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The Effects of Terror

On Tuesday 10 February 2015, Sydney Police arrested two Muslim men. They had received information that they planned to carry out a random murder that day. On raiding the men’s home the police found a hunting knife, a DAESH flag and a self-made video describing their motivations the BBC reports. The men were apparently previously unknown to security agencies.

Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha Twitter

Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, Razan Mohammad Ahu-Salha (Source: Twitter)

The same day, an atheist, Stephen Hicks (46), killed three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina reports CNN. Deah Shaddy Barakat (23), his wife Yusor Mohammad (21), and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (19) were all shot in the head at close range. Hicks handed himself into police afterwards. The murders seem to be the result of an ongoing parking dispute. However, as Hicks was outspoken about anti-theism and atheism on-line, many are speculating there is a hate element to the horrific murders of three people who by all accounts were outstanding young Americans.

So who was Hicks? Catherine Shoichet of CNN reports that Hicks attended a local community college where he was described as an exemplary student who was friendly and helpful towards both teachers and fellow students and had no negative issues on his record. He was studying to be a paralegal and was due to graduate in May. As well as the comments opposed to Islam on his Facebook page, there are also some condemning Christians as hypocrites when they opposed the building of a mosque near ground-zero. His posts also show he was a supporter of same-sex marriage and other equality issues. His wife states he believed everyone was equal.

Hicks, Craig StephenHe does though appear to have been constantly angry about the fact that other people frequently parked in his condo’s reserved parking space, leaving him with nowhere to put his own car. A neighbour described him as having “equal opportunity anger”. A meeting of residents had been held in the past because some felt threatened by the way he reacted to his parking space so often being used by others, although no-one seems to have acknowledged that they shouldn’t have been parking there. (Which is not, of course, an excuse for murder.) On the day in question, it appears Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha had parked in Hicks’s parking space while visiting her sister and brother-in-law, and during an altercation about the matter, Hicks snapped.

Whether the fact that his victims were religious contributed to what Hicks did, is something I feel I’m not in a position to judge. A spokesperson for the families said Hicks had threatened the students in the past, and that the family believed hate was a motivation. However, according to Saeed Ahmed of CNN, Hick’s wife said, “The incidents had nothing to do with religion or the victims’ faith.”

We have to wait for the police to complete their investigations in both these cases, then for the evidence to be tested in court, before we can reach an informed decision. But it may be that in Chapel Hill we have reached an unfortunate tipping point.

For a several years now we have been seeing a series of random attacks carried out by extremist fundamental Muslims, like the one above the Sydney police thwarted. This has resulted in an increased critical analysis of Islam in the West, and it has been found wanting. Some use that to make assumptions about all Muslims, and as a result individual Muslims have suffered abuse, bigotry and bullying. It is possible that the horror of Chapel Hill is where we see that prejudice crossed the line to self-justified retaliatory murder.

DAESH Flag Explanation 1For several months now, DAESH has been using an extremely cynical terrorist tactic that tries to divide the entity they are fighting against themselves via fear. Fear works, and DAESH are very good at instilling it. Their tactics are designed to provoke an over-reaction both in political leaders and the community at large. President Obama and other world leaders have understood this and largely resisted the temptations DAESH sends their way, but many others fail to recognize the tactic. Their analysis of the situation is simplistic and they seem unable to analyse what the consequences of such actions as America going in with overwhelming military force would be, despite the evidence from multiple campaigns in just the last fifty years. In the United States many politicians are calling for a much greater level of military action than is currently happening, and they are supported in that demand by many Americans. In an increasing trend, 60% of them now consider US ground troops are required to defeat DAESH as reported by a Fox News poll carried out last week. In the same poll 68% of Americans said they didn’t think Obama was tough enough on DAESH and 73% considered he didn’t have a clear strategy for defeating them.

This is how the terrorist tactic I mentioned above works: DAESH attracts tiny numbers of supporters to their cause and encourages them to commit random acts of terror around the world. (Al Qaeda, using the same strategy, has been calling for supporters to carry out lone-wolf attacks since 1999.) In addition they commit acts of unbelievably horrific violence which they broadcast openly. This motivates a natural tendency for the general population to view all Muslims with suspicion, despite never having had any hint of extremist tendencies in their own communities, and the numbers of people affected being quite low statistically.

DAESH wants this to happen. They want to create such divisions in our society. They want to drive a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims. They want the Muslims in our society to suffer, to be at the sharp end of suspicion, prejudice, hatred, bigotry and even violence. Because when that happens, more and more Muslims will be driven to isolate themselves from society at large. More will be vulnerable to imans that preach hate instead of love. Some will then develop sympathy or understanding for DAESH, and some will join them. The process keeps feeding on itself. As our society implodes from within, as we turn against each other, more Muslims will feel that the world would be a better place if DAESH was in charge. Thus DAESH gains strength.

Williams, Juan Source USI.org

Juan Williams (Source: USI.edu)

One of the better known cases of the actions of a tiny number influencing the thoughts and behaviour of otherwise intelligent, rational, liberals is Juan Williams. In October 2010 he lost his job at NPR (National Public Radio, USA) after making the following comment on The O’Reilly Factor:

“Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

In many ways, Williams, whom I respect greatly, was expressing what many others thought, and it’s little wonder many do feel that way if they were any part of what happened in America on 9/11. Terror, unfortunately works.

DAESH are playing the long game. Their ultimate aim is to create the worldwide caliphate under sharia they believe Allah wants, and they don’t care how long it takes or how many of them die in the process.  They don’t care that most of the suffering and death happens to fellow Muslims – the cause is more important. They believe they are dying for Allah, and will be welcomed to Paradise, where they can watch the progress of the campaign they started. They have a purpose, a purpose so important they will do anything to achieve it.

Deanna Othman wrote a piece following the tragedy in Chapel Hill in the Chicago Tribune entitled ‘Will Muslims Ever Be Part and Parcel of America’. Othman is a Muslim-American, and writes about what it feels like to do everything right – to be an American and still not to feel fully accepted. Deah Shaddy Barakat,  Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha did everything right, she says, only to be murdered, for what Othman assumes was their religion. She has already made that judgment, and right or wrong, it is an indictment on our society that her life experiences have been such that she has come to that decision seemingly without hesitation, and it worries me.

There is another part of her story that concerns me too. She also wrote:

I believe in divine justice, and to me, it is no accident that the three victims of this heinous crime were not just ordinary Americans — they were extraordinary. They excelled academically, were active socially and gave to humanity. There is divine wisdom in having their uplifting stories told, and it is devastating that it took their murders to compel network news to broadcast such inspirational stories of Muslim-Americans.

