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Allah, Jehovah, and Yahweh; the Qur’an, Bible, and Torah – to the average citizen of the world, the aforementioned might stand as symbols of peace and virtue (though perhaps a little archaic), but to radicals and extremists, Allah, Jehovah, and Yahweh are symbols of war, hate, and death. We spit on your beliefs, one might say as they burn another’s creed and lifestyle to ashes. My God is better than your God. 51 dead, at least 183 wounded in Iraq. God said it. I believe it. That settles it. Doctors murdered by anti-abortionist advocates. The great irony in all of this is that we live in a world where we believe people should be allowed to speak freely, and yet we also live in a world where one would be killed outright for explaining such a belief. Radicals and extremists make such a small minority of our world’s population, and yet somehow they dominate the landscape and make such a grand impact on our lives. This shouldn’t happen.
Before we can tackle the radicals, we must first identify the cause of such radicalism. The root of this problem is very deeply ingrained in society. Religion gave hope in desperate conditions and times to commoners, and it helped explain the world and its tragedies and eccentricities. As a result it held a place near and dear to our hearts, especially when perpetuated by the government, who could see this as an avenue toward more power and control. Since the only way to truly rationalize our misfortunes came from religion, we embraced it, grew up in it, immersed ourselves in it, until it became as natural as riding a bike. The backbone of a myriad of law codes and virtues come from religion texts. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, as some people like to have a moral code to live by; however, some powerful figures in society have abused religion. Knowing that they could be elected and put in powerful positions if they appeal to the masses, they’ve encouraged and even propagated this fanaticism as a political tactic. Through propagating this fanaticism, they have bred a new type of being: the religious radical – one who will join the army of “god(s)” and fight and die in its name. And so the tenuous relationship between the role of religion, the commoner, the radical, and the politician was formed. “In Pakistan, military governments depended on
religious parties for gaining legitimacy from the masses…. brought to power religious parties with a confrontational agenda against the West” ~ Arshi Saleem Hashmi, Senior Research Analysis, Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad. This has been going on since the dawn of religion and civilization and is one of the most deeply ingrained tenets of our society. It is the deepest root of the religious radicalism tree.
While these may be where the root of religious radicalism started, there are many other factors contributing to modern-day religious radicalism of equal importance. Much of it has to do with the poor conditions in the Middle East. The discontented youth are primarily the ones filling the jihadist ranks, since they are young, strong, easily manipulated, and see these organizations as a means of survival and changing the world . Feeling disillusioned with the government that has failed to provide them with financial support while economic conditions worsen, the youth have joined self-sufficient jihadi organizations. The state continues to fail to provide a financial incentive to get a respectable job, and so the unskilled youth are virtually forced into it.
Religious fundamentalism, in its purest form, is not necessarily a bad or even dangerous thing. The religious fundamentalist simply follows the every word of their religion to the letter. As most religions spread the message of peace, this should not be such a bad thing, and it, for the most part, is not. However, it is when religious fundamentalism begins to intertwine with nationalism that we encounter religious radicalism. “Radicalism, in contrast, is forward looking. The ideal state of affairs it envisions is in the future. Radicalism essentially involves an attempt to bring about (some) utopia.” ~ Edna Ullmann-Margalit, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Radicalism seeks to use the political landscape as a field upon which radicals spread their (violent) change. The Taliban, Hamas, and Al-Qaeda come to mind, all seeking to fight for their religion through violent political means.
Radicalism is not restricted to the Middle East. The Crusades were often waged on the East by the West, and yet seemed to always be out of a genuine feeling of religious fervor . The Crusades were (in the general sense) fought over the city of Jerusalem as the city held a spiritual meaning for Christians that they were just dying to get their grubby little fingers on. However, the Crusades expanded much beyond just seizing the city from the Saracens. Fighting with the Crusaders was very profitable (harkening back to the earlier point of poor economic conditions driving extremist organizations) for the commoners and leaders alike. So the West began to wage more wars, not only on the Saracens, but also the Moors, Slavs, and Pagans, under the guise of religion, but really for economic gain. Furthermore, the politicians could lead or go on such Crusades to garner public support and build a reputation. The Crusades merely serve as yet another example of exponential progression of religious radicalism and its inevitable endgame.
