A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Monday, July 11, 2005

On root causes, and solutions thereof

I was struck by a story from my home state in which a man whose mother lay dead a few feet away and was being chewed on by their dogs, ate a pan of fried eggs unfazed by the situation. There is truly a thin veil between what we consider civilization and our baser human behaviors.

When death is not particularly foreign, life becomes a cheap commodity and the door is open to all sorts of horrifying actions. Add in a moral underpinning that dictates persecution of those whose very existence is an insult to your religion, and it becomes easy to rationalize the taking of lives.

People outside this framework are horrified by the actions of these zealots, and ask about root causes, and some even wonder if the Soviet Union didn't have it right its attempt to kill God.

"Maybe we should just outlaw all religion" goes the plaintive, or often hostile, secularist.

As heartfelt the desire is to find a magic bullet that would end all strife though, the bottom line is that there is no simple answer. Or rather, the only simple answer is far too horrifying to consider: Isolate, imprison or kill all those who participate in "dangerous" activities.

"Religion is a crutch for the ignorant" goes another saying. And to a certain extent that is true in my opinion. However, I know a great many highly intelligent people of faith, who are comfortable in that faith as well as with things like liberal democracies and modern science.

"More wars have been caused by religion..." goes the battle cry of the secular pacifist.

Yes, religion is a very effective lever by which to manipulate the ignorant into action against perceived threats. A religion like Islam, which is essentially unchanged from its primeval roots both in understanding of the physical world and in its practices, provides a ruthless tool with which to prompt terrible action.

It is natural and indeed, it is commendable to look for reasons why one is hated and to try to fix the problem peacably. However, it is childish to look for a solution while denying the base reality. Reducing the cause of war to Religious imperative is not logically sound. If one is an Athiest, one cannot at the same time deny the existence of God, then blame God for war. More steps are required in the analysis of violence.

If you want to get to root causes we eventually are faced with a nut we cannot crack, because if we are to be completely honest with ourselves we must acknowledge that the root cause of violence is as old and inescapable as that which provided impetus for the first caveman who bashed his neighbor's brains out for a share of food or a mate: greed.

And the foundation of greed is nothing more than the instinctual understanding that survival favors those with the most stuff.

The antidote to this is not isolationism, or outlawing religion, or endless appeals to the better nature of despots and their adherents. The fully distilled cause of their violence is not treatable, because it is part of what makes us human.

And the more sophisticated causes fomented by manipulative religious zealots have been ingrained in the pliable youth of their culture for the past 40 years. They have been trained from their earliest days to see violence as a justifiable and sacred right. There is no easy and peaceful answer to the threat of Islamic fascism.

Because as long as a group of people has an easy and familiar relationship with Death, both its inevitability and its use as a tool, they will use that tool against those who cling more desperately to life than they.

Because, the products of extreme Mosques and Madrassas proclaim "You love life and we love death"

Because Muslim who were born in U.K. have been molded into extremists with promises of glory and earthly and heavenly reward:
"When Allah said in the Koran 'kill and be killed', that's what I want. I want a martyr operation, where I kill my enemy." and "The mosques say one thing to the public, and something else to us. Let's just say that the face you see and the face we see are two different faces," says Abdul Haq. "Believe me," adds Musa, "behind closed doors, there are no moderate Muslims."

At some point, we have to accept these extremists of the Islamic faith at their word. The Koran divides the world in two: Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb. Literally the "house of Islam" in which lives the true believers; and the "house of War" in which lives the "kuffar" or infidels. The word of Allah demands Islam's spread to bring the rest of the world within Dar al Islam. And the permissable evangelical methods explicitly include violence and murder.

There is no treating with such a fascist ideology. Christopher Hitchins outlines some of their published grievances brilliantly:

The grievance of seeing unveiled women. The grievance of the existence, not of the State of Israel, but of the Jewish people. The grievance of the heresy of democracy, which impedes the imposition of sharia law. The grievance of a work of fiction written by an Indian living in London. The grievance of the existence of black African Muslim farmers, who won't abandon lands in Darfur. The grievance of the existence of homosexuals. The grievance of music, and of most representational art. The grievance of the existence of Hinduism. The grievance of East Timor's liberation from Indonesian rule. All of these have been proclaimed as a licence to kill infidels or apostates, or anyone who just gets in the way.

For those adherents to an extreme brand of Islam, we who struggle outside their faith have only one viable solution: We must deliver them to their God while aquiescing to none of their demands. We cannot allow for any corporeal profit to be realized by those using terrorism as a means to an end against societies that hold sacred the ideals of tolerance, (classic) liberalism and democracy.

Meanwhile, as Israpundit suggests in the "You love life..." link above, we must treat with the moderates of that religion, and hope for a reformation that will marginalize those fundamentalists who would have us all submit to the yoke. As challenging an ideal this may seem, there is hope that Islam can learn tolerance and moderation.