More Delusions About Religion

I saw this Letter to the Editor in George Takei’s Facebook feed yesterday. I’m not sure which newspaper it’s from, but it’s probably an Australian one because the writer is from Kalangadoo, which is a tiny settlement in South Australia.

It’s not easy to read, so here’s my re-typing of it:

If you are worried about terrorism coming to our shores, then please cast your memory back a few decades, to a time when Northern Ireland was tearing itself apart.

Roman Catholics and Protestants were at war, and the Provisional IRA was clearly a terrorist organisation.

Yet Provisional IRA operatives were not referred to as “Roman Catholic terrorists”.

No-one suggested that Roman Catholics should be prevented from entering Australia.

No one suggested that Roman Catholic schools should be closed.

No-one approached Roman Catholics asking for a condemnation every time the IRA committed a terrorist act.

Roman Catholic churches were not desecrated in Australia.

And nobody suggested that Roman Catholic nuns should be banned from wearing a habit, covering their hair.

Because it would have been totally absurd (and totally counter-productive) to do so.

Just as it is totally absurd and totally counter-productive to start treating Muslims in this fashion today.

The current turmoil in the Middle East and beyond has nothing to do with religion, just as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland had nothing to do with religion.

The current turmoil has everything to do with greed, inequality and the struggle for power.

It is a direct result of a globalised economy.

If a minority group is economically disadvantaged and/or alienated, some individuals will eventually lash out at society.

This is not a feature of any particular religion, rather a characteristic of human nature.

This is why genuine asylum seekers should be welcomed with open arms.

Minority groups within the country should be made to feel valued and wanted.

The only way to fix this is with tolerance, acceptance and love.

Chris McColl,

I’m sure Mr McColl means well, but there are a number of logic fails and examples of lack of knowledge in his letter. I’ll go through them one at a time:

“… the Provisional IRA was clearly a terrorist organisation. Yet Provisional IRA operatives were not referred to as ‘Roman Catholic terrorists’.”

There is an argument that the IRA should have been referred to as Roman Catholic terrorists, and also that the multiple Protestant paramilitary groups should also have been referred to as Protestant terrorists. However, while both were clearly terrorists their focus was political, not religious. Unlike several other terrorist organisations around the world, their focus was not on which religion should dominate Northern Ireland, but whether or not the British government should. The two sides did not, for example, bomb their opponents churches.

“No one suggested that Roman Catholic schools should be closed.”

That’s because Roman Catholic schools were’t teaching their kids to go and fight, kill, and die for the IRA. There are some madrases and mosques where that is indeed occurring.

“No-one suggested that Roman Catholics should be prevented from entering Australia.”

This is a good point, and demonstrates the ridiculousness of the argument that all Muslims should be banned because a tiny percentage of them are engaged in terrorist activity. We know that most Muslims aren’t terrorists, just as we know that most Roman Catholics aren’t terrorists. I find it interesting that the letter writer focus in Roman Catholics here though. There were Protestant para-military groups too – perhaps he is a Protestant himself?

“No-one approached Roman Catholics asking for a condemnation every time the IRA committed a terrorist act. Roman Catholic churches were not desecrated in Australia.”

This goes back to the first point – that the goals of the IRA were political, not religious.

“And nobody suggested that Roman Catholic nuns should be banned from wearing a habit, covering their hair.”

This is not the same thing as Muslim women wearing certain dress. As much as anything we do is a choice, nuns choose to be nuns. Further, these days there are orders where nuns don’t even wear habits and women who choose to be nuns also choose which order they join. In many Muslim-majority countries, ALL women are required to dress a certain way whether they want to or not. They face severe punishment if they don’t comply. Outside of those countries, many Muslim women are made to feel that they are not being good Muslims and are letting down their religion if they don’t wear hijab, niqab, burqa, abaya, or whatever is the dress deemed appropriate within their community.

“The current turmoil in the Middle East and beyond has nothing to do with religion, just as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland had nothing to do with religion.”

This sentence can only have been written by someone who has no knowledge of the current turmoil in the Middle East. Much of the tension in the region is a result of the centuries old Sunni-Shi’a divide, which largely plays out politically but is religious in nature. Iran and Saudi Arabia are at odds because the first is majority-Shi’a and the second majority-Sunni.

