In France last week, conservative Muslims staged two terrorist attacks, one at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and the other in a kosher supermarket. At the time of this writing, the second attack seems to have been carried out by friends of those who conducted the first attack. Therefore, the second attack may be seen as somewhat atypical and not germane to our discussion in this post. Presumably, the first attack was the result of a number of satirical cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo and directed at Islam. Some depicted the prophet Mohammed, which is prohibited under Islamic law. There are similar prohibitions in other traditions, perhaps the one most known to most Americans is the Jewish prohibition against images of God. We can see, then, that the idea of religious law that addresses the use of religious imagery is not uncommon. However, the publishers at Charlie Hebdo were not Muslim.
In America, we have seen a number of attempts by conservative Christian leaders and politicians,
What makes both the situation in France and the situation in America more than a little absurd is the truth that religious laws and teachings are directed only at the adherents of that particular tradition. Just as the laws of Mexico do not apply to citizens of the United States, the laws of Islam and
Even among believers who understand their scriptures to be either written or revealed by God, there are disagreements about which precepts were intended only for the era in which they were written and which precepts were intended for all time. We can see, then, that even determining the meaning of a particular precept is not an easy task nor is it one that leads to unanimous agreement. This seems so blatantly obvious that one cannot help but wonder how even the most radicalized individual would believe they could achieve uniformity with in their tradition, much less outside of it. The answer lies not within the teachings or the tradition itself, but in the culture of fear and tribalism embedded deep within conservative religious traditions.
If I believe that my future throughout eternity is dependent upon my ability to convince as many people as possible or, worse yet, everyone I encounter that they must follow the teachings as my segment of my tradition understand them, it's not too hard to see how easily I might become terrified
Many well-meaning people, seeking to end the violence inherent in terror attacks, wonder if we might not somehow appease the terrorists by censoring journalists, or prohibiting depictions of Mohammed, to cite but one example. When we consider that the mandate the fundamentalist believes he has been given is the total conversion of all people, we can see that half measures will not appease anyone. In fact, it may will be that half measures and concessions will only encourage these people. We would be much better served by engaging in frank and open discussions in the public arena on the subject of religious precepts, what freedom of religious practice really means, and the use of fear as a control mechanism in fundamentalist religious circles. Of course, fundamentalists will not be a party to these discussions, but the education of the public would go a long way to increasing understanding and decreasing the likelihood of offering concessions that will only make the situation worse.