Karen Armstrong: "Terrorists have lost the religious plot"





RELIGIOUS extremists who preach terror and violence are pushing a distorted version of their religion, said renowned historian Karen Armstrong.

'There is a lot of bad religion about,' she said, noting that Buddhists used the term 'unskilled religion'.

'Terrorism, in my view, is not inspired by religion. It's a form of religiously articulated nationalism,' she said.

She was delivering this year's Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) lecture to some 800 religious leaders, diplomats and others at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia on Monday night.

Introducing her, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said hers was 'an independent view', and hoped her lecture would contribute to Singapore being an inter-faith hub.

Ms Armstrong argued that radical actions were a response to unjust foreign policies pursued by Western governments, such as in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Also, various fundamentalist movements are driven by the fear that their religion is under attack, she noted.

Muslims, feeling their faith was under attack from the West, took Quranic verses on self-defence out of context to justify aggression, she said.

But she added: 'Once a religiosity turns in any way to violence, it has lost the plot. Every single one of the major world traditions began as a recoil from violence.'

Ms Armstrong, whose writings on world religions are widely read and translated, argued that extremists are not true to their faith.

In her 45-minute speech titled The Role Of Religion In The New Millennium, she called for an emphasis on 'the golden rule' - to treat others as one would like to be treated, an ethic first promoted by Confucius.

This ethic should become a force in politics and in religion, she said, as it does not leave people feeling marginalised and helpless - often the sources of a turn to violence.

She also had a lively 45-minute dialogue with the audience, spanning topics including secularism and Islam and whether there were limits to compassion.

After the session, civil servant Julia Chan, 27, told The Straits Times: 'I don't see any conflict in being true to your own religion and showing equal compassion for everyone.'

Speaking to reporters later, Ms Armstrong said it is difficult to be optimistic about bridging the gap between the West and the Muslim world, a chasm which observers say has widened since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

'You feel you're making some headway explaining that jihad does not mean holy war, but when something like the cartoon crisis happens, it's like snakes and ladders, it goes right down again,' she said.

She was referring to protests throughout the Muslim world last year when several European newspapers published offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

'I do not think this conflict is religiously motivated - it's about politics,' she said, adding that the US was not an honest broker in the Middle East.

However, she noted that the high levels of violence in the world today could compel peace, just as throughout history, excessive violence drove people to religion and peace.


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