During the rule of Sunni Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Shi’a were marginalized. Once the Shi’a gained power following the Iraq War, the first prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, marginalized the Sunni. The Sunni were already suffering due to the extent of the de-Ba’athification imposed by the US which meant even doctors, nurses, teachers, and minor government workers, all of whom had been required to join the Ba’ath Party to get their jobs, were sacked. They had no-one else to turn to except groups like DAESH for survival – DAESH paid their salaries just like the Ba’ath regime did, and the new regime wouldn’t employ them. When Maliki refused to sign a Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) it meant that the US had no influence in ameliorating his behaviour. He was pressured not to sign by Iran who promised all the same things the US had and were fellow Shi’a into the bargain. That meant that Maliki was under a great deal of influence from the government of Iran not to listen to the complaints of his Sunni citizens. (He didn’t listen to the Kurds either, but they had a nominal government to turn to.)

Syria realityIn Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite, which is a sect within Shi’a Islam. The current civil war started because of peaceful protests by Sunni who were being treated badly by the government because of their religion. When Assad started attacking his own citizens, including using barrel bombs and chemical weapons, they rose up against him. DAESH used the opportunity to move from northern Iraq into northern Syria. They were wealthier than all the other groups because of the areas they had taken control of in Syria and funding from Wahhabi supporters (mainly from Saudi Arabia), and so were able to pay their soldiers more. This encouraged some to defect to them who didn’t realize the type of group they were. Assad continues to receive support from within his own country because now that DAESH and other extremist groups are involved (e.g. Al Qaeda, Al Nusra Front) Shi’a and Christians are worried how they will be treated by Sunni extremists if they get control, which is a valid fear. Initially Assad’s strongest opponents were moderate Sunni groups but that is no longer the case, especially since the Russians became involved. Unlike the US-led coalition, which concentrates on attacking extremists, the Russians have been bombing the moderate opponents of Assad (despite what Putin tells his people).

Whichever country in the Middle East you name, part of the problem is the cancer of extremist Islam. DAESH wants to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate. The Taliban wants an extreme version of Islam imposed on the people of Afghanistan. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey has been forcing a less secular version of Islam on his country for some time and the recent coup attempt has given him the excuse the increase the pace. The problems in Egypt are between secular Islam and the more repressive form wanted by the Muslim Brotherhood. Ironically, the government is being extremely repressive in its approach to ensuring freedom. Pakistan has a nominally secular constitution but the conservative Islamic religious council dominates much of society so that their opinions are forced on everyone. The conflict in Yemen is largely a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’a Iran.

So, yes, religion has something to do with the “current turmoil in the Middle East.

“The current turmoil has everything to do with greed, inequality and the struggle for power. It is a direct result of a globalized economy.”

A globalized economy has been good for the planet. It has lifted billions out of poverty – the global poverty rate has halved in the last twenty years and a 2013 report by Oxford University predicted that acute poverty could be eradicated within another twenty years if the decline continues at current levels. Obviously there is a lot more to do and we have a long way to go until everyone has the kind of lifestyle most in the West enjoy, but we’re getting there. There are people who are being left behind but to blame everything on “greed inequality and the struggle for power” is simplistic. These things are part of the problem and must be sorted – they should be whether or not they’re leading to terrorism – but the role of religion, and in particular extremist Islam, cannot be ignored.

“If a minority group is economically disadvantaged and/or alienated, some individuals will eventually lash out at society. This is not a feature of any particular religion, rather a characteristic of human nature.”

This is perfectly true, but ignores an important part of the problem – currently the problem is an extreme version of Islam, Wahhabism, exported from Saudi Arabia to thousands of madrases and mosques across the world. There, imams teach that to kill and die for Islam is an honourable act. One of the most common verses in the Qur’an quoted in this context is:

And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter… and fight them until fitnah [rebellion against rightful ruler] is no more, and religion is for Allah. (2:191)

There are theological arguments about whether this justifies the actions of Islamist terrorists, but the point is that the terrorists themselves use verses like this one to rationalize their own behaviour.

