How to deal with religious extremism

There has been tremendous outpour of grief, a small demonstration of hatred (in Cold Lake, AB) and a proper response to that expression

There has been tremendous outpour of grief, a small demonstration of hatred (in Cold Lake, AB) and a proper response to that expression of hate after Canadian forces lost two of their members over the past week in vicious attacks by apparently religiously motivated assailants.

Emotions will probably continue to run high until the sorrow over the loss of the two soldiers slowly withers away and life returns to normal for those who loved them, when sober thinking should replace the sentimental reactions and try to find answers to many questions that surround the senseless killings in Montreal and Ottawa.

The first of these questions is probably how religious extremism can have such a strong appeal in Canada even when it is so distant geographically? What is in the ideology or philosophy of Islam that can attract so blind and zealous commitment from individuals who can kill without any hesitation? Is it the religion, is it the individual or is it those who interpret Islam for heinous purposes to blame?

What is the profile of a religious extremist? Are they educated? Some of them clearly are. Do they come from well to do families or struggling households? At least in the case of Canadian suspects, as reported by the broadcast media, not all of them are coming from desperately poor families. Then they are not exactly the kind of people who have nothing to look forward to. So, why are they attracted to the fight of people who preach nothing by martyrdom for a religious cause?

These questions may take many years of psycho-sociological, sociological and behavioural studies to answer.

But for the moment, there are a few known factors that can help us start to understand the mystery behind the appeal of the Islamic extremism.

Most important of them is the major difference between the Christianity and Islam: The former went through a process of reformation and the latter didn’t. Islam continues to be a religion with a claim to rule all aspects of the life an individual, leaving no room for separation between the secular and divine, while Christianity, after Reformation and the consequent period of Enlightenment, has allowed the secular life to be governed by scientific thought. As a result of this variance in the historical development of the two religious traditions, blind faith still dominates Islamic education practices where scientific thought is present only as far as the religious guidelines set by clergy allow it. That is why girls are not allowed to go to schools in areas where religious organizations like Taliban rule the communities.

Malala Yousafzai, one of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipients will be accorded Honourary Citizenship of Canada as decided by a vote in the House of Commons, a fine gesture to recognize a young girl who defied the Taliban and promoted the right of girls in Pakistan to be educated and took a bullet because of her bravery. But it is only a gesture.

If Canada and other members of the “free world” really want to do something meaningful to stop Islamic extremism and further loss of life, they should make a concerted effort to ensure that a generation of girls like Malala get educated properly and they can raise their children without the dogmatic restrictions of religious thinking.

Sending a few fighter jets or even ground troops to fight religious extremists might seem to produce results in the short term, and even that is seriously doubtful.

The problem at hand has been brewing over the last four decades or so, it is not realistic to expect it to go away with a few bombing sorties in the space of a few months. It will be much wiser to look at the root causes and deal with them strategically.

– Mustafa Eric


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