Religious radicalism also stems from a warped interpretation of the world. This goes back to the popular sentiment: God said it. I believe it. That settles it. Religious extremism allows for one to believe that all their actions are on behalf of God(s) and therefore that the god(s) are on their side. As a result, all their actions are justifiable so long as they do them with god(s) in mind. What this does is eliminate the possibility of compromise because that would be compromising one’s own creed, lifestyle, and beliefs, which is why it is at its most dangerous in political situations. The lack of compromise is one of the driving forces behind violent acts. Compromise is one of the most fundamental ideas of politics, even in the U.S., we are seeing less and less of it . Religious radicalism, therefore, refuses to jive with democratic politics, and as a result more often occurs in the third world, where the economic climate further perpetuates the issue.
This raises the question, “How does religious radicalism manifest itself in modern day society?” To answer this, we must first decide on a clearer definition for religious radicalism. Religious radicalism is a thing that comes in all shapes and sizes, and is often subject to some opinion. As Edna Ullmann-Margalit said, religious radicalism is distinctly different from a movement such as religious fundamentalism. She came to the conclusion that radicalism is forward thinking while fundamentalism is sticking to traditional values. In the world of the layman, however, religious radicalism is virtually synonymous with religious extremism or fanaticism. This layman definition is the definition that will be used throughout this report.
Harkening back the question of how religious radicalism manifests itself in the modern world, one must simply look at recent headlines. “Bomb kills scores of Shiite pilgrims in Iraq.” “Alabama Governor’s Offensive Remarks.” “Anti-gay Atmosphere Permeates Uganda”. “Chistian’s Death Verdict Spurs Holy Row in Pakistan”, as well as the controversy of the Muslim Cultural Center in New York, the Army’s new “spiritual fitness test”, these are all prime examples of how religious extremism is slaughtering our global, civilized society.
The bombs in Iraq were from Sunni extremist groups and bore the al-Qaida brand. "’He sped up and blew up his car near the checkpoint,’ said Khamas, a 42-year-old truck driver. ‘After the explosion, people started to run in all directions, while wounded people on the ground were screaming for help. I saw several dead bodies on the ground.’” This is the destruction that these common-place car bombings cause. NPR claims that in this particular instance of sectarian violence, its objective (and perhaps the objective of past actions like this) was to reignite civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites – the same civil war that brought Iraq to its knees some years prior. “Al-Maliki adviser Adil Barwari said the attacks show extremists' determination ‘to undermine the new Iraqi government.'” A common misperception with radicalism is that it is motivated by religion, and that would seem logical, except that religious radicalism is not so much a product of religion as a political organization utilizing Allah as a marketing tactic to bring in new recruits. Should these attacks succeed in rocking the delicate political landscape of the Middle East, the consequences are obviously very severe. This cannot be allowed to happen.
Another common misperception is that religious radicalism only rears its ugly head in third-world countries. This is simply not true. The United States is beginning to be infected by the extremist disease. The fallout regarding the Muslim Cultural Center clearly demonstrates our severe intolerance for people of other faiths. However, this is not the only instance of fanaticism in the U.S. The governor of Alabama recently made some worrying extremist comments, “Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother”. Anyone who is not a Christian will not be receiving support from Governor Bentley. It would seem as though our careful separation of Church and State is slipping away very quickly. It is enough to make one wonder how soon this will be common place, or even accepted. An NPR commenter wrote of Bentley’s remarks,
“I was a patient of Dr. Bentley for 30 years. He was my Dermatologist. I have known him to be a very devout and upstanding Southern Baptist, yet, sadly, I have also known him to be a bigot toward non-Christians, Gays, and Liberal-minded individuals. He has a belief system that involves artful manipulation of people's rights when concerning his religious beliefs. He and his wife are very aggressive Christians, and have little respect and no room for other lifestyles and viewpoints. To sum it all up, they are radical fundamentalists.”
