Monday, 23 January 2017

The greater jihad - the struggle with the self

All of us, including you dear reader, are fighting 'demons' of some kind. Some are genetically pre-installed. Many are created for us in our early years by parents and life experiences.

Not everyone has the same demons, nor the same number of demons. Some demons are more powerful and harder to fight. Not everyone has the desire, the will or the tools to fight them with. Many people are blissfully unaware of their demons, yet are controlled by them. Sometimes they lay dormant for a while until something arouses them. The negative emotions of fear, anger, disgust, guilt, shame, jealousy have their evolutionary roots and uses but are not helpful if they get activated inappropriately.

In the light of further well publicised Muslim Jihadi attacks in Europe (Berlin, Istanbul and Jerusalem in the last few days), for which responsibility has been claimed by ISIS, the media are again trying to draw a distinction between whether the attacker was directly instructed by ISIS 'controllers' or whether it was merely 'inspired' by ISIS. Given that ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other groups have explicitly and publicly advocated Muslims to carry out these type of attacks, and provided instructions and advice on the best tactics ...

The distinction is largely immaterial and the end-result is identical. The predominantly secular Western world does not seem to be aware that it is not simply fighting an organisation (ISIS or Al-Qaeda etc) with a nice neat binary black/white, yes/no, in/out membership. It is fighting a very wide-ranging group of ideologies, concepts, world-views, a set of very, very, deep-seated beliefs about the world and an afterlife, which can be used to justify all sorts of horrors. There is a wide spectrum of beliefs and levels of commitment to them, with no clear cut-off point. At what point does harm to oneself or another person become unacceptable?
  • Getting up at 4:00 AM for personal prayer? (dedication?)
  • Spending a total of 45+ minutes per day at various times in prayer? (meditation?)
  • Self-enforced religious fasting (no food or water) for 20 hrs per day for one month each year?  
  • Encouraging children to do the same? (building up self-control or unquestioning loyalty?)
  • Forcing children to learn the Quran or to attend Christian Sunday School or Church? (unquestioning acceptance?)
  • Circumcision or FGM of babies or young children? (involuntary branding?)
  • Threatening children with everlasting punishment in Hell for misdeeds, such as girls not covering up their bodies and their hair, not doing their prayers on time or general disobedience?
  • Telling children that unbelievers (of any kind) are evil, destined for Hell, and not to be associated with?
  • Teaching children that scientific facts such as evolution are false 'theories', backed up by weak evidence and forgeries such as Piltdown man and Archeoraptor?
  • Filling children's heads with stories of 'prophets', wars, victories and losses ascribed to some supernatural being - dependent on their level of faith and obedience to the scriptures?
  • Teaching children that this life is a test for the afterlife. 'Good' deeds are rewarded and 'bad' deeds or inactivity is punished. But the definition of good and bad is clearly defined relative to your own in-group of believers. They come first in all things.
  • Teaching that the Quran, Sunnah and Hadith repeatedly emphasise the necessity of having (and demonstrating) a stronger love for the 'Prophet' and Allah than for your own immediate family members.
The parents really believe this stuff and drum into their children. So it take very little in terms of a political or social grievance to reach a situation where a couple of days prior to the latest Berlin attack, a 7 year old girl entered a police station in the Midan area of Damascus and someone remotely detonated an explosive device the girl was wearing, blowing her to pieces, thankfully injuring only one other person. Just one possible example of hundreds in recent years. Boko Haram frequently use children this way.

Most of this has been said already, in many places, so I don't need to repeat it at length, but if you have a deeply held belief in Jannat / Heaven for believers and Jahannam / Hell for unbelievers and a certainty that this life is just a transit-lounge or a testing-ground for the next life; then it follows that you place a low value on your own life and those of others - especially unbelievers. You shut your eyes and ears to the masses of evidence that contradict your own views and clutch at every shred of nonsense and pseudo-science that can possibly be used to support them.

This applies not only to Islam but also to Christianity (and other religions). I have seen it with evangelical Christians and everyday moderate Muslims in my own family, who have systematically destroyed their own lives and those of others around them over many years directly as a result of these beliefs.   

At the root of it all are these beliefs that often place oneself outside society (especially a secular society). Not obliged to contribute or take part fully in the normal sense; above worldly affairs. In the Western world, we see this institutionalised in the special tax status given to Religious organisations

The migrants who have flooded into Europe (in many cases) do not see themselves as willing members of society who wish to contribute, to take part and give back. They see themselves as jealous of Western peace and success; entitled to take what they can and destroy what they cannot. Language and cultural barriers set them apart and they'll take every short-cut they can to acquire personal wealth by any means. That means ignoring the law when it suits them and using the law against the natives when it is to their own advantage. Our Western adherence to legislation is seen as quaint and foolish, and the Welfare State as something to be milked for all is it worth. Ethical behaviour is not their strong point. 