“This is why genuine asylum seekers should be welcomed with open arms.”

Yes, they should. Unfortunately successive Australian governments have an extremely poor record when it comes to the treatment of asylum seekers. In fact, reading some of the horror stories that leak from their offshore detention centres it’s hard to believe that this is a modern Western nation we’re talking about. Further, according to Amnesty International:

The Australian government’s offshore operation on Nauru is surrounded by a wall of secrecy, with both Australia and Nauru going to great lengths to prevent the flow of information off the island. Service providers and others who work on the island face criminal charges and civil penalties under Australian law if they disclose information about conditions for asylum seekers and refugees held offshore. Nauru has banned Facebook on the island and has enacted vaguely worded laws against threats to public order that legal experts fear could be used to criminalize protests by refugees and asylum seekers.

Journalists in particular face severe restrictions on entry, with an $8,000 non-refundable visa fee and a protracted application process. Nauru has granted visas to just two media outlets since January 2014. Other requests have been rebuffed or met with no response. UN officials have been denied entry or in some cases have concluded that a visit would be impractical due to severe limitations on their access.

So there’s no doubt any decent Australian who got to know about what’s happening would have enormous sympathy for the situation asylum seekers to their country face and might have a knee-jerk reaction to the increasing anti-Muslim prejudice in that country. However, denying that religion is part of the problem just doesn’t help. Maajid Nawaz articulates why:

“Minority groups within the country should be made to feel valued and wanted. The only way to fix this is with tolerance, acceptance and love.”

Being a more inclusive society will help to stop future defections to DAESH. Many of the world’s leading political and military leaders have declared categorically that calls such as Donald Trump’s to ban all Muslims are counter-productive and make the world a more dangerous place. However, something also has to be done about those who are currently engaged in warfare. Wandering into a battle with the Taliban with flowers instead of guns won’t stop the fighting. DAESH calls their on-line magazine Dabiq for a reason – Dabiq is the Muslim equivalent of Armageddon and they want to expedite it.

Not all terrorism is tied to religion, but that committed by Islamist extremists is. It’s not the whole story but we ignore it at our peril. We in the West need a vast improvement in our foreign policies in relation to the Middle East. Though they’re better now than they have been at any time in history, we still have an awful lot to learn. The fact that we either created or worsened many of the problems in the region though does not mean we should forgive or forget the role of extremist Islam. That too needs to be addressed if the Middle East is to become a peaceful and stable and stable part of the world.

38 Responses to “More Delusions About Religion”

  1. Coel says:

    “No-one approached Roman Catholics asking for a condemnation every time the IRA committed a terrorist act …”

    There were regular condemnations of IRA terror acts by the Catholic church!

    “… just as “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland had nothing to do with religion.”

    Even if the IRA terrorism was largely political, the root cause was still religious. Through history tere always was a lot of people coming and going between the North or Ireland and Western Scotland, and they are basically the same people (the original “Scots” came from Ireland).

    But, at the Reformation there came to be very deep divides over religion, and there have been ever since. And that, really is the only fundamental divide between the two communities in Northern Ireland.

    Generations ago some bright spark decided it was a very good idea to group all the children of Catholic families and herd them in to one set of schools, and do the same with children of Protestant families to another set of schools. And we’ve been doing that ever since. A most excellent recipe for a divided society!

  2. Yakaru says:

    Excellent piece, Heather. Much to be drawn from the comparison.

    The writer, as you say, no doubt had good intentions, but doesn’t realize that he is projecting “our” distinction between religion and politics onto Islam. It winds up providing cover for extremists to burrow into more secular versions of Islam and influence them from within.

  3. Good article Heather!

    I agree with Coel above that religion was certainly a factor in the Northern Ireland troubles. In fact, religion poisoned the entire political process in NI ans still does to some extent. It is impossible to write about the History of Ireland without constantly coming up against the influence of religion and religious difference, at least after the Reformation.

    But it is also about group identity of which religion was an integral part. Take religion out of the equation and the differences largely disappear because the group identities and the walls between the groups disappear too.

