Terrorists attacks never get easier to deal with. For the victims and their families in Paris last night, life will never be the same again. For those who experienced it from afar, following news and social media commentary throughout, we got off lightly, but it’s doubtful we will ever be the same either. Every report of another site being affected, every number filtering through, and then the reports of the police storming the packed Bataclan Theatre…this was a night many of us will want to forget, but likely never will.
This morning we’ve heard the news – so familiar now – of Islamic Extremist attackers, from President Hollande himself. Followed by a statement from ‘I.S’, claiming them. But this isn’t about any one religion, in fact it’s not about religion at all. This is about belief. The indoctrination that asks people to sincerely believe that extreme violence and murder will see them eternally rewarded.
This isn’t about religion, but it is about faith. Faith exists despite, or in spite of evidence; it is that state of mind where you wish to defend your beliefs – your dearly held traditions, or sometimes your personal delusions – without having any good reason to do so. So long as we allow faith to sit side by side with reason, we allow dogma to sit side by side with common sense, absolute certainty to sit with personable negotiation and sincere violence to battle with reasonable conversation.
Unfortunately, although this isn’t about religion, it is within religion that faith – and the unavoidable fruits of dogma, certainty and violence – breed. It is religion that offers faith as a reasonable, even virtuous method of belief.
Already we have world leaders preparing us for an increased, renewed military intervention. Yet in fighting against terrorism, war and violence has never worked. How much longer need we send our soldiers to battle, whilst encountering regular, increasing terrorist attacks in response?
It didn’t work, it hasn’t worked, and it’s not going to work. The battle of ideas is where terrorism will be defeated, and is where we need to focus our efforts so that in 50 years’ time we aren’t still talking about the latest major city to suffer, as Paris has had to heartbreakingly suffer again and again. But this battle of ideas involves brave honesty: the honesty of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Atheists and everyone else to make a solemn, united stand. That stand must be for reason. For keeping religious beliefs private, for making sure that the place for private faith is in private lives; not in politics, not in organised pressure groups of any type, and not in social movements.
This is the only effective way to fight religious extremism, and we must finally start talking about it. Fighting extremist religion with moderate religion is like fighting blue with red, creating ever more imaginative colours, yet always creating shades of violence of some type. Religious texts have never been textbooks of right and wrong, and have always been open to interpretations of violence and intolerance; asking moderates to moderate extremist pockets of believers is an impossible task, and it understandably hasn’t worked.
Similarly fighting terrorism with violence has been like fighting fire with gasoline. We are fighting people with sincere religious and political beliefs – people who regularly commit suicide to further their cause – and all war has done is motivate those sincere believers into revenge missions, with the promise of eternal reward beckoning.
We need to start a war we can win: not a war within or among religions, or a war within or against people, but a war of ideas. The war should be waged on behalf of reason, with the goal of peace. Regardless of our personal beliefs – religious or otherwise – we must be united in our stand against the flames of dogmatic violence, and we can only do that by standing against the roots of the fire: the idea of faith. It will not be atheists or secularists that need to lead this movement, but the leaders of religious communities, who must disband in an honourable, inspirational and influential way. We are all counting on you. We are all preparing to stand together. We can no longer afford the myth that faith is a virtuous mental trait, when the world is now plagued by sincere, faithful people who would destroy our communities – our most free and proud cities – in servitude to imagined, personal God’s, or mythical states of being after death.
I can’t ask you, the religious, to abandon your religious beliefs; that is like you asking me to abandon my like for the taste of my favourite food, or my aesthetic preference for music. It’s an impossible task. But I do ask that you begin separating your personal beliefs from the social sphere – and begin asking your colleagues to do the same. We will not defeat terrorism whilst people sincerely believe that their faith needs to be spread, or that others in the world are wronging their unnegotiable spiritual beliefs.
Last night, as the situation unveiled in the Bataclan, news agencies globally called it a hostage situation. But it was no such thing. Those attackers wore suicide belts, and went into that building willing to detonate them. Those concert goers were not taken as hostages, they were victims of an intended massacre. Hostage situations mean we have criminals (however heinous) who are willing to negotiate – people generally living in the same sphere of meaning as us – and who we can point to mental insanity or else desperate intention. We need to recognise the difference between political motivation, desperation and criminal insanity (what used to cause crime) and sincere, calm, faithful action. The latter is not open to negotiation, and is winning the battle of ideas, whilst we fight it with traditional war and traditional religion. We’re fighting the wrong battle, and we’re losing. How many more nights like 13/11 will we allow before we do something?