In the aftermath of last week’s events in France, opinion is torn as to where we go from here. The solution is very simple: we must defend the freedom of Muslims like anyone else’s, whilst moving society away from religious influence.
There can be no justification for violence of any kind against Muslims; these are people just as deserving of respect as anyone else. People have a right to believe what they wish, and as much as we may disagree, we are morally bound not to attack those with whom we disagree. These are the basics of our modern civilisation and we lose the strongest principles we have if we violate it.
This does not mean we must like what religions do, or stay quiet about it. There is absolutely no doubt that Islam and Christianity are outdated concepts from a period of history which science has moved us on from. Bombing abortion clinics, burning witches at the stake and killing in the name of Allah are all acts which can and should be removed from our societies. But progress toward a more civilised society does not include discriminating against or physically attacking those who hold absurd beliefs; rather we should foster an environment where reason and evidence hold the foremost role, and where the mythical and magical are, at best, personally held beliefs rather than morally guiding ones. Terrorism does not happen because no one fights back (we have waged entire wars to fight it, remember, with little success), it happens because we accept that magical and untestable beliefs are acceptable ways of forging moral rules: we only fight the symptoms of religion, we never fight the problem.
We must also recognise that the reaction of the political right wing (groups like the French National Front) are not the only ones in the wrong. The actions of their supporters in condemning people based on race, nationality or place of birth are absolutely out of place and must be fought against. However the political left are also to blame: from this sphere comes a constant apology on behalf of religious violence, a rhetoric that those religious people who properly understand it do not turn to terrorism. This is as ignorant and incorrect as any National Front remark, as religion is not a game of correctly grasping facts and attitudes. Religion is about believing things out of ‘faith’, with no evidence, in order to manufacture answers to questions which absolutely cannot be answered. A Muslim killing someone in the name of Allah is not ‘misunderstanding’ Islam, as Islam is a religion like any other – it is about ‘faith’ and personal interpretation, there is no right or wrong when interpreting any religion.
The way to fight against this violent threat in society is not to apologise on its behalf and try to make people see non-existent peaceful ‘facts’ in religions where there are no facts at all. Neither is it a good method to violently attack or discriminate against a large number of people who believe similar religious ideas to those who commit the murders. Rather we must argue against the untestable moral beliefs of religion themselves, whilst educating people on the benefits of rational, evidence-based inquiry and debate. We are never justified in ignoring the humanity of religious people, but we categorically must build a mass movement against religion.