Iraq, Violence and the Triumph of Modernity

According to a Herald Tribune report ("Young Iraqis are Losing their Faith in Religion," March 3, 2008), Iraqi youth are losing their religious faith.

According to a Herald Tribune report (“Young Iraqis are Losing their Faith in Religion,” March 3, 2008), Iraqi youth are losing their religious faith.

More and more young people are becoming disillusioned with religion. Sara Sami, a high school student in Basra, puts it bluntly: “I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us. Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers.”

The Herald Tribune report is not a scientific study. Even though it is based on interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, it cannot be said to represent the views of all Iraqi youth. Yet it points to a deep problem many Iraqis, young and old, find themselves in. Violence has become such an inhuman yet routine aspect of the Iraqi people that the soul of a whole nation is bleeding with wounds. In a country where thousands of people have been brutally murdered, wounded, kidnapped, handicapped and forced to flee, there is nothing to be hopeful about. People have lost their belief in human dignity, democracy, rule of law, human rights and political leadership. The sense of insecurity is so deep now that people have begun to lose faith in their religion. In the case of Iraq, the religious leadership has not been able to provide security. It is no surprise that the Iraqi youth are the first to voice this frustration and disillusionment.

This, however, is not a situation peculiar to Iraq. Look at what has been happening in Gaza over the last 10 days. Children are killed with bombs and artillery. Mothers are losing their babies — and with such acts, they’re losing their faith in justice, patience and humanity. How can we expect people to be “rational,” “calm” and “moderate” when there is so much violence?

One of the main reasons why modern people have a dislike for religion is because of their belief that religions produce violence. Secularist historians are quick to point to religious wars and conflicts in history. People often mention the Crusades, the Inquisition, the 30 Years War and many other conflicts that have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. In the modern period many acts of violence have been carried in the name of various world religions.

Modernity’s claim that secular humanity will outgrow and overcome religion has turned out to be false. Yet the ability of religious authorities to stop violence in the name of faith does not point to a stellar record either. Many in the West have a belligerent attitude toward Islam and Muslims because they believe that Islam encourages violence. In some cases (remember the Bosnian genocide and the complicity of the Serbian Orthodox Church in it), religious authorities are directly involved in ethnic cleansing. Shiite-Sunni killings in Iraq have stunned everyone in the Muslim world and beyond. Religious authorities have tried hard but achieved little in stopping sectarian violence. Now we are being told that Iraqi youth are losing their faith in religion because they see the religious leadership failing to deliver for them.

It is easy to blame religions for violence in the world. But we take the violent nature of modernity for granted so much so that we forget that the kind of graphic violence and suffering we see in places like Iraq and Palestine are also made possible by modern weapons and modern ways of killing. The total disregard for the dignity of the human person is a reality created and sustained by the exigencies of modernity to turn everything into a commodity. The visual culture of modernity through the TV, the Internet and movies turns all kinds of violence into a “spectacular” experience for the viewer. The real pain and suffering become just a screen image for those of us who watch other people suffer in a bomb attack.

I don’t blame Iraqi youth for expressing their frustration with the religious, political and tribal authorities of their country. Their concern is real an

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