INSIDE THE MIND OF A HUMAN BOMB

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It is, of course, impossible for a layman to understand the workings of a suicidal mind. Even psychiatrists, whose profession apparently leads many of its practitioners to take the irreversible step themselves, can never be sure about a given suicide’s motivation. The subject deserves reflection, however, since we have all become targets or potential collateral damage of terrorist self-immolation.

Some people are prepared to make significant personal sacrifices, for a variety of reasons. One cannot but admire Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian paragons of generosity in sacrificing their personal comfort and gain for the sake of others. (Less admirable but often equally admired is the masochistic sacrifice some people make in renouncing certain of their essential human rights, by taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.) Then there are the heroes in both war and peace who are prepared to suffer and even die so that others may live. “Greater love than this …”. Christianity is built on the seminal belief in Christ’s self-sacrifice, voluntarily paying off an imagined ransom to an imagined God of Reckoning.

But suicide-bombers have marked the last twelve decades, since the “human bombs” of the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905, to the kamikaze pilots in the Pacific in the forties, to the human IEDs of Radical Islam today all over the planet. The 3800 young “tokkatai” (“special attack units”) of the Imperial Airforce, as well as the “human torpedoes” of the Imperial Navy, have been forgotten by people younger than I. Their motivation was more or less pure patriotism, though many realized the pointlessness of their desperate sacrifice in a war they knew Japan could never win.

Today’s terrorist suicide-bombers, and assassins like those who knew they could not survive their Charlie Hebdo mass-murders, have very different motivations. But the threat they represent is even more frightening than that of the Japanese kamikazes. These young men were the cream of the nation, students of engineering, literature, philosophy, law, the intelligentsia of an Empire brainwashed to worship its Emperor. They were the “broken jewels”, lauded by imperial military propaganda, in the the words of a classic 6th century text : “Better to depart as a broken jewel rather than live intact as a common piece of pottery”. Radical Islam’s willing suicides are ordinary, unremarkable individuals, including even children, whose name is Legion. There are countless candidates ready to replace them, eager to destroy the enemies of Allah and enjoy the rewards He has promised them. There is no limit to the volunteers available. They are just pieces of pottery, ready to be shattered, their worth estimated only in terms of the number of their potential victims. The epithet is only metaphorical, but this exploitation of what we used to call cannon-fodder is even more diabolical than the bombing of Pearl Harbor. How can anyone justify today’s present horror in the name of religion ?

DELENDA RELIGIO

PRAYING AND PREYING

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There is nothing more harmless than a priest at prayer. Catholics admire photos of Pope Francis, kneeling at a tomb or with his eyes fervently closed during a ceremony in St Peter’s. It is touching sometimes to enter a church and find the priest praying alone, devoutly contemplating the crucifix, not trying to impress anyone, just lost in imagining that he is communicating with God. The vast majority of priests and clerics of the three great religions pray regularly in private, and with great sincerity. They believe in their illusions.

It is no doubt a cheap play on words to insist on the similarity between the words “pray” and “prey”. But the famous Praying Mantis is in fact one of nature’s most formidable predators, disguising its intentions with the help of camouflage and especially a posture that has given the insect its name, as it lies in wait to immobilize and consume alive its unsuspecting prey. Escher’s famous woodcut, “The Dream”, has a Praying Mantis on the tomb of a Bishop, leaving no doubt about the artist’s intention of suggesting a certain anti-clerical symbolism.

If this Reflection makes the reader think of the scourge of pedophilia within the ranks of the clergy, it should above all remind us of those other predators, wolves in clerical robes, lying in wait, selecting and brainwashing recruits for Daech. These respected Imams are far more dangerous and pernicious than the preacher-predator played by Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter” (1955). His syrupy sanctimoniousness was the fairly obviously pathological manifestation of a sick mind. But the Islamic Radical recruiters are not necessarily psychotic, and are no doubt sincere in their belief that they are fulfilling a divine mission. Muslim families often wonder too late why their sons and daughters end up in Syria. One can only hope that they, and enlightened, moderate Imams increase their vigilance in detecting and denouncing the Preying Mantises in their mosques.

DELENDA RELIGIO

CALIPHS : EIGHT DOWN , FOUR TO GO !

