13 November 2008

Religious extremists -- theirs and ours

"Terrorist" has become, in the minds of many, a synonym for an Islamic extremist. As a result, we tend to overlook the extremists of other religions, even though they certainly have their share.

The history of Christianity is replete with extremists. John Calvin and his zealots' reign of religious terror in the theocracy they established in 16th century Geneva would have made the Taliban sit up and take notice. Fortunately, the West has largely dampened the ability of Christianity to intimidate populations in the way Calvin did, for the most part by diminishing the importance of religion generally. But Christian zealots still abound, particularly in the most powerful nation on Earth.

Unlike Islamic extremists, they have much greater access to real power. Bin Laden and his colleagues have nothing to compare to being able to call up the president of the United States and have a chat, as Christian zealots in the U.S. have been able to do for the past eight years. These believers in Armageddon may be in no small part responsible for Bush's cavalier attitude toward global warming, the greatest threat facing all of us.

Such attitudes filtering into the mind of the most powerful man on Earth is a lot more frightening than a pack of bearded fanatics plotting in caves in the wilds of Pakistan. And then there's the man himself. President Bush insisted that God advised him to invade Iraq. Meeting with a group of Palestinians he told them, "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq …' And I did." He did indeed, and the result is over a million dead, four million refugees and a country destroyed. The Christian God has guided Bush to inflict a great deal more pain than the Muslim God has impressed upon Osama bin Laden.

Christian zealots in the U.S. also form a major component of the Israel lobby which seriously deters the Americans from a balanced approach to Palestine. The resulting bias in favour of Israel is a major factor in precluding a peaceful settlement. As a result, that toxic situation continues to fester and contribute to mischief throughout the Middle East and beyond.

And on the subject of Israel, let's not overlook Jewish extremists. With their fanatic belief that God gave all of Palestine to the Jews, they too are a major roadblock to peace. One of them assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, thus derailing the Oslo peace process. Now, some observers believe they may be behind increased violence on the West Bank aimed at scuttling any efforts to limit continued Jewish colonization. According to Israeli human-rights lawyer Michael Sfard, "A new phase of settler violence, or Jewish terror, is about to start."

Ah, religion. Such a comfort.

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