With a ban on the Muslim Burqa passing into French law almost 2 years ago, outraged Muslim groups and civil liberties campaigners have been up in arms against the perceived injustices and religious persecution supposedly running rampant in the nation.
But France, which was one of the first countries to separate religion from the state, has a long history of religious tolerance. You can worship anything, anyone and any God - as long as it doesn't interfere with being French or have a negative impact on the French identity. And the burqa was seen to do just that.
Because religion is divisive, you only have to look at the last 100 years in Ireland and the innumerable murders, executions and bombings which took place between members of different sects of the same religion. The horrendous genocides in the former Yugoslavia with members of the Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Serbian Orthodox religions killing in the name of their own particular god and way of life.
Further back, we have the crusades, the persecution of Jews by Christians across Europe in the middle ages and even in the pre-history described by the bible, the Israelites - God's chosen people hacked their way through the Old Testament in a smorgasbord of sanctioned slaughter.
With all or almost all religions, rules are dictated by a higher power and passed down to men for them to live by and to ensure that others live by. But what happens when other people or nations have their own set of rules - or worse, a different version of the same book with subtle variations or an update? Simple, according to religious logic anyway. The other people are wrong, are heretics and must be corrected. The nature of that correction is often done at sword or gunpoint, because when you are dealing with commandments from a Higher Power, there can be no choice or even logic involved in the matter. The religious imperative takes over.
What could be put down to a difference of opinion can be blown out of proportion and holy wars can be declared over a seemingly trivial difference in text or alternate version of history. And when there are heavenly rewards offered, such as 72 virgins ready to satisfy your every desire should you die fighting, well, it's never difficult to pull recruits from among those who have never had much luck on earth.
That isn't to say that all religion is necessarily a bad thing, the old testament, torah and Koran all provide an excellent guide on how to survive in a harsh, unforgiving desert environment and as the history of the Jewish Diaspora tells us, religion can also provide a kind of community cohesion which will endure over millennia and all over the world.
But it was also this community cohesion which kept the Diaspora separate from the communities where they settled, made them different, made them seem strange and when a scapegoat was needed, made them a convenient target for those with an updated version of the same book.
In recent years, there has been a tendency in the world to take religion less seriously; to turn to science for answers to life’s unsolvable questions, or failing that, TV. Many are finding that they no longer need a higher power to look up to and are working with what is available on earth rather than looking forward to rewards in an afterlife. Of course, this doesn’t mean that such individuals stopped believing, but rather they are more focused on solving life’s issues through common sense.
But in some parts of the world, believers have started believing more fervently and fanatics are coming out of the woodwork, using the products of science, such as bombs, guns and aeroplanes to wreak terror on those they see as unbelievers and heathens. Such individuals have been proven to not only target the other side for believing in something other than they do, but they have also been proven to target their own over simple differences. Such fanatics have also been proven to not have a specific identity, religion, race or culture. The only feature they all have in common is that they are blood thirsty fanatics terrorizing innocents in the name of religion.
Furthermore, it seems like the two sides - the religiously apathetic and the fanatics have started to meet. Minor skirmishes turn into world changing events. Whether such world changing events are beneficial to society or not is yet to be determined. Or has it been determined?