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Why Radical Islam is Attractive and how to Defeat it.

I was struck by the story of Maajid Nawaz, a British citizen growing up in Westcliff-on-Sea who is by any definition an Islamic fundamentalist. He spent four years being tortured in an Egyptian prison (ironically now run by the Muslim Brotherhood) and emerged to found a movement known as Quilliam opposed to radicalising Muslims (and anyone else for that matter). He wants Islam to return to being a religion rather than a political movement. To explain how radical Islam originally charmed him into its embrace, he tells the story of growing up on streets filled with white skinheads armed with baseball bats and razors, intent on driving brown skins out of their territory. These thugs were nihilists with no moral values and imperceptible intellects. Lethal bullies, blind-eyed by the local authorities defending free speech, a fear of violence spreading, and a concern for votes (the BNP and NF were and are strong in places like Westcliff). Nawaz relates an incident where he and his brother were walking home one night when their route was blocked by a gang of armed skinheads. His brother, who was wearing a backpack, calmly (!) walked up to the gang leader. "I'm a devout Muslim. I want a glorious death defending my faith. This backpack contains a bomb. Please give me the excuse to take you with me to meet Allah". The gang fled.

In that moment Nawaz realised he and his brother were the most powerful people on earth. Invincible. Protected in both worlds by their god - in whom they had an unshakeable confidence of support. Whether sporting a backpack or not, the radical Muslim needn't fear anyone while his god endorses his actions. Who wouldn't be charmed by such immense empowerment that demonstrably offers instant victory in the face of overwhelming odds. Defend your god with your life and your rewards will be huge. The most perfect marketing campaign ever invented to retain customers. It promises the biggest prize imaginable. All you have to do is defend the brand and you'll get far more than a holiday or cash, you'll get everlasting life in perfect comfort... and the best bit is that there's no regulatory body making sure the brand delivers this prize because belief that the prize exists is the brand. It's a perfect circle. And its advertising campaigns are memorised by parents and forced onto to their children.

So how does one break this circle of irrational re-enforcement? Nawaz argues you do it by restoring Islam to a religion once more. I don't agree. The circle is propagated by ignorance - passed down customer generation to customer generation, and manifested and re-enforced by thousands of massive brand outlets (churches, mosques, synagogues - think Apple stores on an immense scale, paid for by the customers) run by highly trained sales and customer support managers reading from the corporate brochures and manuals, using short excerpts as memorable jingles and slogans. They even have logos. And from birth, parents force their children to only buy that brand in the belief that by obeying the brands first rule - there is only one brand that's right and if you disagree, you will be horribly punished - they are saving their beloved darlings from horrors their immature brains don't yet understand. What would McDonalds or Nike give for our laws to be changed to allow them to use the same marketing tactics (and maybe Facebook and Google are already doing this... hmm). What would happen if religions were bound by the same laws that constrain corporations?! Perhaps fighting faith through the courts is the answer.

The cycle can only be broken when a child is allowed to think freely and learn that all mysteries can be explained rationally - if not today, then one day. Just because you don't understand how or why something happens, doesn't mean give up thinking about it and resign yourself to believing ancient beardies must be right. Science is a vastly harder road to travel where ideas from the brains of people like Dr Peter Higgs become proven through immense hard work, not dreamy ideas written down after hearing voices. Faith is lazy, give-up thinking - don't try to understand, just believe. And while I'm demolishing korans, bibles and the like, any worthy social advice contained within them (not withstanding the evil madness in them too, eg Jewish Laws), can be found throughout the world's libraries and websites, without mentioning the word 'god'.

The global growth of atheism is not an abandonment of ancient teachings, its an adoption of modern ones that simply didn't exist when the beardies wrote their books. It would have been pointless to build the Large Hadron Collider if Peter Higgs hadn't wondered about finding an answer to a mystery that resulted from evolutionary thinking. Layer upon layer of earlier people wondering and proving, wondering and proving. Take away that wondering by offering lazy brainwashed minds the option to let others do the thinking, or believe it doesn't need thinking about at all - because its the will of their god - and you not only end up with fundamentalists wearing bombs, you also condemn their brains to a lifetime of restricted bulimic thinking (ie deliberately starving it in the belief you'll look good as a result). And that's much more dangerous than the occasional bomb going off (devastating though that is to a relatively few people). The whole planet needs collective rational thinking to save us from ourselves and from our fragile natural world taking matters into its own hands. We need to make people believe that Judgement Day is better being predictable rather than a surprise at the behest of a supercomputer in the sky?

So let's all wear backpacks loaded with knowledge and reason to give us the courage to stand up to ignorance.


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