Photo: John Calvin
Like most people trained in history, I look for historical examples to explain and inform the present. Without getting caught in a debate about the extent to which there are lessons of history, I do find past examples helpful.
So when I look at something like present religious fundamentalism or the desire to make religious law obligatory in particular communities I can think back, for example, to Calvin and Zwingli. If I want examples of the human tendency to force others to convert or conform, I have an absolute smorgasbord to pick from.
In all this, when I look at the history of European civilisation, I can see just that, the progressive development of a civilisation. I say European civilisation because I do not know enough of other streams to exactly follow the same process there, although I am sure that it exists.
The civilising process was never uniform nor exact. There were major retreats from time to time, but the progress was there.
Alfred North Whitehead's Adventure of Ideas traced this process through in a European context showing how different threads came together to create European civilisation. Whitehead published this book in 1933 and did not see the uniquely European barbarism that was to come with Hitler and the Nazis.
But even here, when we look at the outcomes, the Second World War introduced the concept of war crimes. Further, the German people were not punished, as Rome punished Carthage, through extermination down to ploughing the fields with salt. Instead, Germany was rebuilt, while Europe itself moved to put put previous civil wars behind it by creating the EU.
Now my point in all this is that the suicide bomber who deliberately targets innocent people is an on-going example of the pathology in the human soul between evil and good that the civilising process tries to address.
Being willing to die for a cause is a human trait. The desire to exterminate your enemy is another human trait. The suicide bomber combines both with the use of simple modern technology.
In saying all this, I am not being negative. I am, however, concerned at two levels.
At level one is the risk that in trying to protect the things that we love we will destroy just the things that we want to protect.
At level two, and this is where I think that I part company with Neil in one of his posts, I think that we have become so wishy washy and politically correct that we have become uncertain of and are no longer prepared to defend the core western values that we have developed.
I may be wrong here and stand to be corrected. I also exempt Neil himself from my charge. He does defend his own views strongly, but always with the courtesy and humour that should mark civilised debate.