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Obama’s intervention in Iraq proves that religion really is the new politics

11 August 2014

5:45 PM

11 August 2014

5:45 PM

Today we are witnessing the extraordinary – and long overdue – spectacle of an American president intervening in Iraq to protect religious minorities from ISIS death squads motivated by their own extreme religious beliefs. The minorities are Christians, whose looming extinction the West has ignored for years, and the Yazidis, members of an ancient faith rooted in Zoroastrianism that very people had heard of until the past fortnight. The butchery in Iraq and Syria – and that is exactly the right word, since ISIS have literally cut children in half – bears out my argument that ‘religion is the new politics’. Here is the Spectator cover story on that subject published on June 28:

Aren’t Buddhist monks adorable?  They meditate for days without needing to go to the toilet. They talk to each other in ‘grasshopper’ haikus. Their pot bellies are full of wholesome vegetarian fare. Your package tour to Southeast Asia isn’t complete without a sprinkling of them begging politely in the markets. Hollywood stars hire them for beachfront weddings because they’re so cute.

Apart from the ones who are terrorists.

In Burma, Buddhism has turned nasty, thanks to a gang of monks who call themselves the ‘969’, after the nine virtues of Buddha, the six elements of his teachings, and the nine attributes of the clergy. The 969 are consumed with hatred for Burma’s Muslims, who make up 4 per cent of the population. Nearly 200,000 have been driven from their homes. For Burmese Muslims, the numbers 969 — which jump out at them from gaily coloured stickers in shops and taxis — are as menacing as the swastika for Jews. In March, Buddhists set fire to an Islamic boarding school in central Burma. Twenty-four students and teachers were killed; a boy was decapitated; police stood by while onlookers applauded.

Sound familiar? In February, Boko Haram gunmen shot or incinerated 59 pupils at a boarding school in north-east Nigeria. The press reported it, but this was before the kidnap of the schoolgirls inflamed Twitter, so no one paid much attention.

Boko Haram are members of the ‘religion of peace’, as anti-Islamist campaigners remind us sarcastically. But the people who raze Muslim villages in Burma belong to a faith that really is associated with peace. So what’s going on? Sayadaw Wirathu, the venomous preacher who leads the 969 monks, calls himself ‘the Burmese bin Laden’. Here’s the verdict ofTime magazine: ‘Every religion can be twisted into a destructive force poisoned by ideas that are antithetical to its foundations. Now it’s Buddhism’s turn.’ There speaks the sorrowful voice of liberalism — still piously attached to the notion that the true message of all religions is ‘peace’.

It would be simpler and more accurate to say that religion has made a startling comeback around the globe. Religion in general, that is — including, but not confined to, the nasty stuff (torching of dormitories, bombs on the Tube, stoning of adulterers, Giles Fraser’s sermons etc). In fact, in many respects, religion has become the new politics.

In dozens of countries, disputes that we may think of as ethnic, political or economic are now unmistakably religious in character: everything from squabbles over school textbooks in New Delhi to throat-slitting in Syria. We see this most clearly in the Middle East, where national boundaries are dissolving and reforming along religious lines. Our inability to recognise religion means, for example, that we plotted an invasion of Iraq in 2003 without realising that we’d be blowing the lid off a Sunni vs Shia civil war.

Even in Britain, our politicians keep being surprised when religion bursts back into the public debate. We now know that state schools — secular ones, not faith schools — in Birmingham were infiltrated by radical Muslims to the point where they were turning into madrasas. This was made possible by the gullibility of politicians and civil servants with regard to Islam — in particular, their belief that ‘moderate Muslims’ can easily be distinguished from Islamists. But it also reflects our ignorance of faith in general: the school inspectors, blind to religion, didn’t know what to look for in Birmingham.

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Over the years Britain has, by some measures, become the least religious country in the developed world. Our overwhelmingly secular outlook means that we struggle to understand international affairs. The Foreign Office seems to live in world clearly marked with political borders, where power lies in the government ministries and police stations. But the jihadis know that to control a chunk of Nigeria they impose Sharia law — more effective than a coup. They’re playing old power games with new, religious rules. Also, we instinctively divide ‘faith traditions’ into fundamentalists versus democrats — a crude, naïve and dangerous dichotomy.

Back to Burma. It’s not just sociopathic monks who harass Muslims. So does the state of Rakhine, which since last year has forbidden Muslim couples to have more than two children. You’d expect Aung San Suu Kyi to have something to say about that. Not so. When she appeared on the Todayprogramme, the Nobel laureate and Oxford graduate (third-class honours) sidestepped questions about anti-Muslim persecution.

The pattern of religious violence reinforced by civil laws is becoming a familiar one. In Sri Lanka, Buddhist monks elated by the crushing of the Hindu Tamils are leading attacks on coastal towns with Muslim populations. Meanwhile, the government is setting up a Buddhist Publications Regulatory Board to ban writings that are ‘in violation of Buddhism, its philosophy or traditions’. According to the Indian journalist Vishal Arora, Buddhist extremism is ‘fast spreading its tentacles in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand, as newspapers report violent attacks on religious minorities and shrill demands to ban blasphemy’.

Arora provides some vital context: Islamist militants, he writes, have been waging war against Shias, Ahmadis, Jews, Christians, and secular governments across the world. Now Buddhists have been added to the list: in Indonesia and India, Islamists have started bombing their places of worship. It’s not quite a world war of religion. But at times, in certain places, it does start to resemble one.