For many of those brought up in a Muslim society this is because they have no internal moral compass. This is simply not part of general Muslim upbringing. Validation is always external to oneself. There is no sense of natural 'human' justice. The concept is just not there.

So, back to the demons then - the parentally / socially installed ones. You cannot fight these militarily in Syria, Iraq, Yemen or anywhere else. And as to the question of attacks being directed or merely 'lone-wolves' inspired by ISIS ... I'm saying that the lone-wolf scenario is highly likely - and difficult to prevent. The parentally installed demons can only be fought by widening perspective; by education - specifically encouraging critical thinking, a willingness to fully investigate alternative views with an open mind. Opening closed minds is difficult work but it must be done - for millions of people

There was a recent paper published by the Yaqeen Institute which confirms my own findings and ideas - that there are three main paths to religious doubt
  • moral / social concerns
  • philosophical / scientific concerns 
  • personal trauma
All three boil down to a conflict between personal values and those officially espoused and endorsed by Islam. So we need to encourage doubt; make people think; diminish certainty in religious dogma. It is that certitude that enables individuals to commit these atrocities in the name of their religion.
  • Personal Trauma is thankfully the least common (or least successful) of these paths, and it would be difficult and unethical to encourage. Trauma, such as religiously sanctioned abuse of women and children or mistreatment of LGBT Muslims, sometimes (but not always) raises doubt in the victim's mind. 
  • A witness to this abuse may experience moral / social doubts. Alternatively, study of historical events, battles, sanctioned 'punishments' and treatment of 'offenders' may raise doubts. Reading the Quran in your own language may raise doubts. But in my experience the thinker usually finds some way to post-rationalise or compartmentalise their thinking. 
  • The best path is the scientific / philosophical one. There are wider opportunities to do this en-masse and in my view it provides the most solid base from which Muslims can move away from the faith and never look back.
So how can we encourage doubt then? How do we weaken the certitude in the Muslim mind?

It needs education ... but in specific areas, such as the history of religions going way back beyond the Abrahamic faiths. The list of potential items here is endless, but includes such things as the Hammurabi Code which is remarkably similar to both the OT legislation and Sharia, and is inscribed on a stele, which includes a representation of the Sun-god Shamash giving the law to the king (not unlike Moses receiving the law on Mt Sinai).  

The Epic of Gilgamesh of course includes the story of Noah / Nuh / Utnapishtim in a very different context, having remarkable similarities and differences to that found in the OT and the Quran (such as the age of Noah at 950 years), although the Gilgamesh legend was recorded around 1,000 years before the OT. If you think the age of Noah is a trifle suspect, it should be seen in context of the antediluvian Sumerian Kings and the lengths of their reign.

The ancient Persian Zoroastrian religion includes many elements having a very clear echo in Islam. The number and timing of daily prayers, the story of how the number of prayers originated. The details of the Mi'raj are very similar to those of the Arda Viraf, the Sirat Bridge mirrors the Chinvat Peretu, details of the required ablution (wudhu_ before prayer, facing a Qiblah to pray, giving of charity / zakat, the characteristics of Heaven and Hell and on and on.

Muslims need a much wider and deeper understanding of what is in the Bible to grasp that fact that the Quran is not a stand-alone document; the style is referential ... 'remember when prophet X did Y' ... and the details of the story are not provided in the Quran but are generally found in the OT or one of the Apocrypha. Yet Muslims are always critical of the Bible; their view being that it has been altered and errors introduced. Modern textual analysis agrees with this point of view and results in the entire book being undermined... which of course undermines the Quran itself because the errors are so deep and all-encompassing.

We need education in terms of science, especially those dealing with time and space. Astronomy, archaeology, and pre-history; the vast aeons of evolution which passed to arrive at homo-sapiens, with the total absence of any goal or specific point on the continuum at which you can say this is now homo-sapiens (Adam and Eve / Hawa), but the previous generation was not.

Another area is the history of the development of human languages (vs the Tower of Babel story) and the idea that the Quran was written in the holy language of Arabic, as if it was a static thing and it had always existed in written form on some kind of stone tablet in Heaven.  

Biological science and the Theory of Evolution and natural selection needs to be taught simply and widely. Muslims and Christians (esp the older generations) have a very poor understanding of the principals of natural selection and all the old misinformation about chance; the second law of thermodynamics come up in discussion again and again - and those are the better educated ones!

Superstition, myth, misinformation and ignorance needs to be cleared away.