    • Thanks. 🙂 You’re completely right that the history of Ireland cannot be written without mentioning religion, and often in a negative way. The Reformation made things worse as you say. Religion was an undeniable factor in The Troubles, but in a different way than it is in the Middle East I think.

      One of the things I found interesting about Northern Ireland was that once the political issue has been largely resolved, the most violent of those in both the IRA and the Protestant paramilitary groups often formed violent Mafia-type gangs. Religion and politics had given them an excuse and the resolution of that exposed them for what they really were – vicious criminals.

  4. rickflick says:

    Thanks for the information and perspective. I did not know that world poverty has been mitigated so effectively in recent decades. The analysis you present seem particularly strong in countering the ubiquitous “not religion” sentiment.

    • Gerhard says:

      I strongly suspect that if the majority of humanity enjoyed living standards comparable to current Western standards known reserves of many mineral resources would be wiped out in short order. More likely to see living standards converging somewhere below midway, although I think it more probable that there will always be a wide disparity, albeit with shifts in power.

  5. Gerhard says:

    There are more dangers to Muslim immigration than terrorism. Islam is as much an ideology designed to spread itself as a spiritual doctrine. There is a tendency to view current events with disregard for historical precedent playing out on a longer timescale. The history of Islam is of conquest and assimilation by many means and that process is certainly ongoing in Europe and the Far East. History hasn’t ended. Islam failed to conquer Europe by violent means and now it is being achieved by political means with mass immigration and the shutting down of criticism of it’s less savoury practices by appealing to Western guilt complexes. The Western conceit that exposure to enlightenment values will win over Muslim immigrants is foolish. What seems to be happening is the Islamification of whole districts in European cities.

    • That’s why we can’t allow extremists to stop us talking about the problems in Islam. Enlightenment values won’t win over everyone, but they do win over a majority. Societies that are more inclusive of immigrants have less problems. France has not done a good job of absorbing Muslim immigrants and as a result not only has a high level of terrorism per capita but has a huge number of people going to the Middle East to join terrorist groups.

      • somer says:

        I agree France has mistreated its Muslim citizens but I also think Islam is uniquely resistant to change and needs to change from within after realising it visits much the greatest violence on itself. Other religions do not have the uniquely insistent formula of being founded as evangelism by force, ascribe a limitless relevance to their scriptures through extreme punishment or reward in an eternal afterlife and have their own law with no recognition of secularism. The numerous instances of Muslim intransigence and difficult behaviour in non Muslim countries bear out this resistance to cultural integration, or compromise. Also unlike Christianity, philosophy is not any inherent part of the tradition of Islam (Eg re last point Bertrand Russell History of Western Civlisation, Taneer Edris, An Illusion of Harmony, Edward Grant, A history of natural philosophy etc)
        Also I don’t think that just power of persuasion and secular life works when you are outnumbered or likely to be outnumbered
        The future of World Religions: Population Growth 2010-2050

        • There are instances where Christianity was brought in by force too. South America, parts of Asia, Africa and Europe all saw it to some extent. Remember the Crusades weren’t just in the Middle East – there were also the Albigensian Crusades (southern France) and those in the former Viking kingdoms, and they were successful. The Conquistadors have a lot to answer for. The pope literally carved up the New World handing bits to different different denominations within Catholicism as spheres of influence. Anyone who remembers the wonderful mini-series or who read James Clavell’s book ‘Shogun’ will know that the Jesuits were “given” Japan and they arranged for Franciscans who tried to proselytize there to be imprisoned.

          However, modern Muslims do tend to be fundamentalist and that makes integration into a secular society more difficult. We need to support those who are promoting a more interpretive view of the Qur’an. Of course, no religion at all would be better, but that’s currently an unrealistic goal.

    • Ken says:

      The biggest Western conceit is that it can kill a few million Muslims in its quest to control oil and elicit no response.

      • Yakaru says:

        That sentence reads quite differently if you replace “Muslims” with “people”. Do you notice you ascribe an automatic religion-based reaction from people? Would I also be justified in “responding” (as you put it) to the terror attacks by setting off bombs in Muslim communities, because I feel solidarity with Western victims of terror?