In the 21st century, extreme religion has a tendency to go viral. In Syria and Iraq, the shadow caliphate of Isis makes expert use of social media — attracting, as we have seen, the attention of young Welsh students who are persuaded to give their lives for a jihad against Shi’ites. When the Syrian volunteers come back to Britain, it will not be long before some of them find domestic application for their newfound skills.

Boko Haram is using the internet to recruit members in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. These movements haven’t been created by digital technology, but — to borrow Arora’s metaphors — broadband and mobiles help them ‘spread their tentacles’ and ‘connect the dots’ across borders. We may regard this as barbaric, but we ought not to call it medieval. We are witnessing a very modern phenomenon: religious extremism made possible by globalisation and by technology.

Fanatics are only part of the story, however. To understand why religion is becoming the new politics, we need to connect an extra set of dots: between extremists, their wealthy supporters, politicians, bureaucrats — and ordinary believers who tell pollsters they ‘reject violence’ but keep quiet when it’s perpetrated.

You won’t hear this on Thought for the Day, but religious violence isn’t exclusively inspired by hatred. During the Reformation, Protestant zealots invaded Catholic churches, smashing beloved statues and whitewashing precious frescoes. Modern Protestants are ashamed of these actions — but if you read Calvin you’ll find a coherent defence of iconoclasm. He believed that religious art invites man to worship the created rather than the Creator, beckoning him towards pagan demons.

The parallel with today’s Sunni Islam is uncanny. The rulers of Saudi Arabia belong to the puritan Wahhabi sect, which uses Calvin’s logic to justify smashing images. The House of Saud spends billions of pounds a year forcing Wahhabism (or its local equivalents) down the throats of Sunnis everywhere. ‘Sacred destruction’ is taking root in countries as diverse as Pakistan and Nigeria. This enforced religion is, along with oil money, a key method of establishing power. Also, it’s an insurance policy — an attempt to placate Sunni terrorists who would like to seize Mecca.

Obviously there is deep hypocrisy at work here. The bulldozing of the shrines of Shia peasants is being subsidised by fat Saudi playboys in the Dorchester. But what about the hotel’s owner, the Sultan of Brunei? He has just added flogging, amputation and stoning to his country’s penal code. Does that make him a hypocrite, like the Saudi princelings with their bourbon and whores? He seems sincere in his belief that only Sharia can preserve Brunei from western decadence.

Islamophobes will tell you: well, that’s the ‘religion of peace’ showing its true colours. Secularists, recognising that other faiths are capable of evil acts, fall back on Christopher Hitchens’s mantra: ‘Religion poisons everything.’ That was the subtitle of his book God Is Not Great, an embarrassing rant that portrayed religious believers as babies reaching for the Kool-Aid. How interesting that it should be religion that reduced Hitchens and Richard Dawkins — deep thinkers and lovely writers — to spluttering incoherence. They couldn’t make sense of its new vitality. And, if we’re honest, most of us are puzzled. Even when we’ve joined all the dots, it’s hard to explain why ancient prejudices are being customised for the 21st century not just in the basket cases of the Middle East and Africa but also in Asian nations racing towards modernity.

The new leader of India, Narendra Modi, is the first Prime Minister from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party to command a majority in parliament. He’s also a former member of the RSS, a crypto-fascist organisation that Cardinal George Alencherry, leader of India’s Syro-Malabar Catholics, blames for ‘the violence and terror of Hindu fundamentalism’. What we’re seeing in India, says the cardinal, is the progressive ‘politicisation of religion’.

Or, to put it another way, the hijacking of politics and culture by religion. This goes way beyond the hysteria (and, in some cases, deaths) caused by Danish cartoons of Mohammed. Hindus have just forced Penguin India to pulp all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s much-praised The Hindus: An Alternative History because it contains ‘heresies’. Religious censorship of school textbooks is back on the agenda — not only in India but in America, where Hindu parents from the increasingly hardline diaspora are demanding that high school courses eliminate criticism of Hinduism.

None of these developments shows religion in a good light. That’s partly because, when religion reasserts itself, it’s usually against a background of conflict. Is it to blame for that conflict? The American economist Eli Berman points out the paradox that, in our time-hungry society, it’s the time-consuming strict varieties of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that are growing fastest. Likewise Buddhism and Hinduism. Religions of total immersion create social bonds that sustain the disorientated. Unfortunately those bonds can also provide potent moral support for violence. Terrorist attacks by religious fanatics kill four times as many people per incident as those committed by political extremists.

The states where faith is reshaping politics tend to be those whose failure would be disastrous for the West. Yet — and this point can’t be stressed too often — our leaders know next to nothing about world religions, including those whose adherents have arrived on their doorstep. They’d better start learning, fast.

Damian Thompson is an associate editor of The Spectator, and the author of The Fix and Counterknowledge.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 

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Show comments
  • Swarm of Drones

    Look into the eyes of a man and you know whether you can trust him.
    Bomb the living daylight out of those who fail this basic test and let the left worry about legality.
    None of this has anything to do with ………

    • King Kibbutz

      With what?

