Monday night’s tragic bomb attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, that killed 22 people is another example of a world caught up in the throes of fanaticism, intolerance and extremism. And if history is to be used as a gauge, we are likely to see worse in the future rather than better
Often at the centre of this madness, those who perpetrate such evil locate the justification for their horrendous deeds in their ideal of religion. It is perhaps for this reason that the scourge of terrorism is unlikely to ever go away. How does one reason with an innate faith or ideal, that often is the only thing that brings relief or comfort to one’s sordid and unhappy existence? Karl Marx once wrote that religion is the opium of the people and whether one wants to believe this or not, those among us who hold fast to a deity must admit that our inner peace and tranquility, our expectation and desire for a better life in the hereafter, are guided by faith and strict compliance.
But unfortunately it is that same “faith” and “strict compliance” that lead human beings to strap bombs on their bodies and take the lives of strangers, babies, pregnant women, elderly infirm men, lovers planning for their future in a café and families enjoying a football game in a stadium. While some use religion to teach and spread love, others use the same religion to teach and perpetuate hate. Indeed, whether it be the Quran or the Bible, teachers of religion can find within their pages justification to kill and destroy. And our existence is often made more vulnerable by the motives and manipulations of the interpreters of these ‘holy’ scripts. Self-interest, politics and pecuniary gain can so easily be intertwined into concepts of religion that the gullible do not see when God ends and graft begins.
While religious leaders on all sides, including the very religions the killers claim to represent, Condemn these attacks and insist these people do not represent their faiths, this has not prevented the extremists from terrorizing people in the name of their God.
And it has always been so. Nero ordered the destruction of Rome, blamed the Christians and later executed hundreds of them in his own interest. In the 16th century in the Wars of Religion Protestants and Roman Catholics maimed, hacked and killed each other in the name of the same God. In places such as the Central African Republic religious intolerance has led to bloodshed between Muslims and Christians – all black men and women – ostensibly in the cause of promoting a deity neither faith has even seen. No epoch in our existence has been without death and mayhem, occasioned by man in the name of some higher power. And lest we be misguided, especially within the context of the seemingly eternal battle between Muslims and Christians, the history of one is no less violent than the history of the other.
The tragedy of our reality is that history also shows that the irreligious – especially those in the seat of political power – have also been equally or more cruel to their fellow human beings. The irony is that though some might dismiss the religious idea of a Battle of Armageddon where human governments and God engage in a final conflict that brings man’s rule to an end, our reality is that with every act of genocide we bring ourselves closer to extinction without divine intervention or interference. The nuclear capacity of some nations, along with the instability of many of those who can press that fateful button, is a clear and present Godless Armageddon.
We in Barbados can do little on the world stage in such matters. Despite the many who might delude themselves into believing otherwise, there is no “fighting above our weight” in this scenario. But what we can do is to accept that the world has changed. The innocence has gone. A possible fanatic lives next door. A potential extremist might touch down at Grantley Adams International Airport at some stage. Some intolerant might sit beside the unsuspecting at the Sheraton Centre.
We reside in a soft target. So our response must be to be vigilant. Our action must be to take our vulnerability and hence our security more seriously. We have always been proud to state that Barbados is a paradise and it has been. But is that slogan still applicable today? And if it is, should we close our eyes to the reality that exists around us, and the fact that we are no longer insulated by our relative unimportance?
We in this region are closely associated with the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and other stated targets of extremists. The Caribbean is home to thousands of their citizens. There is a ‘Manchester Arena’ somewhere in Bridgetown, a ‘Charlie Hebdo’ in Kingston, a ‘World Trade Centre’ in Port of Spain, and we all worship a God.