What Are the Definitions of the Terms?
The dictionary describes the word “terrorism” as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes” and I think this gives an accurate depiction of factions such as Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and of course the Islamic State. These groups harass, murder, kidnap and abuse in an effort to spread their ideology; they cannot be classed as anything but a menace to civilised life and act as my chosen exemplification of what a terrorist is. But one does not need to viciously abduct two-hundred girls from a school or decapitate entire villages to be classed as a fanatic, as fanaticism has a broader width, encompassing lesser but still relevant evils.
The word “fanatic” is described in the dictionary as “a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics”. When I think about this exact description, I cannot think of a theist who could not be interpreted in such a fashion; the core principle of any religion is blind faith in something fantastical and improbable which would require suspension of critical thinking.
When Does One Cross the Line From Moderate Into Fanatic?
How do we measure religious fervour? A quick answer, do they want a secular government? If yes, I would say their status would likely lean toward moderate and compatible with modern morality and democracy if no I would say they were likely fanatical in nature. I think only someone who is so ardent in their belief, so adamant that they have found the right god and the right path and that all other paths are irrelevant or false to the point of blasphemous would impose a theocracy on their neighbours. Only a fanatic would have the laws of his chosen holy book brought down upon those who may or may not share his belief in his deity. Freedom of religion cannot be achieved in a theocracy; freedom of any kind for that matter cannot be practiced in a theocracy, as there is no greater big brother, nothing more vigilant than the absolute creator of the universe who monitors your every action under judgemental scrutiny. Theocracy is the worst invention in social-economical history as it is essentially a system in which power and authority is given to a figure that may or may not exist; a figure incapable of adaptation to modern circumstance or writing new legislation and absent during turmoil, crisis and dispute alike save the fuzzy feeling of warped love victims of disasters experience after their lives are swept away.
I believe only fanatics would have the esoteric, often draconian, non-essential laws of their holy books apply not just to them but to people whom they would never meet; strangers living miles and miles away and those who may hold different beliefs or even contrasting beliefs of the same religion. I believe that is the cut-off point for fanaticism; when someone would make their chosen holy text country-wide law.
Acceptance of Sharia is Fanaticism
How many theists could be described as fanatic? With the Muslims, I would say anyone who would see Sharia law passed into law in their land is a fanatic. I don’t know what else could you call someone who agrees with the amputation of limbs as just punishment for stealing, or stoning people for adultery, if not a fanatic? If I cannot call someone who believes it is just to murder another person by throwing large jagged stones at them for having sex then what may I call them?
Sharia law is the moral code of Islam created from the Quranic verses and the Sunnah and involves itself in all aspects of life, including politics and economics, sexuality and marriage and even diet and hygiene. Already without even getting into the sadism of Sharia I have a problem with this system as a programme of any kind that can boast being able to dictate every facet of your life; that tells you what to eat, what to buy and who to fall in love with is something I would automatically consider autocratic and constraining. Sharia law is not just some harmless Middle Eastern cultural precepts that have been dragged through the proverbial mud by western media. It is exactly what its reputation says it is; a barbaric and extraneous set of rules that can turn free-thinking people into fearful violent drones. Amputations for crimes of theft and the oppression of women are just a small of part of the horrific true face of Sharia; adultery is a far more serious crime than murder and will earn you one-hundred lashes if you had the audaciousness to have sex outside of marriage, but if you have sex with someone who is not your spouse then your punishment is one-hundred lashes followed by death by stoning. Under Sharia law sex outside of marriage is a crime, some disgusting thing to be practiced only between a man and his wife however old the latter may be as there appears to be some bizarre obsession with virginity in Islam.
I often hear from Muslims that nations under Sharia have some of the lowest rape statistics in the world, but this is clearly not down to some sort of deep religious self-control. Rather it is down to the fact that sex outside of marriage is punishable by whipping. That a woman needs four male witnesses to testify on her behalf lest she be charged under the country’s backward laws. That is why rape statistics in Sharia-run nations are low; it is down to the immense risk the woman would take by reporting it.
This is not the opinion piece of some ranting militant atheist. I take my findings from pro-Islam organisations attempting to justify the brutality of the hadith, using soft language and condescending tone accusing westerners of irrational fear of a system they don’t understand. They say things like “a thief has to steal twice before his hand is removed” as if that is to calm our torrent of suspicion and that “a Muslim has an opportunity in which to return to Islam before he is killed” in attempt to soothe our frustration with their seventh century rules and regulations.
Muslim apologists will announce that Sharia also commands charitable behaviour and good hygiene (which also carries many ridiculous rules regarding certain animals that are deemed filthy) as if that absolves it of its more brutal nature but it does not. If a few good deeds cancelled out a wave of negativity then some of the worst tyrants and mass murderers who ever lived would be seen very differently; Hitler, for example, would be seen as the creator of the motorway and not the instigator of the world’s bloodiest war. But not only that; Sharia would make charitable donation mandatory; you would have no choice but to give to charity, the same with hygiene, you could not have a dirty day by law. Though these things masquerade as good we should have a choice on whether or not we wish to donate a percentage of our money. Sharia is a brutal, domineering way of life, incompatible with modern morality and anyone who would enforce it on anyone else even themselves is a perfect example of a fanatic.
With That in Mind…
So how many Muslims are in favour of Sharia Law, or in other words, how many Muslims can be described as fanatic? The Pew Research kindly answered this question for me in a study based in Muslim majority nations, asking how many are in favour of Sharia Law implicated into government with some interesting and frightening results. Here is the link, see for yourself.