The belief that there was divine purpose at work here to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together fails the logic test. Surely an omnipotent god could bring people together and stop the suffering without having to kill three people with such promising futures, and destroy the lives of several others?

It is only by holding onto and promoting our own values of secular humanism that the haters will be defeated. The inclusive, pluralistic society most of us want is actually a fairly new phenomenon, and we have to hold onto it. We cannot let hate divide us. We must not judge books by their covers, but by what’s written on their pages. Smile, hold the door open for strangers, and just be generally friendly. Treat others with respect, dignity and kindness – it’s actually an easy habit to get into, and it does make a difference. Most people are good, and will show it given the chance.

Nelson Mandela love vs hate

58 Responses to “The Effects of Terror”

  1. paxton marshall says:

    Well said Heather! The irony is that in personal interactions there is seldom any tension between Muslims in the US and other Americans. I often see Muslims working, studying and interacting with all sorts of other people in a friendly manner. It’s as you say, fear begets fear and fear can easily become hatred. The press and politicians bear a great responsibility for whipping up fear and hatred for others. In the US they are more often inciting fear of blacks and Hispanics than Muslims. There is a strong evangelical Christian contingent in the US military, and they tend to be particularly anti Muslim. And the Israel lobby is powerful and, of course, anti Islam. Religion is certainly a factor in stirring up hatred, but again, in a pluralist society like America, most people get along fine with people of other religions. It is people, religious or atheist, stirring up dislike of other people and their culture, that are the problem. That’s why I think it is so harmful to see atheists joining with the right wing haters in denouncing hijab, Muhammad, the Quran and everything Muslim. They are inflaming the situation, and should be denounced just as much as we denounce religious people hating on other religions.

  2. paxton marshall says:

    Heather, I suppose you have seen the recent post of our favorite commenter on the Chapel Hill murders. Nicely said. Except why does he need to know the real motive for the murders (the guy was obviously mentally ill, and probably doesn’t know his real motives himself) to recognize that when public figures highlight minority groups as dangers to our society, some will take it as a call to action. Here’s a quote from a post in April 2014:

    “the “Islamophobia” canard is a form of reverse racism. Muslims with hurt feelings are catered to more often simply because they look different from Westerners, and come from a different culture. It smacks of racism, so the argument goes, to criticize the “cultural” practices of such people. That’s why we have the conflation between the reprehensible tenets of Islam itself and the “Islamophobia” canard implying dislike of Muslims as people. I will confess to disliking any Muslim who fervently believes in sharia law, the suppression of women, the murder of apostates, and so on, but not those Muslims who don’t adhere to those doctrines, but disliking them for their views, not as humans.”

    How can anyone who lives in the United Sates claim that Muslims are given preferential treatment here because they are foreign and look different? That’s not the US I live in. But more disturbing, the commenter may think he can split hairs with his talk of hating the sin, but loving the sinner, but these distinctions are lost on disturbed haters. They hear, and people on Fox news repeat: “These Muslims have reprehensible views. They want to impose Sharia law on us. Their religion is a danger to us and we are right to dislike them if they identify with this religion in any way, such as wearing their disgusting outfits.”

  3. paxton marshall says:

    Sorry, I meant to include a further quote from the same post that exemplifies my point: “And I must admit that I, too, recoil when I see a woman shrouded in a burqa, which, to me, instantiates the endemic misogyny of Islam. But we have to fight against this xenophobia and remember that the target is religious beliefs themselves: the beliefs of what happens to be the world’s most odious and dangerous faith.” Yes, the commenter says we have to fight against xenophobia (a word the Chapel Hill murderer probably doesn’t even know) but refers to the “endemic misogyny of Islam”, and calls it not only odious but dangerous. These are claims that stir up hatred in what is already a dangerously overheated atmosphere. I think this kind of talk is irresponsible. Do you agree?

    • Hi Paxton. I too liked what he wrote today, and I don’t see what he wrote in the past the same way you do – I don’t have a problem with it. If you check out, for example, the Pew Research Center study ‘The World’s Muslims: Religion Politics and Society’: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-overview/ it shows that misogyny is indeed endemic in Islam, although not so much in the West. I don’t like seeing a woman in a burqa either, although I wouldn’t judge her personally without knowing the circumstances of her life.

      As to knowing Hick’s motivations, I think people want reasons for such seemingly senseless killings. I’m not sure that he was mentally ill – I think it’s more likely he has a problem controlling his anger, which I’m not sure is actual mental illness. Of course, we can’t know yet, and we shouldn’t be speculating with any decisiveness – I probably should just delete this paragraph!

      I think the root cause is the Second Amendment (or more specifically, the ruling of SCOTUS on it in 2006) – everyone has a bloody gun. If this situation arose in NZ or Australia or Great Britain etc, no-one would be dead because Hicks wouldn’t have had a gun he could pull out when he lost his rag.

      I don’t believe we can limit our speech because someone suffering from a mental illness might be influenced wrongly by something we say. That’s not to say we don’t have to be responsible about what we say publicly. Freedom of speech is too important to place any limits on it. Also, I believe the more of it we have, the more people will learn the right way to deal with it too. Many aren’t used to free speech, many countries don’t have it, and many think they have a right not to be offended.

      The incitement in the media you talk about is important. One of the things that struck me about Ferguson was that despite the fact that although the cop actually did nothing wrong in this case, there was an immediate assumption he had. This tells me there is a problem in the area with the way people of colour are treated by the police. That particular police force clearly needs to work on its community relations. The situation would not have erupted the way it did if the police had a reputation for fairness in their dealings with people.

      I’m thinking about adding an update to the article – a new Gallup poll has come out today: apparently 84% of Americans see DAESH as a critical threat, but only 44% think the same about the Russia/Ukraine conflict. That is due to both the media and the success of DAESH in instilling fear. The Russia/Ukraine situation actually is far more dangerous, but most people don’t even understand why. I’ve had a second article about this (I wrote one a few months ago) started for a couple of weeks, and I really need to finish it.

      Thanks for your comments. I found them interesting as always.

      • AU says:

        Why don’t you like seeing a woman in a burkha? What if she decided she wanted to wear it out of her own free-will … are you saying she could not be intelligent enough and independent enough to make her own decision to wear it? What gives you the right to judge her?

        I often wear my baseball cap back to front, and some of my friends have a “problem” with it! That is one thing I have just never understood – why people get upset about the way someone else is dressed.

        • Not liking seeing a woman in a burqa is part of my cultural make-up, and has never changed the way I’ve dealt with any woman wearing one. It’s just that from my point of view, I find it hard to imagine a woman wearing one by choice, so I always wonder if it is a choice. However, as most of the women I know who wear burqas are doctors, they’re obviously intelligent, and I know enough about them to know they’re wearing them by choice too, it’s actually a prejudice on my part. So I’m not judging, I’m acknowledging that it’s a mindset I have to be careful of. If you have time to read the article I did about World Hijab Day, you’ll see I try hard not to judge.