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The End, ISIS is convinced, is near. According to the “Hadith of the Twelve Successors”, Muhammad said he would have, before the Day of Judgement, only twelve successors. It would appear that history has already seen two-thirds of the promised twelve legitimate caliphs; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the eighth. Two other elements will make up the End-Times : the armies of “Rome” will mass to meet the armies of Islam at Dabiq in Northern Syria, and the final showdown, after a period of further Islamic conquest, will occur in Jerusalem. The Syrian city of Dabiq near Aleppo, of which we spoke in an earlier post, will be the scene of Rome’s, our, Waterloo.

ISIS has already occupied Dabiq. “Rome” no doubt includes Turkey, but is, of course, the U.S. and the rest of the West. It’s just a question of time, and four more caliphs. American boots will one day be on the ground (air-strikes just won’t do the job), and the Islamists will break out the bottled sparkling water : the final victory is at hand ! An ecumenical touch : the leader of the final victory in Jerusalem – Armaggedon – will be … Jesus !

Radical Islamics, motivated by their apocalyptic myths, ultimately can’t and won’t win. But countless lives will be lost because of their blindfaith-blind folly. Religion must be destroyed as quickly as possible :

DELENDA QUAMPRIMUM RELIGIO

IS ISLAM OUR ENEMY ?

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The vast majority of non-Muslims who condemn Islamic extremists and Jihadist terrorists are, like me, amateurs and dilettantes in Koranic culture. Most have never read the Koran (I am one of the rare exceptions), even in translation. They are familiar with a smattering of quotations selected to bolster their opinion, which commonly is that Islam is a respectable religion deformed by anti-intellectual fanatics whose profound ignorance of the Koran, along with less worthy root-causes, has led them to believe that their crimes against humanity are the will of Allah.

It is important to realize that this popular, nuanced view is shared by recognized Koranic scholars. I have just read a lengthy study published by the highly respected Foundation for Political Innovation, which defines itself as a “liberal, progressive and European think-tank”. The article, in French, “Religious Pluralism in Islam, or The Consciousness of Otherness” (January 2015, 19 pages), was written by Eric Geoffroy, an Islamologist at the University of Strasbourg and a specialist in Soufism. The author’s thesis is that Islam and the Koran are not what many non-Muslims think they are. His very first sentence pinpoints the phenomenon which provoked his article : ISIS, the so-called Islamic State of Irak and Syria. “The Koran”, he writes, “proposes a very modern vision of a living together based on respect for differences”. He even claims that “the Koran is the only Scripture which establishes the universality of Revelation and inter-religious diversity … To be a Muslim implies the recognition of all revealed religions before Islam.” He quotes the Prophet as saying : “Whoever does harm to a Christian or a Jew will be my enemy on the Day of Judgement”. He offers two quotations from the Koran of particular interest to … atheists, because the texts condemn the use of force in matters of religion : “The truth comes from your Lord; he who chooses to do so will believe it, and he who does not will deny it” (18:29). “Would you want to force people to become believers ?” (10:99). The author even dares to oppose the opinion of later Muslim jurists who approved the death-penalty for anyone abandoning Islam, and affirms that there are no grounds for this, either in the Koran or in the practice of the Prophet. This statement has a special, personal resonance for me which deserves a brief explanation :

During my doctoral studies and four-year sojourn in the Paris Franciscan friary, I had the privilege of living with a world-famous Islamic scholar who had not only converted to Catholicism but had become a Franciscan priest ! Muhammad Abd el-Jalil had become Père Jean-Muhammad O.F.M., who for many years was a Professor of Islamic Studies at the Sorbonne. His apostasy had been famously denounced by highly placed Muslim authorities and by his own family. Later I was to share a pain and a punishment (fortunately non-capital) similar to his. Some religious people are not as broad-minded and as tolerant as apparently the Prophet was …

Religious pluralism, says Geoffroy, in the context of Arabia in the 7th century, was essential to the Prophet’s project of establishing a city-state, a pluralist theocracy in an alliance of monotheists against the polytheists of Mecca. In Medina, Jews had their own area for worship, with equal rights and guaranteed protection. If the Prophet allowed more than 600 Jews to be executed in 5/627, it was because of the high treason of a rebel Jewish tribe, not anti-semitism. In 631 he allowed a Christian delegation in Medina to celebrate Mass inside a mosque facing Jerusalem ! In passing, the author points out that the prohibition in modern-day Saudi Arabia to build non-Muslim places of worship is supported by neither the Koran nor the practice of the Prophet. The “dhimma”, a kind of permanently renewable contract, guaranteed hospitality and protection to members of “other revealed religions”, on the condition that they themselves respected the domination of Islam and paid the “jizya” tax …

According to the Prophet, the “minor Jihad”, the purely defensive military action to protect Muslims from attack, is sometimes necessary to ensure the “major Jihad”, defined as “the sacred struggle of man against his passions”. On September 27, 2014, 120 Muslim scholars from five continents published a declaration (visible on the site Oumma.com), defining this understanding of Jihad, adding that “it is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat Christians or the People of the Book” and that “it is forbidden in Islam to force anyone to convert”. (The famous belligerent “verse of the saber” (9:5) is a call to kill only the polytheists who had violated their treaty by attacking a group of Muslims.)

