Wednesday, May 14, 2008


There's a discussion going on in the Acorn's comments sections about the heinous attacks and bloodbath in Jaipur that occurred yesterday. Nitin says that we are left with two options; accept things as they are or take the battle to the terrorists. As many point out in the comments, the latter action is convoluted, uncertain, and for one thing eminently politically incorrect (which is perfectly fine). While this or that political action may or may not mitigate things, let's not forget the elephant in the room- religion. It's religion that infuses these men with such fanatical zeal. If we could wave a magic wand and banish religion, would such attacks instantly stop? No. Not unless we can also banish human nature. But at least desperate men would not be infused with a fatalistic ideology from childhood. At least they will not instantly acquire a convenient handrail to hold on to by way of which they are guaranteed a quick passage to martyrdom and a non-existent heaven. Eliminate this insidious religious influence and things will be much better even if not perfect.

I have discussions with friends who often point out that in places like Saudi Arabia the problem is not religion per se, but poverty, lack of opportunities and the resulting desperation. I agree that these factors surely influence the inevitable march of young, poor and disillusioned men towards religion, which superficially provides comfort and a sense of brotherhood. But if it were not for these readymade emotional outlets, it would be much harder, both in principle and in practice, for these young men to vent out their anger and frustration. It's religion that provides a convenient target for that frustration, and endows youngsters with not only faith and inspiration, but high-quality grenades and explosives. The bottom line is; men will keep on committing crimes for various reasons. But religion makes it much easier than we can ever imagine. Let's not ignore this.

And our government of course, with its extraordinary commitment toward cosseting the "feelings" of minorities (and not infrequently the majority) at any cost with no regard for the greater good, would condemn the attack, visit the hospitals, call for peace, and go back to business within a day.

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Blogger gawker said...

More specifically, as I have said elsewhere, it is that aspect of religion that promises a fabulous afterlife that is the real culprit here. No matter how nuts a religious fundamentalist might be, if he were to realize that there would be no post mortem benefits to his violence, he would be less reluctant to put his life and other people's lives in danger.

10:09 AM  
Blogger The Tobacconist said...

I don't believe the removal of religion will make it harder for fundies to "express themselves". There is always a way, there is always a cause and there is always some rationale some "smart" man will figure out. Armies have been recruiting for ages and quite often "national interests" are sited as vaild reasons to sacrifice a dozen souls. And then there are the commies who (barring some in Kerala :P) have no religion but they seem equally capable of going batshit crazy.

These are desperate men already on a dangerous path that will end badly for them and possibly for people in their vicinity. Promises of an afterlife probably accelerates their march but I doubt it significantly changes their destination.

BTW, were these suicide bombings? I thought they left the bombs on bicycles.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Gawker: I agree. Lack of post-mortem benefits could serve as powerful deterrence. As it is, a promise of 72 virgins seems to drive everyone crazy...

Tobacconist: Commies may revel in their stupidities, but at least they don't kill in the name of atheism. I personally think that for many commies claiming to be an atheist is more of simple toeing the age-old party line. Actually the claim that it's not religion per se that propels these men towards killing is probably true. It may be the big side-benefits of religious brotherhood that serve as a bigger incentive. But then I ask, does it matter? if religion is going to be the label after all, we need to fight it.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

And yes you are right. I don't think these were suicide loonies.

12:54 PM  
Blogger The Tobacconist said...

Ashutosh, for that matter Communism is a label too and its idealogy has often served as a justification for equally despicable horrors.

While I would be totally at home in a society without religion, I doubt it would be a society without violence. It is the people. And people, in the 25 years of my existence, have shown an immense capacity for stupidity.

To be clear, I am not arguing that religion isn't to blame in what happened in Jaipur. I am arguing an implication I read into your argument: that its absence would make us a more peaceful species. I apologize if that isn't the point you are trying to make.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Chetan said...

I agree with Tobacconist on this one. If there are people stupid enough to endanger their and others' lives by being convinced of post-mortem benefits offered by religions, then what is to stop another ideology, divisive issue from instigating them to commit similar atrocities? The problem is not with what justifications the killers provide but with the fact that they are killing.

I mean, I am with you regarding the ill effects of religion and would like to see religions' stranglehold on populations around the world reduced. But I don't think that will necessarily lead to rational behaviour by all people and elimination of tribal instincts governing such actions. The progression of civilisation is not a linear graph which goes from darkness to light or from blind faith to reason. Putting it another way even if you were to eliminate religion, you won't be able to eliminate faith which in the absence of religion will find some other fundamentalist ideology/thought/identity issue to anchor itself to.

Suicide bombings were started by Tamil Tigers who had no ties to religion but had territorial/language nationalism as an objective. Wars have been fought over non-existent reasons supported by mostly rational populations. Similarly many genocides were about racism.

Maybe you and Gawker are right and scrapping of religions will reduce the array of options available but somehow I am cynical enough to believe that humans are pretty clever at finding alternative means of satisfying their mob mentality and tribal instincts.

1:27 PM  
Blogger gawker said...

Chetan and Tobacconist : I agree entirely that the natural human tendency is to align itself into communities and observe an "us against them" kind of mentality. In fact I have made the exact same statement myself. But what makes religion more potent in this regard is that :

1.> It provides a faith-based justification for the actions of its followers that no one can disprove because it is faith-based. Also, unlike in other cases, say communism or some other form of fraternal bonding, religion takes its orders from God, a perfect entity. Whereas ultimately the faults and imperfections of human leaders will most probably lead to disillusionment to their followers, religion suffers from no such danger as long as it makes sure the brainwashing of its followers begins from day one. Which is why communism is over and done with (mostly), yet religion lives on and thrives.

2.> As I said earlier, religion offers the bonus of an afterlife to its followers. Even though these were not suicide bombings, the perpetrators of these acts could carry them out with a clean conscience because they were safe in the knowledge that despite their apparent heinousness in the context of this life, in the larger picture of the afterlife, their acts were divine and would receive God's blessing.

5:50 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Gawker's point about afterlife-driven incentives is quite cogent and and a powerful impetus. As for the Tamil Tigers, I think they are an exception; most suicide-bombings have an element of religious faith in them.

And about communism, how long has it had a hold on human beings' minds compared to religion? A flicker in time compared to the history of religious persecution. As Gawker noted, widespread communism of the kind that existed before has lost its hold, while religious indoctrination seems to grow more powerful every day. While communists indulged in monstrosities, they did not do so in the name of atheism or anti-religious sentiment. The communists' disdain for religion was not as great as fundamentalist Muslims' disdain for infidels; most of the Stalinist purges of the 30s for example had nothing explicitly to do with stifling religion, but simply with killing anyone who opposed the party line. Most people who died were intellectuals considered too dangerous for party dogma.
Human tendency is indeed to look for an "our guy" leader. But one can definitely imagine that there would be lesser incentive for faith-based blind acts of terror on a global scale if religious influence was much lesser.

4:44 PM  

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