Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pernicious Beliefs

The terrorists need to be condemned and remembered for what they did,” Dr. Ahmed said “but when you associate their religion with what they did, then you are automatically including, by association, one and a half billion people who had nothing to do with these actions and who ultimately the U.S. would not want to unnecessarily alienate.

Akbar Ahmed is the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University in Washington D.C.  He is referring to a seven minute film, 'The Rise of Al Qaeda' to be shown at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City. This film is creating controversy around how Western countries speak about Islam and Muslims. Unlike Dr Ahmed I cannot see how it is possible to disassociate Islam from the World Trade Center massacre. The outrage was undertaken in the name of Allah, and so those who must reshape what is undertaken in the name of Allah are those who make up the majority of our world's Muslims. The new museum's curators are responding to the victims' and the general public's deep anger.  Denying the Islamic nature of the 9/11 atrocities does not serve truth. Indeed to pretend that Al Qaeda is an organization somehow disconnected from Islam is absurd. Wahhabi Islam is at the core of its raison d'etre.

The dilemma of how best to respond to the excesses of religious crusaders also applies to how we in Western societies respond to the Creationist crusade of fundamentalist churches. No-one will be physically hurt by the teaching of this absurd notion in American schools, but the wider Christian community needs to step up to the plate and push back much more aggressively against a deeply anti-science notion that both denies and seeks to supplant what the rest of us see as demonstrably true. The same need to be counted applies to non-Wahhabist Muslims. We who are non-believers are mostly bystanders in that we do not have the understanding of religious nuance required to argue effectively against the idiocies of belief preferred by Jihadists and Creationists.

Both violent adherence to Islamic Jihad and the intolerant Creationism of some Bible literalists are profound affronts to the rational and civil society we have been trying to nurture in the West since the Age of Enlightenment. Moderate believers benefit from a tolerant polity. We need to hear a lot more from them to counter the  highly exclusionary doctrines propagated by their coreligionists.

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