        • Ken says:

          I don’t think it reads that differently, though the nature of the response might be different depending on the people. The reaction we’re discussing is Islamic terrorism, so the premise that their actions are religion-based is not mine. You wouldn’t “also be justified” to respond with terrorism as I’ve never said anyone is justified to respond with terrorism.

          • Yakaru says:

            Thanks for responding, Ken.

            I didn’t mean to imply that you might think terrorism is justified.

            But you did seem imply that “Muslims” are justified in seeing the Iraq war as an attack on *Muslims* en masse. I would agree they do see it like that, and surely that strongly indicates that religion indeed plays a distinct and strong role in all this.

          • Ken says:

            Yakaru, sure, I’ve never said anything else. Whether true or not, it wouldn’t be outlandish for Muslims to conclude that, particularly when radical Islamic groups actively use religion to propagandise and recruit. But I can only say again that insisting in the West that our priority focus should be on encouraging reform in their religion is worse than useless, it is counterproductive. Because religion is one of the tools used to organise resistance to Western violence, targeting religion must just seem like more of the same programme to them. If we care to decrease the violence brought by terrorism, the overwhelmingly important first step is to stop our own terrorism in those communities. Until we get serious about this, there will be no decrease in violence in response, nor is any meaningful reform likely to occur.

          • Yakaru says:

            I agree, basically.

            And I wouldn’t advocate “Westerners” trying to reform Islam, unless it’s by Western Muslims. What I do advocate is changing the position of religion in society. That gets push-back from the church. In Bavaria still allows crucifixes to be displayed in public buildings, but wants to ban head scarves and burqas. The very definition of bigotry.

            Soon Germans will discover that Islamic schools teach creationism (which is viewed by German Christians as a form of insanity), but they won’t know how to deal with it, because it would open the door to debating the role of the church in state education.

    • Dick Veldkamp says:

      You make it sound like there is one big coordinated effort to take over Europe. That is nonsense. The European muslim population is quite diverse, and comes from many different countries.

      There is no danger whatsoever of the “islamification” of Europe. Muslims are only 6% of the population, and nowhere are they in a position of power.

  6. Historian says:

    Yes, as you say, religion is a great factor in the motivation of terrorists. Also, most political leaders will not acknowledge this. But, let us say that most political leaders did acknowledge this. Beyond telling the truth, what would this accomplish? Would there be any less terrorism? I doubt it. Would teachers of extreme Islam suddenly change what they preach? I doubt it. Only through the moderation or abandonment of extreme religion will we see a decrease in religious based terrorism. So, while speaking the truth of what inspires Islamic terrorism is a step forward, but only a very small one. Islamic terrorism is now part of the modern world and will not go away any time soon no matter what political or moderate religious leaders may say. In the long run extreme religion and its attendant terrorism may fade away, but such a happy day is not on the horizon.

    • i agree that acknowledging it will not make it go away, but big things are not achieved by big steps, but by a series of smaller ones. Once the acknowledgement that religion is part of the problem occurs, that part of it can be better tackled. Groups like the Quilliam Foundation that are promoting humanist values and secular Islam will receive better support in their work. And while the extremist imams are mostly unlikely to stop, they will have less support. As with all religion, people tend to go to the place of worship that best fits their own values. If there is a choice between a moderate and an extremist mosque just getting more people to choose the moderate one will make a difference in the long run.

  7. George Millo says:

    Great article, but one problem: you speak of “anti-Muslim racism”.

    ‘Muslim’ isn’t a race.

  8. In the specific point of the IRA and The Troubles, it’s very much about religion.

    • I never said that The Troubles had nothing to do with religion – it’s undeniable that it did. What I said was that the primary goal was not that the Catholic Church should rule, but that the English should not. Historically, of course, the religious divide was even greater.

      The Catholic/Protestant thing in society was not just an Irish thing either, but common everywhere and still occurs in many places. Catholic priests are still insisting the children of so-called “mixed marriages” be brought up Catholic.

  9. Jeremy Tarone says:

    The questions I have for George and Chris are:

    If terrorism isn’t about religion, then why do the terrorists tell us it is about religion?

