Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Religion-Violence Correlation

Well, Mumbai had another riot a few weeks ago.

A group of Muslims came to Azad Maidan for a demonstration, some carried weapons and the situation soon grew out of hand. The demonstrators went on a rampage, destroying property and attacking people, before being brought under control a few hours later.

I don't want to go into specifics but look at this event in the more general terms of religion and violence as a whole.

In the aftermath of the riot, fingers were pointed and names were called. I'm not talking about political oneupmanship and bureaucracy. I'm taking about you and me. I'm talking about what normal people talk about in homes, on the streets and online.

People antagonistic to Islam and Muslims felt this was yet another sign of how bad Muslims are, or how much of a curse Islam is.

People who don't like religion saw in this riot another indication of why religion is evil, and played up the harm that religion does to society.
Moderate Muslims apologized on behalf of the rioters and urged justice.
Apologetic Muslims urged people to think about the reasons why people would resort to violence to begin with. 

Which brings up so many points.

Who takes the blame for this?

Firstly, why do we even need to assign blame? Well, because we choose to live in a society governed by elected representatives who are supposed to ensure that we lead a peaceful non-stressful existence. That's what we pay them do do.

Did they perform? No. The police did an admirable job in not letting the riot escalate, and in ensuring law and order returned asap. This quick response is something they need to be commended for. However, it does not excuse them from the fact that they failed to preempt the riot to begin with, and those in charge need to be punished for this.

OK, so with the obvious blame over, can we blame Islam?

Yes, the rioters were Muslims, yes the riot was seeped in an undercurrent of Islam, and yes, if they weren't Muslims, they wouldn't be rioting. Does that mean we blame Islam? 

No, we don't, because Islam is a religion, not a person. It is merely a collection of ideas that people subscribe to. That the principles behind Islam are both ridiculous and irrelevant in today's context is beside the point. The point is they're just principles, which people are free to ignore.

So do we blame the Muslims, people who choose to follow Islam? 

Well, yes and no. 

We don't blame all Muslims, but we blame those who choose to interpret a religion or a belief system in a manner that leads to violence, because their form of expressing this interpretation goes against our laws. 

However, we can't generalize or extrapolate one set of rioters to all Muslims. Only a fool would do this. Most Muslims were as scared as other Mumbaikars when the riot broke out. Only a moron would look at a Muslim riot and go "we must rid this city of all Muslims". 

OK, but why call the rioters Muslims? Why associate them with Islam? They're just criminals, aren't they? Why associate them with any religion?

Because Islam is what the rioters themselves associate with, and it's stupid for us to ignore that, because this sort of information is useful in observing and predicting the ways in which a society moves and how to best control it in future.

Just because the majority of Muslims are wonderful non-violent people doesn't give us the right to purposely disassociate the rioters from Islam. It is entirely possible for two sub groups of people within the same group to interpret a belief system in two different ways. Both the majority and minority sub groups can scream hoarse about who's a true Muslim and who isn't, but they can't disassociate either subgroup from Islam itself, nor can anyone else.

Speaking of anyone else, the one thing that irritates me as much as anti-Muslim fundamentalists are the clueless liberal elite who think that religious rioters are mindless ignorant beasts with no religion. This is just stupidity and I don't know what kind of ignorant guilt-induced political correctness gone wrong, instigates this. 

Sure, all rioters irrespective of ideology tend to act like mindless ignorant beasts when rioting, but their riot has a basis to begin with, and in this case it's their religion. 

This doesn't mean we generalize the riot to draw ridiculous conclusions about Muslims. It just means the riot has a religious basis and we use this information as usefully as we possibly can. Period.

But wouldn't it be easier to just crackdown on Islam and all Muslims? 

This is illogical. You don't punish the group for the individual.

True, fewer Muslims would technically mean a lower chance of riots, but that's a ridiculous generalisation. By application, if the workers in a Maruti factory in a small town decide to riot, do we then get rid of all Maruti workers, or all Maruti factories, to ensure no further riots occur? 

At some point of time in the evolution of a civilization, any group within that civilization is liable to riot if enough members within the group resort to the same kind of violent herd mentality. 

To ban Islam is to ban Christianity is to ban Hinduism is to ban Buddhism is to ban atheism. They're all guilty because they're all groups, and all groups encourage herdthink. 

That one group is currently more violent than the others doesn't exonerate the others. It merely demonstrates that the difference in violence wrought by these groups at any particular time is one of extent rather than principle.

Is this a sign that religion in general is evil and dangerous?

Dangerous, yes. Evil, no. All religions being collections of principles, the only thing that matters to society is how stupidly people interpret these principles.

We can counter this by guarding against groupism in general, by making sure people are aware of the dangers of religion, of any belief system, of any group, of any fundamentalism.

So in summary, do we associate religion with violence?

Yes, we can, wherever we can, as long as it's not a correlation brought about by sinister or ignorant intentions with personal agendas in mind that don't really help anyone.

Also, read this article on war being inevitable by E.O Wilson.


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