Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Derailment of Religion

As many invariably are everyday, today I was involved in a discussion about terrorism. The debate was stimulating, and greatly frustrating. I felt the compulsion to speak up.

We can all agree that terrorism is a scourge that we must defeat. The question then becomes how.

The implications of the discussion left me feeling very upset. Although nothing was made explicit, the overriding subtext was a microcosm for what I view as the whole problem with the approach to the "War on Terror" (aside from the fact that waging a war on an act rather than an actor is rather curious, if not senseless).

Approaching the problem of terrorism with the presumption that the answer lies in something inherent to Islam is both foolish and counterproductive, not to mention offensive. It is as foolish and offensive as posing a question such as "Is there something inherent to Christianity that makes Christian states more prone to the invasion and occupation of non-Christian states?" This is a ridiculous question that takes us no where toward resolving the issue of abuses of the laws of war, for example.

Equally, a state which is explicitly founded on religion and uses its religion as a pretext for all its actions, such as Israel, is never faced with a question such as "Is there something about Judaism which makes Jewish Israelis more prone to inhumane treatment of Palestinians?" Such a question would not be posed because not only is it racist, but also because it is counterproductive.

Yet, the world feels the compulsion to pose such questions about Islam without reflecting on the consequences, let alone the bigotry. I am not making these points in defense of Islam, but rather because I feel the questions are epiphenomenal and lead us down the wrong path. Lashing out in anger and shrouding oneself in delusions is not a defense strategy.

Combating terrorism requires that we stop thinking of the "other" as though they were Martians or bogeymen. People do bad things for rational reasons with whatever means they have. We must get to those reasons and address them, as well as stifle their means.

You can't fight what you don't know no matter how strong your convictions may be. All you end up doing is punching at air.



Blogger Eric said...

"equally, a state which is explicitly founded on religion and uses its religion as a pretext for all its actions, such as Israel..."

Interesting...I don't know where you'd get the idea that these two points were true. The Israeli government does not impose halacha (Jewish law). It's a free country. However, it's possible that you had one of the many Muslim countries--
that do impose religious law-- in mind when you wrote this.

2:19 AM  
Blogger richards1052 said...

Eric is profoundly wrong in his analysis of Israeli society. In far too many ways it is, if not an outright theocracy, then a state defined & constrained by religious attitudes & principles.

I'm not arguing against the notion of a Jewish homeland, but I am arguing against a state which allows rabbis to dominate intimate personal relationships like marriage; and which allows religious leaders to determine on behalf of the State who is Jewish and who is not; which allows a religion to determine whether a nation (or if not a nation, then certainly one of its major cities, Jerusalem) will essentially close down on Shabbat. All these smack of theocracy or at the least religious encroachment on secular life.

I'm a Jew, but I don't want a rabbi telling me who I can or can't marry, whether my children are or aren't Jewish for the purposes of their nationa identity, and whether I can take a public conveyance on Shabbat.

I would not go so far as Dahlia in saying religion is a "pretext for all its actions," but it is a pretext for far too many of its actions.

Dahlia, of course you're right about current discussions of terrorism. Many, many people have far too many prejudices & are far too ignorant of Islam to speak or think clearly on the subject. I know in my blog the level of hatred & prejudice is sky high toward Muslims and even folks like me who are sympathetic to non-jihadist Islam, and Palestinian & Israeli rights to have states of their own.

5:50 AM  
Blogger Dahlia said...

Thanks Eric for your comments:
Please note that I was not referring to states that are explicitly theocratic. I was merely making the point that analyzing an issue from a theocratic lense is counterproductive. I could have made the same point from the persepctive of Bhudism, etc.

Richard: I couldn't agree with you more!

7:06 AM  
Anonymous sauron said...

I have known several U.S. military personnel stationed overseas. In several Arabic nations the use of a Bible, or Christian symbols is strictly forbidden. Israel has no such State Laws. Nor does Japan, India, Australia, Thailand, or any other nation with religious freedoms.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Dahlia said...

The issue I am raising here is not about what state allows religious freedoms and which ones don't. The point is that religion should not be used as a lense to judge why people do what they do. People do what they do for their own rational reasons - sometimes that keads to very bad behavior, but it would be damaging to our own ability to address these issues if we blind ourselves by blaming it all on religion.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous sauron said...

"religion should not be used as a lense to judge why people do what they do".
What other option does a rational person have when the murderer claims his religion as reason, purpose, and sole motivation for violence and death???

11:32 AM  
Blogger Dahlia said...

Actually, a whole host of reasons are always on the laundry list with religion being somewhere toward the bottom, but that really is neither here nor there. More importantly, a rational person must keep in mind his objective, which I presume is the stopping of terrorism. If religion were the root of the problem, and that religion is Islam, then we would have 1.5 billion terrorists on our hands. We would also not not be facing any other terrorism in the world form any party that was not Moslem. As a rational person, is that what you are saying we are facing?

2:19 PM  
Anonymous sauron said...

The English and Irish were at each other for 1000 years after the Romans left Isles.
When Henry VIII broke from Catholic Church in 16th century the violence exploded for 500 years.
Although Catholic teachings do not encourage killing Englishmen, the fact became real.
The English came to realize that the million Protestants in Ireland had not once bombed a building, kidnapped an official, or attacked the military in London, Belfast, or anywhere else.
They decided all Catholics were not in militant branch of IRA, but all militant IRA were Catholic.
John Lennon was inspired to write: "Imagine no Religion, nothing to kill or die for".
I disagree, in that the religious break was not the reason for violence, it only drew a line for each side to choose a side.

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To see the other one as a bogeyman...

Muslims often say on non anonymous blogs and public debates that they have respect for Christians but I have never experienced that respect in real life and I'm a Christian. I doubt more and more that this respect really exists.

The West is often the bogeymen for Muslims. The Imam of a mosque in my birthplace in the Netherlands has made the open call for the destruction of America. And this happened before Bush invaded Iraq.

I also notice more and more violence by Muslims in my country against gays and lesbians. It seems to me that Muslims often see gays as bogeymen. There is a fast growing tension in a lot of Dutch companies between gay employees and Islamic employees.

I don't know if it is a cultural thing or a religious thing but those Muslims say it is based on the quran and the hadith.

Why don't Muslim organizations act more and try to teach Muslims more tolerance for gay people?

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dahlia says:

Equally, a state which is explicitly founded on religion and uses its religion as a pretext for all its actions, such as Israel, is never faced with a question such as "Is there something about Judaism which makes Jewish Israelis more prone to inhumane treatment of Palestinians?">

I don't think this is true, Muslims very often portray Jews as violent and power hungry people. And so they portray Judaism as a violent religion. (A lot of Islamic youth in France want a France free of jews!) Muslims often strongly believe that most acts of people are based on their religious believes. Even the communistic invasion of Afghanistan is often portrayed as Christian crusade.

7:35 PM  
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6:35 PM  

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