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Religious intolerance should not be encouraged in our midst

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Fri Feb 13, 2015

The atrocities committed by the ISIS group in Syria and Iraq and the equally reprehensible, though less-publicised murders by the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria and others of their ilk in Kenya, the Horn of Africa, Europe and Australia, have provoked worldwide condemnation — quite rightly so, given the horrific nature of their assaults on innocent civilians.{{more}}

In turn it has stirred authorities in countries ranging from Belgium to Australia to Niger and Chad to take action against known or suspected terrorists. With the murder of the latest American hostage, US President Obama has been forced to seek Congressional support for widening the scope of military action against the terrorists, risking embroiling his country further in armed conflict in the Middle East.

All these are understandable reactions in the circumstances, but are by themselves, not the only solutions to a most difficult situation. History has shown that military action alone will not make terrorism vanish. Indeed, the actions and the theatre of operations have been evolving and shifting with each defeat, though the murderous content remains as heinous as before. There is no doubt that the world cannot sit idly by in the face of terrorist kidnappings, bombings and even beheading of hostages.

What is worrying is that these acts are being perpetrated by persons sacrilegiously invoking Islam and the name of the Prophet Mohammed. But wanton murder and evil terrorism have no place in any religious faith. The grave danger is that by claiming that the slaughter of innocent people is done in the name of religion, the terrorists have set in train a global backlash against the religion of Islam and its followers who number more than one and a half billion people, nearly one-quarter of the world’s population.

That backlash is rearing its ugly head on our shores, manifesting itself in religious intolerance and prejudice against local Muslims. Those who practise the religion are being subjected to abuse by those of us who do not understand their faith or are ignorant to its teachings. The hysteria of the international media tends to lead us in the direction of believing that all Muslims are terrorists and that their religion is inherently violent.

Courageously local Muslims are trying to put the truth before us, but are we listening? Or are we so carried away by Christian religious fanatics that we are wont to paint all Muslims with the brush of terrorism? Those who hysterically attack Islam and Muslims seem to forget our history. Just as ISIS and Boko Haram falsely invoke Islam to cover their murderous deeds, so too did the colonialist slave-traders and slave-owners falsely use Christianity to justify their evil deeds. And do we forget that Klu Klux hangings, murders and slaughter were done on a burning cross, that sacred symbol of Christianity?

Religious intolerance in any form must be combatted, but with our insistence that our society is a “Christian” one, some feel this gives them licence to reject non Christians. As our population becomes more cosmopolitan, we are going to have more and more persons of different faiths – our 2012 Census reveals that we are Muslim, Hindu and Rasta too and more than 8000 persons are of no religious denomination. We must respect them all.

It is one thing to hold to our religious beliefs, but we must uphold the right of others to hold differing beliefs, or none at all. This Muslim-bashing, like the discrimination against Rastafarians, is a scourge which we must not encourage in our midst or we run the risk of becoming as intolerant as the terrorists we so abhor.

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