    “Furthermore, just as your dis-belief is the primary reason we hate you, your dis-belief is the primary reason we fight you, as we have been commanded to fight the disbelievers until they submit to the authority of Islam, either by becoming Muslims, or by paying jizyah – for those afforded this option – and living in humiliation under the rule of the Muslims.”
    “Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You.” Page 30.

    And why is it middle and upper class people become terrorists? Why do middle class teens and young adults from Western countries join ISIS or attempt to do terrorist acts on ISIS’s behalf?

    Why does Islamic terrorism exist in so many countries, including countries that have high quality of living?

    Finally, is it a good idea to throw open the borders to every Muslim, even those with retrograde ideas about free speech, homosexuals and women’s rights?

    I’d suggest checking out this video titled “What Normal Muslims Think – And Europe Fails to Understand.”
    Poorly titled, IMHO, not all Muslims believe the ideas espoused in the video, but very significant numbers do.

    It’s a video of Western European Muslims telling the viewers that they are normal Muslims, not at all extremists. He asks the hall filled with Muslims if they agree with the following:
    Should adulterers be killed?
    Should apostates be killed?
    Should homosexuals be killed?
    The answer of course is YES. Because Muhammad said it should be so, and Muhammad is the most perfect human who ever lived. What Muhammad taught should be law.

    Most Westerners would say those are indeed extremist views. And they are only a small portion of the views that large numbers of Muslims have.
    People who enter my country should be interviewed to ensure they will abide by our laws and that they will be a moderating force in our countries, not extremist.
    Extremism is about more than blowing up people, terrorists are the most extreme but not the only extremists.

    Muslims shouldn’t be prevented from coming to my country, but neither should they be excluded from the security checks and interviews that other immigrants go through just because they are Muslim.

  10. Foxer says:

    I mostly agree with your post. But I think your analysis misses how Western meddling has exacerbated the situation in the Middle East.

    During the past five decades, constant war and violent social conflicts in the Middle East have gradually destroyed the fabric of their societies and brought out the worst people to the top. Whenever outside powers have tried to make things better, they have made them incomparably worse. Arab-Israeli wars, Afghan war, Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf war, Iraq war, Syrian war, Yemen wars, you name it!

    I will not go into the past disastrous policy decision. Just look at what happened in the past few weeks. Americans began talks about coordinating with the Russians to bomb Nusra rebels. Nusra’s leader announced alliance with other “moderates”. Crazy Assad besieged Allepo and gave Nusra a golden opportunity to spearhead the attack to break the siege. The attack was successful and Nusra is now on top making it harder for the US to bomb it. On the other hand, Kurds are fighting ISIS while they are expanding their territory by the day. It is totally unclear who America will support if they clash with the Assadists, and they are already talking to the Russians to guarantee their territorial gains.

    It doesn’t matter how religious they are or how much they hate each other, the involved parties in this conflict could have reached a truce long time ago. The reason they don’t is not religion. It’s the fact that they all want to grab all the resources and the land for themselves and every single one of them is thinking about how they can play outside powers to get what they want.

    I don’t doubt that religion was one of the root causes of this conflict, but it is not what keeps the wheels of war going, at least not anymore.

    • You’re right, but in my defence I’ll say two things:
      1. As I ramble on a bit my posts tend to get quite long and so I try to stick strictly to the topic. There are always tangents to explore but I leave them out or every post would be about 10,000 words.
      2. The mess in the Middle East is a topic we discuss quite a lot on my blog, and all the stuff that the West has got wrong has been talked about at length (and we’ve all had some pretty major disagreements in trying to thrash things out). So, I don’t worry about not including that particular tangent in any one post because it’s come up before and it will come up again.

  11. Randall Schenck says:

    You have far more patience for this type article than I could ever have. George should stick with Star Trek and stay away from comment on these issues. Saying the Northern Ireland problem was not religious or the Middle East problem was not religious is kind of like saying slavery was not the cause of the Civil War. The Crusades were just political events. Goodnight George.

    • I put this comment on Jerry’s site, and I’ll add it here too:
      To be fair, I’m not entirely sure that George Takei does support the sentiments expressed in the letter by McColl. When I first saw the Facebook post it was headed “Funny” and that sentiment is more in line with the way Takei has responded to such things in the past. The word “Funny” seems to have been removed from his post. Whether this was because of pressure from others or because he changed his mind or some other reason I obviously have no idea.