          On a better note, we’ve got our first wicket, although Aussie is batting pretty impressively. 34/1 2.5 overs.

  4. Diane G. says:

    Stirring post, Heather!

    Paxton, how do you address the appalling beliefs of an ideology without pointing them out and condemning them repeatedly? You know that the author you quote above does the exact same thing for Christianity and Judaism.

    • I agree Diane. In fact things won’t improve unless we point them out. All ideas have to be open to criticism.

      And, as you say, that author does criticize all religions. Plus Deepak 🙂

    • paxton marshall says:

      Diane, during the European “settlement” of the Americas, the conquerers justified war and brutality by citing the depraved manners of the Natives. Such intellectual giants as Hobbes, Grotius, and Locke wrote justifications for appropriating the land of the natives. No doubt there were many legitimate criticisms of Native American cultural practices, as there are of Islamic practices. But I contend that those public figures who demeaned and demonized the natives were complicit in the great evil the Europeans visited on the new world peoples.

      I have given numerous examples in a comment to Heather’s previous post, http://www.heatherhastie.com/calling-it-like-it-is-islamic-terrorism/ demonstrating that Islam is not a unique danger in the world. I contend that Islam-bashing by public intellectuals in the current political atmosphere is to enable those who seek to use the fearsome military power of the west against Muslims. Our protagonist has exhibited his willingness to do this in his support for Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. And no, he does not exhibit the same animosity to Judaism or even Christianity that he does towards Islam.

      As a long time atheist it saddens me to see such a promising continuation of the enlightenment tradition as the new atheists seemed to offer, descend into political partisanship and even imperialistic thinking. “Take up the White Man’s burden” and force our enlightenment on those who subscribe to the odious religion of Islam. In my opinion the scientist has ventured out of his depth and abandoned his principles of objectivity and rationality.

      • Hi Paxton. I think you’ve gone a bit far in your last paragraph, and especially the last sentence. His next book will prove whether or not he has adequately educated himself in the work of theologians, and I suspect he has. He calls out issues where he sees them, and I’ve never noticed him back away from criticizing any particular religion.

        There are plenty of examples where Christianity has been used to justify some pretty odious things by the other people you criticize too. Sam Harris, for example, has never denied that. In fact he details quite a few of them in End of Faith. Richard Dawkins too has written at length about some of the many appalling things done in the name of Christianity, including in The God Delusion.

        I’ve outlined my position on the Israel situation before i.e. it’s basically the same as that of Sam Harris, which he outlines at length here: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/why-dont-i-criticize-israel

        Islam is not the danger, Islamic extremism is, and to me you’re exhibiting what people like Maajid Nawaz warn will happen when we don’t name Islamic extremism as a problem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdhp9jtDXJ8&feature=youtu.be

        • paxton marshall says:

          Thanks for replying Heather. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these matters with you and your readers. I was a frequent commenter on the WIET webpage until I angered the owner and he disinvited me. I also participate in a facebook religion discussion group. I’ve read the God Delusion, The End of Faith along with other atheist classics and thrilled to the devastating arguments they made against religion and its privileges. And I agree that they have skewered Christianity as well as Islam.

          What I want to question is the premise that all of you seem to share, that Islamist extremism is the greatest danger to the world. This premise, I believe has led some of the new atheist to criticize Islam with an urgency and animosity that is not there in their criticism of Christianity.

          But what is the basis for this fear of Islamic extremism? Primarily the terrorist attacks against the west, yes? Here we have to be careful to distinguish the different groups that have launched terrorist attacks. Hezbollah is Shia, al Qaeda is Sunni. But what are the total number of casualties from these attacks? The 9/11 attacks that killed about 3,000 dwarfed all the rest, but if we double that number let’s say 6,000 have been killed over the past 20 years.

          Now in those 20 years, how many Muslims have been killed by westerners? I don’t have the answer at hand, but if you add the Gulf war, the Afghanistan war ( and we could even include the Russian occupation of Afghanistan and war in Chechnya, as west against Muslim ), and especially the Iraq war, we must arrive at several to many times more in direct kills, and many, many more in injured, displaced, and slow deaths. Even since the war, how many have been killed by our drones. Then we have to add in the couple thousand Palestinians the Israelis killed last summer, and a like number a few years before. Libya, which we bombed and is now in chaos. Oh, and the poison gas we helped Saddam develop to use on the Iranians. Shouldn’t we count that? And then the suffering and deaths that occurred because of our Iraq embargo and no-fly restrictions after the gulf war. We’ve gone to their countries and killed how many, 10, 20, 100 times as many of them as they have killed of us. Plus we have destroyed the homes and livelihoods of millions. The Israeli bombardment of Gaza left much of it a ruin. Much of Baghdad destroyed. Nothing like that in the west.

          So who is the greatest danger to world peace? You may say, yes, but we did all that damage only in response to their attacks on us. But we started messing with them long before they started messing with us. After WWI Britain and France set themselves up to rule the whole area. They brutally crushed independence movements, especially the Brits in Iraq. They had their eye on the oil already. In 1953 the US CIA overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mossedegh. And we were recently complicit in overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Egypt.

          You may say, yes but they do it in the name of religion and we don’t. But is this true? Why do we continually terrorize the middle eastern Muslims? Oil? Partially, yes. Israel? Partially yes. But much of it is a pervasive attitude of self-righteous superiority, much like that the Europeans developed in their encounters with native peoples. And here, in my opinion is where the new atheists run off the tracks. Rather than maintaining a strictly neutral criticism of all beliefs that lack evidence to support them. They have joined a moral vendetta against a particular religion. There is a smug moral superiority in their tone that say “our emerging secular civilization, which we atheists are creating” is good; your archaic theocratic civilization is bad. I hope the examples I have given you are sufficient to convince you that WE, the rich powerful west, are the greater danger, not the Muslim extremists.

          • I agree there is an attitude of cultural superiority in the West, and people tend to dismiss, or not be aware of the deaths that have occurred because of Western incursions into the East. However, at the moment, I do consider Islam worse than the other major religions. As a woman, and as an atheist, there is no non-Western country I could live my life in. I wear what I want, I go where I want, I eat what I want, and I can say what I want. As a single woman, I couldn’t do that in any country with Sharia, and several that don’t because of religion, usually Islam. There are sects of Judaism and Christianity that wouldn’t like how I live, but the fact of a secular government means they can live their way and I can live mine.

