Curbing deadly religious bigotry

The Islamic fundamentalist who killed the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon, Turkey, in February 2006 was a minor. The killer of Armenian editor Hrant Dink in Istanbul a few months ago was also a minor. It was five minors who on Wednesday slit the throats of three people in a Christian publishing house in Malatya, southeastern Turkey. Wednesday’s repulsive act of violence once again raised many unsettling questions. Why is there such a widespread lack of tolerance of followers of minority religions? How is it possible for such violent hatred to burn in such young hearts? These are young people who, though perhaps not poor and illiterate, certainly lack hope and ambition and can see no further than the limits of their narrow worlds; these are adolescents who have been brainwashed during their childhood, divided between political and religious pressures and a strict society, on the one hand, and the globalized teenage world of cell phones and Internet cafes on the other. Inextricably intertwined by the tentacles of religion, these youths seek to reach saintly status through the murder of an «infidel» in the name of God. Religion ostensibly explains, counsels, comforts and inspires. But religion can also «arm» its followers by granting them an intransigent sense of what is right. These people have only one God – and infidels have no place in their world. These fundamentalists share a warped version of collectivity: They believe they exist in order to raze anything that does not fit in with the holy dogma. All dogmas – Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Zionism, Orthodoxy – have islets of fundamentalism and aggressive anti-modernism within them. We cannot say that all of Islam is characterized by Jihad. Not all Muslims believe that they are fighting a holy war. Islam is one thing, fundamental Islamism quite another. Islam today is experiencing what the Christians went through for centuries. The Christians abolished the Holy Inquisition and death by fire. They modernized religion. Islam has tried, but failed, to adopt the Western model, which is the basic reason for a series of distortions. So how can fundamentalism be tackled? By curbing inequalities through education, through the creation of institutions that defend religious freedoms, through justice and through a sturdy democracy. The West can help achieve these goals – the West, which has not contributed to the democratization of Islam until now as it has been too busy dealing with despotic regimes. It has allowed moderate Islam to wither and has exported disaster and brute force. The point is that violence breeds more violence. It does not reduce religious bigotry, which will only be curbed if its roots are cut and if true dialogue between cultures begins.

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