Islam, Terrorism and Religious Tolerance:

Summary:

We see in the world news a consistent trend of violence and terrorism associated with Islam, most of which happens in foreign countries, though some of which has recently had more of a direct effect here in Australia.  Whilst ideally human beings should feel equal outrage for atrocities that occur overseas and those that occur closer to home (and likewise feel equal empathy for those that suffer wherever they are), the reality is that we naturally take these issues far more seriously when they come closer to our immediate circle.  There is currently fierce debate as to whether Islam bears direct responsibility for breeding terrorism, or whether terrorism is more of a universal response to various other issues.  This is a topic, which brings together religion and politics, and it is one where we need to get our facts straight and be willing to face reality.

Conservatives in both religion and politics have openly condemned Islamic terrorism and militarism, and have argued that these are directly caused by Islam itself, and that every problem we see associated with the faith can be linked to the content of the Koran, and the central tenets of the faith.  Progressives on the other hand have argued that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding, and that violence and terror is a universal problem, that all Muslims are being unfairly tainted with the same brush, and that Islam itself is not to blame.  Many progressives have gone even further and defended Islam, accusing the West of deserving terrorism both in response to our intervention in the affairs of the Middle East and the way we treat Muslims (and others) back at home.

Whilst I generally swing far more to the left then the right (on both religion and politics), this is one issue where I believe that conservatives are closer to the truth, although I believe that the left has good intentions (albeit intentions that are in this case misdirected).  The truth is that whilst the potential exists for human beings to twist and misinterpret any faith, philosophy or ideology, there is in-fact a direct causal link between the problems associated with radical Islam and the core tenants of the faith itself.  The Koran itself should legitimately be held accountable when we can see an obvious relationship between its content and the behaviour of some Muslims.

This however does not mean that all Muslims are bad people, or that they should be discriminated against or persecuted, or that all Muslims will eventually become terrorists.  Rather, it is a difficult question of how to respond to a dangerous ideology, when this ideology is held sacred by a significant number of people, who naturally have rights as human beings.  It is very difficult to conceive of how to restrict Islamic terrorism without becoming the persecutor ourselves; hence the topic is a true can of worms.  Whilst progressives are seeking to promote peace, tolerance, pluralism and multiculturalism, many of them are going about it the wrong way, by resorting to pure relativism (in believing that all faiths are identical and/or equal), and by confusing criticism of bigotry with bigotry itself.

This topic is the perfect example of why we need to redefine our model of religious pluralism, and offer a rational middle ground between religious exclusivism, pure relativism and the rejection of faith altogether.  We desperately need to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate criticisms, and understand the difference between true bigotry and the need for good people to stand up against true evil (or deep unconsciousness).  Seeking harmony between different religions does not mean that we need to be unrealistic and dishonest about the very real flaws in many faiths.  Rather, as long as we pretend that these flaws do not exist we only allow them to become worse.

We must seek to reform the world’s religions towards the ideal of a Perennial philosophy, in doing so celebrating their strengths whilst seeking to rid them of their weaknesses.  In doing so some of the worlds faiths (such as Islam) will need to either radically change into a liberal mystical form (and grow into a Perennial Sufi mysticism or move in the direction of the Baha’i faith), or disappear altogether.  We need a rational middle-ground whereby we can acknowledge the difficulties we face when a potentially dangerous ideology holds the hearts and minds of large numbers of people, whilst we seek to uphold our own ideals of freedom, equal rights for all, pluralism, tolerance etc.  However, we must not be afraid to ask the hard questions, and in times of war there sometimes is no easy answer.  We must admit that we have a real problem with Islam, and the problem will not go away by ignoring it and trying to play nice.  As for what the solution is I do not know; what I am sure of thought is that being dishonest about the situation is not helping anybody.

Main Article:

Religiously motivated violence is an issue that has plagued humanity all the way through human history, and since the events of 9/11 western media has continuously paid attention to the threat of terrorism.  Obviously it should be noted that the vast majority of terrorist attacks occur outside the western world.  However we in the west have not been immune to this problem, and recent events from late 2014 (with the Martin Place siege in Sydney, which some have argued should not be classed as an act of terrorism) – early 2015 have brought this to the forefront of conversation for those of us here in Australia, whilst the latter attacks against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper attracted worldwide media attention.

