Religious Terrorism

By Dr Salim Ibrahim:

Religion is meaningful to us in so far as it makes a positive difference in the way we live. It becomes irrelevant when it becomes a cause for inconvenience to the civilised way of life. The re-emergence of terror in the streets of Europe is another wakeup call for the Western communities to accept and confront the reality that accommodating religious extremism is no longer sustainable without great cost. The war on terror is a war on two opposing ideas, two different ways of life. The latest terrorist attacks on Europe are a reminder of how deadly extremist ideologies of terror are.

It is important that the world unites to preempt and prevent these dangerous ideologies before they get rooted and become a mindset for the impressionable, for nothing is more destructive to the intellectual climate of a society than an irrational idea that finds its way to belief in the impressionable, and nothing can be more dangerous to the security of a nation than a violence prompted and permeated by an intolerant religious belief. Most religions encourage good and discourage evil. Thus, religion can be a harmless and a meaningful part of human life, whether it be as a belief-system or mere propositional acceptance. Religions fail to be so, only when they fail to adapt to the changes that happen around us, when they fail to see themselves as a choice, when they fail to recognize individual liberty. Extreme versions of religion have failed to recognize these values, showing themselves to be unwilling to reform and adapt, which is why we are seeing an increasing rise in religious extremism all around the world.

Perhaps we might wonder why a contemporary human being would buy into fundamentalist ideas. Nothing fosters more credulity than political and perverted versions of religion, asking that their followers surrender their mind to them, believe and accept anything they say. In other words, they consider doubting or challenges to their claims blasphemous, which is why there is no room for rational autonomy in them. It is partly because of this that there is no civil society in countries run by politicized religious systems. In a world like this, with little awareness as to what rights and freedoms individual citizens are entitled to have, it can only get easier to rig the world and steal the mind of the impressionable.

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There are two key factors that account for the violence that stems from the perverted forms of religion. First, their intolerant nature. History shows that perverted forms of religion have thrived on violent conquests for territorial monopoly and religious conversion. That is, such extreme versions of religion believe that everybody, regardless of race or identity, should succumb to them and convert to their way of life, taking this to be a God-given decree. Their failure to instil tolerance in their followers and their inability to reform and adapt to the world’s constantly changing environment and their insistence on imposing their world view on people is what has cost their value as an interpretation of religion. Religions are supposed to be peaceful, human-loving and an optional medium to relate to God. Yet extreme versions of religion want to impose themselves on people of all races and backgrounds.

Second, the nature of the political system in countries which have somehow given way to perverted versions of religion. A violent religion or a violent version of a particular religion has no place in a civil society. A civil society is marked by the hallmarks that make living together civil, peaceful and harmonious: principled commitment to the rule of law, social justice and human rights. None of these exists in such countries, leaving room for oligarchies and dictatorships to flourish, which would not be possible in the presence of a civil society. It is because of this that these regimes have no genuine intention or desire to create conditions under which a civil society is possible. Religious extremism is also a reason behind not having a civil society in such countries, because extremist ideologies are incompatible with the rights and freedoms that come with a civil society. Uprooting this kind of endemic violence requires both reforming these isolated extreme versions of religion, and also reforming the political systems that accommodate them in the Middle East. In order to be able to better give meaning and relevance to its values of peace and humanity, religion needs to reform, adapt to the modern world, recognise and accept freedom of choice, modernise and democratise its way of worship, reform its religious teaching, eliminate its perverted and distorted scripture interpretations that encourage and justify violence.

Dr Salim Ibrahim is a Kurdish academic who writes on the foundations of civil society, the meaning of life, individualism, and other contemporary matters.

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