Wars of Religion




So we have had, apparently, our first terrorist attacks on Canadian soil since the rise of ISIS/ISIL.  Two Canadian soldiers run down in a parking lot, and another shot while standing guard at the Canadian War Memorial, while holding his unloaded rifle (as policy dictated).  Two soldiers murdered, both by young men who had been ‘radicalized’ by the form of Islam practised by the members of the new ‘Islamic State’.  It is curious that the media uses the term ‘radicalized’, which literally means to ‘return to the root or the origin’.  Are we witnessing here a return of Islam to its original intent in the seventh century, to convert the entire world by fire and sword (or hunting rifle, or moving car)?  God rest the souls of the soldiers who died, and their misguided killers.  We should step back and consider this situation with clear reason, and how to respond.


It makes sense that a religion would want to convert others to its creed.  After all, any religion, certain of the truth (or, at least, certain that they are certain of the truth) would naturally want to hand that truth on to others, and free them from their (presumed) false opinions and their (apparent) ignorance.  Even the so-called ‘non-religious’ amongst us do have a kind of religion (see my previous blog of whether religion can be ‘evil’).  Afer all, ‘religion’ may be defined broadly as  those principles that guide our conduct and that, as Saint Thomas states, are the ‘master of our affections’.  We all, in some way or other, whether explicitly or impliclitly, want to bring others to our viewpoint, at least those close to us (our children, our friends, and so on).   There is nothing really wrong with this, so long as reasoned debate and dialogue are the means of conversion, and not coercion and, in the current form of Islam, the threat of a violent death.


Is Islam we see in Iraq at present (and its slightly more diluted forms throughout the world) ‘real’ Islam?  Such a question is difficult to answer, for Islam has no Magisterium, no official teaching authority to which one can refer.  We have the example of the founder and the early history of the religion, we have the founder’s Suras or sayings, collected after his death in their holy book known as the Qu’ran.  Many of these sayings are open to various interpretations, but they do imply some level of coercion in converting others to Islam (however one interprets ‘jihad’).


The main problem in Islam, to which Pope Benedict referred in his 2006 Regensburg address, is that it bifurcates faith and reason.  Man cannot question the commands of Allah, and God may indeed ask something of us that is irrational, for his decrees are not open to human understanding.  In fact, the distance between man and God in Islam is such that God cannot be referred to as ‘Father’, one of the principal tenets of Christianity.


Hence, anyone can really say and do anything in the name of Islam, and justify it as the ‘will of Allah’, citing various controversial Suras of the Qu’ran to undergird their viewpoint and their  actions.


Although freedom of religion is a principle of modern democracy, the State also has a duty, and a more fundamental one at that, to protect its citizens from the harm of others.   Yet what do we do as a nation when a whole given creed, in this case ‘radicalized Islam’, has as its intent the forced submission, and even the destruction, of those who disagree with their principles?  Can a religion, or at least a given version of a religion, be outlawed in the interests of safety?


Here, I am reminded of the 2002 Spielberg/Cruise film Minority Report, based on a short story by the science fiction author Philip K. Dyck, wherein people are arrested before they commit a crime, on the advice of so-called ‘pre-cogs’ who can see the future.


Can we arrest someone for an ideology, or under the pretense that they may prove a danger to the State and its citizens?



When England declared war on Germany in 1939, Germans in England were put into confinement (basically prison camps), even if they had lived in Britain for years, and were married to Englishwoman, and could not even speak German.   The conundra raised by such policies make good fodder in the dramatic series Foyle’s War. 


Is this just?  Our initial response, trained by many years of propounding the inviolable principle of freedom, may say no, but fear and the instinctual desire for protection give us pause to think, well, maybe, especially if the potential jihadists have posted threats on social media.  After all, freedom is not absolute.


This is not a war in the traditional sense of the word.  Even in Iraq and Syria, how are our soldiers to know who is ISIS/ISIL and who is not?  Do these ‘fighters for Islam’ wear uniforms?  What is to prevent them  protesting their innocence when cornered, claiming to be peace-loving Muslims, caught in the crossfire?


We may think back to the Vietnam war, wherein the enemy, the Viet Cong, looked, dressed and acted just like the non-Communist south Vietnamese, except when they decided to start shooting.


This indeed is a war unlike other wars, a war of ideology, a war, really, of religion.   As I have written before, whatever one says about these Islamists, they seem to believe their religion, and are quite willing to die for their creed.  We in the West, on the other hand, have little left to bind us together, or to any sort of inviolable creed.  That gives them a strength that we may not have.


I would propose that the only way to fight and defeat radical Islam is to rediscover our own Christan roots, to become ‘radicalized’ in our own way, in the truth, so that we have something worth fighting and dying for.  Only then will we find fellow converts to the truth, and offer those countless young men in the danger of being radicalized a true reason to live and to die, and, more importantly, to love in the true sense of the word.

October 24, 2014