David Waywell responds to Hamish De Bretton Gordon’s article from Tuesday arguing for air strikes in response to the Paris atrocity.
Will the world ever be the same again?
We ask ourselves this after every major atrocity.
We wonder how we will cope with the ‘new reality’ as it’s often called. How can we go back to living the life we previously led knowing that such horror can be committed here in our civilized midst.
The truth is that most people do go back to their lives. There is no ‘new reality’, just a continuation of the old brutal reality which we now think we understand fractionally better. When Joseph Conrad warned that London was once one of the ‘dark places of the earth‘, he might well have been speaking of any city at any time. He could have said the same about Paris in 2015. All civilised places have in them the potential to return to darkness.
We carry this double nature within us; the dark and the light fighting for that which we might once have described as the moral dominion of our soul. Perhaps it’s only right to still call it that. The soul remains one the last unexplored frontiers of science and all we can really say about it is that the light largely prevails. Most of us are rational creatures, broadly humane and liberal. Most of us do not kill people, though some are happy if their government does that for them. Most of us are tolerant and, alongside our resilience, tolerance is going to be the great defining virtue of the twenty first century. It is right that it should. In the aftermath of the Paris atrocity, there was a great surge of voices saying the same thing: do not blame Islam for this heinous crime.
It is admirable that people could say that even as innocent blood lay still wet on the streets. We cannot say that enough. Islam is not to blame.
It’s worth repeating. Islam is not to blame.
Religion is to blame.
Religion remains the retardation of our species, elevating misery in the name of purification, penance or sacrifice. Religion asks us to forgo the common bonds of our humanity and replace it with an uncommon bond with an unseen God or gods. Religion is ignorance promoted over knowledge. Religion is a willing vessel for every petty hatred, human envy, and indoctrinated lie. Religion is the weapon used by the cunning few to motivate armies of the bigoted and gullible. Religion is to tribes what law is to civilisations. Religion was the cause of our dark past; might yet be the cause of our dark future.
Across the globe, religion continues to kill people in the name of ancient superstitions. We wrongly single out Islam when the world is burning hot with hatred born out of every outlandish myth the human mind is capable of fashioning from nothing. Kashmir could well be the scene of a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India. In Myanmar, the Buddhists are at war with Muslims. Across Africa tribal conflicts rage in which all manner of heinous brutality is committed by people who practice animism and old-fashioned witchcraft.
Take a step down from war and you find religion behind some of the worst practices of human kind. Female genital mutilation bears the authentic stamp of ritual as abhorrently practised across North and Central Africa and into parts of the Middle East.
Another step down, sectarianism is still evident in Northern Ireland, pitting Protestant against Catholic. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t accept blood transfusions because it is prohibited in their faith. Meanwhile, Scientology continues to attract attention because of its links to Hollywood but it is really a grubby modern cult that divests people of their individuality whilst building up the golden edifice of its deeply materialist temples.
More generally, religion still crushes free thought and independent spirits. Religion lies behind the restrictions of the individual, represses children’s intellectual growth, a woman’s right over her own body, the gay man or woman’s rights over their own lives. Religion is the source of the denial of science, the one evidential factor behind the improvements we’ve enjoyed in the last two centuries in health, living, and knowledge.
People ask how we counter the poison of Islamic fundamentalism without victimising Islam. It is the wrong question. What we should ask is: how do we defeat religion in all its ridiculous guises?
We do not defeat it by going to war. Whilst you can bomb people back to the stone ages, you cannot bomb them into modernity. This is not even war, even if it is understandable that Francois Hollande described it as such. There is no nation with whom France can fight. Bombing ISIS territory might, in the short term, produce tangible results. It inflicts pain on the perpetrators, reduces their numbers, and assuages the impotence we all feel at this time. Yet in the long term the effects are less permanent. Killing martyrs feeds the jihadist monster, producing more fighters willing to annihilate themselves for their medieval cause.
Other solutions are equally outlandish. Some have advocated the right of civilians to carry arms but guns do not protect against suicide vests. Even if they could and were expertly handled in every crisis to take out only the terrorists and save multiple lives, the corollary would be that you exchange a few lives for the many lost to gun crimes, suicides, and accidental shootings which would rapidly escalate across any nation so foolish as to liberalise gun ownership.
The long term solution to radical Islam is to counter all superstitions that restrict our freedoms, whilst avoiding new superstitions created in the name of revenge. All superstitions are lazy and quickly attained, like believing all people who follow Islam are evil, that we need more state surveillance to protect our freedom, and that drone attacks, Special Forces, and surgical strikes are the answer.
None of those are objectively any more demonstrable than the lie that all religious people are bad. Because, make no mistake: Pope Francis is no doubt a good man and so too is the Dali Llama. All religions have their paragons and saints. People of all faiths, all ethnicities, backgrounds, classes, creeds, and colours can have kindness in their souls. If religion were all bad, it would not be the source of many of our greatest accomplishments. We would not have Michelangelo’s Pietà or Bach’s St Mathew’s Passion. Yet we must always remember that it was Michelangelo who carved his Pietà and Bach who penned his Passion. Such goodness, genius, and, yes, even godliness, lies within and not beyond the sphere of human activity. To advocate any religion is to advocate a long outmoded habit of thought that demeans us all by placing faith before reason and gods before people.
In that respect, today is no different to yesterday and it is no different to tomorrow. We move forward by keeping our minds open to scepticism and our hearts clear of dogma. Educating the world to this simple truth is the only way we defeat the kind of barbaric thinking that left 129 people dead in Paris.