            On places like Twitter, I criticize all religions equally, and if a religious fundamentalist comes across what I say, they can get pretty nasty. However, those in the US, for example, will generally accept I have a right to my opinion, and I acknowledge they have a right to theirs. Only the most liberal of Muslims take the same position.

            The case of the League of Islamic Nations at the UN is a prime example. They want to make any criticism of Islam forbidden, and have been trying for years, even getting several resolutions passed. They think Islam should be a special case. Thankfully countries like the United States have stood up for freedom of speech, and the resolutions haven’t ever got through the final stage.

            Most Christians now recognize that the Bible is translated and has mistakes. You aren’t even allowed to suggest that the Qur’an has mistakes – it’s the one perfect, inviolable book in the world apparently. There are, of course, Muslims who recognize the need for reform, and many of them have been killed for it. They literally risk their lives by speaking out, just like atheists and agnostics did during the Inquisition.

            I don’t have a problem with most Muslims, but I do have a problem with Islam. And that’s not the same as “hate the sin not the sinner” because Christians used that to condemn LGBT people, which is something they cannot change. Religion is a belief, so is not in the same category.

  5. Conn Suits says:

    Heather that was an excellent post. I particularly liked the ending about how it’s easy to get in the habit of being pleasant and respectful towards everybody.

    Now, regretfully I feel I must remark upon some of Mr. Marshall’s comments on this site. Saying that Hicks is mentally ill in that glib throwaway way is really disturbing. This is exactly how the myth that mentally ill equals = violent gets perpetuated. That so many otherwise thoughtful people are willing to believe these various killers are mentally ill without them having been diagnosed demonstrates the negative view our society has of mentally ill people. That they are bad. So if someone does something bad of course they belong to that category. Like I say it’s disturbing. This is an outright piece of prejudice. There are certain bigotries that left-wing people focus on. And then there’s the ones that they completely ignore.

    I was also pretty astounded to see Mr. Marshall’s tossing off “the Israel lobby”. Not only is this just the same old Jew hating fairytale about Jews magically controlling the world but Mr. Marshall adds that the “Israel lobby” is “anti-Islam”. In a comment nominally about how we shouldn’t judge people by their religion! What is the point of all the thoughtful words in your post if this kind of blatant judging people as a group and bigoted mythology go uncommented on? You realize he thinks you agree with him about the evil Jews stirring up hostility toward Muslims, right?

    • Hi. Thanks for your comments. Although I didn’t say anything about Paxton’s comments on the “Israel Lobby”, he knows jolly well I don’t agree with him as we’ve discussed it before on other posts. However, you’re right – I should have said something. His comment was also a deliberate jab at another person I’ve stopped him naming.

      I also worry about the widespread myth that there’s a correlation between mental illness and violence. There’s not much understanding about mental illness, and neither the media nor the entertainment industry help matters with the way they portray it.

      Hopefully attitudes will continue to become more tolerant. Young people nowadays seem to me to be a better bunch on average than we were.

      • Conn Suits says:

        Thank you Heather. I’m glad to see this. I keep meeting up, online, with new style “left-wing” Jew haters. So relieved you are not one of them! (Seriously, one of the people I used to joke about the crack mayor with on Twitter turned out to be a Holocaust denier.) I left that comment what turned out to be shortly before the Copenhagen café in synagogue attacks. And I’m leaving this comment shortly after them. A Jewish person was murdered because of anti-Jewish bigotry in between. It’s going to keep going like this. I think it’s time for all the people who critique and opose Jihadism and it’s apologists, and propaganda to acknowledge, yep constantly, that Jews are a special target of Jihadism.

    • paxton marshall says:

      Conn, I had no intention of vilifying the mentally ill by suggesting that was the case with Hicks. I’m not a psychiatrist and was not speaking in a clinical manner. But what would you call someone who kills three people over a parking spot? In any case I do not think that statement implied that all mentally ill people are violent, and I certainly do not subscribe to that belief.

      I note that you did not take offense at my calling evangelical Christians ant-Muslim, although it is certainly an over generalization. I perhaps should have specified AIPAC instead of speaking generally about the “Israeli lobby”. I am a member of J-street a Jewish lobby that seeks peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. But don’t you think that equating my calling AIPAC anti-Islam to “just the same old Jew hating fairytale about Jews magically controlling the world” is a bit of an overreaction? AIPAC does not represent all Jews and I said nothing to imply Jews are evil. Please read my comment again.

      • Conn Suits says:

        Yeah but Paxton, as you acknowledge in the first part of this comment you didn’t bloody well say AIPAC! You said “the Israel lobby”. And that’s what I was responding to. And now you make this comment accusing me of “overreacting”. You didn’t say the Israel lobby was “anti-Islam”. You said it was stirring up hostility against Muslims! Are you this disorganized or is this dishonesty? I called your claim that something called the “Israel lobby” which is well known as code language for The Jews, meaning a disliked ethnic group, was promoting hostility toward workaday Muslims “just the same old Jew hating fairytale about Jews magically controlling the world”. It was apt. You’ve now made a second comment claiming to have said something different than you did in the comment I responded to. Anybody who wants to can read your comment that I was responding to. I can only wonder what I will find if I examine what this “J-street” thing you refer to is. Given the borderline conspiracy theory comments you have posted on this site I’m not optimistic about it.

        • paxton marshall says:

          Conn. I was not using code language for anything, nor was I supporting a conspiracy theory. I was merely describing a fact of American politics. I even provided a counter example, J-street, showing that not all Jews, or all Jewish lobbying groups, support the brutal and land grabbing policies of the Netanyahu government. Have you checked it out? Try it, it’s a good antidote for paranoia.

  6. Ken says:

    Yes, a good post, Heather. Appreciate the attention spent on the tactics of groups like Daesh and al Qaeda showing that fellow Muslims are really their largest victims. A few points though.

    While local oppression provides one argument to radicalise people to their cause, it is not their main argument, nor even their original argument. Their main recruitment tool is the millions of deaths in the middle-east that can be attributed to western interventions and policies. As Paxton points out, their success at killing pales in comparison to the blood on western hands. His only mistake is that the ratio is in the thousands to one, not tens or hundreds. The UN estimate of preventable deaths due to the Iraq sanctions is 1-1.5 million all by itself.

    I heartily agree that the only way out of this mess is to hold on tightly to our pluralistic values, but this applies even more to our governments, not just to people as individuals. And the Obama administration may yet prove to be as bad as the rest, for as we speak, Obama is seeking from Congress a mandate to start yet another war where massive numbers of innocents will be killed and thousands more terrorists created.

    Will we ever learn.

