From Jon Carroll
I am reading a book called “Birds Without Wings,” a fictional tale of an imaginary Turkish village between the years 1900 and 1920, and also a true story about Mustafa Kemal, later called Ataturk, who came of age militarily in World War I and went on to re-create his country as a modern nation-state.
Also, he killed a lot of people. Indeed, the atrocities of that war, and its effect on this imaginary village, are a principal theme of the book. During that time, many nations, including the fading Ottoman Empire, Britain, Italy, Germany, Greece and Russia, as well as the nationless tribes of Kurds, Circassians and Armenians, quarreled over what would eventually become modern Turkey.
It was determined somehow, amid all this carnage, that all the Muslim citizens of Greece should move to Turkey, and all the Christian citizens of Turkey should move to Greece. Religious purity and all that. Meanwhile, Greece was taking over all the Turkish land it could – its alliance was winning the war.
The population exchange did about as well as the later population exchange between India and Pakistan, another mass movement designed to get religious groups (in this case, Muslims and Hindus) separate and religiously unchallenged. Millions of people died. There are unmarked graves scattered everywhere. It was a vision of the worst of human behavior.
There is enmity between Turkey and Greece to this day. It appears to be a political thing, but its roots are in religion. Turkey called its war against Greece a jihad. Greece summoned echoes of the Crusades to motivate its troops.
Religion and nationalism are a terrible combination. Religious belief that spurs religious hatred is spectacularly bad. Right now, there’s a religious group (the Sunni-dominated Islamic State in Iran and Syria, ISIS) that believes that Shiite Muslims are threats to the purity of Islam and must be killed.
Yup, killed. And it wasn’t that long ago that there were wars between Catholics and Protestants, complete with the murdering of heretics. Oh, it’s a long history of blood and torture, and ISIS is on trend at the moment, the religious killing machine du jour.
The government of Syria has joined the battle in Iraq now, and it seems possible that some kind of superstate, carved out of Iraq and Syria, might be a locus of crazy-thinking for some time.
In decentralized Islam, any imam can declare a jihad. If enough people work themselves up into a frenzy, we have consequences.
See the holy fire in the eyes of the believers. Look closer, and see the sparkling ghosts of history, the holy fire in other eyes, Hindu and Christian and, yes, Buddhist, that down through time have represented the single biggest threat to a civil society.
And what do these religions have in common? I hate to get all politically correct on you, but they all represent the patriarchy. The common theme of all their preachings is that women must somehow be treated as second-class citizens, the property of their husbands, the domestic chattel of the family.
Certainly some liberal Protestant denominations have changed, but they are but a tiny drop in the ocean. The culture of rape is prevalent almost everywhere. Now there is more publicity, but the situation has been the same forever. Untold generations of women have been systematically deprived of their human rights.
In the Catholic Church, women cannot be priests – and must bow to religious dictates about their reproductive decisions. In Islam, it’s the same thing, except worse. The Mormons have just reaffirmed their ban on women as priests. And so forth, on and on.
Does it occur to you that religion is basically a guy thing? Guys love the purity of motherhood and are attracted to the charms of women. What to do? Enshrine the mother, and make sure that those darned charms are covered up, hidden away. Why can’t nuns wear attractive clothing? Charms again?
And now the United States is re-entering the war in Iraq. It is taking sides in a religious feud that is centuries old. It is supporting a corrupt government. It is trying to figure out how to be useful. Well, good luck with that. Didn’t we already learn that we don’t really know how to be useful?
Look at the botch the United States made of Egyptian policy. After all the encouraging of democracy, the country ended up with a dictator – to whom we are still selling arms. Commerce first. And what can we possibly do in Iraq?
The ancient mystery play will continue, people on both sides will be slaughtered, and we’ll kill some people too, or at least aid and abet their killing. Nothing will change. What a thing to spend money on.