Identity crises

AS USUAL Joyce McMillan is spot on in her analysis of the dreadful actions of militant pseudo-Islamic groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, describing a combination of inappropriate deference to “religious” views, and the rage of a generation of young men humiliated and ­denied a dignified role in their society (Perspective, 9 May).

This frustration and anger of a despised generation of males in the West may also go some way to explaining the rise of aggressive and violent comments over the internet towards articulate and assertive women such as Ms McMillan.

She might have added that there is a school of social psychology which explores what is termed “social identity theory”. This suggests that an individual’s self-respect and positive image is in part derived from their membership of a particular group. When this involves, for example, supporting a football team, this is usually harmless, although some individuals may take it further to attack the opposing team fans as “the enemy”.

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When this attitude of “my team is better than your team” extends into the religious sphere, as in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland, and the militant Islamist groups now developing in the East, it is even more important, as Ms McMillan suggests, for religious believers who share her liberal values to speak out assertively and disassociate themselves from this group paranoia. 

(Dr) Mary Brown

Dalvenie Road

Banchory, Aberdeenshire

JOYCE McMillan (9 May) pointed out the simplistic error of the likes of Richard Dawkins in citing every misdeed by a religious person as evidence that “religion causes conflict wherever it goes”. 

“Religion” is a broad category, ranging from murderous Islamist terrorist cells to pacifist Quaker meetings. Anyone seeking to generalise about “religion” faces considerable challenges.

However, she went on to make a similar error herself, assuming that terrorism is the natural result of “a system which offers little hope or dignity to most of its citizens”.

Prof Dawkins and Ms McMillan should both be more cautious of bending the complexities of the world to fit their preconceived theories.

Some terrorist groups are ultimately motivated by deprivation and oppression, but for others their interpretation of Islam is genuinely central. There are plenty of terrorists from privileged and wealthy backgrounds.

Trying to assess “religion” is futile, but assessing the foundational documents of religions and the examples of their key figures is not. We should endeavour to engage with and rigorously critique the actual beliefs of dangerous groups, instead of pretending that we know their minds better than they do.

Richard Lucas