By Roderick Hewitt, Contributor
ALL, IF not most of Jamaicans, share the broken hearts of the Americans in their experience of the worst terrorist attack in their history that assaulted New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. Indeed the attack has resulted in many Jamaicans along with other nationalities losing their lives. This was not simply an attack on America but more so an attack on the values of life that are central to their cultural identity. The terrorists have used overwhelming and catastrophic force to put on the world stage a vision of the world that they envisage.
The human tragedy in USA has also served to bring into sharp focus the use of terror by religious fanatics/fundamentalists. Fundamentalism or fundamentalists are terms that are applicable to every extreme conservative in every religious system. In every faith there are contradictions. Religion can be used to bring out the best and the worst in our public discourse. Because religious faith involves an all-encompassing outlook on life and the world around it, it has the capacity of being a blessing or a curse. In every living faith such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism there are thinkers who have tried to extrapolate what they consider to be the fundamentals or core essentials of their faith.
During the twentieth century in particular we have seen the rise of militant expression of these faiths by extreme conservatives who have sought to respond to what they identify as 'liberal' revisions that have weakened the fundamentals of their faith. The conservative apologists of these religions have sought to roll back the impact of the theories of evolution, rationalism and textual criticism that they claim seek to erode the divine authority and 'certainties' of their faiths. They opt for a belligerent, militant and separatist posture in their public discourse that can easily employ violence to achieve their goals.
There is an inherent contradiction that exists in religions in so far that they advocate divine election/selection between those who are the saved ones and the infidels/unbelievers. Down through the years religions fanaticism has been used as part of the ideology of terrorism. These zealots or fanatics cannot be simply dismissed as insane persons. Indeed, the modern day terror leaders are usually very educated and technologically very sophisticated. With their 'infested or infected' minds they spread their virus of hated for those whom they allege have done grave acts of injustice against their community. Violence is embraced and legitimised as a just method of dealing with their perceived evil enemies.
Christian fanatics used terror during their crusade to wage holy war against the 'Muslim infidels' to chase them out of their 'Holy lands'. In Northern Ireland Catholic and Protestant terrorists use their religious identities to legitimise their violence. Muslim terrorists use religion to recruit zealots and further infecting their minds with propaganda that the Christian west led by the USA is on a crusade to colonise Muslim lands and weaken Islam. Fanatics are giving Islam, which is supposed to be a religion of peace, a public face of warmongering zealots. There was a reported meeting of radical Islamist groups in Lebanon during February that focused on their "Jerusalem Project" of making Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinian State and making the Israeli/American Alliance the subject of a "Holy Jihad". However, we must never forget that extremist Islam is not representative of the majority of Muslims. Just as extreme Christianity is not representative of the majority of Christians. The lifestyles of believers usually do not adequately reflect the religious text that constitutes their holy book.
The potential for conflict between Christianity and Islam has been taking root in countries such as Indonesia and Nigeria where hundreds of people are dying because of religious-inspired intolerance. All Jamaicans should call upon the USA to opt for sober restraint in response to the acts of terror. This should not be interpreted as appeasement to the perpetrators of terror.
Those responsible for these utterly evil acts should be found and brought to justice. The USA must not buy into the terror ideology and strike out of anger and vengeance. If indiscriminate retaliation is used that results in even more loss of innocent life in the Muslim world then Bin Laden's team of terror would have scored a second victory. The strength of the USA is to be found in its commitment to a model of governance that operates by the rule of law for all. It should never seek to render evil for evil because vengeance belongs to God. When President Bush calls his nation to war and a crusade against terrorism he must be careful that he does not allow his nation to become overwhelmed by hatred for the enemy.
If the USA and her allies do not act with great care then they will run the risk of unleashing the religious war genie between the "Western Christian Alliance" and the Muslim world. Already in the USA and UK there are numerous reports of attacks against Muslims. By demonising Muslims because of the atrocities of some of their believers is to be blind to the realities of life. Goodness is not the monopoly of any one nation, race or religion. And neither is evil. Christians must live in peace with people of other faiths whether we like it or not!
Evil terrorist acts
The USA has every right to find those who have planned and given orders for the evil terrorist acts, but the roots of terrorism do not lie only in the Muslim world. The truth is that it also exists right under her nose. Religious fundamentalism that inspires violence has deep roots also in the Bible belt of the USA. It has given birth to the Religious Right and the extremist social agenda of the Christian Coalition. They helped to fund the Presidential campaign for George Bush in order to have their narrow conservative agenda adopted in the political sphere. The worldview of the Fundament-alists is characterised by an overwhelming patriotism, a strong military that must dominate the world and a deregulation of business in order that through globalisation, world trade may be effectively controlled by western multinational corporations.
Anti-communism foreign policy
During the cold war era fundamentalist religious ideology gave strong support to the anti-communism foreign policy of the USA. With the demise of communism, it has focused its energy in offering strong support for Israel thus preventing the USA government from becoming an honest broker in the Middle East. The result is the continuing slaughtering of people daily by Israel and the Palestinians who have allowed their extremists fringe to be setting their national agenda.
Religious fundamentalism in Jamaica is also very much alive. Extremists are to be found in all religious groups but more so in those groups where 'one man' run things and he is not accountable to others. We have some New Age religious groups that have taken root and they thrive on people's inability to cope with change and upheavals in their lives. Some of these groups have psychologically damaged many of our people.
We have not yet reached the stage where fundamentalism in religion has developed to the point where it is closely identified with terrorist acts of violence. However, we must be eternally vigilant. Our people have embraced practical fundamentalism in our political parties. At times our political parties behave like they are fundamentalists religious groups. They do not cultivate diversity and are very intolerant of opposing views. The fundamentalists in the two main political parties demonised each other and have gathered around them those who believe in using the gun to terrorise those whom they wish to control.
The terrorists in our society operate with impunity in some communities and but for the grace of God many more communities run the risk of being engulfed by the anarchy of out-of-control young men and women of terror. I believe that it is not too late for community renewal in our nation. It is better to risk failure rather than non-involvement, but we do not have a choice but to do everything that needs doing to win back our young men especially from going over the edge.
We must journey with them in working towards the vision of a Jamaica that is more tolerant, compassionate and just. We must stand together for sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all religious traditions in our nation.
I close with a quotation from the great civil rights advocate of the 20th century Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Rev. Roderick Hewitt is Minster of Hope United Church.