Readers may be surprised to read the article’s conclusion : “Jihadism is the aborted child of Saoudian Wahhabism, which the West – and in the first place the Americans – has supported in such a sordid fashion. This abscess was born, certainly, in Muslim countries, of a post-colonial civilisational malaise, but thanks to globalization and the media, it displays itself now as a nihilist ideology under the cover of religion”.

ISIS is the enemy of Islam. But the world is at present in danger because of intra-religion theological opinions. We survived ours. Can we survive theirs ?

DELENDA RELIGIO

THE FINAL SOLUTION TO FANATICISM ?

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One can only admire efforts like those of French Jewish writer Marek Halter to promote mutual understanding between Jews, Muslims and Christians. More power to him ! His 64-page booklet (which costs only three euros !), “Réconciliez-vous !” may very well become a publishing phenomenon like the late Stephen Hessel’s “Indignez-Vous !”

Halter’s ecumenical approach will appeal to people like you and me, but it is doubtful that his déjà vu insistence that Islamist terrorists are guilty not only of murder but of blasphemy will convince the Jihadists. I suggest a complementary approach.

Since the “Charley Hebdo” tragedy, since Martin Place, since 9/11, since we started finally to realize that those Islamic radicals returning from Syria are terrorist time-bombs ready and willing to be activated to commit mass-murder, people are wondering about both preventive methods to avoid radicalization of potential recruits for Al-Qaida and Daech (ISIS, “Islamic State”), and even, just as desperately, about the “deprogramming” of the “sleepers” who have returned from the war-zone to await orders for the next suicidal slaughter of the innocents.

Of course, naïve, broadminded optimists would insist that there is no need to convert them entirely from Islam but only from Radical, Extremist Islam, from fanaticism and terrorism. They want them to be just nice, moderate Muslims, like the rest of the devout, decent disciples of the Prophet.

We all know extreme right-wing traditionalist Catholics and Fundamentalist Protestants whose fervour, superstition and intransigence embarrass “moderate”, “normal”, Christians. Can they be brought to a more “reasonable” conception and practice of their faith ? Of course, what is at stake here bears no comparison with extremist Islam. But it is just as unlikely that they will temper their extremism into a more restrained and acceptable form of religion.

I find it hard enough to convince Believers on the Brink, already given to doubt, to question what remains of their belief and practice. I don’t even try any more, with my gung-ho, intransigent Catholic (former) friends, to “dialogue” or to sow doubts. They are brick walls. So what chance do we have of “deprogramming” fanatical Islamic terrorists ? I’d say slim at best. But we have no choice but to try.

Those of us who remember Sun Moon and Jim Jones and the wackos of Waco, Texas, may also remember Ted Patrick and the controversy over his methods in deprogramming young adults conned into the cults and sects of the time. Today we are dealing not just with the exploitation of the brainwashed and the credulous. We are dealing with criminal maniacs, driven by a cocktail of motives including power, money, admiration and fame but also by their conviction of having been chosen by God to impose strict, Charia observance of the religion of the Prophet and by the eternal rewards promised to its martyrs.

The accepted wisdom is to propose the mobilization of credible, competent and if possible charismatic, “moderate” Imams to talk sense into the would-be martyrs who see themselves as the chosen elite of Allah. A bit like “liberal” Catholics trying to convince traditionalists to give up their Miraculous Medals ? “Say your prayers five times a day, observe Ramadan, do the Hajj, go to Mecca but not to Syria” ? Mission Impossible ? The Impossible Dream ?

