Wilkins explains some obvious things about religion that need explaining to an awful lot of people. And I mostly agree.
He first points out the ugliness of historical Catholicism, and make no mistake, it’s a wretched, awful history and Catholicism has much to be ashamed of. But it’s gotten better.
Ask yourself, gentle reader: do you fear the coming Catholic takeover of your democratic society? Sure, the various popes and archbishops (and one cardinal in particular) say fundamentally indecent things about how the rights and welfare of women and children are to be subordinated to the interests and dogmas of the Church, and if they had half a chance they’d block abortion even in life or death situations for mothers, but secular societies have forced the rank and file to accept that they are not in charge, and that they must live by the laws and mores of a modern society. Most Catholics in western societies even think contraception is acceptable, and more than half agree divorce and abortion are okay as well.
I’d love to say that no, I have no fear of such a thing, except that I live in the USA. Have you looked at our Supreme Court lately? Packed with Catholics, and most of them aren’t the gentle progressive kind.
But I would agree entirely that the influence of the kind of rigid Catholicism that expects every word of the Pope (who is also a regressive asshole) should be obediently followed. The power of their dogma has waned.
The same thing will happen with Islam. Indeed, Muslims have been enthusiastic adopters of secularism in many countries (pre-revolution Iran, pre-Erdogan Turkey, Indonesia) already. Most of the extremists are from the countryside, and rural peasants always are more conservative than urbanites, no matter what the nation, ethnicity or religion.
Likewise, I agree that we can expect Islamic fanaticism to fade, and in many places it was fading…although we can also fuel the fire. There’s a backlash effect, though, and we get sporadic resurgences of extremism — note that he mentions pre-revolution Iran and pre-Erdogan Turkey. Secularism seems to be a fragile trend, so far.
I’d also quibble with the “rural” characterization. Rural populations seem to be ripe for exploitation, as he explains further, but I don’t think it’s so simple. The 9/11 hijackers were engineering students, for instance; in the US it takes at least the kind of sophistication to set up a TV station and charm large urban crowds to become influential. The megachurches are more a staple of the suburbs than the countryside. Don’t underestimate the fanatics! They aren’t necessarily a bunch of dumb hicks.
But this, I think, is the real meat of the article:
But there’s another concern here: the sacrificial lamb, to use a religious metaphor.
Jews know this. They were used to justify every grab for power and money from Richard II to Hitler, and to denigrate every nation from Spain to America. They were a nice distraction from the real issues facing a political elite. Problems with the economy? The Jews. Problems with employment? The Jews. Terrorist acts by (in recent years) Muslims? The Jews set it up.
Muslims have a large number of extremists, to be sure, among their ranks. I suspect, however, this has more to do with dislocation, dispossession and marginalisation than it does with the admittedly awful doctrines of Islam, just as it did with Catholics before them. Dislocate, dispossess and marginalise any group at all, and they will become extremists.
That’s what I see, too. You don’t make terrorists by converting them to Islam; you make terrorists by killing people’s families, depriving them of hope, reducing them to desperation…and then using a seductive idea like religion to give them an identity and a focus, and aiming them towards doing violence.
It needs that extra kick of a large group of people to generate the necessary mob mentality, and to offer social awards for extremism. I’d have to mention that gay and trans people experience far more marginalization than Muslims, but there isn’t much in the way of gay terror squads. Desperation may be necessary but not sufficient — it also takes the support of an institution that encourages violent responses.
But also religion is not sufficient, and if the recipe for terrorism is religion+fear, and if we’re not going to eradicate religion overnight (a few centuries of gentle education, at least), then we ought to recognize that the immediate solution is to reduce fear. Give the populations who are most likely to turn to violence those incentives of hope, opportunity, and justice — all three perfectly good secular causes — and the problem begins to go away.
It’s rather unfortunate that the US and Israel have somehow decided that ramping up the bombs and the walls and the abuse are the solutions, rather than agents of exacerbation.