Terrorism is and will continue to be morally permitted in our society, so long as it is cloaked by religion. We don’t question religion nearly enough and it is given the same privilege and respect as race. What if religion really is a major contributing factor to terrorism? Our governments and our politically correct society will never reach this conclusion, while religion is given the same level of respect as race, skin colour, gender, ethnicity and sexual preference. The difference between religion and these other things is choice. Religion is a choice. The others are not. It may argued that in a lot of cases, religion isn’t a choice, this is quite true and surely only strengthens my claim that it deserves ridicule. We need an open an honest discussion to be carried out by world leaders on the role that religion plays in justifying terrorism. “There is a direct link between the doctrines of religion and religious terrorism. Acknowledging this link remains especially taboo among political liberals” (Harris, 2005). Until the day that this truly ceases to be taboo, we will be morally permitting terrorism.
The word terrorism has proved a difficult word to define, however for our purposes we will simply say that it is the use of violence or fear in the pursuit of enforcing an idea. Terrorism, by that exact definition is carried out on a daily basis by people who aren’t even aware of it. Consider this statement from a mother to her young child, “You have to do the right thing or else God will find out and you will end up in hell away from mummy and daddy”. At first glance it seems innocent enough, perhaps even good, after all she is trying to teach the young child to be good and do the right thing. However the invoking of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent being onto the mind of an innocent child and have the child think that he must obey, is a dreadful thing to do as we shall see in more detail later on. I intend to argue that this seemingly harmless act is in itself a form of terrorism and that sadly it paves the way for the horrendous acts we all think of when we here about terrorism.
In theory “Terrorism [is] immoral wherever and whenever it is used” (Coady 1985, p. 58). It is wrong if the US do it and it is wrong if IS do it. It should never be used as a means for gaining anything and it is surely does more harm than good. Even if the driving force or motive for it is generally considered to be good, it still falls short. There simply must be a better way to promote one’s idea. The issue I am raising however is not with the theory of terrorism, but with the practice of it. Our world can and does condemn many things in theory, but in practice it allows them on a daily basis. Smoking is condemned as bad for health by the majority of health professionals, politicians and everyday citizens. However it is perfectly fine to walk down the street puffing away. It can’t be made illegal because the governments of the world make enormous revenue from the taxing of cigarettes. My view is that terrorism is analogous with smoking and respect and tolerance for religion is analogous with the revenue. As it stands today, any government that tried to illegalize religion would become very unpopular and fail. The same could be said if smoking was made illegal. So it can be seen that there is a distinct difference between the theory and practice of something. I am putting forward the idea that by showing religion the unequivocal respect it has, we are morally justifying terrorism in the name of religion.
The almost complete lack of proper criticism and questioning of some of the central tenets of all religious faith, is endorsement on any possible connection that they have with terrorism. It is not adequate to simply say that terrorism is unjust, immoral and always wrong, but then on the other hand fail to consider one of the possible causes. By ignoring this possible connection, progressive action on the matter is impossible. Nothing can be done about it, so it is given the moral green light.
The task now is to draw the connection between religion and terrorism. I intend to argue that all three Abrahamic religions justify terrorism. An analysis of the Bible and the Koran is the best place to start. These texts are the most recognised sources of religious inspiration in the world.
“See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32). This is surely a direct command to not cherry pick.
“If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery”. (Deuteronomy 13:6-10)
This is obviously not something you would expect to hear on a Sunday morning in church and most would be fast to argue that no Christian or Jew really thinks that. This is the problem, even mentioning a passage like this would be considered bigotry. But hang on, this is in the Bible. If you follow the version of Christianity that suggests that the bible is the literal word of your God (like 50% of the people in the US do), the ever watching, all powerful and all knowing creator of the universe. Then surely there is very good reason to take this seriously, after all it might help you or your family get into heaven. Now it only takes a very small proportion of people to take this message literally and use it to do horrendous and terrible acts. The very basis of the passage above is, the use of fear to turn people away from believing in other gods. This is terrorism. So a devout bible literalist armed with a quote like this and the knowledge that billions of people worship other Gods is surely a recipe for a disaster. The sad reality is that passages like the one above can readily be found in both the Bible and the Koran. They incite terrorism and they are accepted by Religions all over the world. It may be a minority that actually interpret their religion literally to the point of terror, but it is a majority that refuse to acknowledge this fact.