Richard Dawkins financed advertisements for atheism on the sides of London buses. Not a panacea, but a precedent worth meditating – and imitating : you have to choose to read a book, (even if it is only three euros) but not bill-boards. What if the challenge were put to Madison Avenue mavens, the spin doctors, the Communication consultants, the media and Internet experts, the people who know how to exploit the social networks, to come up with an advertising campaign to deprogram Islamic fanatics ? It would not be hard to find financial backing for such a project. For obvious geopolitical reasons it would have to be a private initiative, independent of governments and public funding.

I am not suggesting “Charlie Hebdo”-type cartoons (though some could be effective), subliminal advertising or the violation of limitations imposed by law or by ethics or by respect for human rights. But it’s time we took action, beyond the bombing and the bombast, beyond ineffective efforts at ecumenism. This is a challenge worthy of a Anti-Terrorist Think-Tank of the world’s best writers, journalists, film directors, marketeers, philosophers, polemicists and publicists, and others adept at making convictions contagious. Even some bloggers (I know one …) could contribute to a united campaign to eradicate the blind faith of fanatics’ blind folly. Before we are all beheaded or burned alive in cages.

DELENDA RELIGIO

“FINDING FAITH IN FEAR”

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“No atheists in foxholes” ? Sebastian Faulks’ phrase, “non-believers finding faith in fear”, in his World War 1 novel “Birdsong”, is closer to the truth. In the Battle of the Somme, chaplains discarded their crosses, generals committed suicide, while God was trying to decide whether to listen to the German prayers or those of the British Tommies and Aussie Diggers, or ignore them all.

Faulks has succeeded in describing the unspeakable terror of the troops forced by their officers to face the shells and the shrapnel and a fate literally worse than death : the excruciating agony of being left to die slowly, mangled and tangled in the omnipresent barbed wire. Most of the dying screamed for their mothers, others whose face had been shot away could only pray to God for a quick death or curse Him for abandoning them. Some lost their faith, others found it. Everyone, including the heroes, was scared to death, scared to die, but especially scared to suffer. It is not surprising that many turned to God as a last resort. Fear fosters faith.

It was ever thus. It is bad enough to have to face the uncertainty of what follows death, whether in one’s bed or on the battlefield. But when one has been told about the punishment God has reserved for sinners like us, fear can result in repentance – or hedging bets, like the prudent Pascal. Others have the dignity to refuse to let fear delude them into the fantasies of faith.

DELENDA RELIGIO

BECAUSE MUMMY / DADDY TOLD ME !

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He is a kid just eight years old. His teacher in Paris announced to his class one morning recently that they would all keep quiet and say nothing for one minute, to pay their respects to the seventeen people killed by terrorists the week before. The child, who is French but also Muslim (although it is not certain that he would say it that way …), refused. When asked why he refused to respect the minute of silence, he answered that his Daddy had said that the victims deserved to be killed.

Readers may recall the quotation in my book, “From Illusions to Illumination”, page 67, from Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s book, “Contemplating Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus”, John Garratt Publishing, Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia, 2007, page 255 :

“If someone were to ask me whether I believe in the Assumption, I would answer ‘Yes’. If I were asked why, I would answer ‘Because that is what my mother told me as a child and I have always believed it’.”

If I return here to this shattering, mind-blowing admission of a Catholic Bishop’s childish credulity, it is to underline the frightening responsibility parents have in educating their children. We cannot police or prosecute parents for what they teach their children. If they tell their kids that their Jewish schoolmates are Christ-killers, if they tell them that their Catholic and Protestant and Jewish playmates are infidels and enemies whom the Koran tells them to kill, if, on the other hand, parents tell their children that all Muslims are terrorists, there is not much we can do about it. If Mummy says that Mary the Mother of God was taken up bodily into Heaven, if Daddy says that “Charley Hebdo” cartoonists deserved to be shot for blasphemy against the Prophet, how can we expect a child to think otherwise ?

The question touches every parent, non-atheist and atheist alike. How do we determine what we have the right to teach children ? Atheist parents will find many occasions, inspired by family, local, national, and international events, as well as by the perennial, innocent questions of their offspring, to instill in them the conviction that fairies and angels and gods do not exist. Non-atheist parents will consciously and unconsciously lead their children to believe in prayer and its supposed effects, in God and His supposed love and protection, in the Devil and his supposed efforts to drag them into the fires of Hell.

How much damage do parents do in forging their children’s identity, values, attitudes and convictions, even before they are exposed to formalized education beginning with pre-school ? Teachers face a daunting challenge when they discover the evidence of an eight-year-old’s brainwashing. What hope is there of contradicting and correcting the convictions inculcated by the child’s parents ?

