The recent murderous terror attacks in Paris at the weekly “Charlie Hebdo” magazine office and the Kosher supermarket — as well as the policewoman who was killed in the street — probably elicited the same emotions in me that they did for many people around the globe. Horror, sadness, and varying forms of anger. While the horror and sadness likely form a strong consensus for anyone who follows the news, the “anger” is a much more complex issue.
First, against whom is the anger to be directed? The terrorists and their collaborators and affiliates, certainly. From the masses of articles I have read, there is little sympathy in free countries for the murder of journalists, however provocative or offensive their publications may be to some.
Much more complex is the responsibility/role of religion in instigating terror–in this case, specifically the Islamic religion. Most people bearing a liberal world view (and I rank myself, generally, among them), come out vociferously opposed to blaming an entire religion, numbering greater than 1.5 billion people and close to one quarter of the population of the globe. And while I generally agree, I do so with certain reservations — I will return to them shortly.
Just for argument’s sake, I’ll note neither the enormous numbers of followers nor the fact that Islam is such a widespread religion present a meaningful or valid rationale for not blaming the religion. After all, 500 years ago the Catholic Church in Europe — the most organized religion of the time — ruthlessly tortured and murdered Jews who would not convert or leave the Iberian peninsula. During this time (and much later), all the “advanced countries” were involved in the African slave trade. And years later, Nazi Germany and the Third Reich that implemented the “Final Solution” for the Jews, was supported by staggering numbers of people. So there is no safety in numbers, at least from an ethical standpoint.
However, it is clear that the 1.57 billion people spread across the globe are not collectively responsible for these murderous attacks, and I have no doubt that the vast majority of this enormous number of people are sickened and outraged at what is being done in the name of their religion. At the same time, one cannot ignore the elephant in the room. The terrorists in France, the coffee-shop killer in Australia, the beheader in Britain, and the recent murders in Ottawa as well as the Boston Marathon killers last year in the US all claimed to have carried out their murderous agendas in the name of religion. Not politically correct to blame a religion? Ok, let’s call it an ideology — an ideology of murder in the name of religion.
There is, and should be responsibility taken for the tacit support of extremist and murderous ideology. As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman pointed out in his Jan. 13 Op-Ed entitled ‘We Need Another Giant Protest,’ there is ambivalence in Europe about the question of what host countries should demand from new Muslim immigrants with regard to adopting western values. He further notes that “Islam has no Vatican” so that there are no single sources of religious authority — leaving some extremist forms of Islam (such as the Wahhabi/Salafi/jihadist one) to argue their authenticity; these extremist forms of ideology, according to Friedman, have not an insignificant degree of support — both in numbers and from states such as Saudi Arabia and others. By Friedman’s account, oil-addicted countries including the US and European states, need to combat this ideology and not tacitly support it as a result of addiction to their oil.
But what can be done to fight this radical ideology creeping into the mosques of Paris, London and Detroit? On Jan. 15, US National Public Radio journalist Terry Gross interviewed Maajid Nawaz, a former extremist Muslim converter — who spent 4 years in a Cairo jail — and is now running for parliament in the UK as a liberal democrat. Nawaz, who wrote an autobiographical book entitled ‘Radical: my journey out of Islamist extremism,’ advocates that the way to counter the recruitment of disenfranchised youth into radical extremist ideology is to make it “uncool.” He makes the comparison to communism, noting how today’s youth are not drawn to communist ideology because it’s unattractive — and that the same thing has to be done for radical Islamist ideology — it needs to be made unattractive.
So while it certainly is unjust to generalize and blame all Muslims and Islamic religion for the waves or terror carried out by murderous sectarian ideologies (often in the name of that religion), it would also be wrong to ignore the elephant in the room. History has shown that almost all religions and empires have thrived on slavery, xenophobia and unethical conduct (to say the least). It is now time to put ‘political correctness’ aside and address the issue of radical Islam. It is a serious problem, and not insignificant. And as both Nawaz and Friedman have noted, much can be done to combat the ideology of death and murder.