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Religion And History

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Muslims in Egypt, Libya and around the world are up in arms over a stupid, clumsily made video that they say demeans the Prophet Mohammad. They have attacked American embassies around the world resulting in the murder of the United States Ambassador to Libya.

Here in the United States this volatile state of affairs have made it into the presidential election debate between the Republicans and Democrats. Conservatives railed against President Obama for "leading from behind" and for a failed foreign policy. Every conservative, including on-again, off-again presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, castigated the president as soon as the violence erupted accusing him of somehow, perhaps by remote control, orchestrating the problem.

It's as if Barack Obama made the video and posted it on YouTube knowing that it would touch off a firestorm.

Then came the cynical, snide and snarky political commentators decrying Muslim overreaction and ignorance over "a poorly made, stupid video." They implied that the furor in the Middle East was a storm in a tea cup and that it was led by a group of angry, anti-American uneducated men who embraced an outmoded religion.

Such arrogant vapidity is astounding as is the unbelievable lack of knowledge of history and the judgmental attitude that conveys the idea that American should just "bomb the heck out of them." The coded phrase that "President Obama is weak and not doing anything to retaliate against those for killing our Ambassador" obliquely suggests a resorting to violence. The chicken hawks and arm-chair generals would lead America into another ill-conceived war in a reckless, arrogant amnesiac rush to "settle a score using the most powerful military on earth."

While roundly condemning violence -- from any quarter -- and uncivil actions based on religious zealotry it is instructive to note that the Muslim world does not have a monopoly on religious extremism, violence and ignorance. The lessons of history are replete with many, many periods of brutal, violent episodes carried out in God's name. The difference today is all of this violence is unfolding on the Internet, on social media, and aggravated by a media that simply fans the flames of sustained violence and extremism exploiting them for ratings and advertising money.

The Spanish Inquisition (1478 -- 1834) was used for both political and religious reasons. Spain is a nation-state that was born out of religious struggles between numerous different belief systems including Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Judaism. In this period of unbelievable ignorance and superstition thousands of women were burnt at the stake after being accused of being witches. Thousands more were tortured and executed by religious fanatics who branded them as heretics and accused them of blasphemy -- the same medieval language now employed by today's Muslims in Egypt, Libya and nations where the protests have been occurring.

The Inquisition in its warped wisdom burnt books, condemned science, equated a mole on a woman as "the Devil's Teat," (or her love for a black cat) and embraced torture as a method to obtain confessions from those that they, and they alone, branded heretics and blasphemers. Sounds familiar?

Before the end of the reign of terror of the Spanish Inquisition, by today standards, millions would die horrible deaths on the say so of a small group of uninformed and deeply suspicious religious zealots. They believed literally in every word in the Bible -- just as Muslims today believe in the Koran. So before us in America start berating Muslims, reprehensible and seemingly uncivilized though their behavior is, we must remember American History.

The United States (May - October 1692). In the town of Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony, several young girls, stimulated by supernatural tales told by a West Indian slave, claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused three women of witchcraft. Under pressure, the accused women named others in false confessions. Encouraged by the clergy, a special civil court was convened with three judges to conduct the trials.

These kangaroo trials, where emotion, pretended possessions, religious fanaticism and not evidence ruled, resulted in the conviction and hanging of 19 women condemned as witches and the imprisonment of nearly 150 other people who were hauled to court because they did not pray one morning. As public religious zeal abated, the trials were stopped and then condemned. The colonial legislature later annulled the convictions. But by that time 19 innocent women were publicly hanged based on religious ignorance, intolerance, superstition and plain stupidity.

And while Americans don't, by and large, give in to uncontrolled rage over religion, we've had our moments in recent years. Within America's Judeo-Christian framework everything is all right. Americans are tolerant of Jews, Catholics, Baptists, Protestants, Presbyterians and other European transported faiths in principle. Even atheists score higher on the American religious barometer than Eastern, especially Middle East, religions.

The fact is that the American religious arena has historically been dominated by sundry zealots and self-anointed prophets. Today, these people believe that their way is God's way and screw all others. Religious segregation and intolerance is just as present here in the United States as it is in Egypt, Libya or Iran. American history is littered with the actions of religious leaders who violently rejected the beliefs of "those people," outsiders, outliers and new immigrants or some other group that they viewed with ignorance and suspicion.

Remember, the Puritans regarded the Quarkers as infidels (a favorite Muslim medieval word that finds renewed popularity now) and subjected them to whippings, imprisonment and execution. They were discriminated against and accused of practicing "the Devil's Religion." For example, in 1834 American Protestants burned an Ursuline Catholic convent near Boston to "curb the spread of this evil religion." And about four years later the governor of Missouri kicked out all Mormons in his state or risk execution for heresy.

Today in America, as the violent events unfold in the Muslim World over a clumsy movie, the evangelical fundamentalists believe just as ardently that their Bible must also be taken literally because they believe every word came from God. They too are inches away from the same religious fanaticism that we are seeing in Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the heart of this religious fundamentalism is the fact the here in the United States there are theocratic believers who literally worship their scriptures in the same way that Muslims worship their Koran. This fanatical embrace of idolatry is often ignored by the American media that prefers to believe that what happens here is simply serving God and that "them over there" are a bunch of religious zealots. I am no religious scholar but I believe that uncompromising and inflexible worship of a man-made thing -- Bible or Koran -- is in effect a form of idol worship.

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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