“God is Great!” said he, in a manner not unlike a striking cry of a hero conceived in a Hollywood-engineered motion picture. Indeed a staggering spectacle — and, remarkably, not an off-the-cuff remark spewed in the heat of the moment. Such watchwords were uttered like an overused punchline; almost too shallow and sugary had all the charade were fictional. That worked: I daresay that the archvillain indeed looked somewhat holy (excuse the potentially disturbing choice of words), and I would happily confess that I was chilled every now and then by his mere presence. Frankly I could have mistaken it for a cringe or wince, but nevertheless, Imam Samudra was not a common man. He possessed a certain charisma that sets him apart from common thugs (Amrozi’s was slightly less, and Ali Ghufron was a plain annoying kind of bloke). That was not necessarily a flattery, of course, since plenty felt the very same sensation regarding, say, Charles Manson, or, to prematurely invoke Godwin’s Law, Adolf Hitler.
It is far too easy to predict how did the Indonesian mass-murderer die: chances are he was mouthing his favourite battle cry when facing death; comparable to the fictionalised version of the famed Scot William Wallace in Braveheart (who was played by Mel Gibson, a man who may or may not share Samudra’s views on the Jews), or, to draw a more local comparison, Roy Marten’s depiction of Wolter Monginsidi, from an old historical movie whose title I am unable to recall, in which he did precisely what Gibson’s Wallace would do years later: shouting “freedom” seconds before kicking the bucket. Wallace and Monginsidi were both widely seen as real heroes, but all the same, that’s also how it probably went for the terrorist. “God is Great!“, and then came the shot.
I, utilising my utmost level of personal sobriety, opine that very few things are easier in Life than to loathe Imam Samudra and his band of zealots. It doesn’t take a great deal of oratorical skills to picture their macabre deeds, as one can simply steal Sam Harris’ trick in his The End of Faith: just imagine. A sweet child muttering to herself while walking about her father’s feet, eager of trying out that new tank suit for a swimming session in the beach — then boom! She became a corpse, her little head letting out sticky vermilion liquid, forming a puddle of messy goo. It’s all too easy; anyone who engineered this kind of atrocity must have been a son of a bitch. Compare these people to pigs and you would have done the swines worldwide injustice. This was the primary reason as for why my jaw dropped upon witnessing a perverse amount of support for these folks as of late. A trend which I sincerely condemned as at best an alarming sign of the potential awakening of what most of us would refer to as “a rise of fundamentalism”, which I suspect to be really just a fancy term for “people going bonkers and becoming less and less civilised”.
More disappointed than genuinely puzzled, this had persuaded me to ponder on their deaths, as reflected above, and realised that they have won. As a man with a rather strong affinity for Naturalism, I must come to terms with the grim reality that, in the end, the self-proclaimed martyrs’ grave sins, which all lay heavy upon their shoulders, will forever go unpunished.
* * *
As the rightfully condemned were shot to death by the state, it came to me as a surprise that a number of people later expressed their sympathies for these mass-murderers. It may not represent the community at large, but the portion was significant enough for me to label it as “perverse”. It was predictable that the hardline fundamentalists would rally and start the condemning routines, but as I observe (and I wish for no more than to be proven wrong), some were religiously moderate. The reasons provided, aside of plain support to terrorism, included a few bizarre conspiracy theories and, most commonly, a sympathy that arose from religious bonds: “right or wrong, still, they are our brothers“. There are several terms to describe this condition, but personally I would employ the word “disgusting”.
I will not bother to assess and criticise the conspiracy theories and their sister justifications — it would give them the attention they do not deserve. These are basically a pile of sorry excuses that would potentially turn us pale as death. A simple instance, short but horrendous nonetheless, would be the eye-for-an-eye attitude. It is okay to murder innocent people, given that some Caucasian blood were shed in the process — American and Israeli forces have done the same to the Palestinians anyway, it’s just justice. I cannot help but to stand in awe of this appaling idea; it is racist, chauvinistic, barbaric, xenophobic, genocidal, segregationist, cold-blooded, and nuclear war-inducing. It is so wrong that for a moment there any decent person should even feel that the Orwellian thoughtcrime concept has good reasons after all (not that I condone the practice).
Do notice that all of these crazy suggestions that there is something to respect in the act of bigotry-driven random killing spree, ultimately have their roots in the “brotherhood” lunacy. Even the aforesaid justifications, that are based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts (in which everyone seems to be a historical and political expert), are essentially an application of the “blood is thicker than water” policy. Blood, or in this case, religious view, is pretty thick indeed. And no, of course I do not decry human kinships — however, it is difficult not to recognise this type of solidarity as a terrible perversion of the principle. If you were to judge someone’s values, there is no reason to consider what you and he or she happened to have in common. While it is admirable for anyone to actually forgive, or respect, Amrozi and company regardless of what they have done, that should be done without the borders of religious exclusiveness. Is a murder somewhat more morally acceptable if the murderer were of the same religion (or race, or sexual orientation, or anything) as you? Such a divisive way of thinking should have no place in a civilised society; indeed in practice not everyone could live up to the principle, but I believe everyone would pay lip service to it.