These tragic events have once again spawned a wave of commentary on Islam in the media, with the conservative right condemning Islam as the cause of the events, whilst the progressive left seeks to separate religion from these tragedies, arguing that Islam is not at fault and that it is merely the actions of a few lone extremists that do not represent mainstream Islam.  Politically I probably fall more to the left then the right, and the same is certainly true when it comes to religion, in that I promote a refined form of religious pluralism and oppose religious exclusivity.  However, in this case I think conservatives seem to have a much better understanding of the facts at hand, although of course some far-right commentators and groups have used these examples to attempt to justify their own agendas.  It seems that as an extension of currently inadequate model of pluralism that is favoured by progressives, the left is in complete denial as to the true nature of Islam, the content of the Koran and the consequences of its central tenets (just as it is in denial as to the issues inherent in other faiths and their sacred texts as well).

Of course, religion itself cannot be blamed for all of the problems that plague its followers, and the left does indeed have a half-truth here.  There are indeed examples where followers of a faith misinterpret a text, and act against the tenets of their faith, whilst claiming to uphold it.  However, when we examine these cases in detail it is quite apparent when someone is twisting a text for their own reasons, and when they are simply following through on what is actually written (in which case defenders of scripture attempt to argue that a text should be read allegorically when it is embarrassing to them, regardless of the original context of the work itself).  Many issues that plague religion are simply a manifestation of the lower side of human nature, and the very same issues manifest in slightly different ways in various other fields, such as politics, business and so forth.  However, we need to acknowledge the reality that there are indeed many cases where individual religions condone and promote hatred, discrimination, violence and so forth, and hence when their followers manifest these features there is a link between the faith of the individuals and their behaviour.

It is indeed true that a psychologically and spiritually mature person can find the best in whatever culture and faith they are raised in and highlight those features, whilst someone who is immature can likewise do the opposite.  However not all faiths are equal or identical, and different religions have different strengths and weaknesses.  We do not have a problem with Sikh terrorists murdering civilians, or Buddhist monks preaching hatred against western civilisation.  Whilst there are examples where followers of the Dharmic faiths have been involved in local disputes (such as the problems in Burma), their religious texts do not generally condone and/or promote violence or hate.

Progressives commonly point out that Islam is not alone in having “difficult passages” in its sacred text, and that the same can also be said of Christianity and Judaism, amongst others.  Likewise they often also go on to point out that the religious right in America have a major influence on American politics and foreign policy.  Likewise, they point out that Israel’s actions and general policy towards the Palestinian’s in occupied (or “disputed”) territory may not simply be a case of political ideology, but may likewise be influenced by religious tensions between Jews and Muslims and a belief that Jews alone have a God given right to the land of Israel (Zionism).  Hence they argue that Christianity and Judaism are just as guilty of influencing religious violence as is Islam, and that an equal amount of justification for their atrocities can be found within the Bible and Tanakh as within the Koran.

In response, conservative Christians generally attempt to argue that Christianity is without blemish, that their critics simply misread the Bible, take it out of context and attempt to paint all Christians with the same brush due to the actions of a few misguided souls who do not represent Christianity as a whole.  Likewise, they are also frequently known to defend all of the actions of Israel, and to distance Judaism and Christianity from Islam (conservative Christians like to speak of the “Judeo-Christian tradition”, to separate it from the term “Abrahamic faiths” that those outside of their faith use to group Judaism, Christianity and Islam together into a general category).

In this regard Christian apologists play exactly the same game that Islamic apologists play, except from the opposite side of the table.  The problem is very much the same for both Christians and Muslims alike, in that many of them are in denial about the very real issues with their faiths, and they attempt to deflect legitimate criticisms back to their critics, accusing their critics of religious bigotry and racism, despite the reality that their critics are often accurately identifying bigotry within their faith.  It matters not how well we present our case against any religion; followers of those faiths who have made their identification with that faith part of how they see themselves (their ego, or false self) will refuse to acknowledge the case, and will use all manner of fallacies in order to justify to themselves (and other devotees) the deflection of their critics case.

