Saturday, October 25, 2014

Radicalization: An Historical Perspective

The recent “one-off” killings in Canada by individuals identified as being “radicalized Islamists” seems shocking to people from so many countries—as, indeed, it is. These incidents will, in the coming days and months, fuel the beating of drums against Islam.

Islam, however, is not to be blamed for these incidents, nor for the rising of extremist separatism in the Middle East and other parts of the world. To categorically disparage all people who are members of any faith tradition is the greatest injustice that could possibly be inflicted on a group of people, and also a grave sin.

We could talk at length about the natural tendency to scapegoat a group of people; this dangerous tendency has led to genocide throughout history. In modern times, ethnic cleansing has occurred in Armenia, various European countries via the Nazi Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda.

But we need to look farther back to see (or remember) that this is not a modern phenomenon. The Peloponnesian war, in which Melos was destroyed by the armies of Athens, could well be the first recorded genocide in Western History. The destruction of Carthage, resulting from the third Punic War is another example. Genghis Kahn’s rampages through the Steppes, and Tamerlane’s campaigns against Christians, Jews, Shi’ites and heathens.

The Inquisition was a genocide of Cathars and other groups of Christians that did not conform or harmonize with various doctrinal requisites. Christians killing Christians has a long history that fundamentalist groups in the United States conveniently have forgotten, if indeed they have ever learned about it. A vast number of “faithful” across all religious groups have never bothered to learn the history of how their religion came to be, and as a consequence, do not know how many dead bodies were stepped over so that they can freely (or not so freely) practice their religion.

Shaka Zulu had a scorched earth policy no less virulent than Pol Pot. Lothar von Throtha issued an extermination order for the Herero and Nama people. Jean-Jacques Dessalines eliminated every white French Creole person from Haiti, during its revolution in the early 19th century. Assyrians and Greeks were massacred by Turks during the Ottoman Empire years in the early 20th century. Soviet Russia confiscated food from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and other regions constitutes a genocide by starvation, as are the mass deportations of Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonians, who were not adequately provided for at their exile locations. The Spanish Civil War… The Japanese Nanking Massacre… Cambodia… Tibet… and on and on… Many of these pogroms were followed up by lustrations against officials involved in promoting and executing them. 

There is so much more that could be listed. The point is this: Terrorism and genocide are a disturbing tendency among any group that is “radicalized” against another, on ethnic, political, religious or any other grounds.

We who hear and watch and read about individual or group acts of terror have the disturbing tendency toward instant labeling and demonizing of what seems to be an overarching characteristic (religious or political conviction, or ethnic identity). In doing this, we contribute to mass injustice and help induce the machines of war.

In other words, judgmentalism, fear-mongering and short-sighted self-righteousness in the public realm does as much to perpetuate unjust war as any individual or group act of atrocity. Willful public ignorance, on religious or political grounds of any kind, is a crime against human compassion.

Jingoism is the greatest crime against humanity, and history proves this.

The truth that we largely fail to recognize is this: Any solution to a societal problem that involves murder is a psycho-social aberration, and any “philosophy”, be it religious or political, that allows this is its own species of extremism or radicalization.

We would do well to fight the tendency to promote shibboleths. We must guard our individual and collective thoughts against any policies that will make us collaborators in the mass murder of some "other."

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