I'm increasingly thinking that the problem isn't Muslim 'extremists'. It's Muslims. And Christians. And Jews. It's religious people in general. Because the "ordinary, decent" Muslims (and Christians, and Jews) who condemn the barbaric practices committed in the name of their religion always say that these extremists don't represent their religion.
(I’m writing this in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015, but you could come to this page any day in the future of the internet and they'll be some recent atrocity to make it timely and relevant.)
The Jews are the chosen people. Their religion is based on a quasi-racist notion of supremacy. I say "quasi-racist" because people still argue about whether the Jews are a race or a culture, but I don't care. "God chose us and that makes us better than you." Is that a basis for decency and tolerance? It's ironic that the concept of racial and cultural supremacy, taken to its horrific extreme by the Nazis, was practically invented by Judaism.
Christianity has been quiet recently, although the present nastiness of Russia and the idiotic behaviour of some American and Ugandan fundamentalists suggests that the spirit of the Inquisition is still alive in some quarters. But despite Jesus being one of the most loving, liberal philosophers of the pre-Enlightenment era, two-thirds of the Bible is taken up with the Old-Testament God, who is also the Allah of Islam: a psychotic, murderous, jealous nut-case whose profound insecurity and violent tendencies would prompt psychiatric intervention if observed in an adolescent.
I'm with Granny Weatherwax on this: “If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ’em like a father and cared for ’em like a mother, well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like ‘there are two sides to every question’ and ‘we must respect other people’s beliefs’ … not if the flame was burning in me like an unforgivin’ sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be. You say that you people don't burn folk or sacrifice people any more, but that's what true faith would mean, y’see? … That’s religion. Anything else is just bein’ nice. And a way of keeping in touch with the neighbours.”
And that's one reason why I'm an Atheist. The main reason, I admit, is that I just don't believe in any Big Man in the sky. But if I did believe in him, I'd have to be more racist, homophobic and generally bigoted than I want to be. If I did believe in him, I'd hate the nasty, vain little shit, with his love of death and torture; with his vanity and his utter lack of compassion. And those are the qualities his most fervent followers adopt with pride. "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport." The only reason I don't hate God is because I think he's a figment of other people's imagination.
So, the reason you're a moderate, civilised, decent Muslim, Christian or Jew isn't that you understand your religion better than your bloodthirsty co-religionists, because the truth is that they understand your religion better than you do and are following its precepts to the letter. What makes you moderate, civilised and decent is your fundamental humanity, which needs no god and in fact requires you to ditch the crazier parts of your religion. The next rational step is to ditch the religion altogether, because you don't need a god to be human. Men invented gods to justify their need to be murderous and cruel. People are better than that.