Unfortunately the left side of religion and politics have in many respects become the friend of the fundamentalist, in that many progressives will not acknowledge that the problems with Christianity and Islam have roots in the foundation of these faiths, in their sacred texts and core concepts and beliefs.  Rather, the dogma of the left as a whole is that it is only that some misguided souls misinterpret portions of various sacred texts that we perceive problems in these faiths, and that the founders and founding principles and texts of all the world religions were pure vehicles for higher truths.  The problem is that this simply isn’t true; it paints progressives (who I count myself amongst) as being ignorant and/or dishonest about religion, and it actually goes a long way towards allowing fundamentalism and fanaticism to continue.

As long as progressives deny that there is anything fundamentally flawed with the Tanakh, the Bible and the Koran, there will be individuals who will read these texts as they are, and will take them seriously; including passages that (if taken seriously) bare serious consequences.  You cannot read the sacred texts of the Abrahamic faiths objectively and tell me that there are only a handful of “difficult” passages found within them; rather the opposite is true, they are filled with offensive concepts and commandments throughout.  Hence, as long as progressives espouse the dogma that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these texts, they are allowing these texts to retain their status as sacred works, and passively promoting them.

What we (those of us on the left) should be doing is being honest about the content of these texts, and promoting informed and reasonable views about them.  One can be informed and realistic about the nature of the Tanakh without being an anti-Semite.  Likewise, being realistic about the Bible doesn’t make you a bigot.  And again, being informed and realistic about the nature of the Koran doesn’t make you racist against people of middle-eastern descent, or Islamaphobic, or anything like that.  Rather, when progressives start to be honest about religion we will actually have more hope of being successful in our attempts at promoting peace.  Pretending that there aren’t any problems does not solve the problems; rather it allows them, and hence progressives that take the soft approach are shooting themselves in the foot, and refusing to stand up for the principles (freedom, human rights etc.) that are supposed to define their worldview.

Very few people on the left side of the political spectrum seem to understand the subtlety and complexity of the relationship between the three Abrahamic faiths, and their social effects.  It is indeed absolutely true that Judaism and Christianity both share many of the same flaws that are present in Islam, and I for one am quite open in my criticisms of them for these reasons, as I am with Islam.  The Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh, which appears in slightly modified form in the Christian Bible as the Old Testament) suffers from many of the same flaws as does the Koran.  The Tanakh is filled with “difficult passages”, and even the New Testament contains many problems, despite its far more pleasant nature by comparison to the OT.

As with Islam, there are many examples of real issues that occur in Jewish and Christian contexts today that can be directly linked to the content of the their sacred texts.  Judaism today however is (thankfully) quite different in the way that it is practiced by comparison to the religion that was practiced by the ancient Hebrews, and Judaism has been through many levels of reform through to the modern age.  That said, many Jews still consider the Tanakh to be divinely inspired and take it seriously, and would be hesitant to admit the great number of flaws it contains.

The nation of Israel has a very difficult relationship with the nations around it (of which I do not wish to discuss here), and it can possibly be argued that its actions have been motivated by an ideology that the Jewish people have a divine right to the land of Israel (Zionism), and that this ideology has inspired various human rights abuses, and contributed towards very difficult political territory (noting that Jewish people are also still victims of real anti-Semitism, and Hamas is a effectively a terrorist organization).  However, outside of the Middle East, one does not hear of Jewish people stirring up trouble for non-Jews due to their religious ideology.  Rather, Jewish people seem to be quite happy to allow non-Jews to live as they will, and do not feel a need to proselytize and convert others to their faith.

Christianity today is quite diverse in that there is a large spread from conservative to liberal believers.  We are all quite fortunate that very few Christians today attempt to enforce Old Testament laws upon anyone, but rather partial (or total) abrogation of the Jewish Law is a fundamental feature of Christianity.  Essentially we have a situation in which Christians generally believe that the Old Testament is the word of God and accurately represents the laws, behaviour and personality of God prior to the coming of Christ.  However, as explained through the Pauline epistles Christians believe that Jesus fulfilled the Jewish Law and brought about a new dispensation (age), in which these laws no longer applied.  There are several problems with all of this however, the primary one being that nowhere is there a specific explanation over which of the laws still apply and which don’t.  Hence, Christians themselves essentially pick and choose which parts of the Old Testament they choose to accept and which they don’t.

