Criminality Under the cover of Religion and Ideology, and the Collusion of the Media.
Lately, I’ve started to bristle every time I hear the word ‘Islamic’. It gets used a lot by the media, mostly by people who aren’t Muslim, have never read the Koran and know very little about how complex and varied the practice of Islam can be. Like Christianity, like Buddhism, like Judaism, there are many different flavours of Islam. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and I often feel that the Western media represents the religion as a single monolithic block, even when it’s reporting on Sunni and Shia discord.
We need some perspective. There are no ancient religious texts that don’t include some exhortation to violence. Certainly the Old Testament has many. So when I hear talking heads on TV say that Islam is, at its core, a violent religion, because of certain passages in the Koran, it pisses me off that few people with a platform for public address mention that the same can be said of Christianity and Judaism. And indeed, both the KKK and settlers in the occupied territories in Israel have found ‘permission’ in their good books to do all sorts of awful things.
The reality is that the vast majority of Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Jews acknowledge that texts written over a thousand years ago may contain immense wisdoms, but also need to be read critically. Dogmatic, unthinking adherence to any document written so far in the past is simply untenable. Sane, modern Buddhists don’t slaughter strangers at the border to Tibet anymore. Sane Christians and Jews don’t stone adulterers to death. And sane Muslims don’t call for Jihad every time someone insults their Prophet or sanction 1000 lashes for Saudi Arabian bloggers. And those sane, thinking and devout practitioners of their respective religions make up the vast majority of adherents.
Being an atheist, it would be easy to simply lay the blame at the door to religion, but non-religious ideology has also been used as the rationale for committing some of history’s most appalling atrocities. It’s hardly fair to lay the genocidal behavior of Pol Pot, or Mao’s murderous political policies or the barbarities of Stalinist Russia at the door of Marx. Das Kapital might have some fiery language in it, but it certainly doesn’t sanction the mass murder of anyone. Meanwhile, the levels of death and misery brought about by the practice of free market economics is, as yet, unmeasured and is probably unmeasurable.
When people call for Jihad, or Crusades, Lebensraum or bloody revolution, they aren’t being devout or ideologically faithful; they’re using religion and ideology as a cover for their own bid for power. And when the media call those people Islamist, or fundamentalist Christians, or Marxist rebels, they are perpetuating the lie and participating in spreading the guilt around instead of focusing it where it needs to be, with the individuals who commit terrible acts.
Just because someone calls themselves a radical Muslim, or a Christian or a Marxist or Free-marketeers while they commit atrocities doesn’t mean we, as a culture, are obligated to afford them that title, and we shouldn’t. They aren’t acting like Muslims or Christians or Marxists or Industrialists. They’re acting like murderous bastards, beyond the pale of all their respective religions and ideologies.
Labels like ‘Muslim’ terrorist need to be viewed as an oxymoron. No real Muslim would fly planes into a building in New York or walk into an office and shoot 12 people in Paris, no real Christian would lynch someone or bomb an abortion clinic, no real Catholic would bomb a toy store. Just because they’re attempting to the cover their grab for political power in the cloak religion or ideology to their purpose doesn’t mean the rest of us need to help.
No one expects the Catholics to specifically condemn the so-called-Catholics for the Inquisition or the IRA bombings. And no one should expect ‘mainstream’ Muslims to have to specifically condemn terrorist attacks in recent years. They do not bear any responsibility for these acts and they have nothing in common with the people who commit them.
But, you may say, people are radicalized by religion and ideology. No, they are radicalized under the lie of religion and ideology. They are radicalized to serves as tools of power for people who want to obtain it who have used dogma or ideology as a costume in which to dress their power grab.
Banning the teaching of religion or ideology, forbidding speech that radicalizes is like banning racist speech. It doesn’t address the underlying issues. People who want to use credulous others to perpetrate crimes will find another cloak, another banner under which to bring about their agenda. But it’s an easy fix. It seems like a simple answer. It quells the superficial but highly visible symptoms, it makes it look like ‘someone is doing something about this’ and gives us false comfort.
And the media play a huge part in this, resorting to easy sound-bite friendly labels, depending on agenda-laden press releases, demanding simplistic, fiction-like narratives and applauding superficial ‘solutions’. The media has done more to perpetuate the lie that Islam is ‘dangerous’ than any other single entity.
Politicians come a close second by crafting messages that play well for the media and by encouraging a culture of fear when it means more funding for their particular bailiwick. Every time there is another terrorist attack, huge segments of the government – particularly the security divisions – get more funding, more powers, more influence. A frightened population is a compliant population and all politicians know this. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, a senior US official said that these small-scale attacks are going to be ongoing and have to be addressed ‘like the war on drugs’. That’s convenient. The ‘war on drugs’ has been going on for four decades. It hasn’t been won, but it has been a career and funding opportunity for thousands. The convenience of a perpetual war cannot be overstated as a means to claw back powers from the populace, and fund decades of non-productive ‘battle’.
To address the roots of why ‘radicalization’ happens, you need to address the void it fills. As a society, we need to stop worrying about who is wearing a hijab and start concerning ourselves with the fact that we have allowed our educational and economic systems to leave millions disenfranchised.
We need to stop paying lip-service to inclusiveness and actually practice it. We need to ensure that the faces of the people in power reflect the faces of the populations who are governed. We need to commit ourselves to ensuring that people feel fully invested in our communities. We need to stop tolerating segregation even when it is self-imposed.
Whether Christian or Muslim or Hindu, radicalization occurs when people feel unempowered. This was as true for the Catholics of Northern Ireland in the past as it is for the Muslim youth in the suburbs of Paris. When we tolerate vast disparities in wealth, education and privilege, we allow for breeding grounds in which frustrated, poor, unemployed, unempowered people fall prey to sociopaths who indoctrinate them by whatever means necessary, including religious dogma.
I don’t have good answers for how to fix these problems. I only know that blaming any single religion is not a solution. What I do know is that if we keep believing the answer is simple and painless, we’ll never solve this problem. But looking back at the 20th Century, I think a greater investment in educational excellence and concerted wealth redistribution has a far higher chance of success.