Tackling religious extremism

Opinion column piece Newham Recorder 7.6.17:-

Is religion responsible for extremist violence?   There is little doubt that the Manchester bomb atrocity was committed by a religious fanatic. But simply blaming religion for such outrages is as illogical as blaming football for hooliganism. It’s much more complicated than that.

It is just a year since the slaughter of Jo Cox MP, who incidentally was a Humanist. In her case the murderer was motivated by extreme political views. These had nothing to do with belief in any God. So is there a common factor, and why have religions proved a fertile breeding ground for extremism?

The explanation lies partly in a group mentality which blocks out alternative views. Religions by their nature generally discourage questioning the creed which defines them. The same goes for some areas of politics and gang culture. It can lead to a strong sense of kinship and purpose. And the internet makes it easier for people with extreme views to gravitate towards these echo chambers.

Of course religious, political and social groups can also be a force for good. So what is the answer? Tony Blair resisted calls for a public enquiry after the 7/7 bombings, and we have not made much progress since then. We must do all we can to catch and punish those committed to terror. But surely we also need to start addressing the causes?

Acts of such barbarous cruelty show a complete breakdown of that most human quality, empathy, that is the ability to step into the shoes of others and identify with their feelings. It might sound trite to talk about building bridges in the aftermath of these horrors. But much more could be done. We need to rethink the role of faith schools, which divide children based on their parents’ religion. More should be invested in youth facilities where youngsters from different backgrounds can mix. And more honest dialogue, listening to the hopes and grievances of all our communities, may also help to foster greater appreciation of our common humanity and break the barriers of mistrust. ENDS

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists

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