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THE LONDON BOMBINGS - A SECULAR VIEW
Members of Leicester Secular Society join with all sensible people in expressing our horror at the tragedy, our sympathy with all those who have lost loved ones, and our hope for full recovery of those who have been injured.
It is difficult for non-religious people to publicly express their views by taking part in ceremonies of remembrance and reconciliation, since those who have the charge of organising these events, the religious establishment, are insensitive to secular views. While prayer and hymning the praises of a deity may ease the minds of believers, to rationalists this is just superstition or hypocrisy.
It is to be hoped that the attack on London will come to be seen, by those who organised and supported it, for the futile act that it is, and not as a model for further similar acts across Europe and elsewhere in the world. The best response to the bombers is what the people of London have been doing, which is to go about their usual secular business and not be diverted. The actions of the emergency and transport services on the day were professional and indeed beyond the call of duty, and the reporting of the events by the media, particularly the BBC, was balanced, accurate and helpful.
It seems to have been established that those behind the bombings were supporters of the political "Islamist" doctrines associated with Al Qaeda. One of the duties of rationalists is always to try to understand all points of view. Thus on the one hand we can condemn the loss of life inflicted by the bombers in London as pointless and misguided. On the other hand we can also see the point of view of people who want to see American and British military and economic power and cultural influences reduced in Iraq and other countries. If the bombers were motivated by the war in Iraq, then surely they must have realised that many of the people they would kill and maim probably took part in the demonstrations against the war that were held in London before the vote in parliament. Why then direct their wrath indiscriminately against irrelevant targets?
There is considerable difficulty in separating the political Islamist doctrines from the religious aspects of Islam. This no doubt goes back to the origins of the religion, Muhammad having been both a religious and a military leader. It is becoming important for Moslems who maintain that Islam is "a religion of peace" to make greater efforts to separate themselves from those who seek to politicise the religion. Moslem texts advocate barbaric punishments under Sharia law, and Jihad against unbelievers. [See the Skeptics Annotated Quran and Anthony Browne, Guardian article: 'Triumph of the East']. The call of the Prime Minister and others for moderate Moslems to not merely speak against extreme views but to actively oppose those who proselytise them in and around the mosques seems in effect to be asking for British Moslems to develop a reformed Islam.
Perhaps the most important question is what turned the bombers into suicidal killers. Islam, like other religions, teaches an afterlife paradise, and also seems to imply that the everyday world is just an illusion. These can be dangerous fantasies. The National Secular Society spokesman has said: [link] "Only religious delusion, coupled with a sense of alienation and an excess of testosterone, has the requisite power to make a 19-year old or a 22-year old, with all their natural love of life, feel the need to atomise themselves with explosives, killing as many 'infidels' as possible in the process." However, it is important not to have any backlash against innocent Moslems, and to concentrate on finding the people behind the bombings, a task in which the police fortunately seem already to have been making rapid progress.
One of the concerns of secularists at this time is that the authorities may take the opportunity either to further tighten security measures beyond necessity or to make concessions to religious groups. The proposed law against incitement to religious hatred may prevent or inhibit valid criticism of religion. The allowing of aspects of sharia law, and expansion of faith-biased schools will encourage the further separation of communities. Many Moslems in Leicester already live almost exclusively in their own little world and do not participate in the full life of the community. They must not be encouraged to isolate themselves even more, but to participate fully in Leicester life, and to allow others to join their own activities. The way to counter religious extremism is not to give religion more influence.
With regard to the 'unity' meeting held at the Leicester war memorial on Saturday 16th July, it is evident from the photographs in the Leicester Mercury that there seem to have been very few Moslem women in attendance, and the quotes from representatives of Islam were all from men. [See: Women in Mosques.] It is especially important for Moslems to begin to involve women much more in their organisations.
George Jelliss, Second draft, 20 July 2005.