If the Pew research study is to be believed then 99% of the population of Afghanistan would see Sharia as the law of the land. That means that of Afghanistan’s 29.82 million population 29.52 million of them would have a young unmarried couple viciously whipped in the public square for the crime of love. This would mean that 84% of Pakistan’s 178 million Muslim population believes that the penalty for apostasy should be death and 74% of Egypt’s 78 million strong Muslim population believe that a woman’s word is worth half that of a man’s.
Indonesia, often cited as some sort of gold standard example of a Muslim majority nation, had 72% of its inhabitants in favour of Sharia Law, according to this Pew research. To be fair, Indonesian intellectuals seemed baffled by this finding citing they thought Pancasila, the official religious philosophical foundation of Indonesia, which also, perhaps unsurprisingly, limits the rights of atheists, would prove more popular than Sharia. So 72% of Indonesia’s massive Muslim population of 215 million is about 154 million people are what I would call a fanatic. There are other questions asked in this survey, one of which asks should Sharia apply to all citizens and not just Muslims and only 50% of Indonesians think that it should. This does not change my stance at all; that means 22% of the Muslim population of Indonesia would see Sharia enforced on me should I visit and the 50% would only enforce it only on other Muslims, which I think is also terrible.
A Muslim man should have the right to drink alcohol and have sex with whomever he prefers; he should be afforded the opportunity to be a homosexual or a gambler. There is not a moral high ground for those who claim they would weigh only Muslims down with Sharia Law because every single person, whatever their religion, should have the right to decide in which direction they will take their life.
If this Pew Research survey is to be believed, then the number of Muslims I, and I hope many others who understand the definition of the word fanaticism and the true nature of Sharia, would call a fanatic is not some small minority barking loudly, giving a bad name to the larger crowd, but a substantial and worrying percentage of modern Muslims.
Modern Christians enjoy a certain status nowadays as a progressing religion; often in debate with an atheist regarding Islam, Christians will highlight the rarity of Christian violence. They have a point, Christians do tend to be less violent; when Jesus gets roasted on Family Guy, are there riots? Do embassies get burned down? Any death threats? No to each of these. Draw Muhammad though and you will get in trouble; there will be protests there will be threats and more often than not there will be violence. So when it comes to terrorism, the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, Christians do have a moral high ground, that is not to say Christian terrorism doesn’t exist, but it is far less commonplace.
I am separating fanaticism from terrorism here, so although I wouldn’t call Ray Comfort a terrorist I would, and I would be completely correct in doing so, call him a fanatic. Ray Comfort is a fanatic and so is Pat Robertson, Ken Ham and all those other colourful characters of American Christian TV. They seem to prefer the term ‘fundamentalist,’ which means “strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles,” which does not quite paint the whole picture of what they are.
Ken Ham believes the world is ten-thousand years old and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed peacefully contrary to the overwhelming evidence and common sense that suggests the complete opposite. Now is this a strict adherence to a set of ideas? Yes it is. But it is also a display of uncritical zeal. You do not need to be Stephen Hawking or Neil Degrasse Tyson to look at the world and come to the conclusion that it is older than 6000 years old; you do not need to delve deep into the world of science to discover that such a thing as a ‘young earth’ is simply impossible, and if it were true then we know literally nothing about science or the earth and that all the advancements we have made over the centuries have been the product of sheer luck and not the building on existing knowledge.
Perhaps the most famous Christian fanatical group is the Westboro Baptist Church -- a vicious group of hate-filled idiots who picket funerals of dead soldiers. They have never committed any violent acts however, nor do they promote themselves through intimidation or threat other than the otherworldly threat of hell. Their dismal numbers and reputation suggests that the world has correctly labelled them as fanatics, but what about people like Kirk Cameron? He quotes from the same book and believes many of the same things as they do; he believes in creationism and that homosexuality is not only a sin but it is detrimental to society and that the United States should incorporate biblical law. Why does he get a free pass? Because of his soft tone? No, Kirk Cameron is a fanatic!
Moderation is Key
Words are powerful things and human beings have an inherent need to label things; that is why recognising fanatics for what they are is so important. Some words that are similar or share the same meaning provoke different responses and this is also true of atheists. The word atheist sounds a lot more militant and provocative than non-believer although they are essentially the same thing. If you call someone a fundamentalist or a devout that sounds a lot more accepting than a fanatic.
Words are there to help us identify and describe people and places; Ray Comfort will not use real world threats or violence to convert you to Christianity, therefore he is not a terrorist and it would be silly to equate him to one, but he does believe the Noah story as literally true so I think that makes him a fanatic. How else to describe a person who believes that a nine-hundred year old man built an ark capable of transporting two of every animal from elephants to animals invisible to the naked eye for the purpose of redistribution after a global flood ravaged the rest of the living world if not someone who has an extreme and uncritical zeal? Ray is a fanatic and it is important that the irreligious and the moderates recognise a fanatic when one presents himself. Having said everything I have, Ray Comfort does not pose an immediate danger to anyone; I think the jumpers he wears are clear indication of this. But fanaticism itself is dangerous because someone who lives so relentlessly in fantasy will dissociate themselves from the real world and that can be dangerous. Living in delusion can warp a man’s mind and create something dangerous and terroristic.
The only way there can be peace among the religions is through moderation and progression; if we moderate religion by taking out the extreme or incorrect elements that do not coincide with modern morality and scientific understanding, which we have already done with most of the inconvenient tripe found in the holy books, such as not eating meat on a Friday or the Adam and Eve nonsense, then we can start making the journey toward a relatively peaceful existence. I realise that this will not come easily, as fanatics and religious terrorists alike hold the word in their books sacred and refuse to see it as the barmy, cruel scribbling of ill-educated barbarians that it is. However through education of the sciences and a little leeway from our side (the irreligious), we can minimise extremism in all its forms.