Free thought is best weapon

By Moin Rahman
Posted December 3 2001

The United States' war on terrorism is only half the war if it does not seek to eliminate its cause. The cause -- or the other half of the war -- is against ignorance and illiteracy, which together make an intoxicating "faith-based" cocktail that attracts an eager cadre of martyrs.

In fact, the latter half is more significant of the two and let me explain it with a simple analogy. To cure a disease, say heart disease, doctors employ a double front: one to cure the symptoms (shortness of breath, hypertension) and the other to root out the cause (often in diet and exercise). The latter, if successful, can cure the disease forever. Similarly, if the root cause of faith-based terrorism, ignorance, is cured we might be rid of the menace forever.

The short history of the Taliban and their cohorts has shown that they were straight-A students of seminaries and religious schools based in Pakistan. The curriculum of the schools was entirely devoted to scriptures and religion, a system of thought which blossomed among our ancestors as complex mythologies to bring either warring tribes together or promote a new morality based on the classic carrot and stick model.

No wonder these students and their "guest" have hollered time and again that they will not let infidels on Islamic territories and the Holy Land. Their ignorance has blinded them to the fact that the crucible of all humanity is really east Africa. Their idea of a Holy Land is as myopic as their knowledge of history, anthropology and biology.

Ignorance is sometimes an unfortunate and inevitable manifestation of theocracies or regimes that shun common sense in favor of systems founded on revelations and miracles, which have to be promoted by faith. They make it a crime for citizens of their countries to exercise basic human rights, including the right to think or uphold intellectual independence from official dogma. This is in total contrast to democracy, which separates state and church functions. It encourages critical thought, argument and debate, and the most cherished values can always be challenged. It is not frozen in time.

The war against terrorism is only half-done if America declares victory after apprehending the perpetrators and dismantling their financial and logistics network that supported them. More importantly, it should make the effort to clean up the breeding grounds of terrorism by giving an opportunity for children and adults alike to let their intellect breathe freely and to unshackle their minds from ancient mythologies.

In other words, help them build the institutions that will bring democracy and human rights, and educate them on topics that range from political science to the science of life itself. By doing this we will give a chance to the invisible Thomas Jeffersons, Susan B. Anthonys and Carl Sagans in these societies to bloom and to reach out for new frontiers.

Isn't it time that they also are given life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? Don't they have every right to know that they are on one of the many branches in the tree of life that arose out of a common ancestor more than 3 billion years ago, and are genetically related to the flat worm, to the apple tree and the ape? That all humans belong to one species of primates and that nature does not distinguish the non-believers from the believers? That the mutual attraction between the sexes is something natural and normal? That pair bonding involves courtship, love and mutual affection among many species, including humans? That men and women have the right to mingle and dress in a manner they deem to be fit and appropriate?

Eventually when common folks fall in love with the wonder and splendors of their own lives on Earth and celebrate it with knowledge and freedom to think and express themselves, they will be repulsed by faith-based carrots such as a paradise with its 72 virgins that await a holy martyr.

It will be a lasting cure for "faith-based" terrorism, as there would be no one to recruit in a society that is informed and inspired by knowledge, particularly of the scientific kind.

The author is a resident of Coral Springs.






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