    • Hi Ken. Thanks for your comments. The Iraq War was wrong. However, 9/11 and the USS Cole happened before anyone went looking for mythical WMDs. And tough as sanctions were, they were in response to bad behaviour – they weren’t for no reason. Remember what Saddam Hussein had been doing to the Kurds, for example? What was the alternative? Ignoring it?

      I know my argument has gaps too, but sometimes it seems like you and Paxton think everything would be sweet if America kept out altogether. There is a role for them imo. They get it wrong sometimes, but I’m not sure things would be OK if they kept out of it. (No, I don’t think they should be getting involved in ground warfare now.) Groups like DAESH will always find an excuse for their atrocities – they’ve been finding them since before Islam had any contact with America. It was only a few years after the death of Mohammed that Sunni and Shi’a began their civil war within Islam, and in hundreds of years they’ve never shown any sign on being able to live peacefully in the same country unless it’s a secular one. America is their latest excuse, and it’s really only about thirty years since they became the latest bearer of the title of The Great “Satan”.

      I don’t know how to solve the problem. I do know it has to be sorted out by the region taking ownership of the issue, which they haven’t done in the past. I think DAESH has gone too far; Middle Eastern governments might finally realize they can’t ignore what’s going on in their own backyard. Saudi Arabia and the gulf states might make an effort at last to stop their citizens financing terrorists, for example, and do something about the Salafis they’ve let have too much control.

      • paxton marshall says:

        Heather, This month is the 100th anniversary of the classic American film Birth of a Nation. It portrayed Blacks as ignorant, depraved, and sexually aggressive. It portrayed the KKK as the savior and protector of our Aryan heritage. The US army provided artillery and technical advice. President Wilson showed it in the White House. It is still regarded as a great cinematic achievement, but its influence contributed to a revival of the Klan, the implementation of Jim Crow segregation laws, and a reign of terror over black communities, punctuated by lynchings and white riots that destroyed black neighborhoods (see Tulsa 1921) that lasted through the first half of the 20th century.

        I agree that freedom of speech and expression is vitally important and support the abrogation of blasphemy laws. But I cannot support hateful belittling and demonizing other culture, especially cultures of oppressed and exploited minorities. What purpose is served by portraying Muhammad as a dog, or engaging in acts of homosexuality and bestiality? I don’t support murdering these people, but I think they do great harm, just as Griffiths did with Birth of a Nation.

        “Scientific” criticisms of religion do not engage in this sort of crude stereotyping of course. But they lend credibility to the more hateful expressions of others. I agree that the Quran contains injunctions to morally unacceptable behavior, as does the Bible, and the many Muslims still live in tribal societies and subscribe to medieval punishments. These things may justly be deplored. But it has taken the west 500 years to move past our own religiously mandated brutality. To think that a billion Muslims can make that leap in a generation is as unrealistic as thinking a homosexual can turn her/himself into a heterosexual.

        I contend that some of the scientists who are presenting themselves as authorities on religion and cultural mores, including our protagonist, lack an appreciation of historical processes or cultural evolution. They have moved beyond the role of cultural critic, in which they served a useful purpose, to the role of cultural reformer, without recognizing that the certainty of evidentiary methods is no longer available to them. It is justifiable on the basis of lack of evidence and violation of the laws of nature to deny that Muhammad ascended to heaven on a horse. There are no such scientific criteria to characterize Islam as the most odious and dangerous religion in the world. That is venturing into the arena of subjective evaluation where science can no longer proclaim with such certainty.

        A similar criticism applies to philosophers such as Harris. It is perhaps within the norms of philosophical methods to conduct thought experiments that justify torture and preemptive murder. To apply such principles to the real world is naïve and uninformed.

        Again, thanks for sparking and hosting this discussion. I agree with most of what you have said and am not so much disagreeing with you as trying to portray alternative interpretations of the same data. I largely support Ken’s position and I hope that Diane G, Conn Suits, and the other commenter whose name must not be mentioned will weigh in as well.

        • Sounds like a completely revolting film. How things like that gain traction I’ll get to in a minute.

          Personally, I wouldn’t post a picture of Mohammed engaging in bestiality. However, I do not think that anyone who does so should be taking their life in their hands. Freedom of Speech includes freedom to be an a-hole. (Pun not intended!) There is as much evidence for Mohammed actual existence as there is for the existence of Jesus. (I recommend Questioning Islam by Peter Townsend.) As far as I know there is no evidence whatsoever that Pope Francis has abused children, but there are cartoons out there of him doing it, and he is around to be offended. Catholics don’t go around murdering the people who do this, although millions are offended by such cartoons.

          There are countries where we couldn’t have the debate we’re having, and places where we could have the debate but our differing opinions would mean it would degenerate into abuse or even violence. We all have to learn how to engage in the correct way. Part of it is providing an example such as we are. If we provide more examples of debate occurring in the proper way, bad ideas get called out. That couldn’t happen in the past because most people were excluded from the conversation. There’s a convention held in Saudi Arabia every year about women’s rights; there has never been a woman allowed to attend let alone speak. The internet has changed things. It is now harder for those in power to exclude the voice of the majority. We’re all still learning, but it’s getting better.

          I think there are some ways scientific methods can be used to show the problems that Islam (and other things too) causes to societies. Statistics show that countries dominated by Islam have more violence, less income equality, shorter life spans etc for example.

          • Conn Suits says:

            Existence of Muhamed? I thought that was verified. But I’ll look at that book. Here’s the thing though, there’s absolutely zero evidence that Jesus existed. What’s proffered is evidence that the Jesus legend was known by people 60 and 100 years later. Pliney the younger and Tacitus repeat it. The legend being dying and coming back to life. There’s no every day person evidence for Jesus. I was really surprised. So thought I’d pass that on.

          • In Townsend’s book he points out, for example, that there is absolutely no evidence that Mecca existed at the time Mohammed was supposed to be alive. He goes into it in some detail, and he writes in a way that makes his book easy to read and very interesting.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Heather, one could make an argument that promoting free speech, or promoting democracy as W Bush claimed he was doing, justifies invasion and slaughter of thousands, or that Charlie Hebdo was a greater offense than the atrocities that Ken described on the Iraqi children, or that it is necessary to repeatedly kill thousands to protect Israel from attacks that never kill anyone.

            But our protagonist commenter and new atheist (and why again must we not criticize him by name, when he is free to denounce those who have different views than he does?), never tries to weigh to damage done by radical Muslims against the damage done by the west to Muslim societies. I have never seen him try to establish a historical context for the Muslim atrocities he denounces. He says that it is ridiculous to blame Muslim bad behavior on “imperialism” as if the imperialism was in the distant past and had nothing to do with today. This is why I say he has betrayed his scientific and rational principles. He makes no attempt to provide a balanced assessment. A scientist must consider and explain all contrary evidence before accepting a proposition. And for all his claims to criticize all religions equally, he will brook no criticism of Israel. He is an extreme partisan presenting himself as a rationalist and a scientist.