In short, perhaps it was naïve of me, but I never really expected any torrents of pro-terrorism to surface. Most muslims I know are decent, loving people, and hence would typically deny that the infamous Islamic militancy is scripturally sound (whether this is true or otherwise, is a whole different issue not covered in this writing). So this turned out to be quite a surprise: why the whole squaring-the-circle exercise? Solidarity? Subconscious retribution for all the snickerings pointed at Islam post-9/11? Or could it be, as I was informed, it was several biographies of these fundamentalists, in which they are glorified as soft-spoken, loving family guys, waging war against world superpowers (these reaped the sympathies of the ladies)?
Whatever it may be, surely nothing praiseworthy. The last thing Islam needs at the moment is to have its adherents rooting for (highly religious) homicidal lunatics. The recent slight (or is it?) trend of sympathising with extreme fundamentalism is then, to be blunt, patently disturbing.
* * *
The most disheartening suggestion I was able conclude out of these conflicts would be that the terrorists have won. True, the villains have paid their crimes with their lives, which is obviously an exceedingly high price when you think of it in a jurisprudential point of view; but upon closer observations, what we were doing is, indirectly, to complete them (no, I didn’t steal that line from The Dark Knight).
Suppose that a militant religionist made it his raison d’etre to die a martyr, but he or she was not given the task of committing the actual kamikaze assault. He or she was then arrested and investigated extensively, all while disrespecting the court and constantly shouting battle cries in the process, live on multiple television channels. What more could the zealot ask? Of course death. There is nothing more ecstatic for this man or woman than a capital punishment. Their beliefs have dictated them to seek for it: the sweet joy of being martyred. The trials, the condemnations, the snickers, the news coverage, the nigh-unequivocal global wrath, everything, these were not threats. These are fun stuff. Because in their minds, they are living the life of a righteous maverick surrounded by antichrist beasts. Perhaps they even saw things in dramatic slow motion when being dragged about by the cops. They just believe that God is there, on their side — what is there to fear? And when they were face-to-face with the firing squad, the thought that lingered in their minds waw most probably this: “I expect now that my death be generally painless when compared to the nonbelievers, and I would drift off to sleep. Then yes, I will be waking up in Paradise.” Of course the joy would be multiplied googolfold when they witness their sadist God sending all their earthly enemies to Hell. Glory to God!
What really happened — obviously from my personal point of view, which is heavily biased to Naturalism — was not so mystical and glorious. Indeed, there shall be no Paradises or divine courts, but then again, does it make any difference? I pondered on this. Let’s do a thought experiment and suppose now that there exists a bride who died in her sleep a night before her marriage. Tragic it may be, but, the girl’s happiness was in truth left undisturbed. A Naturalist (e.g. an atheist or a materialistic deist) may proclaim that Imam Samudra ultimately failed to rendezvous with his ethereal sex slaves in the Bin Laden Paradise, but he will never know. There will be no disillusions — the killer died a happy man. That’s how happy endings are made, anyway; by terminating the story when the mood is at its highest. After all, the Prince could be a two-timing bastard who abuses Cinderella all the time for all we know.
That was a strictly Naturalistic point of view, of course, and a more theistic approach may lead to less depressive results.
God, who positively exists in this version, would then surely be expected to act like a deus ex machina (pun strongly intended). Chained to omniheavy iron balls, Imam Samudra, Amrozi, and Ali Gufron would not pass in flying colors in the trials, but rather, will receive a shocking moment: God himself disowns them and lectures on the basics of human rights. Regardless of their weepings, God speaks unto them in a groundshakingly deep voice; they are going to Hell. Ah, the sweet sweet just deserts! The internet community had invented some neat terms for this kind of triumphant events, some of them being “total ownage” and “the crowning moment of awesome“. Yes, I hereby confess happily that such an event would be priceless! (There are some minor issues on the Problem of Hell, but let us ignore such killjoys).
However, alas, I do not believe in such version. I wish it were true, but I try not to think wishfully. Maybe for some of us I sound like I crave for a more frightening punishment — but really, I am merely expressing my sadness on the way things ended up; injustice.
* * *
Marquis deSade, in his infamous work of libertinage The 120 Days of Sodom, wrote that piety is a “true disease of the soul… apply whatever remedies you please, the fever will not subside”. Yes, I am aware that there are few worse places to find advice on morality than history’s most loathed porno novel (except a few selection of even more debauched comics written by Tuna Empire), and indeed deSade most probably did not even mean it as a scholarly criticism on religion, rather only to spice up his tales to become even less likely not to be banned — yet I cannot help but chuckle on how quotable it was.
Piety is an easy target ever since the Twin Towers collapsed, and moreso after Islamic extremists proudly claimed responsibility; the same goes for Imam Samudra and his gang, who were surely among the most pious on Earth. While to call them “religious men” might incite protests from left and right, surely there should be no objections if I were to dub them “pious”? I reckon the second term are less objective and independent from approvals of one’s peers — ah, but no, this is no linguistic lecture. I am not qualified anyway. My point being, these murderers took religion more seriously than most.
I would beg to differ if any of my readers lump me together with writers who regard religion as a spring of death and destruction. I somehow have developed a tendency to believe in belief, and will not turn a blind eye to the goods it has done over the years — while acknowledging that existential worries (which I suspect are more commonplace among Naturalists) are not to the likings of most people. But if it were true that a portion of the religious can sympathise with the dark side with merely a little push (which may be something as shallow as a scandalous solidarity or a corny short biography), I must say that I am severely disappointed.