Ideology does make people do bad things

The Secular Party of Australia have called this week’s Martin Place hostage taking an act of Islamic terrorism. A number of their followers on Facebook, who presumably are normally happy for the Secular Party to point out the problems caused by religious belief, are this time uncomfortable with saying that religion was a motivation for this crime. They argue that he was a mentally ill person and that this was the cause.

Now, of course most Muslims are peaceful people. And disapprove strongly about this crime incident. However the same can be said for most people who suffer mental illness. Most people who suffer from even very serious mental illness do not approve of ISIS, nor hate the Australian govt for fighting against the attempt by ISIS to forcibly take over Iraq.

So even if mental illness played a role here it did so along with religious belief. They are undoubtedly a dangerous combination. And sadly probably have a tendency to occur together.

Furthermore, in defence of the Secular Party’s comment, the hostage taker himself said his actions were motivated by Islam. It seems presumptuous of people to ignore this, to ignore the consistency with his behaviours, but to assume mental illness.

If he had a Mohawk haircut and maintained a right-wing blog then no one would doubt that his ideology played a crucial role (even if he was mentally ill) in his chosen actions. What he instead did was make trembling hostages hold up a flag that said “Allah is the one true God and Mohammad is his messenger” and so on. To argue that this has nothing to do with religious ideology seems wrong or disingenuous.

About ByronSharp

Byron Sharp is Professor of Marketing Science, and director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia
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