Religion’s double-edged sword cuts through Libya

One of my (several) major problems with religious faith, particularly that faith which is based on scripture, is that it can be used to justify or condemn just about any action. Like a fortune cookie, a Tarot card reading or an astrological prediction, scripture is vague and contradictory enough that a wide variety of interpretations can be said to have equal validity. It is for this reason that people as day-and-night different as Shelby Spong and Fred Phelps can both call themselves “Christian” and claim to be “followers of Christ”. They have both read the same document diligently and came out with wildly different interpretations, both of which they can defend with equal fervor.

It is for this reason that a government that is based on religion is pretty much guaranteed to get caught in its own hypocrisy – not because religious people are inherently hypocritical but because the scriptures do nothing more than give the illusion of divine justification for one’s a priori decisions. Moammar Gaddafi is learning this lesson:

Violence flared up even before the Friday sermons were over, according to a source in Tripoli. “People are rushing out of mosques even before Friday prayers are finished because the state-written sermons were not acceptable, and made them even more angry,” the source said.

Libyan state television aired one such sermon on Friday, in an apparent warning to protesters. “As the Prophet said, if you dislike your ruler or his behaviour, you should not raise your sword against him, but be patient, for those who disobey the rulers will die as infidels,” the speaker told his congregation in Tripoli

Contrast this state-sponsored co-opting of religion, not to mention Gaddafi’s full-throated endorsement of an Islamic Europe, with what he said in a long, rambling, and mostly incoherent speech last week:

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has said in a speech on Libyan state television that al-Qaeda is responsible for the uprising in Libya. “It is obvious now that this issue is run by al-Qaeda,” he said, speaking by phone from an unspecified location on Thursday. He said that the protesters were young people who were being manipulated by al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, and that many were doing so under the influence of drugs.

So when Islam is used as justification for his continued reign, it is a good and useful thing. However, when it is used as justification for violence (as is al-Qaeda’s whole reason for being), it is a bad thing. Mosques are to spread pro-government propaganda as decreed by Allah, but are to be bombed when used against the government, supposedly under the same authority. It should be stated unequivocally that there is no truth to Gaddafi’s assertion, or at least no evidence to support it. Given that he is becoming crazier and more disconnected from reality, it is probably wise to just assume that everything he says is a self-serving lie.

The tragic thing in all of this, aside from the thousands of people dead and the thousands more injured by pro-government forces and foreign mercenaries, is that both sides are claiming that Allah favours their cause rather than the other. It means that no matter what the outcome, it is because of Allah, rather than placing the credit (and blame) where it firmly belongs – on the people of Libya.

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