            And yes, there are statistics on the education of women, freedom of expression, violence (although the US is a pretty violent country) etc that show Muslim countries to be “inferior” to western countries. But in light of the mayhem the west has inflicted on Muslim countries, don’t you think we should remove the log from our own eyes before picking at the speck in theirs?

            There is a new movie out “American Sniper” that glorifies the exploits of an expert killer in Iraq. The movie implicitly justifies the invasion of Iraq due to the 9/11 attacks, something that has been long exposed as a lie. Apparently, as much as it glories in American righteousness, the movie had to downplay the real viciousness of the hero, who regarded the Iraqis as animals and obtained levels of ecstasy in killing them with his sharpshooting rifle from a safe distance. Shouldn’t we be hearing denunciations of these kinds of western atrocities to balance the hatred spewed on Muslim extremists?

          • You can criticize what he says/writes. You can’t insult him personally. It’s when you did that I redacted his name – I hadn’t done it before. There are things you’ve written since about him that I would have let through if you’d said his name, others where I would have redacted. However, it’s difficult when you go back and forth between fair criticism and insult, especially as many of us know who you’re talking about anyway. I was already aware of what happened between you on his site. There can be a fine line between personal insult and criticism of ideas – it’s one we’re arguing about constantly when it comes to religion, particularly Islam. I don’t want people to feel free to insult actual people on my site. Ideas. including mine, are fair game.

          • AU says:

            We can’t be sure of what happened 100 years ago, so obviously when we’re talking about a religion that is 1400 years old, we cannot be sure whether any of it has changed or not. You might be interested in reading:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography_of_early_Islam

            I think there is plenty of evidence that Mohammed existed, I don’t think Pete Townsend’s book is a particularly great one (from the bits I have read), it’s a bit like Robert Spencer’s book on whether Mohammed existed, and I think Tom Holland’s documentary was quite decent although he made the same mistakes as Pete Townsend, and jumped to some wrong conclusions (such as Mohammed isn’t mentioned till 60 years after his death when in fact he is mentioned in non-Muslim sources just 2 years after his death).

            I do however believe that things like the Hadiths and biography of Mohammed are very unreliable.

          • It’s something I need to look into more. I’ll check out the article. I need to read more books too. I get the impression the hadiths are unreliable from what I know. I haven’t read a biography of Mohammed – it’s another thing on my must do list!.

      • Ken says:

        Hi Heather. If you want to talk about history then a few more points are relevant. Saddam Hussein was the guy installed as dictator by the CIA in 1979. The US was well aware that he was a murderous thug, but to paraphrase Roosevelt on Somoza, he may have been a son of a bitch, but he was our son of a bitch. So long as US interests weren’t affected, he could do whatever he wanted. And so he did. His worst crimes were committed while he enjoyed the full support of the US. Remember the photo of Rumsfeld warmly shaking his hand just a few weeks after the world learned he’d gassed the Kurds? The issue isn’t whether ignoring it was an alternative to taking action, but why so few even know that it was, in fact, tacitly approved by the US. And no points for guessing where the chemical weapons came from. Best joke of the second Iraq war: We know you have WMD, we have the receipts! It would be farcical except that it’s true.

        And it doesn’t stop there. The US bombed water treatment plants and other civilian infrastructure in the first Iraq war (which history also tells us is an explicit war crime), then included in the sanctions the parts needed to repair them. The resultant spread of water born disease was entirely predictable, yet the required medicines were not allowed either. The UN says this killed over 500,000 children under five. Two different people who ran the UN oil for aid programme quit because they didn’t want to be party to genocide. Did Hussein’s bad behaviour (which was really only that he turned on the US, since he’d been given an open license to kill) justify this?

        Everyone in the middle-east knows this history, even if we in the west too often don’t. Bin Laden used it to gain recruits for al Qaeda. What could we possibly say to them to counter a radical’s argument? Sorry, we won’t do it again? Of course, there has never even been a ‘sorry’, instead we had the secretary of state on tv in 1997 saying the deaths of Iraqi children were worth it to achieve US objectives. There are State Department documents that say the objective was to foment unrest in the population in the hope they would rise up and overthrow Hussein. Making a population deliberately suffer in this way is also an explicit war crime, but who’s counting?

        Disgusting, yes? Are we very sure we want further interventions by the US in the mid-east when atrocities like this occur? Surely that there has been internecine violence within Islam for centuries is not enough reason on it’s own for intervention in their affairs. Sometimes there is nothing that outsiders can do. At minimum, we should be reasonably certain that our interventions won’t make things worse. Yet recent history is that it is entirely predictable that they will.

        If the west wants to play a positive role re Daesh, rather than bombing or more ground troops, it could start by first halting its own actions that are still killing so many innocents, so as to take away the primary motivation for people to fight. And then put real pressure on those countries that fund such groups, like Saudi. But that would threaten the flow of oil, which has always been our real reason for intervening in the mid-east. So the US is likely to continue to let the Saudis off the hook, as it did in 2001 when the only planes allowed to fly after 9/11 were those taking Saudis quickly home, despite the FBI saying they wanted to talk to them first.

        None of this will change until we all loudly object.

      • Conn Suits says:

        Re your comments about 9/11, USS Cole, Saddam gassing the Kurds and your point about doing nothing not being an option, yep. I completely agree. Just wanted to let you know.

        • Ken says:

          So a question, Conn. Given the US did nothing when Hussein gassed the Kurds, because they were supporting him, what do you mean that doing nothing wasn’t an option?

  7. Hi Ken, I support all the points you’ve made here. The “our-son-of-a-bitch” attitude that was so common is one I find particularly odious, and I feel like it’s a situation the GOP wants back. Too many of them think not controlling the government of every foreign country is a sign of weakness.

    • Ken says:

      That’s great, but note this is not a Reps vs Dems issue, it is a US issue. Hussein was installed under Carter, the Kurds allowed to be gassed under Reagan, civilian infrastructure destroyed under Bush, and the children allowed to die under Clinton. Two Dems, two Reps. Equal opportunity atrocities.

      • I wasn’t disputing that in the past everybody was as bad as each other. I was pointing out that Obama has been painted as weak for stopping torture, for example, and NOT doing what everybody did in the past when it comes to controlling other countries. Many seem to want to go back to past practices. Sorry I didn’t make that clear.