  12. Randall Schenck says:

    Oh, I did not pay attention. Scratch George and insert McColl. Not sure why he would put the thing on his Facebook unless he liked it. Funny would not be my first thought but who knows.

  13. Leigh Jackson says:

    The actions of all terrorist groups in N. Ireland has been compounded by religious divisions, but religion, though a deep divider of Irish society, was not a driver of violence in Ireland over the last century . The battle has been between Irish and British nationalists, who belong to different Christian denominations. Neither side has made explicit reference to their religion as justification for the use of violence, nor has there been any undertone of religion justifying violence. Beyond the paramilitaries the main battle has been between the IRA and the British state. When the leading IRA leaders recognised that they were not going to defeat the British army, or break the will of British Governments to protect the sovereignty of the majority population of N. Ireland for many years to come, they balked at where the violence was leading: All out civil war between the two sides in N. Ireland with the the Irish State leaving the Irish Nationalists to their fate. A potential bloodbath of Syrian proportions.

    The situation with Islamist terrorism is profoundly more complicated. Something akin to the Christian wars of Reformation and Counter Reformation. Globalisation is destructive of tradition everywhere. Consumerism and the ever increasing gap between richest and poorest undermines the reduction of absolute poverty. Global Jihad is Islam’s fundamentalist payback for the existential threat which globalistion poses to traditional Islam societies. Not to mention the historical chickens of Western Imperialism coming home to roost.

  14. somer says:

    Thanks Heather, for another thoughtful article and your tireless attention to detail and good humour!
    In Australia we have had the former Grand Mufti of Australia, Shaykh Taj El-Din Hilali citing the sentence of a Muslim gang rapist in Sydney as a gross injustice arguing from Islamic sources his (non Muslim teenage) victims were responsible for the crime since they were not veiled, and out of the house, and not accompanied by a male relative. He also said in the same 2006 sermon, that non Muslims are all destined for hell and women are responsible for sexual crimes 90% of the time. This was translated by SBS translator Dalia Mattar, and appeared in full in the Australian newspaper (but barely any of it anywhere else). The Australian,Revealed: the Mufti uncut 28 October 2006
    Hilali preached from the Lakemba mosque in Western Sydney. Islamist sheikhs in Western Australia praised Hilali when the speech was publicised.

    In 2004 in Lebanon, an Australian spy caught Hilaly addressing Hezbolla, revealing he has four wives, thinks the September 11 attacks were a great thing for Muslims, that the Mediterranean should again be a “muslim lake”, that Islam is spreading hugely in Australia and the West, and that Muslims have far greater right to be in Australia than non Muslims because apparently we all arrived as criminals (indigenous people, political prisoners, free settlers and unlucky destitutes included). The transcript of this was revealed to the ABC but can only be found in archives The outcry following the disclosure of this recording forced Hilali to step down. Hilali had been accepted from Iraq because he opposed Hussein, but from the beginning he made controversial statements, including many anti Jewish statements. He speaks broken English and his spokesperson Keysar Trad, would always say Hilali had just been misrepresented or misunderstood, but he also has a reputation for disparaging Anglo Irish Australians as “unworthy descendants of criminal dregs” and for a range of vile Islamist statements, such as endorsing the stoning of adulterers. When he took a journalist to court for writing this, he lost the case. Judge slams Hilali spokesman, Keysar Trad
    Sheik Hilali arrived on a tourist visa in 1982, and his community refused to let the minister of the day send him back to Lebanon in 1988, so the succeeding minister, Gerry Hand, allowed him permanent residence. Since then Hilaly has also had a criminal conviction for smuggling.

    Trad is too often used by the media as an information source on Muslim opinion. His various roles have included founding the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia

    • Sorry this took so ling to un-spam (this and the other one ended up there because of all the links). I forgot to check the spam folder.

      No wonder there’s such high anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia if they’re not vetting who they support for roles like the IFAA better. I might write about Muslims in Aus soon because of something that came over my Facebook feed from the anti-Muslim side.

