Sunday 18 August 2019

Fundamentalists and the fundamentals

Sir Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1998
Sir Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1998

John Masterson

In the wake of the Paris outrage, it is surprising how much rubbish is trotted out. In a channel-hopping hour, Kay Burley on Sky described France as a deeply religious country and were she not standing in a Parisian street, I would have wondered had she ever been in the country. It is one of the most secular countries on earth. In 2006 less than 5pc of Roman Catholics, the largest religion by far, went to Mass weekly. A few minutes later, I heard some English professor of something or other blame it all on migrants. Always quick off the mark, they are. And then there was the old chestnut that it is nothing to do with Islam.

Of course it is something to do with Islam. People do not put on suicide jackets and detonate themselves praising Allah where they will kill the most innocent people if they think nothing more awaits them than a six-foot hole in the ground. The people who committed mass murder in the Charlie Hebdo office did not do so because the artists drew cartoons of Mickey Mouse. Salman Rushdie did not spend years under a death threat because he criticised George Bush.

They are misguided fanatical fundamentalists, we are told. Then it is time to look at the fundamentals. Hands up anyone who is delighted by the way any of the major world religions treats women. Scientology is good, some say. But that is really scraping the bottom of the ridiculous beliefs barrel.

Thankfully, the Provisional IRA never had the same confidence about the afterlife. I dread to think how much worse the mayhem of decades would have been if they had been confident enough in heaven to detonate themselves in shopping malls. They took the much more prudent route of putting the bomb in a car, scarpering and relying on telephoned warnings. As we know, that was not foolproof.

Religion is often used as an explanation for good behaviour. Pope Francis has a particular interest in the underprivileged. But if the Pope lost his faith tomorrow, I suspect his moral compass would not change in relation to the poor. He seems to be a genuinely kind and caring man. But if any of the suicide bombers lose their faith, I doubt they will be lining up to press the self-detonate button.

Religion depends on indoctrination of the young. This battle is today being fought in our primary schools. It always saddens me to hear a child described as a 'Muslim child' or a 'Christian child' when they are just a child born in a particular part of the world with parents and an educational system that plant the mythology of that particular culture.

I was delighted to see that a musician carried his piano to one scene of the murders and sang Imagine to the assembled Parisians. Time we all did some more caring and evidence-based imagining. Truth, justice and good citizenship are good things to believe in for their own sakes.

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