Ban re­li­gion, lose the war

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Miriam Sha­viv

THERE ARE many rea­sons why the West may be ill-equipped to fight against Is­lamism. We are afraid to get into an­other ground war in the Mid­dle East; many of our armies and po­lice forces are woe­fully un­der­re­sourced; we have no idea how to han­dle the sen­si­tiv­i­ties of Europe’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion.

But if you want to understand the deep­est rea­son of all, look no fur­ther than this week’s con­tro­versy over the Church of Eng­land’s Christ­mas ad. The 60-sec­ond video, which was go­ing to be screened in cine­mas be­fore the new Star Wars movie, fea­tured a di­verse group of peo­ple recit­ing the Protes­tant Lord’s Prayer. It was meant to show that “prayer is for ev­ery­one”, but the Dig­i­tal Cin­ema Me­dia agency, which han­dles ad­ver­tis­ing for the lead­ing cin­ema chains, banned it, ex­plain­ing it could “cause of­fence to those of dif­fer­ing po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions, as well as those of dif­fer­ing faiths and in­deed of no faith.”

Now, as a re­li­gious per­son my­self, I highly doubt that those of “dif­fer­ing faiths” will find any­thing of­fen­sive in this tame, non-co­er­cive video. And if those of “no faith” are of­fended, they should de­velop thicker skin.

But, more im­por­tantly, it is an enor­mous mis­take to erase re­li­gious ex­pres­sion from cul­tural and pop­u­lar me­dia when we are fac­ing an enemy that is re­li­giously mo­ti­vated. Right now, we need to see and hear more about re­li­gion — not less.

The first step in de­feat­ing Is­lamism must be to de­velop a proper un­der­stand­ing of what it is, and what we’re really up against. This is dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble to do, with­out un­der­stand­ing re­li­gion.

Un­for­tu­nately, as a so­ci­ety, we have never had less insight into re­li­gion than we do to­day.

Nom­i­nally a Chris­tian coun­try, Bri­tain is rapidly sec­u­lar­is­ing, with a ma­jor­ity of our pop­u­la­tion (50.6 per cent) say­ing they have no re­li­gion at all, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 Bri­tish So­cial At­ti­tudes sur­vey. Of the mi­nor­ity who do have a re­li­gion, 56 per cent never at­tend re­li­gious ser­vices or meet­ings; less than a mil­lion peo­ple reg­u­larly at­tend CofE ser­vices on a typ­i­cal Sun­day.

In mod­ern Bri­tain, re­li­gious Chris­tians risk be­ing seen as ec­cen­tric.

Sure, we cel­e­brate peo­ple of “other faiths” — Mus­lims, Sikhs, Hin­dus, Jews — but it’s not really their faith we’re in­ter­ested in. We like ex­otic tra­di­tions that prove we’re “multi-cul­tural”. Is it any sur­prise, then, that large swathes of the Bri­tish pub­lic strug­gle to understand what mo­ti­vates Is­lamist ter­ror­ists? Our politi­cians in­sist that “this ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy is not true Is­lam” (David Cameron, this week), and spec­u­late that they are mo­ti­vated by po­lit­i­cal griev­ances or crim­i­nal­ity. They be­lieve that if we leave the Is­lamists alone, they’ll leave us alone, and that the “real” Is­lam is peace­ful.

Be­cause our so­ci­ety’s un­der­stand­ing of re­li­gion is so lim­ited, we find it in­con­ceiv­able that peo­ple could be driven to mass mur­der, sui­cide and war in its name. We can­not grasp that a “real” re­li­gion might not al­ways preach peace.

It is no co­in­ci­dence that those who come from more re­li­gious so­ci­eties — such as, for ex­am­ple, Ab­del Fat­tah el-Sisi in Egypt, or the Chris­tian wing of the Repub­li­can party – also want to take the hard­est line against mil­i­tant Is­lam. They understand the threat, be­cause they understand how re­li­gious fer­vour can, in some cases, lead to fa­nati­cism.

As long as Bri­tish so­ci­ety con­tin­ues to dis­dain re­li­gion, we are at a dis­ad­van­tage in the war against terror. We don’t need to agree with re­li­gion — much less prac­tise it — but we do need to understand peo­ple’s re­li­gious feel­ings.

We also need to be much more ag­gres­sive in show­ing that there are re­li­gious al­ter­na­tives to mil­i­tancy. The Lord’s Prayer is a per­fect ex­am­ple. The in­stinct to ban this piece of our na­tional her­itage will ul­ti­mately cost us dear.

We’ve never had less insight into re­li­gion than we do to­day

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.