  15. nicky says:

    “…important part of the problem – currently the problem is an extreme version of Islam, Wahhabism, exported from Saudi Arabia to thousands of madrases and mosques across the world.” I agree, but I’d say that it is the *most* important problem.
    As said elsewhere, if the US had spent only a fraction of the more than 80 TRILLION (!) US$ spent on the Iraq war (and that is from quite a few years ago, should be even more now) on developing (e.g.) solar power, and that technology would have been freely or affordably available world wide, these madrases and mosques would be kinda short of funds, IMMO.
    I have great admiration for Obama and his administration, but here he fell short or did not really see the ‘greater picture’, after all, what’s just a few trillion? 🙂

  16. Paul Sousek says:

    There is so much wrong with this article! Let’s make a list
    1. Terrorism and religion reinforce each other.
    2. Because religions, being based on God-given dogma, have no need for persuasion. How can they take any merely human argument seriously, when they know what God says or wants.
    3. Terrorism is an effective way of forcing dogma onto unwilling population
    4. Northern Ireland was and still is all about religion.
    5. Roman Catholic schools should be closed down, and all religion based schools – many people said so and so do I
    6. Roman Catholics were approached many times to condemn IRA
    7. The religious hatred was concentrated on the perpetrators’ neighbours, which is why Australia escaped.
    8. Nuns don’t hide their faces, so no need to ban anything
    9. Middle East – nothing to do with religion? That must rank as the most stupid statement of the decade! It has everything to do with religion – and the closer the factions are the more hatred.
    10. How do terrorists distinguish which people to kill and which not? They ask them to recite the Quran. They don’t ask them how poor or rich they are, unless they want to also blackmail them

  17. Chris McColl says:

    Dear Heather, I came across your blog by accident, and thought it might be good to reply to your comments on my “Letter to the Editor” in our local paper (“The Border Watch”, Mount Gambier). I should explain I am not an academic, theologian nor historian. I am a self-employed apple grower, but I have lived in the Middle East for a few years and I am a keen student/observer of human nature.
    I was moved to write the letter after seeing the documentary “Chasing Asylum”, which details the Australian Government’s disgraceful treatment of asylum seekers. What I wrote originally was too long for the paper, so I cut it in half and sent two “stand alone” letters. If you would like to have a look at the other “half”, you should be able to find it with the following link:

    While I said “nothing to do with religion”, I probably should have said “almost nothing to do with religion”. Because I believe that is the case. I think there are some strong parallels with Northern Ireland and the Middle East. The details are different, the scale of the problem is different, but there is a common theme. If you are wanting to bring down Western imperialism across the Middle East, and Western society in general, then DAESH has a winning formula, and the likes of Trump, Turnbull, etc. are playing into their hands. This whole thing is not about religion, it is about politics, power, control (just as when the Irish were/are trying to get rid of the English).
    After I wrote the letter, I came across an opinion piece by the Archbishop of New York which expressed a similar sentiment. You might find it interesting:

    Regarding your suggestion that “perhaps he is a Protestant himself”, I was christened in an Anglican church about 59 years ago, and have hardly been back in one since. I have both Irish Catholic and Protestant heritage, but I could probably be classified as somewhere between atheist and agnostic.
    I absolutely disagree with your belief that globalization is good for people. Please take a look at some of the work by Helena Norberg-Hodge and Samuel Alexander, at the following links:

    Best wishes

    • Hi Chris

      Sorry it took me so long to approve your comment. I’ve been away from the computer since early yesterday afternoon.

      I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to respond to my blog. It’s always interesting to get a direct response. Also, as you note I made an erroneous assumption and it’s good to get that sort of thing cleared up. It’s also a good reminder to me not to make assumptions!

      Once I’ve had the chance to check out your links, I’m going to respond to your comments in a new blog post, separate from the initial post, though I will link the two posts. I’ll let you know when I’ve done that.

      I have had a look at your other letter to the editor, and I agree with all of it – it’s very good imho. I’ve written a couple of posts on support of refugees – an old one about NZ, and a more recent one following the fracas in the US.

    • Hi again Chris,

      I’ve now written a post in response to the points you’ve made here. I hope you find it interesting and weigh-in in the comments.


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