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The most dangerous thing in the world today is fanaticism, especially the religious variation. Fanatics have always been with us of course, but their range of influence and action was limited. It took years for the inquisition to kill as many people as the few assassins who took out the Twin Towers in a matter of minutes.

Can fanaticism be positive? The Christian martyrs of Rome are called saints. They could have renounced their faith, recognized the emperor’s divinity – and walked away. Few Christians today would consider this to be an intelligent option. Rational would have been to say what the emperor wanted and keep the faith within. Rome’s intelligencia must have shaken its head in bewilderment at such stubbornness.

The essential difference between the Christian martyrs and the Muslim suicide bombers of our time is that the former harmed no one but themselves, and the latter are terrorists who take a lot of others with them – to paradise or, I suspect, somewhere else. Another very important difference is that the Christians lived two thousand years ago; the Muslims are now. A similarity is that they both believe in a reward in the afterlife because they are carrying out the will of God.

It would be like trying to knock down a brick wall with a feather to convince religious fanatics that no one, absolutely no one, not the holiest mullah or the Pope, knows who or what God is, let alone His will. They have been indoctrinated to believe in the clerical interpretations of the Koran or the Bible.         

The perpetrators of the inquisition were probably sincere in their beliefs. The fact that torture and murder were contrary to Jesus’ teachings seems not to have occurred to them. Or, if it did, they believed that thwarting the Devil, the end, justified the means, even when the means were evil.

Religious fanaticism is not the only kind. The communists of the past century were fanatics of a materialist ideology based on a historical pseudo-science which was supposed to eliminate the world’s injustices. In order to bring about a perfect world, here and now, any means were justified. Stalin’s atrocities were seen by many western intellectuals as necessary evils. But Solzhenitzin, during his exile in Switzerland, opined that “there are no communists left in Russia”. Even now, some of the European New Left think that Marx’s ideas were badly applied and if Stalin hadn’t been such a crazy bastard they would have worked and the world would already be, if not yet an earthly paradise, at least rid of the capitalist scum, which for them is the next best thing.  

I don’t know to what extent the Nazis were fanatics. I’ve known a few German Nazis here in Argentina (no one admits to being one in Germany) who openly declared that the world would be better off if they had won the war, but they seemed more cynical than fanatical. Perhaps in their heyday they believed the party line. In any case, their evil deeds are unparalleled in the history of humanity. The most astonishing phenomenon was, however, that they were able to carry a whole nation, one which had contributed so much to western culture, with them into the depths of hell.

The fanatics of the twenty-first century are capable not only of destroying office buildings and everyone in them, but, given the power of modern technology, of truly mass destruction. The United States and the United Kingdom governments, along with their NATO allies, think that the solutions is to blow them away using the same technological power before they have a chance to do any more damage.

We have announced a new ebook in this issue of SCR – Tiziano Terzani’s “Letters Against the War”, in which he pleads most eloquently for peace, arguing that violence only begets violence. Isn’t this, after all, the real message of all the great religions? On the other hand one remembers pre-World War II, when Hitler was appeased by the free world until even the feeble domestic opposition (the Wehrmacht generals, for example) was silenced, and the evil could no longer be contained.

So what is the right thing to do now? One wants to believe that Terzani is right. One hopes and feels that he is. But are we sure?