Many parents prefer, if they can afford it, to send their children to faith-based schools. Jewish, Islamic and Christian schools are dedicated to the development of the religious faith that is their principal raison d’être. But even if such schools did not exist, children would bring to their free, secular and obligatory public schooling the mindset they have acquired at home. The lucky ones will – because of, or in spite of – their schooling, learn to think for themselves. Most will not.

This Blog exists for graduates of the educational system who have found reasons to wonder about the beliefs – or the denial of beliefs – which they have inherited. Its purpose is to help them pursue their personal thinking and questioning, and encourage them to dismiss, hopefully, their long-held inherited illusions. At very least they should examine why they believe or do not believe. If they discover it is because Mummy or Daddy told them, it’s time, your Lordship, they grew up.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

LEST WE FORGET . . . AUSCHWITZ !

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Australians in their thousands gather on April 25 every year at Gallipoli, Villers Bretonneux and cenotaphs throughout Australia, to honor their compatriots, the Diggers who fought and died in the “Great War”, as well as its 18 million other victims, combatants on both sides but also civilians whom generals and politicians call “collateral”. We feel a duty to mark the anniversaries of both World Wars and recently the centenary of the beginning of what was supposed to be the War to End All Wars. Lest we forget.

Yesterday, January 27, 2015, the world commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the German concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland, an enormous prison complex covering fifteen square miles, a “death factory” infamous for the assassination of over one million Jews. Lest we forget.

But this was unique among anniversaries of war. Imagine any nation deciding on other “Final Solutions” : the extermination of the world’s … Buddhists, or black people, or all women, or the world’s children, or redheads, or Christians, or musicians, or Muslims, or plumbers, or atheists. What happened in Auschwitz, unique among the many other concentration camps created by Nazi Germany, beginning with Dachau in 1933, was the slaughter of up to 2000 Jews per hour. Yesterday we remembered not just the victims of war, but the massacre of six million men and women and children condemned to die atrocious deaths because they were Jewish. This was not quite the same as an Anzac Day remembrance service, the commemoration of D-Day, or the celebration of Armistice. We are staggering once again at the realization of just how inhuman human beings can be.

It was more than moving to witness yesterday afternoon on television the testimonies of three of the last survivors of the hell that was Auschwitz. There will be few left at future anniversaries, and before long, none at all. But the world must never forget how far racism and intolerance can go. Auschwitz must endure as a permanent reminder of what can happen when blind fanaticism festers into maniacal hatred and unspeakable horror.

DELENDA RELIGIO

“I AM NOT FRENCH ; I AM MUSLIM !”

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He is sixteen years old, a High School student in a public school in Lille, in northern France. His teacher, with whom I was discussing yesterday how teachers were handling the aftermath of the “Charlie Hebdo” drama of 1/7, told me that the student’s statement was made during discussion of Prime Minister Valls’ unprecedented remark about divisions in French society in terms of “apartheid”.

The young man was born in France, as was his father. His grandfather emigrated from Algeria to France 40 years ago. I was born in Australia, as was my father. My grandfather emigrated from Ireland 125 years ago. I would never have said “I am not Australian”. And only if questioned would I have added “I am Catholic”, without my religion being in any way a contradiction of my nationality. Australia and France have had and still have their problems. But at least up till now, in neither country have we known apartheid like this.

Now that the lid has been blown off the pressure cooker, non-Muslim French people are beginning to realize the width and depth of the chasm which Islam has created in the country which used to be called “the eldest daughter of the Church”. “Integration” has been revealed to be a hollow word, wishful thinking and perhaps an impossible dream. When one’s identity and sense of belonging are defined in terms of a religion, Islam, one can perhaps begin to understand the magnitude, the enormity, of the challenge we face.

Foolish people would tell the young man in Lille that if he identifies himself as a Muslim rather than as French, then maybe he should “go home”. But he is home. France is his home. He has no other. People immigrate to this country because in spite of its massive unemployment and economic challenges, it is a far more attractive place to live and to work than the Maghreb which his grandfather left so as to provide a better life for his family. Different from me, become by my own request a French citizen, the schoolboy is a French citizen by birth, but his values, his loyalty, his sense of identity are not French. I am, in every sense of the word, Frank O’Phile. The Lille lad is, in his own mind, a non-national, a supra-national, whose primary affiliation is not to a country but to a religion. Can a theocracy be far behind ? God help us !

DELENDA RELIGIO

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