The Peshawar school attack yesterday was truly horrific — in the same way that the Sandy Hook massacre was. Except this one that the patina of politics that makes it seem worse. I’m not sure that it is (except in that there were many more deaths). Adam Peter Lanza, in his messed up mind, must have had reasons for killing a bunch of people. And the Pakistani Taliban have their reasons. The stated reason is that it is revenge for the Pakistani army’s killing of the Taliban’s own families. Just as I don’t think torturing is right just because “they” do it, I don’t think revenge killing is ever justified — especially of the children of those revenge is sought against.
What I don’t really understand why this attack is framed as religious in nature. You can hardly go anywhere in reading about it without tripping over Muslims claiming that the attack was “un-Islamic.” It’s a funny claim anyway. The Quran is a big book. I’m sure you can find all kinds of text in it that would lead one to believe that killing children is wrong — emphatically so. Just the same, I find it hard to believe that you can’t also find text that justifies killing children. I don’t know the Quran, but all the Abrahamic religions are pretty bloodthirsty. Here’s Isaiah 14:21, “Prepare for his sons a place of slaughter because of the iniquity of their fathers.” That was God talking. There is more.
But a fundamental problem I have as seeing this as a religious attack is that it is Muslims on each side. We in the west have such a tendency to see Islam as this monolithic thing. I discussed that yesterday, The Bigoted “Muslims Condemn” Ritual. But clearly, in this case Muslims on one side are acting the way the United States does. And on the other side, Muslims are acting as terrorists. As I have tried to explain over the years, terrorism is a tactic of relatively impotent groups. Such groups would wage wars in more “civilized” ways if they had the ability.
The main thing is that terrorism isn’t something that comes out religion — much less a specific religion. Christians, Jews, and Muslims have all used terrorism when the tactic suited them. And they have just as quickly condemned it as a tactic when it suited their political interests. And atheists use it too! I am sick to death of the idea that terrorism is something specific to Islamic faith when it is actually that Islam is the religion of a lot of places where people have a lot of political grievances.
I came upon a great article from last year by Owen Jones, Not in Our Name: Dawkins Dresses Up Bigotry as Non-Belief — He Cannot Be Left to Represent Atheists. It discusses many of these issues in a general sense. But I want to highlight one that is perhaps most annoying. It is the idea that people like me give Islam a pass — that it is just our liberal nature forcing us to see the poor Islamic world as oppressed.
To this, I would add something else. I still find it offensive that Americans are so concerned about religious extremism over there, when we have so much of it here. The common counterargument is that our Christians are not violent. First, that isn’t true; it is just that we carve out an exception for every act of violence perpetrated by a Christian. Timothy McVeigh wasn’t a Christian terrorist because he acted based upon a political ideology. Guess what? The same thing can be said for the vast majority of Muslim terrorists. The fact remains that if McVeigh had been a Muslim, he would still be referred to as a Muslim terrorist.
More concerning is that I have absolutely no doubt that if American Christians saw their lives fall apart, they would not respond like Job. They would respond with violence. Just look at the violent rhetoric that the Christian right uses for mythical oppression! “Don’t Retreat! Reload!”? That was in response to Laura Schlessinger’s resignation after repeatedly using the n-word on the radio. Imagine what would happen in Mississippi if the federal government refused to send the state any more aid than the federal government received in taxes? There would be blood in the streets. But, of course, most people wouldn’t call it religion violence — nor would I.
It is far too facile to dismiss wars and terrorism as the acts of religious people. They are political struggles. Regardless, I know many of my fellow atheists who think if we could just get rid of religion, the world would be more peaceful. I wish it were so, but I just don’t see that. As Jones put it, “Religion can be used to justify anything: and, in practice, it has.” That’s true of good things and bad. Religion is not the cause; it is the justification.