  • TotoCatcher

    It would be helpful if you had distinguished mahayana and theravada buddhism. These are the two major splits. There is a uch smaller third branch. But the terrorist are almost always from theravada. This form is heavily influenced by Hinduism and focuses on top down teaching. Its has a concept of “do your duty” or in other words “shut up and follow orders”.

    Mahayana focuses more on the individuals experience and progression towards nirvana. Mahayana is much harder to corrupt because it focuses on the Kalama Sutra and other aspects of individual experience.

  • MarcusRegulus

    Perhaps the Enlightenment has exhausted itself?
    Perhaps all of the secular ideals of Voltaire and his friends have reached fruition, and have become sterile and irrelevant to the common person?
    Perhaps 100,000 years of evolution have hard-wired religion into human beings, and no amount of faux rationality will eradicate it?
    Perhaps if ordinary religion is suppressed/attacked/scorned by the bein pensants, it’s ugly sibling – fundamentalist fanaticism – will emerge?
    Or, perhaps, when Fukayama wrote of the “end of history”, he should have rather said that the history of the Western domination of the world is at an end, and other peoples cling to their religion as firmly as the secularists cling to theirs?
    Perhaps.

  • kittydeer

    DT is a boring half wit. It is not rocket science to see why the Buddhists are out to eradicate islam, just a quick glance at other countries shows what happens when this ideology is allowed to stretch its legs. If western governments and Christian leaders in the west had taken heed of the evil in its midst we would not be in the dire situation we are today. How is this going to end? If people who enjoy the fruits of a Christian heritage go out of their way to deride it what can possibly stand between us and an islamic future..

  • global city

    as we know that ISIS have no general troops or infantry that are only ‘taking orders’ ALL of those ‘British’ Jihadis should be tried if they ever try to return here. They should at the least be treated the same way as the camp guards and members of the Einzatsgrupen were.

    the evidence can be provided by their own gloating tweets and youtube videos.

    The Spectator should take the call upon themselves and campaign for this.

  • Mike

    Religion is the scourge of mankind. It needs to be forced into the back ground by a secular state, stripped of any meanigful powers, restricted to providing spiritual guidance and forbidden under threat of incareratiion for promoting ANY political guidance or interference. Only then, can religion sit comfortably alongside the state.

    Where religion, culture and governance are all intertwined to a greater or lesser extent, thats a recipe for disaster as we’re now seeing with Islam.

  • Shashi Kiran G M

    Christians are the ones doing Militancy In India. They get their missionaries and funding from abrod and think they have a divine right to convert. Anybody who opposes is eliminated by hook or crook. If not throw rubbish on the enemy(read Hindus).
    How Convenient that a Christian From England listens to a Christian from India talk about Hindu Militancy. In UK does this pass of as Journalism or Objectivity??
    Have you ever done research on How you Europeans(read Brits and Portuguese)
    spread Christianity by force. Not to forget that they grabbed lands/Temples from the Heathens and gave it native converts.

    The world does not care for Buddhists or Hindus, Human Rights are nothing but Christian and Muslim Rights; and Christian/Muslim rights are nothing but right to convert or right to Jihad. If anyone stands against these devious designs you know they are ‘communal’, ‘not humane’ etc etc.

    Another Farcical Report from a Christian masquerading as a ‘Secularist’.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …perhaps it’s time you in India learn to feed yourselves, before you tear into others for their backward ways.

      • Shashi Kiran G M

        We will fight our poverty or will die in Hunger but we will not loot other continents via Colonization.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …not least because you can’t even feed yourselves, let alone transport yourselves over to effectively loot anybody.

  • VeVePe

    In India there are huge numbers of western funded fanatical Christian missionaries spewing venom and bigotry against the native Indic traditions.

    They usually prey on less educated and deprived people which is an abusive practice, because you can’t expect vulnerable poverty stricken people to skeptically cross-question the missionaries about their ludicrous beliefs.

    • kittydeer

      Yes because we all know that rape is a real rarity in India don’t we? When Mother Teresa worked in India it was a well known fact that she gave aid, care and love to all regardless of caste or creed. Her care was never offered on the basis of convert, or go away.

  • Matt

    It was clear that this:

    “Over the years Britain has, by some measures, become the least religious country in the developed world. Our overwhelmingly secular outlook means that we struggle to understand international affairs”

    Is the most profound statement in this article until the argument was levelled against Hitchens’ ‘God is not Great: how religion poisons everything’. Hitchens has been absolutely clear that (as Weinberg put it) “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion”.

    This essay fundamentally lacks nuance regarding what constitutes genuine religious inspiration, that which is entrenched by religious (and often in parallel ethnic divides) and the manipulation of religion as a political structure –which relies upon a mass blob of a credulous, religious public (something David Cameron thought he might capitalise on, not realising that objective census figures are in no way representative of our ‘Christian’ nation, with few practicing).

    The excerpt I started with is the most (only) profound observation in this piece because a great number of liberals really just refuse to believe, or cannot empathise with the fact that religious fundamentalists really believe what they say they believe. In the case of suicide bombers this should be clear; I don’t for a minute doubt their conviction to martyrdom and paradise, a career path no doubt influenced by politics but a method that is absolutely requires genuine piety.

    The strawman attack on the new atheism (so casually thrown in as if this piece is full of some nuance that they’re missing), is further misguided in that Dawkinsian stridency is not symptomatic of fundamentalism or lack of nuance but rather holds liberal apologists (fatiheists) and moderate religionists to a higher standard; rather than saying well, we’re much too smart for that but it’s great for the little people to delude themselves.

