Monday , July 22 2024

The immorality of collective punishment

Since the early 1970s Britain has witnessed numerous terrorist attacks. Most of them were committed by the IRA some more recently have been committed by Islamic extremists. But British people have neither blamed Irish people in general, nor Catholics nor refugees nor Muslims for these attacks.

There are always idiots, who are usually themselves extremists, who have made nasty comments about Irish people or refugees or Muslims. There has been some vandalism against the property and places of worship of these people, but these attacks are thankfully rare and condemned by the vast majority of British people.

We don’t attack the group for the actions of the individual. Irish people in general and Catholicism were not responsible for the actions of the IRA. Only IRA terrorists themselves and their supporters were responsible for Republican terrorism. So too only Islamic extremists and their supporters are responsible for terrorist actions. Ordinary Muslims who are neither extremists nor supporters of extremism are no more responsible for terrorist incidents than anyone else.

It is not religious beliefs that cause terrorism. It is wicked individuals. The same Christian belief can be used to justify the inquisition, the burning of heretics and also some of the greatest examples of good that the world has ever seen. So too the same Islamic belief that rescued the teachings of antiquity has sometimes led misguided and wicked individuals to commit acts of terrorism. But it is not Islam that is at fault, no more than Catholicism was at fault for the IRA.

This is not to say that all religions are the same and that we cannot find fault with them. We all should be free to address the religious teachings of the world critically. Morality allows us to be critical of sacred texts and to find them lacking. But it does not allow us to attack those who believe in these texts simply because they believe them. I may find another person’s faith to be false and I may even find the teachings to be immoral, but I must judge each person not by what he believes but by what he does.

 But it is precisely this that has gone wrong recently. Imagine if British people witnessing an act of terrorism by a Muslim refugee decided to arise en masse to protest at the killing of British people.

Imagine if we started demonstrating with signs saying, “British Lives Matter” and imagine if we started vandalising the property, sacred texts and sacred buildings of Muslims and also of refugees because we held them collectively responsible for the actions of one individual.

There could be great crowds of British people, breaking the rules of social distancing, chanting about how British lives mattered and making it clear that we held all Muslims responsible. There could be acts of vandalism. Monuments to Islam could be destroyed.

Even to imagine this for a second is to imagine something grotesquely wrong and outrageous. If British people attacked all refugees because one refugee had committed an act of terrorism, we would be acting as monstrously as the terrorist. If even one Muslim was made to feel guilty for something that he did not do, we would be horridly to blame. Collective punishment is morally indefensible. It is the action of the SS destroying a village because one person from that village killed a Nazi.

But it is just this that Black Lives Matter are doing as they tear down statues and violently attack property because of the actions of one policeman and his colleagues.

British Black Lives Matter protesters are punishing the British police and their fellow citizens, not because of something that happened here, but for something that happened in Minnesota. They are attacking our heritage because of something done by someone abroad. They are attacking white people as if we were guilty collectively for racial injustice everywhere.

Morally this is equivalent of attacking British Muslims because of wars and terrorist incidents that have taken place in Syria. This is wholly unjust.

We must treat each person we meet in Britain as an individual. It matters not one little bit where he comes from, what his ethnicity is or what he believes. There are good people from everywhere and good people who follow all religions and none. We must find our common humanity rather than divide life into groups that matter and groups that don’t. We must cease to judge by what is on the surface, but what is in the heart. Only then will we judge morally.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog:

About Effie Deans

Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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