Extremist atrocities: Religion can be used to mask hatred

When Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was released from a Californian hospital on Sunday, he said it was a miracle he was not dead and that “senseless hate” killings provoked by religious differences must stop.

Rabbi Goldstein survived the attack in Poway, near San Diego, last weekend because one of the congregation, Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, stood between him and the attacker.

Kaye paid for her bravery, and for her beliefs, with her life. Recognising the reality of our world, after an earlier attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Goldstein had completed a training course for a situation like the attack, though he could not have imagined he would face one so soon.

Like schools across the US, religious leaders feel obliged to prepare for the horrors of mass shootings.

In a world where violence motivated by religious difference seems an everyday tragedy, the Poway murder may quickly become a footnote in the litany recording these crimes.

Though this is tragic, how else could it be in a world where 15 people, including six children, were killed in Sri Lanka on Friday when suspected Islamist militants blew themselves up to avoid capture by police?

That raid came days after at least 250 people were murdered in bombings right across the country.

Some of those were murdered in churches while at Mass, others in hotels. The raid occurred in Sainthamaruthu, near the hometown of the suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday attacks.

That raid seems another strand in the narrative recording that police in Egypt killed dozens of militants last December. Police killed “40 terrorists” in Giza and North Sinai, according to official sources.

They said the militants were planning attacks on tourist sites, churches, and military personnel. The raids followed a roadside bomb attack on a tour bus in Giza.

The attacks in Sri Lanka were described online as revenge for the Christchurch mosque shootings in March. That lone-gunman attack left 50 people dead. These people also died because of religious beliefs.

New Zealand responded by tightening gun laws and security. This includes putting more than 100 people — including white supremacists and Muslim converts — on a high alert watchlist.

It is impossible to imagine that religious discrimination was not at least partially behind last week’s beheading of 37 Saudi nationals. Most of the executed in that Sharia law kingdom were minority Shi’ite Muslims who may not have had fair trials and at least three were minors when sentenced.

All religions seem to harbour, or at least influence, extremists, defined as much by their intolerance as by their religious practice. We are not immune to this — how many layers might be peeled away before the Derry murder of Lyra McKee might be seen in terms of religious conflict?

People “with God on their side” have been killing others since Pope Urban II initiated the first Crusade — a nice word for genocide — at the Council of Clermont in 1095. The shocking level of religion-driven conflict, military or legislative, in today’s world suggests that far too many people still live in 1095. It is also difficult to dismiss the idea that religion is all too often used to mask that most basic poison — hatred.

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