  8. paxton marshall says:

    I agree that there is no conclusive evidence for either Jesus or Muhammad. For Jesus, our best evidence is that Paul was writing about him 20 years after his supposed death, and it appears from his writings that by that time their were Christian communities in Rome, Greece and Asia minor, as well as Jerusalem. It’s generally agreed that the four gospels recounting Jesus’ life were written between about 70 and 100 ce, or 40 to 70 years after Jesus’ death. Could have all been fabricated, but it seems hard to account for the rapid progress of the religion unless there was some real event behind the movement. I know the origin of the Quran is shrouded in mystery but I had never heard that even the existence of Mecca in 622 ce is questioned. I have purchased Townsend’s book and look forward to learning more.

    • Ken says:

      I’ve read that the gnostic christians spoke of a mythical teacher named Jesus for hundreds of years before he was supposedly born, and that the current version of his life only solidified after the church suppressed gnosticism.

      • I’ve wondered if this could explain the rapid spread of Christianity – it was actually already there as a sect of Judaism, and became more widespread at the time of Jesus’ supposed existence.

        There is a theory too that Jesus come from the words for “hail Zeus”. Christianity had evolved as some kind of amalgam of Greek democratic ideas and and Judaism. However, I haven’t looked into it, so I have no idea if it’s a credible theory.

        And there’s the one that he spent his missing years in ?India learning about Buddhism, and Christianity is an amalgam of Judaism and Buddhism. Jesus went back there after the crucifixion, which he survived but, of course, had to get out of Dodge. There is a ?mummy of someone reputed to be Jesus still there, and revered as Jesus.

        • paxton marshall says:

          I’d be interested in citations to reliable sources on gnostic Christians before Jesus. I’ve read quite a bit and have never heard that. I also thought it was clear that the name Jesus was Yeshua, or basically the same as Joshua in the Bible. As for Jesus going to India, that sounds pretty far-fetched before he was executed, and even further-fetched afterwards. Certainly Christianity grew out of Judaism and many Christians also considered themselves Jews for some time. But from very early on much of the spread was among gentiles.

        • paxton marshall says:

          On the rapid spread of Christianity: I think we should credit the moral teachings of Jesus, as expressed in the synoptic gospels and especially in Matthew for much of their early success. The leveling pronouncements of Jesus, that a poor man is as good, maybe better than a rich man, was truly revolutionary. Early Christian communities were famous for their sharing, and support for one another. This was a tradition derived from their Jewish heritage, as was Jesus’ teachings. The Christians consistently opposed much of the brutality of Roman society such as the gladiatorial games, and even after they gained influence, urged the rich to spend their money on charity rather than entertainment. Of course the cooption of the religion by the Roman Empire after Constantine changed much and Christianity thereafter became the spokesman for the same rich and powerful that Jesus denounced. Yet the democratic and charitable impulse continued to lurk beneath the surface and did contribute to the gradual improvement of morals in the west.

  9. paxton marshall says:

    I’m fine with not using names Heather. As much as I oppose the trend of demonizing Muslims I would hate to contribute to endangering the lives of new atheists by blaming them for the Chapel Hill murders or any other attacks on Muslims. I do want to defend myself from the claim that I have made personal insults however. I have always supported my criticisms with an abundance of specific evidence (maybe more abundant than anyone cares to read). I would contrast my criticism with that of both the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and of the commenter I was criticizing. In both comparisons, I think my insults, if such you want to call them, have been tame when viewed beside these other examples. I respect that this is your blog and you have the right and the power to curtail my right of free speech here. But since free speech is clearly highly prized by you, as it is by me, I am puzzled to know what I have said that crosses the line, while the expressions of the cartoonists and the commenter do not cross that line.

    • You’re deliberately misrepresenting me. You’re plenty smart enough to know the difference between criticizing people’s ideas and attacking them personally.

    • It’s when you use phrases like, “… his support for Israeli slaughter of Palestinians,” that I bristle. Jerry’s never done that. He has expressed why he supported Israel over Hamas in the latest conflict, which isn’t the same thing. He never supported “slaughter”. He also expressed, as I did on his site, where Israel was wrong. And, when I was criticizing Israel regarding a particular thing, and another commenter attacked me, Jerry stuck up for me saying that I was correct.

      I feel similarly sometimes when you’ve attacked Sam Harris because I feel you’re mischaracterizing his arguments in much the same way as Glenn Greenwald and Reza Aslan do. They know better, as do you, but many of the people who read what they say don’t. I don’t know whether you’ve had a chance to listen to Sam Harris’s latest podcast yet, but as always it is an example of reasonableness. You can find it here: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-chapel-hill-murders-and-militant-atheism

      He replays part of a recording from the BBC towards the end. It is from the Copenhagen cafe incident. As a woman was speaking about the importance of free speech, multiple shots ring out. It is sickening in its irony.

      He also talks of how those who say he has blood on his hands following the Chapel Hill murders have put his life and his family’s life further at risk.

      So I don’t like it when you say what I’m doing is curtailing your freedom of speech. I find that offensive in fact. You can criticize other people’s ideas, including mine, but please make the effort to be sure you’re representing those ideas fairly, and be respectful towards other commenters.

      Also, I know it takes me a while to respond sometimes. 1. Remember the time difference between your home and NZ. 2. I am in constant pain. I am limited to how much I can manage each day. Oftentimes, I just have to ignore the computer. So my failure to respond to anyone is (usually) not personal.

      • paxton marshall says:

        I am sorry to hear that you are in constant pain Heather. Is there nothing that can be done? I know that the most powerful pain relievers can have bad side effects, but there are many products out there. I hope that your condition will improve. Please don’t worry about timely responses to my rants. I’m pleased to get a response at any time.

        And thanks for the example of my offensive language. What I should have said is that he continued to give unconditional support for Israel even while Israel was slaughtering over 2,000 Palestinians, many of them innocent women and children. That is still a strong condemnation of his position, as I meant it to be. But I agree that it was inaccurate to say he supported the slaughter. I apologize.

        I also confess that although I read The End of Faith, I do not follow Sam Harris that closely and I may have mischaracterized him. I try to base me arguments on facts, but if I had to be certain I understand all of the nuances of everything I talk about, I could never discuss anything. This is especially true when discussing someone who is trying to make fine distinctions. Such as “denounce the Islamic extremists, but not the peaceful Muslims, but polls show that most peaceful Muslims support he extremists.” I haven’t yet listened to the Harris video but will try to do so today (right now, my furnace is out and it is 9 degrees F here).

        I usually assume in an online discussion that if I get something wrong, someone will correct me. I value discussions of this sort in part because it gives me an opportunity to learn from others and correct and refine my views. I don’t take offense at being contradicted, although I will defend my views if I think they are correct.

