Laying the foundation for fanaticism

– Sheela R.
The Malaysian Insider
16 November 2015

Imagine yourself to be seven years old. A tender age where your foremost consideration would be if you get to play your favourite game with your friends, watch a television programme or simply decide on which ice-cream flavour to indulge in.

Now imagine yourself at that age in a class, where a teacher talks of hell and heaven and the myriad punishments awaiting sinners and unbelievers.

The stuff of nightmares is introduced progressively to you, in the guise of imparting religious values. These visions terrify you, but you don’t have the maturity or intellect to challenge the teacher.

You ask your parents about it but at best, they are noncommittal or at worst, they brush off your concerns as trifling.
You can’t blame them, they themselves have had a limited education and are too busy making ends meet, in a difficult economy. They tell you that teacher knows best.

Now allow five years to go by. You are now 12. You have learnt to obediently parrot your teacher’s religious sayings, without a squeak of protest. Any sign of disobedience is met with harsh earthly punishment and you are anxious to avoid that.

Moreover, you have come to believe your teacher’s words and you are determined not to go to hell, at all costs.

Sadly, you avoid people from different religious backgrounds or alternative opinions; your teacher has imbibed you with prejudices that make it impossible for you to seek companions from other races.

Give yourself another two years. You are now 14.

As a child of this generation, you are internet savvy. You come across worlds inherently different from the one you have been exposed to.

One group catches your attention. This group espouses violence as a way to defend your faith. Their members brandish weapons, swords, AK47s, RPGs; it all looks very exciting. They guarantee you a place in heaven if you die, while defending your faith.

They tell you your parents will go to heaven as well, if you embrace their path.They tell you anyone who is not of their faith is an enemy who deserves to die for being an unbeliever.

You feel confused. You want to belong. You want validation and recognition, for you are a teenager after all. You don’t immediately succumb to the ideologies of this violent group; that will take more time.

Unfortunately, the seeds of destruction have already been sown from the time you were a mere child. You have been taught not to question the tenets of your religion, however absurd its interpretation, and this is the very weakness your “handlers” will exploit for their own selfish political ends.

Using charm, tactics of friendship and constant badgering, they succeed in drawing you in. You become one of them.

An exaggerated preponderance on sin, rigid dogmas, prejudices against other groups passed off as religious values, only stifle a child, robbing him of his ability to think.

By immersing a child in an environment of fear, boredom and insularity, we are fanning the flames of fanaticism and bigotry in Malaysia.

The recent carnage in Paris is a grim yet sad reflection of how fanaticism often ends in tragic violence. While policing may thwart immediate threats of terrorism in our country, we need to seriously examine what is being taught to our children in the name of religion.

Ironically, while the perpetrator of violence is labelled a terrorist, the persons responsible for shaping his mind, escape condemnation. They are the real terrorists, not the child that has been brainwashed to make violence his religion. – November 16, 2015.

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