Archives for category: Religion

Many are aghast at the evil acts suddenly erupting all over the world – most of it in the name of jihad. Not a few are actually inspired by the mayhem and join the fight. The new world order is outrageously brutal; things had seemed so reliably predictable during the cold war. Popular pundits blame George W Bush or Barack H Obama.

Of course, in the old days we were not inundated 24/7 with continuous news streams covering all the wars and ethnic cleansings of the moment in faraway places: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Czechoslovakia, Uganda, South Africa etc. Total killed in such conflicts in the 20th century ~100 million. The average person was more oblivious in the good old days.

The scary thought is that things may actually have improved over the centuries. We don’t really know what life was like in distant times but this paragraph from a review in the WSJ of a book by Robert Harris on the life of Cicero suggests that evil has always been a prominent part of our social fabric:

“Nonetheless, Mr. Harris captures the senselessness of triumviral intrigue magnificently, not relenting as the players meet their gruesome ends. Crassus was slain at Carrhae in 53 B.C., Pompey on an Egyptian beachhead in 48 B.C., following his defeat at Pharsalus. Both were posthumously decapitated. Cato, having unsuccessfully attempted to take his life, tore the stitches from his wound, pulled out his intestines and bled himself to death at Utica in 46 B.C. Caesar was savagely murdered on the senate floor in 44 B.C. Cicero was proscribed by Octavian and Antony in 43 B.C., losing his hands and head soon after. Antony killed himself in 30 B.C., one year after the Battle of Actium.”

The religious myth that the devil has corrupted our pure souls, or some such, is wrong. Evil resides within each one of us, placed there during the process of creation. It is up to each one of us to find ways to control it. Society and culture tries to promote the good and discourage the bad but things can spin out of control so easily. Science, religion, philosophy and politics all have their roles to play.

Will there be an end to the personal crimes committed by sociopaths, murderers, rapists, thieves and the like? Probably not, but it does seem reasonable to tackle the phenomenon of social movements intent on killing, raping and pillaging. But is there a cure for the waves of mass cruelty and suffering that wash over humanity? The mystery answer has been blowing in the wind for a very long time.

Humankind should of course strive for improvement of our world, if only we could figure out what the problem is more precisely. Commitments to various communities (religious, philosophical, political, ethnic, national, ideological – even tribal or criminal gangs) have been the more obvious strategies for success, but they have actually been the very source of the mayhem  when a mob mentality supervenes. Philosophers tend to be peaceful by default, if for no other reason than they spend their time arguing with each other. Too often, however, fear of the other leads to a fight or flight confrontation.

Somewhat counterintuitively, the solution to this universal problem may reside in a fuller recognition of the important role of the individual. Communities should be organized so as to foster involvement by more individuals to understand and solve problems, and then to act for the common good. This may be the true source of progress. Morality is an emergent quality of a super-complex system of individuals acting independently in their immediate interests as they see fit. All that would be needed is a sufficient number of ‘virtuous’ people who are willing to make the effort – what exactly that means is for them to decide. It does suggest that we be a little more skeptical about the pronouncements of others who claim to know what we should accept as reality.

Mr Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim and prominent anti-extremist writes a refreshingly direct and honest piece in the WSJ on the existential threat violent jihadism presents to the world. Sympathy for the ISIS modus operandi is depressingly widespread and prevalent amongst Muslims. Especially those that live in western society! This is a vast and growing danger.

This is how he proposes to beat ISIS, with my thoughts in parentheses:

  • Everyone, Muslim or otherwise, should accurately and fully define the enemy. It is violent, theocratic, islamist jihadism. (The enemy is a subset of Islam, which most go out of their way to avoid saying.)
  • Muslims should not deny that Islamism is a real problem. (Almost all Muslim spokespersons tend to blame the West for provoking their unacceptable behavior. In other words, we have brought this upon ourselves.)
  • ‘We’ must engage in a propaganda war in order to “deny today’s Islamists and jihadists their ability to appeal to Muslim audiences”. The present is a continuation of decades of Islamist propaganda that has prepared the youth to yearn for a caliphate. (Such engagement is likely to  enrage the Muslims even more if it is perceived as coming from Great Satan, and such like.)
  • Reform theologians should be encouraged “to lay the foundations of a theology that rejects Islamism and promotes freedom of speech and gender rights—thereby undermining the insurgents’ message.” (There are so few of these reformers that their influence is negligible. If they question the authority of the ‘Perfect Messenger’ they would labeled as not true muslims anyway.)
  • Non-muslim countries, especially the US, should be actively engaged in the political, economic, social  and even military struggles of ‘Muslim’ countries. (That has not worked out so well thus far.)

In summary, if we are to win against the jihadists, we must “isolate them, undercut their appeal to Muslims and avoid a ‘clash of civilizations’”. (And if it does not work out it will be the fault of the West?)

There are major difficulties with this approach. The most difficult, in my opinion, is the extreme degree of fundamentalism that is entrenched and spread throughout the umma. Most  Muslim states adhere to and promote a very strict form of Islam. Hatred toward infidels is spewed from capitals and mosques throughout the world, reaching hysterical levels, not only in Iran but in many other places. Children are indoctrinated in schools. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has been promoting its fundamentalist ideology throughout the world by funding conservative Islamic centers everywhere.

Islam has a billion or more adherents. Solving the problems as enumerated by Mr. Nawaz is going to take a very long time. Success is unlikely, unless there is a global coalition to modernize and moderate Islam that is lead by Muslims. President Al-Sisi of Egypt is one of the few leaders that has stated this explicitly. What is needed is nothing less than an evolution of the faith from its present narrow insular state. It took Judaism and Christianity centuries to accomplish some of this, but not all. Recidivism can happen at any time.