You were born in 2009, in the most beautiful country in the world: Malaysia. Yet, there are those who are willing to destroy what we all hold dear: freedom and peace. In the name of religion or for the sake of god, some religious bigots oppress and suppress others.
When you were a little girl, I would have no doubt told you the story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. I am sure this wonderful story of an outlaw who robbed the rich to give to the poor will be a favourite story of many children for many generations to come. Although Robin Hood was not a historical figure, the king he served was King Richard The Lion Heart. According to folklore, while King Richard was away fighting The Crusades, his brother, Prince John oppressed his people with heavy taxes. And so, as the story goes, Robin Hood robbed the rich to feed the poor who were taxed heavily.
In this letter, I want to tell you about how religion can be used to oppress others in the name of God.
The Crusades and Inquisition
When I first heard stories of The Crusades as a boy, they invoked romanticism and heroism in my young mind. I imagined brave knights battling their enemies until I learned the truth about this horrible war. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns waged by, of all the institutions, the church to take over the Holy Land. These wars were supported and encouraged for nearly two hundred years! At that time, the Holy Land was occupied by Jews and Muslims. The Pope coaxed and pressured kings within his authority to travel hundreds of miles from Europe to a foreign land in the Middle East to take over an area few have ever seen before. Many people, soldiers and knights died there, never to return to their homeland.
The church managed this feat by referring to passages in the Christian bible that states the Holy Land as the birthplace of their holy Lord and Saviour while painting the settlers there as heathens and barbarians who were unfit to control the Holy Land. An estimated 3 million people died as a result.
This is not the first nor the last time the Bible has been used as the driving force to wage war among people.
The Inquisition is another ruthless episode in church history. In an effort to convert people to Christianity and to keep them in the faith, people were tortured and punished. Innocent people were forced to confess their sins through torture while others were put to death. Many women were murdered on the assumption of being witches. Unbelievable, this dark episode lasted eight hundred years, until the 19th century!!
Dear Paprika, when you grow up, you may feel drawn towards religion much as I did. Even our country’s Rukun Negara (pillars of the state) says, “Belief in God”. I once thought all religions were good and made us better people by following their precepts.
I was wrong. Religion has been used over and over again to drive a wedge between people, wage wars among countries, kill and maim people, oppress and shun groups, force fathers to disown their sons and more. When religion suppresses people, the progress of civilisation is retarded. New ideas are squashed and people regress backwards.
Galileo Galilei, hailed as the Father of Modern Science, was forced by the church to recant because he supported Copernicus’ theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun. The church maintained that it was the Sun that revolved around the Earth! They even had scriptures from the Bible to prove it, “…the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.” 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalms 93:1, 96:10. For his ‘heresy’, Galileo was put under house arrest till his death.
I hope by the time you are a young lady, the use of religion to justify acts of horror will be a thing of the past.
In my lifetime, religion and the name of God were used by terrorists to commit unspeakable acts of terror. Air India Flight-182 was blown up during mid flight in the name of religion, people watched as militants holding the Quran slit the throat of their captive on Internet video, poisonous gasses were released by a religious group as commuters boarded trains to go to work in Japan, and Christians in Bosnia massacred Muslims by the thousands for 10 years.
Religion and mob mentality
My pastor once told me, “People are like sheep – they are lost without a shepherd.” People tend not to use their own intellect if they can find someone else to think for them. Dear Paprika, you must never do that!
Mob mentality or herd mentality was put forward by two French psychologists and was studied by Sigmund Freud. Mob mentality happens when people are influenced by their peer to follow certain trends e.g. cars, music, fashion etc. You can watch this phenomenon when you are sitting in an audience waiting for a concert to start. If someone starts clapping, the entire audience will follow suit even though they have no idea what they are clapping for! Worst, you can see the effects of mob mentality at rallies where a speaker is giving a fiery speech and the audience is caught up in the fervour of the moment; such as the Nazi propaganda rallies.
I have found religious settings to be hotbeds for such activities. Supposedly-holy men have incited their congregation to do hideous acts from the pulpit. Their reward is usually the promise of favour from God or heavenly gifts bestowed upon them by the Almighty Himself. On the other hand, the punishment for not obeying is eternal damnation and suffering. Only a fool would obey blindly.
In our country, where Islam is the dominant religion, I have noticed similar trends of suppression lately. In the past few months, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) raided a publisher’s office and banned Irshad Manji’s book “Allah, Liberty and Love”. Then they went to a Borders Bookstore and charged one of the managers, Nik Raina Nik Aziz, under the Syariah court for ‘distributing and selling the book’! Nik Raina was only an employee at that particular bookstore. She told them she did not determine what books are sold or not at Borders. Yet, the JAIS officers deemed her guilty.
In the first week of puasa 2012, JAIS raided an apartment at 2.30 in the morning. They broke the front door and threatened to use violence and force if the occupants did not corporate. They were acting on a tip off that the occupants were engaged in maksiat (sin). When they did not find any evidence, they left without apologising or paying for the damaged door.
JAIS officers have raided a church and accused them of proselytising Muslims but has no evidence to date. JAKIM banned a book deemed a threat to Islam but the courts overturned it last week. JAKIM even regard their Shiite brethren as a threat to our country!
Dear Paprika, people who do wrong things in the name of religion or god should be criticised, opposed and condemned vehemently. When I comment or criticise such actions, I am usually told to keep quiet. I am told, “You are not a Muslim. You don’t know about Islam. You don’t have a right to criticise!” Yes, I may not be a Muslim and I may not know much about Islam but I do know suppression when I see it. I know abuse when I see it. I know miscarriage of justice when I see it. And I’ll be damned if I closed my eyes and pretended it is all right for such actions to go uncriticised!
Thankfully, many people like Auntie Suri and Sisters In Islam, and Uncle Fuad with the Islamic Renaissance Front defend those unjustly persecuted and open discussions for discourse instead of using violence as a means to an end.
Your loving father,