Paris is in shock again and with it the entire civilised world. Although, truth be told, this has not come as a surprise. Nor have the reactions of Western politicians and journalists. On one hand, we hear again the predictable but oh-so-idiotic claim that acts perpetrated in the name of Allah and Muhammad ‘have nothing to do with Islam’; on the other hand, we are treated to the bigoted implication that believing in Allah and Muhammad counts as ‘fifth column’ membership. Both approaches are cowardly populist; both are terribly wrong; worse – both are pathetically unhelpful.
No, we can’t start accusing or suspecting everyone who embraces Islam as his/her religion; or even as his/her main identity. But neither should we stick our heads in the ground, close our eyes to reality and plug our ears with politically-correct cotton wool, denying that a certain strand of Islam has everything to do with terrorism.
There will never be a shortage of imbeciles eager to find excuses and to ‘explain away’ terrorism. Yes, the West has made war in Iraq and Afghanistan; but then, Russia is making war in Ukraine – and yet Ukrainians don't blow themselves up in Moscow’s stadiums or in Sankt Petersburg’s concert halls. Yes, Western colonialists have left a lousy legacy in the Middle East; but they did worse, much worse elsewhere. Indians don’t try to blow up the Wembley Stadium. Armenians don’t murder patrons in Istanbul’s restaurants and Israeli Jews don’t fly airplanes into Frankfurt’s office buildings.
There’ll also be bigots who will point to passages from the Qur’an and claim that there’s something inherently violent in Islam. But I can equally quote passages from the Torah and from the New Testament that would seem to incite to violence. What about the injunction to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven”? And didn’t Jesus say “I came not to send peace, but the sword”? Oh, and I can find for you Qur’anic verses praising peace – just like one finds in every scripture.
No, Islam is not a religion of peace; nor is it a religion of war. Religions aren’t ‘of’ anything; people are. There is no denying that acts of terrorism are currently more likely to be committed in the name of Islam than in the name of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or Shintoism. If a suicide bomber detonates himself tomorrow, it is more likely that he’ll be called Muhammad, rather than Paul, Moshe or Jitendra. That is a fact. Most Muslims are not radicals; it's just that there are more radicals among Muslims.
But why? Islam is not fundamentally different from Christianity or Judaism. It is just younger, much younger. It appeared on the grand scene of history about 14 centuries ago. Christianity is considerably older – more than 2000 years; Judaism is ancient. Age is of consequence: religions (like all human endeavours) have a life of their own. Just like human beings. Youngsters are more impetuous; more impulsive; less patient and less tolerant. Thankfully, they mellow as they grow old. So do religions. Want to understand radical Islam? Violent Jihad? Think 14th century Christianity, with its crusades and Inquisition.
In 14th century Europe, religion pervaded every aspect of human life; so it does these days in most parts of the Middle East. 14th century Europeans may have called themselves ‘French’, ‘German’ or ‘English’; but their primary identity was ‘Christians’. Just as these days hundreds of millions of people will tell you that they define themselves first and foremost as ‘Muslims’.
Jihadis are nothing more – and nothing less, and nothing else – than the ‘modern’, Muslim version of medieval Crusaders. They may be armed with assault rifles and grenades, rather than swords and maces; but they are just as blood-thirsty; just as self-righteous; just as ready to achieve martyrdom and earn their ticket to heaven. Are you still wondering why they behead people?
OK, you’ll say; that may well be so, but how does this help? Will we have to endure centuries of Jihad? Well, not necessarily. Things have changed somewhat from the real 14th century.
Think about it: why did so many people (not just kings and knights, but simple peasants and tradesmen) leave behind their homesteads, their families, their lives – to make war on the infidels? To kill, maim, pillage and rape? No, Popes did not use Twitter to stir up trouble – not in those times. They used preachers. That has not changed: it is still the preachers of hate that brainwash people into becoming butchers.
Wanna deal with Jihadi terrorism? You can try to track all the tens of thousands that have already been radicalised – and the millions that will be; or you can go after a few thousand hate preachers. Those preachers may not practice violence themselves; but they kill, maim, pillage and rape – however indirectly. Jail them if you can; kill them if you have to; or just prevent their odious message from reaching its target. That means tighter border controls. It means closing websites, monitoring social media, controlling school activities, raiding mosques, banning radical madrassahs. If that implies changing our laws, so they protect the tolerant, rather than tolerating the bigot – then so be it; if it means making law enforcement more intrusive, then that’s a price we’ll have to pay, for our safety and that of our children. Make no mistake: it’s the price we’ll have to pay to maintain rule of law; to avoid rule of the mob. There will have to be limits to freedom: your freedom must end where you want to take away mine.
That won’t stop tomorrow’s terrorist attack; it won’t provide an instant solution. But, in time, it will choke the flow of hatred.
The Torah says “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you and your offspring will live”. I’m sure the Qur’an won’t disagree.