    This article by Harris, I think, is an important one in better making the distinctions between common motivations for violence which by no means excitedly points to every religious person (as Hitchens repeating of Weinbergs mantra) doing bad things and saying religion is bad.

    As the focus seems to be on Islam/Buddhism as perceived bad religion/good religion in making the point that they can all be bad it’s important instead to ask whether these are polticial religions? Islam is highly political –while actually not as barbaric as the old testament– and buddism is largely founded on the Jainist principles of passivity and oneness (also that from which the core precepts of Jediism are plagarised). These two religions, epidemiologically actually show that Islam lends itself to a focus on the political, enforced by barbarism which is also mandated with –for the Islamist– happily ambiguous terms, Islamism; while Buddism doesn’t much lend itself to the 969’s ideology and as such the 969 is better understood in ethnic and regional terms. Both however show that worship and faith and credulity are a bad idea in the first place.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/no-ordinary-violence

  • RichardBaranov

    Apart from his thoroughly contemptible stereotyping of Buddhists, so typical of a Christian bigot, Thompson might want to enquire as to the source of Burmese Buddhist anger, does he honestly think it came out of nowhere? As per usual the origin of that aggression lies at the feet of the ‘religion of peace’ and it’s systematic murder, over decades, of Buddhists in Bangladesh many of whom have fled to Burma for their lives sake. A link, but I warn readers that there are some pretty unpleasant photos. http://hlaoo1980.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/buddhist-exodus-from-bangladeshs.html

  • Shazza

    As an atheist I find it amazing that people believe that ‘god’ frets about women wearing veils, girls having to undergo FGM (what was the point in ‘creating’ them with those bits?) on this little planet, one of the zillions in zillions of universes out there.

    As for the Burmese – they know what happens when you allow islam to root in your country – you think they want their country to turn into Minaret Hamlets? Or Lebanon? Or Egypt?

    • dado_trunking

      You are no atheist – you believe in hate preaching and have been found out many times.

      • Shazza

        The only things I hate are ideologies whose roots are based in totalitarian authority, misogyny,certain religious beliefs being ruthlessly enforced on all, denial of scientific facts, primitive practices.

        I don’t care what people believe as long as their beliefs are not forced on others who do not share their ideologies and are legally forced to refrain from criticising them.

        • dado_trunking

          Nothing is forced on you. You chose not to live your culture.
          That is the ONLY way you could lose what you supposedly cherish.

          • Shazza

            Tell that to the persecuted Christians and non moslems in Iraq etc.

            Your naivete, ignorance and close mindedness reflect the typical bullying, authoritarian, hate filled traits of the Loony Left in which you excel and which have brought the civilised Western world to impending disaster.

            You failed with the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao to stifle freedom in the West and now you side with an ideology which makes the policies of the aforementioned seem like a walk in the park.
            In all probability your lot is going to succeed – your dumbed down cultural Marxist education has rendered the indigenous British people into an apathetic state far more interested in trash telly, football than what is happening around them.

            When the fruits of your labour manifest themselves with Saturday stonings in place of football and all the other delights your comrades in arms support, maybe you will have the decency to admit what your policies achieved.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …it is if you islamofascist snugglers get your way, lad .

  • Tony_E

    The idea of a ‘God’ or ‘Deity’ was always used throughout history to impose one strong man’s will against his fellows.Today is no different.

    The one thing that most of the areas which suffer appalling religious wars, terrorism and hatred seem to share is that they either have very poor education, or an education system totally in the control of the religious leaders.

    Britain has become secular because it’s eduction system is becoming more and more secular. British education has another god – Socialism/ collectivism. In the main it is why the country has moved so strongly leftward since the 60’s. But if you consider that movement – especially through the universities (remember the target that 50% should go there?), it’s easy to recognise the importance of capturing states via their education system, or by destroying the education system leaving only the religious leaders in place. Fear of eternal death, and the displeasure of your deity, for those who truly believe, is the ultimate fear.

    Atheists, have no such fear – (they may fear death itself, but not what lies beyond it) – so they tend to be unwilling to throw their lives away cheaply.

    And then you can see the object of what happened in Birmingham.

    • swatnan

      If ‘religion’ didn’t exist, then somebody would invent it.
      Logic should tell you that all animals die and there is no animal heaven for their souls. It really is dust to dust; we came from the mud and we’ll return to the mud. Its the ultmate recycle. its a pity that more people don’t seem to want to understand that there is no life after deat, not even for the soul, but still insist on creating myths and lies.

      • Tony_E

        That’s the point – someone did invent it. Firstly to explain away the realities they couldn’t couldn’t understand – the rising of the sun, tides, storms and earthquakes. And history tells us that where you have a deity, soon you have a man who speaks to that deity on your behalf – and he assumes great power from that.

        • swatnan

          Maybe ‘Science’ should become the new ‘religion’ and not ‘politics’. If more people had a good understanding of science and the way the world works and the universe works then we could do away with the myths and the lies. I’d put more emphasis on Science Studies and Skills in schools and colleges than PPE or Media Studies, because these just teach you how to pull the wool over peoples eyes.

          • Tony_E

            Nothing should become the ‘New Religion’ because that word in itself behoves that some power be exerted (by the scientist) over the populous. But I do understand you general thrust that we should place our faith in Science rather than mysticism and I totally agree.

