October 20, 2008

It's never about religion, or is it?

House churches expanding in Iran despite persecution
Rising terrorism strains Indian health and rescue services
Hanged for being a Christian in Iran
Security boosted around Mosul Christian neighborhood
West Bank settlers rage against Palestinian neighbors
Al-Qaeda forums forced offline, possibly by hackers
Christian families flee Baghdad neighborhood
Israeli leaders reconsider dormant Saudi peace plan
Game delayed because of Qur'an references
Christian aide worker killed
British aide worker executed by extremists
Christians flee Mosul

Religious persecution flows across many lines. Christians, Hindis, Muslims and Jews are all still subject to arbitrary arrest, brutal murder, and officially sanctioned execution in many places around the world. Everyone alive in today's world is familiar with the connection between some of the most visible acts of terror and extremist Muslim groups such as Al-Qaeda, but sometimes we forget that one justification of the terrorists is the very real attacks happening almost daily on Muslim communities in Malaysia, Indonesia, Israel, Somalia, and so on.

None of this is actually related to religion. In almost every case, the real issue is control over some kind of resource. Israelis and Palestinians kill each other over the future of a patch of land roughly the size of the American state of New Jersey with an economy that ranks 76th in the world. In India, impoverished Christians and Hindis kill each other over menial jobs that barely provide enough income to feed an individual, let alone a family. The Iranian Revolution of the seventies was billed as a religious restoration movement, but the real beneficiaries were those Iranian families with close ties to the Ayatollahs who were given control over the Iranian oil industry. Despite the fact that at one point they attempted to eliminate trade in opium poppies, nowadays the Taliban are more concerned with selling opium than spreading Islam. And they don't mind using terrorist tactics to secure their supply of opium poppies and their access to the world market.

Religious persecution is never about religion. Faith and doctrine are the excuses violent leaders invoke to rally people behind them and justify acts of death and destruction against people who threaten their continued control. The Taliban's recent killing of an aide worker in Afghanistan (see the last few articles in the list above) is no exception. They reportedly killed her for proselytizing among those she was helping, but such trivial acts of evangelism have gone unnoticed for decades even in nations like Saudi Arabia with strict laws against any attempt to persuade a Muslim resident to join a different religion. The Taliban did not target her before, and are not now targeting thousands of other Christian aide workers. No, something else is happening. She probably took some action or made some report that threatened to interfere in their opium network. Her religion then became both justification for killing her and one more reason for the Western media to stroke the flames of anti-religious hysteria that have swept over our formerly tolerant modern civilization.

The Muslim terrorists are half-right. There is a campaign, often violent, to eliminate a system of belief and a shared worldview, but Islam is not the sole object of that campaign. The real campaign is a concerted effort by bigoted elitists who cannot understand the real value religion brings to the life of the individual. There is a war of propaganda and idealism being fought at all levels of society. One side claims they want to liberate people from outdated modes of thinking, but what they really want is for everyone, everywhere to adopt the same atheistic, elitist worldview that they themselves hold dear. The other side simply wants to be left alone to lead a simple life of God (or gods), family and community without being enslaved by industrialists intent on hoarding every resource they can get their hands on and without being oppressed by narcissistic bankers driven to micromanage every aspect of the world around them.

Unfortunately, there is no sideline in this ideological war. It has been going on since the earliest days of civilization and no doubt will continue until there are no humans left alive to wage it. The battle lines were first drawn five thousand years ago when two Ubaid settlements joined together to create the Sumerian city of Uruk, forever locking civilization in a constant cultural struggle between two competing worldviews: ambition and content.

One possible reason for the consolidation may have been warfare with a nearby community called Hamoukar. Whereas the Eanna district of Uruk had extensive workshops for a variety of crafts, Hamoukar featured extensive bakeries. For more on this see, "Earliest evidence for large scale war" at Scienceblog.com.