That is when the new Army policies make one cringe. Recently, the military has added a new fitness program to a soldiers curriculum, that has nothing to do with intelligence or physical fitness, but rather has to do with their spirituality. Those who fail the test are greatly encouraged to go through a “computerized training module” which will teach the soldier about praying, meditating, or attending church. The test would make a soldier seem inadequate because in times of great difficulty, they do not pray or meditate. The test goes further by connecting flag folding with symbolism from God. Not only does this trespass on our First Amendment rights, but it also further blurs the line between church and state. This is not to say that religious extremism is completely in the U.S., nor is it anywhere near the scale of places like the Middle East, but it is an unnerving portent.
Areas besides the Middle East have also shown a growth religious extremism. A notable example of this is in Uganda, where there is an extreme anti-gay sentiment. After American evangelicals attended a conference in Uganda in 2009, Uganda turned extreme. At the conference, the evangelicals said, “The gay movement is an evil institution. The goal of the gay movement is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.” The blatant extremism at this conference is now driving the Ugandan media to hang all gays – furthermore, the media had also outed at least 100 gays, including names and addresses and popular hang outs. The Ugandan government is endeavoring to institute a law that would put all gays on death row. A Ugandan parliament member explained the actions of the bill thusly, “As God-fearing people, we know that man and woman were created to have a union, and we are very, very, very strong about this.” This is perhaps one of the most extreme forms of radicalism that has been witnessed in the recent months, and it is not a good sign.
Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani, has recently received a death sentence for defiling Muhammad, for defending her Christian beliefs. A cleric has put a 500,000 rupee bounty on her head to anyone that executes her, despite her already having a death sentence. The Taliban is now making threats of retribution if she is not executed. In no way, shape, or form, should any of this extremism be accepted. It is so incredibly apparent that it is resulting in countless deaths, taking something that seems so peaceful and twisting it into a weapon is a crying shame. What can one possibly do to stifle radicalism while we still have a chance?
In the short term, military action could be used to stifle some of the extremism. However, this should only be used as a last resort because the goal would be to stop bloodshed, not to create more. As stated by the IPCS “military action against the militants is a must”. Furthermore, military action would only work in the short term as repression never works for longer periods of time, as has been proven time and time again. There must be an easier solution.
And there is indeed, although it would be difficult to implement in developing nations, where religious extremism is most prevalent. The most effective solution would be education. By bringing schools to these countries, we can create a melting pot of ideas representing all creeds and beliefs (or lack thereof), and all different types of political views and stances. In so doing, we may just be able to breed a new generation of global tolerance. In more extreme scenarios, one could bring in experts of whatever theology, and teach that doctrine, not to convert people or to create religious fanaticism, but rather to educate people about that religion to avoid a radical interpretation.
While the international community may pitch in to help, this should not be overdone, but should be a slow process, lest we breed more resentment against western society, which may cause some people to accept radicalism as the alternative to the West’s (relative) “atheism”. Inflaming the situation would not help.
Another solution would be economic improvement. Since we have already established the roots of religious radicalism, and shown how poor economic conditions perpetuate the issue, it would seem obvious that helping to improve the global economy (as well as individual economies) would be a viable solution. How this would accomplished is a bit more tricky since the global economy is not exactly thriving. Thus, this would be a more long-term solution.
In a world filled with bloodlust and murders, exclusion and retribution, we have to find a beacon to look toward. For some, that might be Allah or Jehovah. Islam and Christianity are peaceful religions. However, when people take that beacon and twist it for their own gain, they scar and stain everything it has stood for, inflicting even a greater loss of life; they contribute to the bloodlust and murder that religions have spoken against. These stigmata must be removed from our society. If not, there will be dire consequences, greater than what we have already experienced. There are multiple courses of action to take, and though this is a sensitive issue, it must be done. Religious radicalism has crippled us for to long. So ignore the irony and take a stand for moderate policies. The world rewards those who take risks on its behalf.