The bloodshed perpetrated in the name of religion in the world today is nowhere more obvious than in the Middle East. Whether we are talking about hardcore Zionist settlers still fighting ancient Biblical battles in the hills of the West Bank or Shiite death squads roaming the lawless streets of Iraq in the aftermath of Saddam; whether it's the misappropriation and martyrdom of Mickey Mouse by Gaza's Islamists, or a US president acting on God's orders, James Hider sees the hallucinatory effect of what he calls the 'crack cocaine of fanatical fundamentalism' all around him. He's not the kind of journalist to shy away from danger, so as he travels around the Middle East, from Israel to Gaza, to Iraq - the birthplace of myth that spawned so many faiths - and then back to Jerusalem, he takes his doubts about religious beliefs to the very heart of the world's holy wars. He meets terrorists and their victims, soldiers and clerics, ordinary people and extraordinary people. The question in the back of his mind is: how can people not only believe in all this madness, but die and kill for it too? This extraordinary and timely book takes the God Delusion debate onto the streets of the Middle East. It casts an unflinching yet compassionate eye on the very worst and most violent crimes committed in the name of religion and asks questions that the world needs to answer if we are to stand a chance of facing our own worst demons.
I have always been fascinated by what you might call the pathology of ideas -- how they mutate as different societies inherit, steal or are infected by foreign concepts, customs and gods. How a Disney character can become an icon of Islamist martyrdom, how we invent gods because we are afraid of dying, then end up dying for these invented gods. Having seen at first hand, and all too often, the most extreme results of these ever-warping ideas, I sat down and tried to write about them in "Spiders of Allah," the result of seven years covering conflict across the Middle East. Because the history of the region stretches back so far, the ideas that have come out of it have had millennia to warp and twist. You can see front lines that date back thousands of years, and which are still being fought over, affecting people's lives around the world. And what really fascinated me was, what if many of these central ideas are not only absurd, but just plain wrong?