September: On Religion and Violence
To immortalize his name in history, the previously unknown resident of Ephesus Herostratus on July 21, 356 BC, needed to burn down the Temple of Artemis. To catch the world’s attention (to set into motion Interpol, to mobilize the armies and police forces of many countries, to make the presidents of the USA and Pakistan talk about you, that is not even mentioning the innumerable military and police officers), for the pastor from Florida Terry Jones it was enough to promise to burn a Quran on September 11, 2010. The ominous anniversary promised to become even more ominous this year…
The world’s great religions are calling for peace and condemn violence, but in modern encyclopedias and dictionaries, in studies by the famous expert in conflictology David Rapoport, “religion and peace” is mentioned about five times less than “religion and war.” The attack on the towers in New York and Palestinian suicide bombers, members of Aum Shinrikyo’s cult and ultra-conservative Christians who blow up abortion centers, hundreds of scorched members of the movement to renewal the Ten Commandments in Uganda and northern Irish terrorists – the wave of violence, which is trying to be justified by religion, spreads in the Middle and Far East, the Old and New Worlds, Africa, and Oceania.
The tendencies of the turn of the 21st century look as such. Conflicts that have a religious basis are becoming more and more common in the world; religious minorities are discriminated more than any other minorities; religion rarely appears as the only source of a conflict, but it increases and intensifies it; conflicts with a religious basis are more often tied in with Muslims, though violence is more often against other Muslims. Most of the new terrorist groups founded starting in the 1980s are Islamic, though, undoubtedly, not all acts of terrorist since then have been committed by Muslims.
Violence and terror in the name of Islam are saturated with quotes from the Quran, which are shamelessly selective. Research, for example, of Don Holbrook argued that ideologues of terror turn to certain passages incessantly and often many times to one and the same text, while others passages, especially, those that call for peace and understanding between people of different faiths are simply ignored, and others are distorted. A lot can be said about that fact that those who in the name of Islam encroach on the lives of others are bad, even very bad, Muslims. But in any case, this does not answer the question: why in the name of Islam are there more acts of violence committed than in the name of any other religion? None of the hypotheses currently being advanced can fully explain this. Yes, Islam includes the idea of the jihad. But why in the mass conscience is this idea associated not with the “jihad of the heart,” nor the “jihad of the tongue,” and not even the “jihad of the hand,” but almost exceptionally with the “jihad of the sword”? One can agree also with the fact that Islam is a passionate religion of “direct action,” a collective religion to a much large degree than individualist, that it amasses great anti-colonial opposing potential. One can even seriously look at the supposition that the militancy of modern Islam is explained by “century-long cycles of cleansing and the return to the first source,” which periodically results in flares in this monotheistic religion; or that Islam is a young religion in comparison with other world religions and now stands on the threshold of some tectonic shift, similar to the Christian Reformation.
But none one of these hypotheses gives a satisfactory explanation: why does Islam appear in the center of the fourth, according to the theory of David Rapoport, wave of terror – religious terrorism. Compared with earlier waves – the Anarchist, Anti-Colonial, and the New Left – this wave is more merciless, inexorable, and global in both its size and impact. This is a war to destroy, and not an attempt to bring attention to its proclaimed goals. The terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, changed the world in which we live. The world lost many thousands of victims in Iraq and Afghanistan, and saw the introduction of a barbed wire in the center of a European capital, very long airport security lines, and an all-encompassing fear.
The fourth wave of terror spilled absolutely raging suicide terrorism over the world. Robert Pape, who studied 462 terrorist attacks committed by suicide attackers between the years 1980 and 2005, attests that there is an average of one victim to every “regular” terrorist attack while the average number of victims from a terrorist attack committed by a suicide attacker is twelve.
And however much we convince one another, however much we argue – entirely justifiably in that matter – that world religions object to any strikes against the gift of God and the dignity of a Creation, the killers were not inebriated. They assiduously prepared and prepare for the crime and they must find not only explosives, transport, assistants, but also the strength to consciously die together with their victims. And only the postmortem glory of the martyr, the attempt at vengeance and assurance in an afterlife reward – the assurance is firm, even absolute – can be the source from where this strength is found. The idea of a reward for death for the sake of taking other lives is an idea, indisputably snatched from the greater spiritual context and then greatly distorted, sets into motion violence to a greater extent than does poverty, illiteracy, and the absence of democratic procedures.
The Islamic billion is not the poorest in the world; people who infiltrated night clubs and restaurants with explosives on their bodies, and also those who forced the world to shutter ten years ago, did not fear unemployment. Poverty is not treated with rockets; with the money that is spent each year for terrorist activity by Hamas alone would have been enough for several schools, hospitals, or production power.
Learning about the lives of the suicide attackers also refutes the notion of their ignorance – many have a university degree. Finally, democracy in of itself own does not protect from terror – it is often easier for police states to manage terrorists than it is for democratic states.
“We in the West,” writes sociologist of religion Massimo Introvigne, who studied Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in the Middle East, on the nature of modern violence “do not perceive suicide terrorism as a religious, prisoners as we are of nice but inaccurate post-Victorian views of religion as always sweet and cute, and certainly not associated with blood, battles and tears. There are suicide terrorists, even in the Palestinian region, who are not religious but rather secular and nationalist. However, suicide terrorists from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad (as well as from al-Qa’ida and most Chechen movements) perceive their deeds as religious.”
The fact that the whole network of terror is based on a religious foundation – many other researchers also insist on this – does not mean that this network is not rooted in the global economy and politics. But an accurate diagnosis leads to a true acknowledgment: religion has a sting of hate and outside religion the disease is not cured only by military, financial, and political means.
How can this sting be removed from religion? This is a colossal calling for theologians, clergy, and religion philosophers, who dictate how “others” will be perceive in their spiritual traditions. Islam in this sense has long not been a monolith; the attempt to see the truth in other religions is not, of course, a main principle, but it always pulses in the Islamic intellectual thought. From this arise questions for Muslims, for example, the Turkish historian of religion Mahmut Aydin. If God’s grace is limited only to the followers of Mohammed’s religion, does it mean that those who are found outside the circle are doomed for lifelong punishment? Did all those who go the “true path” find this way thanks to their own efforts and having proved that other ways are ineffective and false? Did they become Muslim only because they were born to an Islamic family and in an Islamic country? Was their adherence to Islam an active choice, or is it simply a question of identity, which they acquired from birth? If being born Muslim is seen as an advantage for being saved, why did the Lord give such a privilege only to a minority and turn away from the majority?
In searching for answers to this question, the urgent necessity for new global ethics for all of humanity becomes evident. Many people in narrow circles of intellectuals, recognized hopeless romantics, have for a long time been talking about this necessity. These ethics, which are grounded in the Golden Rule that is found in Christianity and in Jainism, in Islam and in Buddhism, in Hinduism – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – need to finally become the foundation of educational programs in secular and religion schools around the world. Only a new matrix in the human thinking, which is an understanding of the absolute significance of God’s creation, his dignity, rights, and values, will stop the global violence. This can certainly be seen as utopian, but there are no alternatives in humanity. More precisely, in the conditions where religions fanatics are capable of seizing weapons of mass destruction, there is a desire to not talk about this alternative.