Fortunately for us today it means that we don’t have too many problems with Christians trying to enforce OT laws upon non-believers.  However, that is not to say that we do not still have problems with Christians trying to force their beliefs upon those outside their faith, and it is not to say that there are not real causal links between the content of the Bible itself and the behaviour of such Christians.  I for one am quite open in my criticism of some facets of Christianity and the behaviour of conservative Christians who take the Bible quite seriously.  Likewise, I again have been quite outspoken for some time in arguing that liberal Christians aren’t going far enough in their reforms, in that whilst I generally commend them for rejecting religious exclusivity, belief in eternal damnation and so forth, they generally still continue to give divine status to the Bible, and have not been strong enough in distancing themselves from various dogmas of their mother faith.

As with Islam, there is significant ignorance even amongst university-educated progressives as to the history of Christianity.  For example, the amount of times I have heard it stated that the doctrine of hell was invented by Catholics in the middle ages, and was not a feature of the early church, and likewise is not really espoused in the New Testament.  The problem with this statement is that it is patently false; in truth the doctrine of hell may have been extrapolated in the middle ages, but ultimately was taught from the earliest recorded times by the church fathers, and whilst there is certainly ambiguity about different terms used in the NT that are read today as referring to Hell, the passages are there, and at least some of them should probably be read in the way that fundamentalists today read them.

Likewise, the amount of times I have heard people claim that fundamentalism is a recent development in Christianity, only occurring in the last century in the US.  Again, there is only the faintest element of truth in this, as the label fundamentalism was only coined in the last century.  In truth however, nearly all of the core features of fundamentalism (as fundamentalists themselves defined it) can be traced back to the early church fathers who defined what orthodox Christianity was in the first place, and the only real grey area is the issue of how literarily the early church fathers read the Bible (I would argue that they read it literarily unless they were embarrassed by what it said, at which point they followed Philo in arguing for the absurdity of a literal reading).

The point of all this is that pointing out that there are likewise flaws in Judaism and Christianity does not mean that we cannot point out flaws in Islam, and it does not mean that we can’t argue for a causal relationship between the core problems of Islam and the behaviour of some Muslims.  Rather, we need to be realistic about all faiths, noting both their strengths and weakness.  We need to be able to give informed and reasonable critiques of any faith, ideology or culture without either going too far and being jerks about it, or on the other end of the scale being labelled as racists or bigots merely for objecting to offensive and dangerous beliefs.

Progressives are attempting to argue in favour of multiculturalism and religious and cultural pluralism, and to this I tip my hat (as it’s what I too aspire towards).  However, the way that many of them are doing it is invalid, and has dangerous consequences.  In wake of several of these attacks social media has been flooded with posts and blogs effectively siding with the terrorists, and accusing western civilization of deserving what was coming to them.  I agree that western civilization is not without it’s flaws, and I personally am sympathetic with many critiques of American (and allied) foreign policy.  However, this does not mean for a second that I sympathize with Islamic terrorists, as if their hatred for western democracy, pluralism and freedom was in any way justified.

It is quite ironic that so many liberals leap to the defence of Islam in believing that they are defending freedom, tolerance, pluralism and multiculturalism, when in reality it is the ideology of Islam that is the enemy of all the things that they seek to stand up for.  It is Islam itself that is opposed to religious freedom and pluralism, multiculturalism, women’s rights, LGBT rights, democracy and secularism.  Legitimate critiques of Islam are done on the basis of this reality; it is those that make informed criticisms of Islam that are in-truth defending the ideals that progressives are supposed to stand for.

Let us make this quite clear; critiquing Islam is not the same as demonizing all Muslims.  As most of us well know, the vast majority of Muslim’s living in western countries are willing to abide by the laws of our land, and separate their private convictions (which still may contain ideas that clash with the collective cultural norms and ideals) from their public life.  There are many, many beautiful Muslim men and women in both western and Arabic nations that uphold many of the great human virtues, and who can draw on universal ethics to inspire them to greatness.  Likewise, there are even Muslim mystics who soar to great heights of spiritual attainment, and pursue a path of divine love.  However, none of this changes the reality that Islam has no tolerance for religious freedom and/or pluralism, and it is only in western nations that Muslims can leave their faith (and even then it can be very difficult, if not impossible).