            But the first point of reference should be to take back the teaching of history from those who use it to further their own ends. A population who understands history, walks forward with its eyes open to the past.

            • swatnan

              History is a very subjective past time, whereas Science is based on an objective view of things. The Scientific Method requires Evidence and Proofs.

      • Alexsandr

        religion was always invented as a form of social control. Marx called it the opiate of the masses’ – one bit of marx where he was close to the mark.
        The tudor kings used it by saying they had the divine right to rule therefore ging against the king was a sin.

        The industrialists used the CofE to impose a society in the new towns and cities so there was a willing workforce for the mills. Adages like idle hands make the devils work came from then.

        And Islam wants to control the same – and their need to control manifests itself in their hatred of dissenters. Its a pretty strong argument, be one of us or we will do nasty things to you. Just like playground bullies, really.

  • swatnan

    Some really disturbing movements across the world with the rise of fundamentalism.
    Somehow the moderate world has to come together and smash the evil lurking in its midst. Maybe the Apocalypse has arrived when Good has to confront Evil.

    • Alexsandr

      dont hold your breath awaiting god.

      • swatnan

        Like waiting for the 15 bus, or Godot.

  • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

    One must ask why the 969 do what they do and against whom they do it: they didn’t just wake up one day hating Muslims.

    • Shazza

      The law of cause and effect.

    • John H. Graney

      That’s true enough; however, they have, in the mean time, become just as bad as the Mujahideen, and piled fuel on the fire of the Jihadist narrative of the persecution of Muslims. People tend to become fanatical in response to fanaticism.

  • Damaris Tighe

    Do you honesty believe that Israel commits crimes?

    • Pat Conway

      Yes. War crimes.

      • LarryInIowa

        As opposed to Hamas? What do THEY commit? What did the Arab armies commit at the birth of Israel? Idiot!

        • Pat Conway

          Upset ya have I?

          • LarryInIowa

            No, you simply demonstrated either your ignorance or disregard for the truth. Typical of the Jew Haters.

            • Pat Conway

              Criticise Israel and you are automatically a Jew hater. Very childish reasoning.

      • Damaris Tighe

        Yawn.

    • Pat Conway

      Why did you deflect from answering my question about sin?

      • Damaris Tighe

        Didn’t deflect it. You are using a moral standard to condemn Israel whilst at the same time saying that moral standards, aka sin, are imaginary. This is a common pitfall that ‘enlightened’ people such as yourself fall into.

        • Pat Conway

          No. Why do you need god for morals? Are you not capable of deciding what is right and wrong for yourself? You live in fear of your god. I feel sorry for you.

          • Damaris Tighe

            Whether or not I need god for morals is beside the point. If sin is imaginary then moral standards are imaginary. You therefore use an imaginary standard of morality to condemn Israel

            • Pat Conway

              If sin is imaginary. Sin is imaginary. You can’t be charged with sin in a court of law. Stop confusing reality with fantasy.

              • Damaris Tighe

                And where does a court of law get its principles of right & wrong from?

                • Pat Conway

                  Right and wrong in a court of law is not based on the Bible or any holy book. BTW why in religion do Muslims cut the genitals of girls and in Judaism cut the foreskins of boys?

                • Damaris Tighe

                  Right & wrong in a court of law are based on secularised sin. Do not murder, do not steal, etc. You use these principles all the time & think you’re making them up but you’re really piggy-backing on an ancient moral code. You think you’re being very sophisticated & superior in saying ‘sin is imaginary’ but if it is, you have removed the very basis of your criticism of Israel.

                • Pat Conway

                  So without god you can’t have morals? Why do Christians cherry-pick the bits of the Bible that suit them?

                • Damaris Tighe

                  No. You are cherry-picking the bits of conventional morality that suit you, especially your criticism of Israel, whilst saying that the code on which it’s based is imaginary. If sin is imaginary then your criticism of Israel is imaginary.

                • Pat Conway

                  No. Again you are confusing reality with fantasy. That is your problem. Sin has nothing whatsoever to do with the world we live in. There is no such thing as sin.

                • ron_goodman

                  Not at all. Our society defines what we believe to be morally right or wrong, and in the case of war crimes, many people believe Israel has stepped well over the line, no matter how much finger pointing they do at the other side.

                • Pat Conway

                  There is no commandment that says: Do not rape. No commandment that says: Do not keep slaves. For centuries Christians kept slaves and it was justified through the Bible. All the slave owners were ‘men of god’. Segregation in the USA was justified through the Bible. Southern Baptists believed that god was the original segregationist. Apartheid in SA was also based on the Bible.

                • Damaris Tighe

                  Your post tells me you have a very strong concept of sin which you use when it suits you, & condemn as imaginary when it suits you.

                • Pat Conway

                  Again no such thing as sin. It’s all part of your fantastical imagination.

                • Pat Conway

                  What is the punishment for sin?

              • ron_goodman

                Sin is a religious concept, meaningless outside of a specific religious milieu. Law and morality are defined by human societies, and aren’t, or shouldn’t be, dependent on religious myths.

          • Colonel Mustard

            What you really mean is that YOU want to decide what is right and wrong, beginning with the presumption that you are right about everything. A basic leftist tenet. Subvert God and the ideology of the left can imposed as a religion enforced by Lefty-Sharia.

