Reading the article in 2002 of a mature 19 year old youth, a fellow author (and a follower of the Islamic faith), who expressed an abhorrence of terrorist tactics on this website, was the original spur to express a "Jew-ish" perspective on this subject. Regrettably my first attempt writing this article was never quite completed.
When I say a "Jew-ish" perspective, I say it advisedly, as I was born into a Jewish family, became a nondescript Christian (Lutheran) by force of some extraordinary circumstances during World War II, joined the ranks of the agnostics by the same circumstances, before a brief courtship with Communism after that war. My further education brought me to scientific disciplines, where I learned cautious scepticism, together with an empirical approach to the understanding of the material Universe and all the varied manifestations of life on this planet.
Reading Karl Popper's scientific philosophy later on gave me the framework within which to search for "Objective Knowledge", using the research principles of Conjectures and Refutations.
Looking beyond the confines of scientific disciplines, which can force one into developing tunnel vision, brought me to the study of Eastern Philosophies, where I was influenced by the Vedic, Taoist, Buddhist and Sufi teachings in turn.
This short article is not intended to be either a scientific, philosophical, historical, or theological thesis or analysis of what Jihad or holy wars mean, or purported to mean. Neither is it intended as a political discourse or plain polemics, in order to stir a controversial debate on the topic.
The above brief resume about my background was only intended as an indication that my own personal view - whilst it cannot be entirely free from personal prejudice (nor anyone else’s can be!) - is based on a hopefully broader platform than just one single viewpoint, born out of a narrow religious discipline.
In my humble view institutional religions of any description tend to hijack a basic human psychological need and aspiration for a "higher" more transcendental understanding of the Universe and our own existence within this perceived material framework. We instinctively tend to "know", to understand that there is something greater than all of us "out there somewhere" and in our personal search for this assurance we seek the company of likeminded people and the guidance of the more "enlightened" ones amongst us, to guide us in our quest to find a "union" with that power. There is now new scientific evidence emerging to prove that our brain is indeed genetically programmed to follow this intuitive search for a "higher purpose" and "higher level of existence".
Sadly, through our chequered human history "prophets", "false prophets", "holy men", "religious and spiritual leaders", "saints" and charlatans abounded taking it upon themselves to impart their versions of the "holy truth" on would be followers. Many religions and sects of the same religions thus developed, ossified in their own rituals and steeped in jealously guarded mysticism, misled their followers in believing that theirs was and still is the "absolute truth." Not content with purely religious fervour, seeking after a higher purpose, politics and power politics mixes with religion, forming ever-increasing numbers of “sects” and streams of conflicting opinions and counter opinions. Human nature being what it is, the gullible multitudes follow a few charismatic leaders and soon "Holy Crusades", "Jihads", "Inquisitions", "Holy Wars" "Popular Uprisings", "Wars of Liberation", "Political Purges", "Ethnic Cleansings"… "Holocausts" ensue all in the name of a "higher purpose".
We seem to learn nothing from our history. The wars to end all wars seem to turn into the opening chapters of yet another bloody conflict, all for what purpose?… The horror, the pain that one generation inflicts, carries on to the next, to teach the next… and so on and on and on…
If we could only stop for a minute to reflect on the futility of it all… With all our technology, science and arrogant belief in our own omnipotence and our "God given rights and duties", we are all just mere mortals… we have neither the knowledge, nor the means, and more than likely never will have it, to create a single living cell, let alone create a complex living organism out of basic chemical elements or molecules. What right do we have therefore to extinguish one?
One of the basic tenets of all religions is the sanctity of life. Any life. Yet, paradoxically, almost all religions at one time or another instigated, approved and even blessed their own wars or crusades. Sacrifice of life, even self sacrifice in the pursuance of extinguishing another cannot in my humble opinion lead to "paradise" and – if there is a God – it cannot be blessed or approved by “Him”. "Martyrdom" gained in the process of extinguishing another life is a cruel myth. It is the penultimate, perverted form of self-righteous self-aggrandisement. In purely religious terms it cannot be anything else but a straight ticket to hell, both for the executor and for the instigator of the sacrifice.
In political terms, it is wanton waste. In terms of human morality, it is misguided arrogance of unpardonable proportions.
Exponents of the "art" - instigators and executors - therefore deserve nothing less then our utter contempt. If we wish to defeat terrorism and the suicide bombers this is the message that needs to be conveyed by all leaders and “clergy” of every faith, by all political leaders and institutions and by all decent citizens of every nation. It is an utter fallacy to believe that arms alone can defeat terrorism. Its misconceived ideology must be defeated first. What we must all learn first and foremost is that war – any war – can never be called “Holy” and wars do not solve human problems. We must learn to resolve conflicts without the need to kill, we must learn it fast, or else one day we will all perish.
If we cannot find “Paradise” on this Earth, we have no business, nor the right to look for it at all…
© P. J. Oszmann (2002, Revised 2004)