BEIRUT, Lebanon — An Islamic State militant executed his own mother in front of a post office in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa this week, Syrian activists said on Friday, with one monitoring organization adding that the problems began when she tried to persuade him to leave the extremist group.
The fighter, Ali Saqr, 21, killed his mother in front of several hundred people for what the Islamic State called apostasy
— From The New York Times
What is it that allows a man in his early twenties to hear the pleading sobs of his mother, a woman who kissed his bumps and bruises, fed him, changed his diapers, held him when he had nightmares… and pull the trigger?
He probably told himself that he had no choice.
Daesh is a horrible organization for more reasons than I can count. They are the Reductio Ad Absurdum of religious thinking, a living argument for why we must absolutely never put the (perceived) will of the divine above human well-being, and why our adherence to text should only be pursued after we ask ourselves what is actually best for our community.
Daesh is what happens when you try to pluck a religion, complete with all of its religious strictures and applications, out of the past, and plop it down into the present day.
Daesh is what happens when people submit to divine will without question.
As mystical Polytheists, we are, in some sense, literalists, when it comes to our divinities. We do not believe that our gods are metaphors. Most of us have a general belief that mythology is an accurate representation of these literal beings. In this respect, we resemble fundamentalist Christians and Muslims.
Today, most Polytheists are social activists, believe in science, are deep thinking people of excellent values, are individuals fighting for inclusion and tolerance, but look around you. Have you never seen two polytheists lobbing rhetorical rockets at one another from opposite sides of a community? There are those among us who become very angry about theological ideas. We have no widespread mechanism for accepting theological diversity. In this respect, too, we resemble fundamentalists.
There are many among us, too, who believe that once a deity has made a decision, it is final. Once they have backed you into a contract, you cannot escape it. Once they have made a demand, you cannot deny them. It is one thing to use religion to comfort yourself about something you cannot change, but when we look to suffering and ever, even in our heads, utter the words “meant to be,” we have immediately taken a theological position. That theological position is that what the gods want is more important than our happiness, our suffering, our physical pain or our emotional pain.
Ali Saqr, age 21, looked at his mother and decided that his own emotional pain, her physical pain, the tragedy of her death, was simply not as important as fulfilling the will of his deity, as he understood it. Her pain was not as important as the malcontent of Allah, whose religion he felt she had betrayed. This thinking is categorically wrong. It’s not wrong because it’s “the Abrahamic God.” It’s wrong because obedience to a deity should never take precedence over the human good.
As we mourn the loss of life (and loss of history) perpetrated by Daesh, we must take care that we never, not even ten thousand years from now, become them.
One life ended, destroyed, or made a living hell because of utterly preventable circumstances is one too many. The sacrifice of human decency, human dignity, or human compassion is nothing that religion has any right to take from us.
Obedience to the gods, while good in small doses, needs to be fenced in. Left unchecked, it can be the impetus for every manner of atrocity. Our reverence for the gods must be balanced by our loyalty to humankind. Our faith must be tempered by a willingness to abandon deities whose worship causes tragedies, such as we are seeing perpetrated by Daesh.