            • Pat Conway

              Sharia Law is as a result belief in an imaginary god. Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse. Why would anyone believe that fairy tale? They kill in the name of their god in the hope of some reward in their idea of paradise. Only loonies believe in fairy tales.

              • Colonel Mustard

                But you aid and abet them.

                • Pat Conway

                  Do I? How?

                • Colonel Mustard

                  By creating a moral hierarchy that results in you criticising Israel for a “response” but ignoring the crimes that triggered that “response”. The term that applies to you and all those who indirectly aid and abet Hamas is “useful idiot”.

                • Pat Conway

                  No. You are just upset that I dare criticise Israel. Why do you take it so personally?

                • Inverted Meniscus

                  Shouldn’t that be useless idiot?

          • ron_goodman

            If we need religion to establish a moral order, we’re well and truly screwed, because none of them show any evidence of being true.

        • Pat Conway

          Sin is imaginary. It’s irrational to believe in sin.

  • anyfool

    Possibly these Buddhists having seen what disgusting atrocities Muslims around the world have carried out, have decided to remove this threat before they became the next target.

    • RichardBaranov

      Please see my letter below. Buddhists have been the victims of Islam on a scale that is almost unbelievable, through central Asia and Asia proper, through the archipelago of Indonesia/Malaysia, millions were killed. Not being people of the book and ‘idol worshipers’ they were fit only for slaughter. In India proper, the Buddhist homeland, Buddhism was wiped out in its entirety. The highpoint of almost all Eastern civilizations was Buddhist and Islam represents a debasement of Eastern civilizations laid low by the invading barbarians who actually boasted of their slaughter and seemed to be in competition on who could kill the most.

      Islam is an evil as great as any that has plagued the world and neither the West or anyone else should tolerate it in its midst

      • anyfool

        I quite agree, we also have leading politicians openly lying about this ideology, ridiculously claiming it is a peaceful religion with only a tiny minority supporting violence, if only, but there are thousands of tiny minorities.

  • andylowings

    The real front line is the education of children. Science, knowledge and questioning….

  • Augustus

    “Religions of total immersion create social bonds that sustain the disorientated. Unfortunately those bonds can also provide potent moral support for violence.”

    And a not insignificant part of that violence is the horrendous practice of honour killings perpetrated each year throughout the Muslim world. Not including other forms of honour crime such as acid attacks, abduction, mutilations and beatings, “Women’s advocacy groups suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year. Methods of killing include stoning, stabbing, beating, burning, beheading, hanging, throat slashing, lethal acid attacks, shooting and strangulation. The murders are sometimes performed in public to warn other women within the community of possible consequences of engaging in what is seen as illicit behaviour.”

    Genocide in the name of peace!

  • Archibald Heatherington

    I just can’t be bothered to hear about all these loonies any more. Whatever happened to leading lives in which religion played a part but wasn’t the only part? What happened to contributing to society, rather than treating it as a source of subsidy for one’s insular, unproductive community? Pooh.

  • BillH

    Good article. Thought provoking I think. Religious wars are making a come back but driven as much by this western obsession with “identity” politics. A name is not enough apparently. Fill out any form for a State run entity and half of it is taken up with stating your “identity” and the only choices you are given to assert it are, skin colour usually linked it a geographic area and then a religion. (Interestingly purity of skin colour is also vital. “whites” must be pure blood. any mixing and you are deemed “black” like Barak Obama). It all makes for global apartheid. Martin Luther Kings dream that one day his children would be judged by the “content of their character” never got a look in.

    • pointlesswasteoftime

      I always give my ethnic identity as “other” and when asked to clarify, especially by people who look clearly puzzled by this, say “council estate”.

  • avonix

    Damian: not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Christianity held its ground against (the other) religion because it was equally fanatical. In the West we created the enlightenment and the evolution of science. This gave us an advantage with which we could dominate the world. The political power of the Church was forcibly diminished and our scientific and technological culture evolved, resulting in minimal interest in monotheistic religion. The problem today is that our cultural superiority has been undermined with hordes of monotheists invading this country (and the West generally) and being given equal rights to the unprepared indigenous population. Once upon a time this was referred to as Treachery. Either we go back to monotheism or they drop their religion. Or perhaps we just sit on the fence and pretend everything is just wonderful?

    • HookesLaw

      Congratulations. You have been radicalised by the thickos you condemn.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Congratulations. You Camerloons helped create a brand new islamofascist group in Syria, called “ISIS” .

        • Alexsandr

          and liblabcon created and have nourished places like the islamic republic of dewsbury.

    • The Masked Marvel

      Or you could return to your polytheistic pagan roots, eh? One hears there are still plenty of wiccans and druids about.

      Never mind that you’ve contradicted your own theory about the problems of monotheism.

      • global city

        I think he was rather hoping that we could get back to a position were people who believed in fairy tales would just keep it to themselves?

        • The Masked Marvel

          “Get back”? What alt-history novels have you been reading lately? There has never been a time in human history when this was the case.

      • Stan Theman

        There are, but they’re overwhelmingly Unitarians running around bare-ar*ed or ex-Methodists chanting “Blessed Be!” and running seminars and workshops on crystals.
        Pretty much Mainline Protestantism lite with a few knick-knacks added in from Dungeons and Dragons.