There is a difference between giving legitimate critiques of a religious belief and racism.  Most people that criticise Islam are not racists, and do not condone discrimination against Muslims themselves.  There are of course real examples whereby people do employ racism against people of Arabic descent as a response to Islamic terrorism, and there have been examples of westerners attacking Muslims or people they mistake as Muslims (such as Hindus and Sikhs) in retaliation for terrorist attacks.  However, much of the criticism of Islam that followed the Charlie Hebdo attacks has been accurate and fair, in that critics were pointing out that Muslim extremists were carrying out the commands of the Koran in murdering those that insulted Mohammad.  Yet when people such as Sam Harris point this out, they are accused of being racists.

Racism is discrimination against people on the basis of race, not faith.  Whilst criticism of Islam may seem to denigrate Arabic people in general, this is not necessarily the case, any more than criticism of Christianity in the US would be racism against white people.  Secondly, it is not bigotry to criticize someone’s beliefs, even if the beliefs in question are held sacred to them.  Rather, if religious beliefs are held to be above criticism then they gain absolute power, as they become untouchable.  When religious beliefs promote bringing all the world under the rule of a single religious authority and those beliefs are held to be above criticism, we are then in trouble.

Pretty much every single time I mention criticisms of Islam I get the response from somebody: “I know some Muslims and they are lovely people.  Perhaps you should meet them; you might learn something?”  Likewise, I have even got the same response when I have voiced criticisms of Christianity, despite the fact that the people giving this response should know that a great number of my friends and family whom I love and admire deeply are Christian.  Likewise, we saw the same response from Ben Affleck against Sam Harris and Bill Mahler(1), despite the fact that they made it quite clear that they were not criticising all Muslims as individuals, but rather critiquing bad ideas that are held sacred in Islam.  As stated previously, the majority of Muslims in western countries are happy to follow our laws, and keep their faith as a private matter.  However, the fact still remains that when a collective call to arms is raised by someone amongst their ranks in response to a perceived insult against their faith, we consistently see large numbers of Muslims come out of the woodworks rising up in violence and hateful rhetoric.

We also cannot afford to let conservatives be the only ones speaking out about Islam, especially as some of them are also failing to do so in a balanced and reasonable way.  Granted, there have been some excellent critiques of Islam by those on the right.  Likewise, there have been a handful on the left who seem to get it right.  However, if the left continues to define its position on the topic by its denial then they we risk giving fuel to the far-right (who would love nothing better than to completely discredit the left), in which case we have a situation whereby two equally unbalanced poles continue to fuel each other, and neither one resolves the situation at hand.  I personally was quite disgusted by the amount of people that I know that shared posts on social media or even wrote their own rants that basically sided with Islamic terrorists.  Whilst western civilization is certainly not perfect, the legitimate flaws of our culture do not legitimize the hatred with which many Muslims feel towards us.  Might I suggest that those that feel the need to so thoroughly critique western civilization that they would attempt to justify acts of senseless violence and terror might try living in a Muslim majority nation such as Iran, Syria or Egypt, and then see what happens when the “religion of peace” is given absolute power?

It is difficult to know what to do about Islam in terms of how to take action to prevent a threatening ideology from further harming the world, whether through acts of public terrorism, or through the human rights abuses that take place across the world in Muslim majority nations or enclaves.  It is hard to know how to institute measures to stand against evil without likewise becoming the very thing one is fighting.  Whenever someone mentions political measures designed to stop the spread of Islam (such as reducing or completely stopping immigration to Muslims, or even deporting Muslims, or halting or banning the construction and/or operation of Mosque’s and Islamic schools, or banning the burqa and hijab) it always makes me feel quite uncomfortable, as it blurs the line between persecutor and persecuted, right and wrong.  How do we stop bigotry without becoming bigots ourselves?

There is an example from history which is somewhat relevant to this topic and may give context to what we are facing (though it is an extremely touchy subject); that being Roman persecution of Christians in the first four centuries of the Common Era (which I will point out was actually quite sporadic, and was not the consistent and widespread persecution that many Christians would paint it as).  One may ask how that scenario is relevant to the discussion of Islam in the west today?  Certainly most people would view the Roman world as being the evil persecutor of innocent Christians, who were denied religious freedom and tortured and/or murdered simply for their faith.  Well this is true, but it is only part of the picture.  The Roman world was actually extremely pluralistic and tolerated all sorts of religious beliefs, as long as one was happy to take part in the state cult of Emperor worship, and propagation of the gods.

