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.