    • JP

      Try studying your history a little better. Your point of view (one of naive sentimentality concerning Enlightenment (you seem to forget the Terror and Napoleon, not to mention the rise of violent Communism) only underscores Damian’s point. If only the world be rid of religion, and all would be well!! Yeah, right.

  • Richard Wiser

    For the sake of these people suffering let us stand for something honorable again. Destroy ISIS before its to late.

    http://www.sgoal.org/International-community-should-together-military-attack-and-destroy-ISIS

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …you should gear up and head over then, lad.

      • kittydeer

        No need to they are heading over here and thanks to all the clever dicks who insist that all religions are the same, they will be given a welcome.

  • Smithersjones2013

    What is so bothersome about this article is that Thompson seems quite excited by all this unrest. Of course there is nothing ‘new’ about it. Politics and religion have always been intertwined and that religion has always led to violence is not new either. The only difference today is we now have global communications that can give we in the west instant access to such information from all around the world.

  • HookesLaw

    This is a long post but is it not wide of the mark? We have had many terrible religious wars in the past so politics and religion are nothing new.

  • Pat Conway

    Religion: the greatest evil on the planet.

    • Laurence England

      No, that will be sin, for it takes sin in the heart to murder someone out of religious or any other form of hatred.

      • Pat Conway

        Sin is an imaginary disease, invented to sell you an imaginary cure.

        • Damaris Tighe

          If sin is an imaginary disease then your complaints about Israel are about imaginary crimes.

          • Pat Conway

            You are confusing crime with sin.

    • E Flotsam

      How enlightened you must feel.

    • Jim Station

      I wouldn’t say that atheism is exactly free of evil itself – consider Marxism / Communism, Fascism / Nietsche. These beliefs of no god have hardly led to the progress of civilisation. Millions died under Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler to name but a few.

      • Pat Conway

        You are confusing political ideologies with atheism which is non belief in a god or gods.

        • Jim Station

          In reply to a point that complains about religion as belief being the greatest evil on the planet, I am pointing out that atheism (which is itself a belief that no god exists) has led to at least as great evil being perpetrated.
          Non belief in a god or gods is agnosticism. Atheism is definite belief that no god or gods exist.

          • Pat Conway

            An agnostics views on god are unknown or unknowable. An atheist is one who doesn’t believe in a god or gods.

            • Jim Station

              Atheism still is a faith then – that no god exists.

              • Pat Conway

                Wrong. BTW there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of a god.

                • Count Dooku

                  You are both right and wrong.

                  Gnostic Atheism or “Atheism” is the positive believe that there is/are no god/s.

                  Agnostic Atheism or “Agnosticism” is the passive believe that god/s is/are unknown.

                  They are defined by the certainty in the belief, or lack thereof.

                • Jim Station

                  From Merriam-Webster dictionary website:

                  Atheism : Critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or divine beings. Unlike agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a God, atheism is a positive denial.
                  To make a positive denial you have to put faith in no god existing.
                  You are correct that there is no evidence for the existence of a god, but equally there is no evidence for the non-existence of a god either. That’s where you put your faith – in God existing or not existing.

                • Pat Conway

                  The difference is I don’t bow down and worship a supposed god. I don’t pray. I don’t give thanks or praise to this supposed god. I don’t indoctrinate young children. I don’t kill in the name of a god.

                • Damaris Tighe

                  Unlike your friends in Hamas.

                • Pat Conway

                  Hamas are not my friends. I don’t support terrorism.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  You aid and abet it. You always have. From the Viet Cong to Palestinian terror in the 1970s, the IRA and now Hamas. You aid and abet it by condemning the forces that oppose it. You always have.

                • Pat Conway

                  I condemn Israels disproportionate response.

                • Inverted Meniscus

                  Perhaps you would be kind enough to define what would be a ‘proportionate’ response by Israel when a terrorist group is firing rockets at your territory. I will give you a clue; sitting back and doing nothing is not an option.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  You bow down and worship the quasi-religion of Leftism instead and you’d like to impose Lefty-Sharia on everyone. Eventually when people like you exert total political power you kill in its name.

                • Pat Conway

                  Sharia Law is barbaric and yet another result of the stupidity of religion.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Christianity probably doesn’t want to bomb or behead you so your whataboutery merely aids and abets those who do. It is the stupidity of politics that motivates you to whine about the stupidity of religion, undermining a benign religion that threatens no-one by giving succour to a religion that wants to dominate all. Good luck with that. Atheists will be beheaded too.

                • Pat Conway

                  I don’t bow down and worship anybody or anything.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Rubbish. You bow down and worship the loons who condemn Israel.

                • Pat Conway

                  Do I? Again criticise Israel and I am automatically a Jew hater or anti semite. Condemn Islam and you are accused of being an Islamophobe. Yawn

                • Damaris Tighe

                  That’s your problem. You don’t place anything above your self & its whims.

                • Pat Conway

                  I don’t place imaginary gods above me.

                • Cecelia O’brien

                  most religious people do not kill in the name of a god either – many religious people are motivated by their faith to be kind and do good – so stop making black and white distinctions –

                • LarryInIowa

                  Read “The case for a creator.”

                • Pat Conway

                  What creator?

                • Jim Station

                  Yawn…

                • Pat Conway

                  If you have evidence for creation let’s hear it.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  If you have evidence for how the universe was created, which isn’t a scientific theory, let’s hear it.