Christians weren’t so much persecuted simply for their personal faith; rather it was because they refused to participate in the state religion, and because they actively spoke against the empire of Rome (preaching its immanent destruction) and the religious practices and beliefs of everyone else (which they claimed were demonic in nature).  Christians weren’t trying to merely keep to themselves; rather they stirred the pot and stood against (what was then) the most powerful empire of the ancient world.  I repeatedly find it extraordinary that many Christians have claimed that Christianity can be credited for establishing religious freedom in the modern world, when in fact Christianity did the exact opposite from the moment it gained power.  When Constantine established religious freedom for Christians (which was later reinstated by Theodosius after it was revoked by Emperor Julian) Christians went about progressively removing the religious freedoms of everyone else, in as much was their capacity.

From this point through to the modern era Christians repeatedly brought about forced conversion on various peoples, and banned the practice of other religious traditions.  Granted there were some features of pagan religions of which I am glad have not survived, and certainly many of the traditions that were banned by Christianity were not enlightened paths.  However, Christianity also interfered with the practice of philosophy in the ancient world, and removed basic freedoms of large numbers of people over a significant period of time.  It took many brave leaders in the western world to bring about a process of separation of church and state, which has brought about the fortunate situation in which we pretty much have complete freedom of religion in our secular western world (though some conservative Christians feel persecuted that they are called out for bigotry when they express their opinions regarding the LBGT community).

I would like to make myself quite clear here however, I am not in any way condoning or seeking to justify the Roman persecution of Christians, nor do I condone the persecution of Christians today, nor any other group for that matter. Rather, I simply wish to point out that the Romans did indeed legitimately recognize that Christianity was a potential threat to its status quo, and this threat actually eventualized, as Christianity did much to prevent or even eradicate religious freedom within their reach in the ancient world.  Whether or not Christianity had anything to do with the actual fall of Rome, Christianity certainly was responsible for the fall of Roman religious freedom.

I do not wish to make it sound like Christianity did nothing good for the world; in truth I believe that it went both ways.  I do believe that the world would have been ultimately better off if Christianity had not become the official state religion of Roman world just before it crumbled.  However, that is not to say that there were not some horrible features of Roman society that Christianity stood against.  I may suspect that Christianity ultimately did more harm then good, but I would never have supported Roman persecution of Christians, let alone outright eradication of Christianity within the Roman Empire.  My point simply is that the Romans were right to be concerned about Christianity, and whilst they attempted to do something about it (in their own way) they still didn’t stop it, and what’s more they ended up looking like the bad guy (not saying they weren’t) for what they did to try and stop the threat.

If we apply this to our current scenario, we have a situation whereby our own culture is not perfect.  However, be that as it may, the fact remains that we do have a real issue in how to deal with Islam, and we must consider the possibilities of where this could lead in the future.  Having said that however, it is difficult to conceive of how we can act without being perceived as the persecutor.  In this manner progressives are currently making things very difficult, as they frequently stand alongside Muslim apologists, who claim persecution whenever a government attempts to do anything to prevent terrorist plots, or members of our community going overseas to fight alongside ISIL.  For examples of this I would cite numerous episodes of Q&A (on the ABC here in Australia), in which Muslims have repeatedly claimed that they were being profiled and persecuted whenever there were anti-terror raids on their community.  This is a double-edged sword whereby any action we take against Islam can potentially make us look like the aggressor, and in which Muslim apologists and their sympathizers on the left are making things worse by trying to claim that there is no problem in the Muslim world, and that we are fully responsible for all that has been done against us.

We have a real problem whereby anybody that publically insults Muslims is threatened; whether or not they are merely giving intelligent, legitimate criticisms of Islam (such as those given by Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris) or whether they are trolling Muslims, deliberately trying to provoke them (as is often the case with political satirists, who take their genre as a licence to be a jerk).  Time and time again these threats have been followed through on, producing consistent results that should shock us all.  Case in point, the film “Innocence of Muslims” was indeed a tasteless film (although it did contain truths in it, albeit poorly presented), though the response was something that we only see from the Muslim world.  Muslims all over the world responded with violent protests, storming US embassies, and committing acts of violence (noting that quite a number of people died) and vandalism.  Unfortunately, the reality is that Islam becomes more and more of a problem the greater the percentage of Muslims there are in a community, and when Islam is the majority faith a nation falls into theocracy, and human rights and secular values disappear.