The main theme of all religion is the notion of faith. Faith is the complete confidence and trust in something without any evidence or proof. Faith is actually a virtuous quality for one to have if religious.
“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29
This is a very dangerous theme. Belief in something without reason and in most cases ignorance of reason can surely lead a person to do almost anything in the name of God. “Once a person believes – really believes – that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one” (Harris, 2004).
Now throw in the promise of eternal happiness in the afterlife and we have reached a position where it would be strange not to believe in some religion or another. This is most likely one of the main reasons most people do believe. The issue arises, as Harris points out, that when a person believes that the lack of uniformity of beliefs of others compared with his own, is detrimental to his ascension to heaven, he would surely do anything to rectify this lack of uniformity. This is a scary thought without even mentioning the notion of martyrdom.
“The believers who stay at home—apart from those that suffer from a grave impediment—are not the equal of those who fight for the cause of God with their goods and their persons. God has given those that fight with their goods and their persons a higher rank than those who stay at home. God has promised all a good reward; but far richer is the recompense of those who fight for Him…. He that leaves his dwelling to fight for God and His apostle and is then overtaken by death, shall be rewarded by God. . . . The unbelievers are your inveterate enemies.” (Koran 4:95-101)
Here we have an open invitation to war, terrorism and martyrdom. It even goes so far as to say that those who don’t fight are considered less in the eyes of God. A person reading the Koran as though it were the literal word of God, would surely have no qualms about taking the lives of those who don’t believe in its message or supposed author. Aside from not feeling bad about this, the reader would likely feel as though they were the most loyal follower possible.
Why do the vast majority of people on this planet fail to see the connection between religion and terrorism and how many more lives must be lost before their ignorance is lifted? Until this happens terrorism will be permitted in practice and by morality.
Why are you focusing on only one part of terrorism, don’t lots of people do bad things without religion? Yes, they do. My reason for focussing on this one is because it is the one that is rarely discussed. Politicians readily point to politics or some extreme ideology as the cause or motive. They often, even go so far as to say that it had nothing to do with religion. They instead point to the terrorism as hijacking the religion. The only hijacking terrorism is usually involved in, generally comes before the term ‘of planes’. Yes, it may be a different interpretation of scripture to what most people follow, but it is an interpretation of scripture nonetheless. These terrorist organisations are religious organisations as well. The members are perhaps even more devout members of their religion than the moderates who have to cherry pick their way through the Bible or the Koran. Say that, just for instance religion does actually play a role in terrorism. One that could possibly be remedied by widespread thought and contemplation and awareness raising and honesty encouragement. Say that were the case, now what would be the chances of a government or society reaching that conclusion if no one is allowed to talk about it for fear of being labelled a bigot.
Australia’s own, Peter Singer, weighed in on the need for open and honest discussion with the use of evidence on the connection between religion and terrorism:
“To demonstrate that it is wrong to associate Islam with terrorism, the OIC might begin to compile statistics on the religious affiliations of those who engage in terrorism. By contrast, suppressing the freedom of speech of Islam’s critics merely gives rise to the suspicion that evidence and sound argument cannot show their arguments to be mistaken” (Singer, 2009).
To label my work as hate speech or bigotry would only support my conclusion more. So long as we live in a society where religion is not open to reasonable and fair criticisms just like all other matters of choice or preference, we will be morally permitting terrorism.
Coady, C. (1985). The Morality of Terrorism. Philosophy, 60, p.58.
Harris, S. (2005). Bombing our Illusions. [online] The Huffington Post. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/bombing-our-illusions_b_8615.html?ir=Australia [Accessed 28 Oct. 2015].
Harris, S. (2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. London: Simon & Schuster UK Limited, p .All Pages.
Singer, P. (2009). To defame religion is a human right. The Guardian, [online] p.-. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/apr/15/religion-islam-atheism-defamation [Accessed 11 Nov. 2015].
Various, (Unknown). The Bible. Bible Gateway.
Various, (Unknown). The Koran.