Religious holidays are rough for believers these days. At least, I’d imagine they are, what with religiously inspired violence keeping the globe in a state of perpetual terror. How can you sit down to your Christmas ham without thinking, “Beliefs like mine are screwing up the world”?
Turns out you can enjoy that feast of swine after all. According to data assembled by Scott Atran, a professor at the University of Michigan and the Research Director for the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, religion doesn’t actually cause religious terrorism.
On the contrary, it stops it.
Is this some kind of Christmas miracle? Nope: It’s hard data. According to research Atran and colleagues conducted on every known terrorism incident, and every known terrorist in recent times, mosque attendance has a negative correlation to terrorist violence: the more mosque a person attends, the less likely he is to be a terrorist. Same thing with madrassah attendance.
“We’ve done the only serious study of madrassah,” Atran said. “We’ve taken every single terrorist incident to date known. We’ve analyzed where they come from, what their origins were, how they got to where they did, and of about 60,000 madrassahs, 15 have been involved in violence. 15. That’s like saying ‘Well, Columbine had a bunch of crazy kids. We should shut down American high schools.’”
That begs the obvious question: Who the hell are these terrorists? They’re people, Atran says, who have virtually no religious knowledge or education, who then fall in line with political movements that look to religion for justification. They want to kill Americans, overthrow Western society, hurt women … and they’d want to do that with or without God’s help. They just like to attach a religious gloss to the whole thing.
As Atran recently told a gathering at the “Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0” conference last month:
"They know nothing about the Koran. Absolutely nothing. ... They have no religious education. Their religious education consists of: There’s a war in Islam, it’s heroic to kill Americans.”
And, for a laugh: Who are the biggest heroes to kids in neighborhoods that produce a lot of suicide bombers? Atran did a survey and found the top four: numbers one and two are both soccer stars. Osama bin Laden is only fourth. Who came in third?
The Terminator. That's right: The fictional android killing machine is not as cool to aspiring jihadis as soccer players, but is more cool than bin Laden.
Good one, Arnold!
Of course, as Atran notes, "They have no knowledge (at all) that the Terminator has any relation to the current Governor of California."
You can watch Atran’s presentation to “Beyond Belief” yourself at the link below at 1:20:28 on the clock. It’s based on research findings he recently presented to the U.S. State Department and the British House of Lords, and despite some pretty embarrassing problems with the slide projector (because a meeting of scientists trying to change the world will inevitably encounter the kind of low level technical problems that suggest they can’t even change a light bulb) it’s well worth it for the heavy dose of truth.
“My interest here,” as Atran tells the stunned crowd of enlightened minds at 1:21:52, “is to give you a reality check about what terrorism is about. So far I’ve heard mostly ignorance and nonsense – you people really have no idea what it’s about.”
Have a merry guilt-free Christmas.
-- Benjamin Wachs