OK, OK, I know I really should lay off the Monty Python analogies. I imagine you are getting sick of them. But can anyone REALLY get tired of the greatest comic group in history? Come on, admit it, you love them as much as I do.
Staying with this obsession of mine, then, I want to announce that the not only were the Pythons the greatest funnymen we have ever seen, but they also created the greatest movie ever made. I am talking, of course, of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Enough said. This satire of religion and history is absolutely brilliant. It is the story, kinda, of King Arthur and the quest for the holy grail, the cup that Jesus supposedly used at the Last Supper. There are also allusions to the Crusades, Christendom’s attempt to wrest the Holy Land from its Muslim usurpers in the 11th and 12th centuries. The Crusaders, it must be acknowledged, were violent religious extremists, inspired by a pope who proclaimed Deus lo volt (God wills it) and responsible for untold atrocities against men, women and children of multiple faiths. I want to build on the Crusader theme for today’s piece in light of a recent US trial.
On April 19 a Kansas federal jury found three white men guilty of conspiring to bomb an apartment complex to target Somali refugees. The men hated Muslims, referring to them as ‘cockroaches’, and claimed they belonged to a group called the ‘Crusaders’. Monty Python this is not.
Far right extremists sometimes clothe themselves in religious garb, portraying themselves as the last defenders of the ‘Western way’ against a raft of enemies: liberals, Jews, immigrants, George Soros, Muslims… It is this final group that has been the target of their wrath in particular. The refugee crises around the world – Bangladesh, North Africa, Europe, etc. – are painted as planned onslaughts by those who are not like us, those who want to remake our societies in their image. One of the favourite terms of the far right is ‘Eurabia’, the notion that the cradle of Western civilisation is being taken over by Muslims in a repeat of the great Islamic conquests of the first millennium of the modern era (which led to the Crusades as an antidote). We in Canada have seen milder forms of this hatred – the Quebec City massacre is a thankfully rare exception – in those who try to rip the hijabs off Muslim women and the good citizens of Herouxville who passed a local law banning stoning.
Some would argue that these actions have nothing to do with religion, let alone Christianity. The perpetrators are hateful losers who should be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. I couldn’t agree more with the latter part. And yet, why are we so insistent that these actors are not ‘Christian’? They certainly portray themselves as such. Why else would they call themselves ‘Crusaders’? Should we not accept that they know why they do what they do?
Do you see where I am going with this? Who decides what a religion is and is not? For a lot of people, Islamist extremism is simply a form of Islam, and in truth a more faithful and accurate version of this creed. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State are actually the true face of Islam and the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are a type of fifth column, working their way into our society to impose Sharia law (some US lawmakers want to make Sharia illegal), by force if necessary. Those that cannot see this are dupes.
Well, count me among the dupes then. I have spent 20 years looking at Islamist terrorism and have come to the conclusion that yes it does take from canonical Muslim texts but is not representative of normative Islam any more that the Kansas ‘Crusaders’ are representatives of normative Christianity (and as a nominal Christian I know something about what my faith is and is not). We are being intellectually dishonest if we do not see the parallel, and the same analysis is true of Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and other forms of religious extremism. Violent extremism is violent extremism and the use of the word ‘extreme’ gives us a good clue as to the origin of the underlying ideology. It comes from the ‘extreme’, the far edge, away from the centre, divorced from the normative. These clowns are not exemplary role models for the faith they claim to represent and the lions’ share of their victims often come from their co-religionists who disagree with their aberrant views.
The quicker we realise that religion, any religion, can be co-opted to justify violence and killing the quicker we will be able to adopt strategies to deal with it and minimise it. And the quicker I can get back to watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the umpteenth time.