humanity itself, religion has been the primary fuel that burns in the fire of human barbarism.
Still we patronise them. A man preaching the ridiculous is mad; a civilisation chanting along is religion. “Faith-based” is a lazy stereotype thrown around by unionist commentators to describe Scottish politics. It is derisory. An unashamed criticism. “People only vote for the SNP on faith; it’s nothing to do with facts.” The merits of such an argument aside, why is the same naked scorn not there when it comes to the origin of that very criticism? It seems preposterous to have to note the following, but there is no evidence – none whatsoever – for the existence of a singular or pantheon of beings or entities that bear any relation to the fictions our ancestors invented to enslave people. There is a compendium of evidence that points to the truth. Religion is about control, and the easiest way to control is to instil fear. From there it is only the shortest hop to anger and hatred. This is why religion was created.
Whether Islam is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than other religions is an interesting, but irrelevant discussion when it comes to countering the threat of terrorism. It is not atheists strapping explosives to their chests. Agnostics do not vow death to the West. Humanists do not cry “God is great” as they deprive men, women and children of their lives. No evidence-based judgment of the Human condition can conclude anything but that that ours would be a world more peaceful and loving absent the bigotry that we indoctrinate our children with.
There is no denying that we are at war, and horrific though it is, there are times when the use of violence to defend ourselves is inescapable. Firearms and munitions alone however will not save us from the loveless abyss these men of God would drag us into. As with so many ills in the world, education is the silver bullet. No one is born religious. There is no such thing as a ‘half-Christian’ child. We tell lies to the young, and they are the most odious untruths our species has ever conceived. We tell them to abandon personal responsibility, because God has a plan for us. We discourage critical thinking because faith is the shibboleth by which virtue is judged. We encourage them to scorn their neighbours because there is only one true religion and non-believers, whatever their other qualities, will be judged accordingly. Perhaps worst of all we instil a casual disregard for life itself because our very existence is but a test for the next, and everlasting rapture lies in wait for true devotees.
It is no coincidence that so much of the world’s horror comes from the Middle East not because the region favours Islam over Judeo-Christian mythology, but because education is seen not as an inalienable right, but a pernicious evil that must be shied away from. Dissent is not merely rude or irritating; it is a sin against God and punishable by the most extreme measures.
If we wish to triumph over terrorism, we must first acknowledge the mire in which it breeds. We must bring about an end to such insidious claptrap as ‘respect for religion.’ Everyone should of course be able to believe what they will. If religion brings someone strength in the privacy of their own home then we should respectfully disagree and wish them well. The moment it impedes on our lives however, there should be an abandonment of tolerance. We should teach our children the difference between respecting someone’s right to believe, and respect for the belief itself. Religion should be no more shielded from scorn and ridicule than Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight.
This war is not about land or resources; it is about hatred. That hatred is taught, and religion is the maestro. If we are to combat hatred, we must combat its source, and the peace must be won at home before we can hope to spread it elsewhere.