        I agree that it is offensive for anyone to make death threats or to say that Harris has blood on his hands because of the Chapel Hill murders. But the hatred cuts both ways. In the Boston suburb of Revere MA, close to where my daughter lives, pamphlets have been posted and strewn about that say “We must kill all Muslims in America” and “All Muslims in America and Europe will be killed”. A high school friend just posted on Facebook: “Make no mistake, Islam does not believe in ultimate co-existence with non-Muslims. We need to destroy ISIS and the sooner the better. And, keep a real close eye on Muslims in this country.” This feeling is widespread in America and the hatred is being fanned by influential groups, such as the right wing media. That is why I hate to see atheists join in the onslaught. People here get hysterical. Why else did we invade Iraq when Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and the UN inspectors said there was no evidence of WMD programs?

        Lastly Heather, I did not mean to be saying that you are curtailing my freedom of speech. I have plenty of outlets for freedom of speech. You have no responsibility to host my speech on your blog. I was trying to spark a discussion on limits to freedom of speech by comparing my statements with those of the commenter and the Charlie Hebdo artists. Are there no limits? I don’t necessarily want the government to censor insulting characterizations like some in Hebdo, but I would hope that other voices would rise up to disown, contradict, and even condemn them. And I think that in certain situations the government should step in. You are opposed to laws against apostasy, as am I, but do you also oppose Germany’s restrictions on pro-Nazi speech and holocaust denial? And there is often a fine line between criticizing someone’s views and insulting the person. I have noticed this for example in the commenters criticism of Reza Aslan and others (though not yours).

        Anyway, respond at your leisure or not at all if you don’t feel up to it. I can handle being ignored as well as contradicted. I can be critical and blunt, but I don’t think I am vicious or hateful. Please continue to correct me if I cross the line. And I’ll be hoping for an improvement in your health (I don’t believe there is anyone “up there” to answer prayers, but I don’t think it hurts to know others are praying for you) 🙂

        • Thanks for your comments. I won’t specifically respond to everything right now, but I do want to let you know I’m opposed to France’s and Germany’s laws banning Holocaust denial. I’ve said that in another post recently, and given my reasons, but I think it was in the Comments.

          The pamphlets being sent around your daughter’s neighbourhood sound awful. In NZ the police would probably step in as we have hate speech laws. However, stuff like that is almost unheard of here. I see it as support for my argument that the threat of islamists needs to be specifically named otherwise people conflate groups like DAESH with all Muslims.

  10. paxton marshall says:

    I just finished the Atlantic article that Heather recommended. My takeaways: 1) ISIS (or ISIL or DAESH) is much less dangerous than al Qaeda (with whom it is currently on the outs). Al Qaeda is underground and explicitly targets the west. ISIS is out in the open and its prime targets are Shia and other Muslims it see as apostates. 2) It makes it clear just how diverse even one branch of Sunni Islam (Salafi, which ISIS considers itself) can be. Other Salafis are so quietist they eschew all political involvement. Reminded me of Jehovah’s witnesses. So yes, ISIS’ creed is explicitly religious in a literalist way. But there are many other interpretations of Islam, Sunni, Shia, and Sufi, some of which are contemplative and insightful about the human condition.

    As with Christianity, and Judaism, Islam has been complicit in many destructive practices over the centuries. We atheists are right to refute the supernatural beliefs of these faiths, to denounce the evils they have participated in, and to decry the influence they still maintain in secular societies like the US and NZ. But we should remember that relatively benign versions of all these religions exist, and they have been and continue to be the cultural framework under which most people live. It is a serious error to think that abolishing these religions would eliminate the problems of hatred and war, or even to think that it would improve the lives of most people we see as suffering under a religious yoke. It is arrogant and naïve to believe that enlightenment values, much as we cherish them, are something we can or should impose on others.

    • That sounds suspiciously like an elitist “little people” argument. Besides, although I would like to see religion gone, I’ve never suggested banning it, or forcing Enlightenment values on others. I would like to see the ideas and ideals of the Enlightenment made available to those who don’t have access to them though, and for people to have a genuine educated choice about how they would like their society organized. There’s no chance of that currently in any country ruled by Sharia.

      I recognize good can come from religion, including Islam. For example, I’ve always been a strong supporter of Maajid Nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation. Basically, most people are good, and most believe in some form of supernaturalism.

      The intellectual challenge is no doubt very good for me, but I do feel like you deliberately misunderstand me a lot.

  11. Paxton says:

    Heather, I don’t know how I’ve gotten on your bad side. Though we disagree on some specifics, I’ve always felt mostly in sympathy with your position. In my post on the Atlantic article I was not characterizing your position at all, just commenting in the article and expressing my long held views on how religion should be treated. Yes, maybe it is elitist and I have no objection to your pointing that out to me. Perhaps I’m accustomed to the rough and tumble of the Religion Discussion Group on Facebook, where they pull no punches. (You may want to check it out). I’ll try not to misrepresent you in future, but I do assume your posts are intended to be openings for general discussions of an issue, and not strictly limited to responses to your position. Am I mistaken?

    • Hi. Yes, anyone can talk about anything they want that comes up. I feel like I get involved too much and dominate the conversation, which is not good. I not that good at shutting up when I have an opinion.

      As to DAESH, I don’t think that in the West they’re as much as a threat as they appear to be, which is partly what my article was about. They’ve successfully made themselves appear much scarier than they really are because of the extreme level of their violence. It shocks us to our cores I think. It’s hard to get the images out of your mind of what they do, when far more people are in danger from domestic violence, alcohol abuse, smoking and other such things.

      Thanks for the New Republic article you posted. I found it interesting, but I think she missed the point, although it’s the same point lots of people miss, especially if they’re religious. It is impossible to define the true form of any religion, so going down that path to defeat terrorists is very difficult. The interpretation of DAESH, WBC, David Koresh, Jehovah’s Witnesses or anyone else is ultimately just as valid as anyone else if you’re relying on scripture.

      If people are going to be religious, there does need to be a focus on trying to make sure that religious leaders are teaching a form of religion that is peaceful, and relies on humanist, Enlightenment values. It needs to be done early – once someone has gone down the Islamist path, it’s very difficult to get them back.

      Btw, Zuhdi Jasser of the Islamic Forum for Democracy is another one who supports my contention (I referred to Maajid Nawaz above) that it is more damaging to Muslims not to name the terrorists as Islamists, as it gives the impression the problem is all Muslims.

      Saying DAESH are not truly Muslin is simply wrong. They are, and their goal is to return society to how it was in the time of Mohammed. There are multiple reasons for how we got to where we are, many of which everyone above has mentioned. We have to make sure we don’t repeat those mistakes, and in many cases stop making them (because we still are) but imo that’s separate from what we do going forward. There’s plenty of blame to go around – we need to focus on fixing the problem.

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