We sometimes think we are now civilized and no longer prone to cataclysmic upheavals. We no longer subject people to tortures like being drawn and quartered or being burned alive. We don’t bring our children to picnics to watch beheadings; we no longer use crucifixion as a punishment. We vehemently condemn Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. After World War I, World War II and the Holocaust we swore “Never again.” So are we finally progressing?
Progress happens but it is not in a straight line and not continuous. It is more like a spiral, going up and then down. It reverts back. It regresses. Summer Solstice is followed by Winter Solstice. Civilization is fragile and easily shattered.
In Lord of The Flies, young people left to themselves without a moral structure gradually revert to savagery. In the 1930’s, after centuries of civilization, Germany dramatically reached bottom. And now, night is descending rapidly over some parts of Islam. In Somalia, Al Shahab (The Youth Movement) is terrorizing the “enemies of Islam.” It attacks Western aid workers and humanitarian groups. It follows the “right path,” cutting off hands for theft and stoning for apostasy.
Boko Haram (Western education is a Sin) based in Northeastern Nigeria is also a Western hating organism, grounded in ignorance. And finally Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, founder of the Islamic State, is reverting back to the Sharia and its cruel and unusual punishments. He is embracing a great wave of regression. In his belief system, a woman is considered to be half of a man and violence against women is legitimized.
What reduces people to this state of brutality and viciousness and allows them to proudly publicize the beheading of “the other?” Is it fear, loss of power, rejection, alienation, a belief in their own righteousness?
Whatever the cause, this is very frightening to watch.
We have to remember, however, that this virulent rage is by no means new and is not the privilege of the religious only. Extreme ideologies of any kind rationalize their beliefs while resorting to extreme savagery.
During the 1787 French Revolution, the goal of the rebels was the destruction of Catholicism and of religion itself. During the Reign of Terror under Robespierre, priests were imprisoned and deported. And during the French Commune of 1871 all religions were banned. In one of the ugliest episodes of this movement, The Archbishop of Paris was seized and then killed in cold blood.
This is not very different from the killing in cold blood of French cartoonists whose irreverent pens “blaspheme” sacred cows.