Jim Jones, founder of the ultra-extremist People Temple Church organisation led hundreds of his followers and worshippers in a mass murder-suicide mission with many of them ingesting food laced with toxic poisons such as ricin while a good number were forced at gun point to do so.
The church was fervently anti-racism, got accused of money laundering and ended up believing in the establishment of a socialist utopian society where Jones would rule in accordance with his doctrine. People perished because of lack of knowledge.
Abu Bakr al Bashir is a prominent Indonesian cleric and founder of the extremist group, Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) and later on Jamaah Anshaulut Tauhid (JAT). The cleric did time at the infamous Pasih Putih Prison in Nusakambangan, Central Java, getting released in January this year much to the chagrin of the Australians.
Al Bashir eschews a radical religious doctrine predicated upon the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate and whose basis is birthed within the DNA of violence. This guy is a serious religious extremist whose teachings and views radicalise followers through the indoctrination of vile rhetoric and religious bigotry that perpetuates the “us v them” religious dichotomy. It is either you are with them or they are against you. There is no middle-of-the-road approach.
Robert Martin Gumbura is doing time at Chikurubi Maximum Prison. This cleric is a convicted rapist whose sexual exploits were well documented during his trial, primarily when an inspection in loco of his lair was conducted. The convicted rapist would prey upon female congregants through the use of subterfuge/deceit/chicanery, hoodwinking them into literally “donating” their sexual pleasures for a song.
It was said that anyone who resisted his moves would be cast “under a satanic spell”. The mysticism surrounding his brazen threats gave him the latitude to copulate with lady congregants under this spell.
The above characters are examples of religious extremists who managed to use their aura of invincibility to manipulate and take advantage of unsuspecting yet indoctrinated congregates. Radicalisation is a dangerous process that manifests in two key ways; cognitive and behavioural.
Cognitive radicalisation occurs when the radicalising agent indoctrinates a person with views and perspectives that help entrench bigotry. In the case of religion it becomes religious bigotry. The manifestation of the results of cognitive radicalisation is seen behaviour-wise when the radicalised person starts to embark upon behaviour that confirms the existence of radicalisation.
Evidence of this can be seen in instances where people are made to resist science under the warped notion that faith will cure them from any ailment they might be suffering from.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought to the fore such a quandary.
Emmanuel Makandiwa of UFIC made waves in the past week when he suggested that he was not against vaccination. This is contrary to available evidence which shows that the respected man of the cloth had, on numerous occasions, cast aspersions at the vaccination thrust, at one point even declaring that he was ready and willing to face jail as opposed to being forced to “drink that thing”.
He took his vehement stance a notch further by postulating that “the real pandemic is going to start after people are vaccinated” and that, since he was “coming from the future” he saw “billions dead with one billion that would not have taken that thing living to start life again”.
He called upon African governments to be careful against administering untested vaccines on their people.
Makandiwa is very influential and commands respect across the political and social divide. He has a following of die-hard loyalists who are so much into his teachings that every word he says is seen as a commandment. He is a pious religious scholar, probably one of the most charismatic religious teachers we have in Zimbabwe today.
Personally, when it comes to issues of biblical wisdom, I do not have anything against him. I have everything against his stance on vaccines and the negative ramifications they had insofar as the infodemic that resulted in vaccine hesitancy is concerned.
Having engaged colleagues and followers of his doctrine on numerous occasions, I personally am of the view that he ought to have done a little more, like he did the past week, to encourage his followers with details and information that allows them to make informed choices.
Vaccination is voluntary. Full information is necessary for the process of voluntary vaccination to be realised. What is not apt is having prominent personalities allege some “unseen” conspiracy as being the basis behind an initiative aimed at protecting humanity.
Pastor Chris, another prominent televangelist, alleged that Covid-19 emerged as a consequence of 5G technology. This characterisation goes beyond the logic of commonsense and has to be ignored at all costs. However, his vociferous followers believe in the fib to a point of being anti-vaccination.
The late Nigerian televangelist, TB Joshua at one point predicted that the Covid-19 pandemic would disappear as it came, even giving a date. Instead, the virus is now mutating, increasing in potency as it consumes our beloved ones.
We are not safe anymore and condolence messages are now the order of the day.
We must, as a society, be alert to the fact that religious extremism can have dire consequences to national security, and in the current scheme of things, global stability. This is no time for bigotry and radical approaches to unknown realities. Whilst people are not supposed to be forced to get vaccinated, they must be given enough information that is not predicated upon malicious hoaxes and conspiracies so as to give them the leeway to make informed choices.
After all, the call by governments across the world is to at least achieve herd immunity. They know we have people who are always sceptical.
There is no need to bastardise the vaccination thrust. Personally, I got vaccinated. I am alert to the reality that being vaccinated does not make me immune to the disease. I am alert to the fact that the mutating virus is even consuming those who are vaccinated. Evidence available, however, is indicating that the vaccinated are standing a chance and not suffering from extreme disease as opposed to their unvaccinated friends.
While I encourage everyone to consider getting vaccinated, I call upon opinion leaders and prominent characters to at least moderate their views if they have an issue with the thrust.
There is no need to intimidate people with gory stories of anti-Christ for merely getting vaccinated. Let us ensure that we respect all guidelines available so that we protect ourselves and our loved ones from this pandemic.
Sapien is a trade and security expert