The recent “Reclaim Australia” rallies directed against Islam were led by ultra-conservative Christian preacher Danny Nalliah, were attended by neo-Nazis and Pauline Hanson predictably made an appearance and gave a speech at the local Queensland rally.  I would personally never wish to be associated with such figures, yet I wish to be able to critique Islam and consider at least the possibility that we may potentially need to resort to some action in restricting Islam in Western nations; though I shudder at many of the suggestions offered to the latter, and I would urge extreme caution when considering such things.

We New Age spiritual types are supposed to focus on the positive end of every issue, and so I can kind of understand that progressives are trying to do the right thing by deflecting criticism of Islam, and trying to avoid perpetuating a cycle of retribution.  I suggest that we can do that without being wrong about Islam (or any other religion for that matter).  We can recommend that Islam follow the lead of western countries in becoming separated from political and social life.  We can recommend that Muslims follow liberal Christians in reforming their faith.  Obviously we cannot expect the Islamic world to instantly change from one pole to another.  As with Christianity it is only natural that reform takes place in stages. However, we ourselves must continue to show the way and inspire (fellow) liberals to keep moving and take the reform of their faiths to the inevitable conclusion, in which they distance themselves from many of the core features of their orthodox mother faiths.

I am unsure as to what the best approach is for the future, whether Christians and Muslims should seek to create highly liberal, reformed Perennial versions of their faiths, or simply abandon them altogether for the Perennial Philosophy.  The latter is certainly the harder option, and for many it is practically impossible.  However, if the former is to be the case then we have to ensure that reform goes far enough, as currently liberal forms of these faiths stop well short of the evolution that will be necessary for them to fulfil their ideals.  A truly enlightened person can be honest about what is, but perhaps may attempt to keep their focus upon a solution rather than getting caught up in fear.  However, passivism in the face of evil is not the same as what I am idealizing.  Likewise, taking sides with Islamic terrorists and joining in hatred against the west is the opposite of enlightened action.  We could have a difficult time ahead of us in cohabitating with Islam.  It certainly isn’t going to disappear or reform over night, and the potential exists for it to get much worse.  We will continue to have a problem with Islam regardless of whether or not Muslims (and others) have legitimate reasons to be upset with the West.  Even if we were to stay out of Middle Eastern affairs and correct any perceived injustices against Muslims in our own nations, Islam would continue to present problems.

Islam has a long history of taking advantage of progressive governments leniency, by attempting to secure greater and greater liberties.  Muslim activists do not simply push for an end to discrimination, but rather they push for special privileges, whereby Islam and the Koran are immune to criticism, whereby we cannot make images of Mohammad, and where they attempt to practice Sharia law in our countries.  ISIL is currently showing us the horrors of radical Islam, and it is difficult to imagine a true solution for this scenario.  Fortunately there are some reasonable conservative voices on this issue that recognize the seriousness of the situation and the need for us to do what is possible to prevent further atrocities in the Middle East.  However, whatever we choose to do there is no easy way out, and we could potentially make matters worse again.

As for how to deal with civil unrest back home, terrorist attacks and plots and Muslim activists who attempt to overturn western secular values, I personally cannot at this stage offer a solution or support any specific form of action to prevent further issues.  However, it is clear that my fellow progressives (remembering that I personally lean left) need to educate themselves as to the complexities of religion and its influence on politics and current affairs, and stop making excuses for Islam and blaming ourselves. The left seriously needs to get real, and perhaps integrate into its worldview some of the perspectives offered by modern atheists, who have given many well-reasoned and informed critiques of religion in recent years.

Having said all this, it is important that we don’t spend all of our time and energy focussing on fighting against Islam.  Rather, we need to actively seek to cultivate real lasting peace, by approaching the topic with the necessary depth that it demands.  Let us lead by example in finding peace within ourselves, forgiving others and reaching out to each other, whilst standing strong for the great ideals that we are privileged to benefit from in the modern world.

1)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vln9D81eO60

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