Are Silent, Moderate Religious Leaders Co-Responsible For Fundamentalists’ Atrocities? August 11, 2014

Are Silent, Moderate Religious Leaders Co-Responsible For Fundamentalists’ Atrocities?

Moderate religious leaders bear serious responsibility for sectarian strife if they haven’t habitually spoken out against it.

That’s the take of Nobel prize-winning poet and playwright Wole Soyinka, who spoke to the annual World Humanist Congress via a video address yesterday.

Soyinka argued that

… even moderate religious leaders may be “vicariously liable” for sectarian hatred if they have failed to argue against it.

The actions of the Islamist extremists of Boko Haram — bombing churches, killing civilians and abducting girls — are a warning to the world, Soyinka said.

The conflict between humanists and religionists has always been one between the torch of enlightenment and the chains of enslavement,” said Soyinka. “Those chains are not merely visible, but cruelly palpable. All too often they lead directly to the gallows, beheadings, to death under a hail of stones. In parts of the world today, the scroll of faith is indistinguishable from the roll call of death.”

The 80-year-old Nigerian author condemned the ever-popular No True Scotsman fallacy as a stale cop-out:

Boko Haram’s members considered abducting 200 girls to be “virtuous” and moderate Muslims could not simply disavow their actions with “pious incantations” that “these are not the true followers of the faith”.

“We have to ask such leadership penitents: ‘Were there times when you kept silent while such states of mind, overt or disguised, were seeding fanaticism around you? Are you vicariously liable?” said Soyinka.

I hesitate to lay blame for religious violence at the feet of believers who haven’t — and wouldn’t — hurt a fly. Then again, silence can make a bad situation terrible, and a terrible situation deadly. Does Soyinka’s argument resonate with you? Why or why not?

(Image via Wikipedia)

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