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Repeat after me: thou shall not kill!

Why is it that so many so-called ‘religious’ terrorists seem to ignore the very tenets against murder that their religions explicitly espouse?

Most religions have some component about peace and loving thy neighbour but you wouldn’t know it from the behaviour of religious extremists.

A few weeks ago my wife and I were enjoying a meal we had purchased from the Heartwood, a small restaurant in Combermere, Ontario (great food: check them out!), on the southern shore of Kamaniskeg Lake in the Madawaska Highlands near our cottage. Right in front of us was a display commemorating the sinking of the Mayflower in November 1912.

This ship offered a regular ferry service to locals and goods across the 15 km or so north-south lake beginning in the late 19th century. On that fateful late year day a winter squall arose, swamping the deck: in all nine died from drowning and hypothermia (interestingly, three survived by clinging to a coffin that was being transported to Combermere!).

1912 was also the year the SS Titanic went down 800 km off the coast of Newfoundland after having struck an iceberg. As a child we used to sing a camp song entitled ‘Titanic’: here are the first verse and chorus:

Oh, they built the ship Titanic, to sail the ocean blue. For they thought it was a ship that water would never go through. But the good Lord raised his hand, said that ship would never land. It was sad when the great ship went down…It was sad, so sad. It was sad, so sad. It was sad when the great ship went down (to the bottom of the….). Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives…

Listen here, God, if you’re responsible for this then we have several bones to pick with you! (Photo: Dennis Jarvis on flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

So, let me get this straight. God, in his infinite wisdom, decided to punish the arrogance of the shipbuilders (the ‘unsinkable’ ship) by sinking it and taking the lives of 1,500 innocent people. If this was indeed what happened ‘God’ is a colossal jerk!

Isn’t it funny that God would do this given that most religions have some version of the fifth commandment in the Old Testament: “Thou shalt not kill“? We as humans have decided after millennia of development that the wanton taking of a human life is wrong – there are exceptions of course – and we have framed this as an edict coming from a deity. For some, such a command from a serious power holds more weight than the words of mere humans I guess.

Tell that to the terrorists.

There are so many terrorists and terrorist groups which have claimed that their version of the Supreme Being not only OKs killing but demands it! Whether we are talking about jihadis – more on that in a bit – Jewish terrorists, Sikh violent extremists, Hindu actors or others, they have all spent a lot of time and effort trying to justify violence as a religious requirement. And they all use legitimate religious texts to do so (see my fifth book When Religion Kills for examples).

The bottom line is that a bunch of very violent actors who could have used any number of excuses / justifications / high-faluttin’ words to explain why they not only can but MUST kill to achieve whatever it is they are trying to achieve elect to use religion. I suppose there may be a sense of uber purpose if you really think that the deity you happen to believe in is actually calling on you to dismember others you don’t like (and whom the deity as well does not like obviously!).

This is particularly true for jihadis.

Now I know this is a sensitive point with some and there are those who want to ban the term ‘Islamist terrorism‘, replacing it with ‘religiously-motivated violent extremism – or RMVE, a government wishy-washy term if I have ever seen one!). However, the terrorists are not cooperating with these wordsmiths.

You simply cannot get two lines into ANY jihadi statement and not get slapped in the face with a verse from the Quran or a hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) which the terrorists use to explain why they do what they do. Whether or not the verse is being used ‘correctly’ (Q: who decides what is ‘correct’? Isn’t all faith open to interpretation, which has a nasty habit of changing over time depending on who is in charge of such interpretation?) is irrelevant. These are real verses used by real people to account for real deaths, and often horrible ones at that.

Borealis speaks to another ill-defined catch-all term: Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism

Ignoring this is inexcusable.

Pretending that all religious terrorism can be subsumed under a meaningless title is not just analytically inaccurate and cowardly but actually makes stopping it harder. You simply cannot fight what you refuse to name. Listen up! I promise you I will NEVER utter the phrase RMVE: I will call a jihadi/Jewish/Christian/Sikhterrorist spade a terrorist spade regardless of the consequences!

In closing wouldn’t it be nice if some ostensibly very religious people actually read their sacred texts more carefully and sought guidance from those who know more? Maybe then we’d see a lot less killing in ‘God’s’ name.

Are you listening God/Allah/Yahweh/Ram…..? Psst! Thou shall not kill!

Read More About Religious Extremism

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Programme Director for the Security, Economics and Technology (SET) hub at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of five books on terrorism.

One reply on “Repeat after me: thou shall not kill!”

What you are struggling with, Phil, is not uncommon. How do we come to terms with evil, suffering and the exercise of “free will?” Your tome does not reflect the intellect I am so used to listening to and enjoying; I am saddened by that. Anyway, my response is offered in respect and friendship and is not meant as an attack against you but rather one against your position.
As a first point I note in your article that you fail to articulate who the “God” that is so deserving of your raised fist might be. Second, you fail to provide a basis for determining “right” and “wrong” and a reason why anyone should accept your position! Third, you err in claiming all religions are the same. Fourth, since you reference the Law of Moses you must mean the God of Judaeo-Christianity, and that constitutes religious discrimination. Fifth, appealing to the Fifth Commandment is errant since the reference is to culpable homicide (lo tirtach = no / not murder) not killing (harag = kill) and these terms are not used synonymously. Finally, if you wish to quote the Law of Moses use the Third Commandment: “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” This would work, but only for Judaeo-Christians.
In real terms people can claim anything they want, justify any evil imaginable – including condemning God for their own hubris, wilful ignorance and stupidity! I suggest that the “god” you are so opposed to is the one men and women have “created in our own image, after our own likeness!”
There is so much one can say but I will leave it with these two quotes from an agnostic bordering on atheism – David BERLINSKI (PhD-The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions): “What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, Gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing. And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either. That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.”
and,
“Just who has imposed on the suffering human race poison gas, barbed wire, high explosives, experiments in eugenics, the formula for zyklon b, heavy artillery, pseudo-scientific justifications for mass murder, cluster bombs, attack submarines, napalm, intercontinental missiles , military space platforms and nuclear weapons? If memory serves it was not the Vatican.” Add SARS-CoV-2 to this list!
And from Albert Einstein; “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
I trust all is well with you and yours.

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