                • Pat Conway

                  It wasn’t created by magic.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  There is no evidence there isn’t. Absence of evidence is not proof of absence.

                • Pat Conway

                  Then why does religion impose on society laws that pertain to a deity that defies all the laws of nature and for which there is absolutely no evidence?

                • Colonel Mustard

                  There is only one religion that imposes on society and you indirectly aid and abet it. Western morality, born in Christianity, has developed to accommodate changing norms but no-one forces you to comply. You can opt out.

                  The “laws” of nature are unfathomable and even the scientists argue about what they don’t know. To deny the existence of God with such certainty is arrogance. To do so in a way that aids and abets those who would bomb and behead you in the name of their god is just plain dumb.

                • Pat Conway

                  To impose the laws of a deity on society. To indoctrinate young children to believe in fairy tales. To preach one thing and practice another. That is arrogance.
                  And I completely agree with you on the killing in the name of some imaginary god but that’s religion for you.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Unfortunately for you and everyone else that is precisely what your criticism does.

                • eclair

                  Are you saying that we should then accept ‘because I say so!’ as a reason for compliance, or ‘because I say so and Ive got an axe to prove it.’ Not grounds for faith but possibly a good idea to comply for as long as it takes. Im surprised We arent herding the unemployed, unemployable and indolent to work with shot guns.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Your Hamas buddies live wherein a “religion imposes(s) on society laws”, but few places in the West do so.

                  You’re quite confused and prone to bluster. It’s not helping your arguments .

                • Pat Conway

                  I said religion imposes laws and Islam is a religion. Can’t you read?

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  You were speaking of all religion, lad. Can’t you even read your own posts?

                  Again, your bluster isn’t helping your arguments.

                • Pat Conway

                  My arguments are solid. It just upsets believers when their fairy tale beliefs are exposed. Only gullible people swallow the fables and mythology of religion and the real shame is brainwashing young children to believe in their ridiculous and silly beliefs.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  No, your arguments are mostly bluster, and for the reasons stated, your bluster is not helping your arguments.

                • Pat Conway

                  Logic and reason will always defeat the fairy tales of religion.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  …that’s just more bluster, lad.

                • Pat Conway

                  Bluster to you because, like all believers, you can’t distinguish reality from fantasy.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  No, it’s just more bluster, lad.

                • Pat Conway

                  Some of us grew out of believing in fairy tales when we left childhood, lad.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Still bluster, lad.

                • Pat Conway

                  Whatever, lad.

                • Cecelia O’brien

                  perfect example of intolerance – if someone does not share your ideas – than they believe in fairy tales – can’t you see how intolerant you are? Believe what you want – let others believe what they want- good society requires respect not intolerance

                • Pat Conway

                  What tolerance is there from religion when it classes homosexuality as unnatural and a grave ‘sin’?

                • eclair

                  But it does provide grounds, albeit very shakey, for faith, shakey in itself.

                • kittydeer

                  Islam looks pretty good at convincing everyone that there is a devil

                • Pat Conway

                  And so does Christianity.

              • Alexsandr

                faith is believing something exists when there is no evidence.

                I cant see my shed. but I know it was there half an hour ago so it is not faith to know my shed exists.

                I know there is not a petrol mower in my shed. Because I have never seen a petrol mower in there. So I dont need faith to know there is not a petrol mower in my shed. (I have an electric one)

                I have seen no evidence for any deity. Therefore I dont need faith to know its not there.

              • global city

                It is an assumption. I used to argue the point you are trying to make, but we were/are wrong.

                Unbelief is not underpinned by certain principles, etc, like a religion. I just don’t believe that there is a god. There is no ideological or philosophical reason for this conclusion.

        • global city

          You find plenty of people who are fanatical about their atheism, so much so that they want to impose it on the god bothers. Most Communist regimes had the elimination of religion near the top of their priority list, in order to place man at the centre of all ideals.

        • JP

          What did Stalin, Robespierre, Pol Pot, and Mao all have in common? Their secular war on anything religious. The collateral damage of their bloody actions against all things religious runs into the tens of millions.

      • Alexsandr

        I think saying atheism is related to political nutters is wrong. I think many sane people have come to the conclusion there is no god, and are saddened by all the unrest because of peoples imaginary friends.

        • MrsDBliss

          I think saying theism is related to political butters is wrong. I think many sane people have come to the conclusion that there is a God and are saddened by all the unrest because of people’s ideologies.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          The commies are atheists, and nobody has caused more “unrest” (or caused so many to rest in peace) than they did .

      • global city

        That is true. fanaticism in any guise is the true evil in the world.

    • In2minds

      Religion? I thought the buzzword was ‘faith’!

    • Cecelia O’brien

      no – ignorance is the greatest evil on the planet and remarks such as yours are proof of that

      • Pat Conway

        Religion = Ignorance.

    • JP

      Saddam’s reign of terror on his own people killed far more than the current religious strife.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Everything old is new again. This won’t change a single person’s opinion, though. Those who blame Bush and Blair for all this will still blame them.

  • dado_trunking

    Why worry?
    If it goes wrong it’s Obama’s invention, if it all works out, we played a game changing role. To quote BBC’s W1A: It’s all good then.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …as long as your islamofascist buddies get helped, eh lad?

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