Paxton Marshall Critiques Sam Harris’s “Sleepwalking Towards Armageddon”

Harris, Sam

Sam Harris

Regular readers will know that one of the most frequent commenters here is Paxton Marshall, a retired professor, most recently of the University of Virginia. He and I (and other commenters) disagree a lot, and the topic of that disagreement has often been the opinions of Sam Harris. Nevertheless, his comments are always welcome and interesting.

On 15 November 2015 following the Paris terrorist attacks, Sam Harris posted a podcast on his website entitled Still Sleepwalking Towards Armageddon. This was an update of a post he’d done in September 2014 following the murder of US journalist James Foley called Sleepwalking Towards Armageddon. Harris included a full reading of his September 2014 post in the November 2015 podcast, so nothing was lost for those who had not read the earlier post.

Paxton wished to discuss Still Sleepwalking Towards Armageddon as part of the ongoing discussion several of us were having as part of the comments on one of my posts. However, the rest of us felt that we’d been over all the issues already in the thread. So I decided to give Paxton the opportunity to give us all his take on the issues Sam Harris brings up. He very bravely took me up on the offer, and here are his thoughts.


Guest Post by Paxton Marshall

The 2016 US Republican presidential candidates exemplify the hysteria over Muslims and Islam that has been sold to the American people since 9/11/01. One candidate wants to bar Muslims from entering the country. Most of the others want to step up our already horrific military assault on Muslims, through indiscriminate cluster bombing designed to kill a maximum number of people, and/or repeating the George W. Bush experiment of “putting boots on the ground”.

As always the drums of war are being beaten by the war profiteers (what Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex”), and their minions. Their methods are fear and greed. Fear of terrorist attack. Fear of Sharia law. Fear of a world caliphate. Greed for the profits of arms dealing, service contracts, oil and war. Their audience is primarily the Republican party, the business wing that seeks profit, and the evangelical Christian wing, which can be riled up to oppose a rival, and therefore “false” religion. But Democrats and liberals are susceptible to the fearmongering as well, as exemplified by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Christopher Hitchens, who supported the Iraq invasion.

In 2014 following the murder of journalist James Foley by a British jihadist Sam Harris published Sleepwalking toward Armageddon on his blog. In November 2015, following the Paris attacks that killed over 130 people, he produced the podcast Still Sleepwalking toward Armageddon. The podcast includes Harris reading the earlier piece, so you can get both in one, or if you prefer print you can read the original post.

As the titles indicate, the tone of the pieces is apocalyptic. Harris believes that radical Islam is an existential threat to civilization, and western enlightenment values:

The fight against jihadism and Islamism is a generational fight waged for our children and children’s children.

Granted that the two pieces were written in the wake of terrible atrocities, that conclusion seems panicky. It reminded me of the Communist scare of my youth instilling the fear of world communist domination in generations of westerners. No Islamic entity or possible combination thereof has anything near the military power to threaten the western alliance of the US, UK, France, Israel and others. If we want to be afraid we should fear the nuclear capabilities of Russia and China. Maybe Harris was referring to the danger of radicalized Muslims within western societies, (he calls it a “failure of muliticulturalism”, suggesting support for a Trump-like exclusion of Muslims from western societies) but as Lawrence Krauss has pointed out in the New York TimesThinking Rationally About Terror‘, that fear too is vastly overblown, with the total deaths from terrorism in the US, even including 9/11 accounting for an almost insignificant portion of the deaths since then. It may not be Harris’ intention, but he is contributing to the constant chorus of fearmongering that gave Bush/Blair the support for the Iraq invasion, keeps Netanyahu in power, and is a major theme of the Republican presidential debates, where one candidate tries to outdo the next in promising ever more military attacks on Islamic peoples.

Harris’ is intent on convincing his readers that the doctrines of Islam, not any real world grievances, are the cause of Islamic terrorism. He asks:

Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder.

The jihadists are:

… not people motivated by ordinary political, economic, or even tribal grievance. The real engine is religious ideology, sincere belief.

Harris is scathing in his contempt for academic researchers (“a large industry of obfuscation”) who find other reasons, most importantly western imperialism, for the attacks. Harris:

… these experts [academic social scientists] claim that one can’t take Islamists and jihadists at their word: Their incessant declarations about God, paradise, martyrdom, and the evils of apostasy are nothing more than a mask concealing their real motivations. What are their real motivations? Insert here the most abject hopes and projections of secular liberalism: How would you feel if Western imperialists and their mapmakers had divided your lands, stolen your oil, and humiliated your proud culture?

First, why should we take Islamists and jihadists at their word? Do we take murder suspects in the US at their word? But more seriously, how can anyone dismiss, without even feeling it necessary to argue the point, ongoing western imperialism and slaughter of Muslims as a cause of Muslim attacks on us? Is it only the “abject hopes and projections of secular liberalism” that see the thousands of innocents killed in the Iraq and Gaza invasions as a motivation for retaliation? Is Harris unaware that in the past century the West has inflicted far more oppression and murder on Islamic countries than they have inflicted on us? In Gaza alone in 2014 Israel killed more Muslim civilians than all the Muslim attacks against the west since 9/11. The US/UK death toll in Iraq dwarfs even the 9/11 murders. We have helped to overthrow elected governments in Iran and Egypt. We have propped up brutal dictators. We have murdered political leaders. After WWI Britain and France appropriated large portions of the Ottoman Empire, largely for their oil supplies. After WWII the west carved out the nation of Israel as a western outpost against the wishes of the majority Muslim population. Our Iraq invasion and continued meddling in Muslim countries is a large factor in the chaos in the middle east today.

Dismissing these provocations as “obscurantism” suggests a deep cultural bias. This bias is confirmed by the following astounding claim:

Despite all the obvious barbarism in the Old Testament, and the dangerous eschatology of the New, it is relatively easy for Jews and Christians to divorce religion from politics and secular ethics. A single line in Matthew—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”—largely accounts for why the West isn’t still hostage to theocracy.

Is there any evidence that a single line of scripture has such power? If this comes from scholarly authority, Harris doesn’t cite it. How does he account for the fact that until the enlightenment, Christianity was integral to politics and secular ethics, in Western countries, and still is today for many. His claims for the overwhelming influence of religious texts, and insignificance of actual historical events flies in the face of both evidence and reason. He admits that Jewish and Christian scriptures are as violent and misogynist as Islamic scripture, but thinks a single passage of scripture is what has saved the west from jihadism? Harris seems to understand religion only through a literal reading of religious texts and not through the history of religious practice, which demonstrates that religious people routinely select the texts that support their purpose at the time, and ignore those that don’t.

Harris criticizes President Obama and others for not using such terms as Islamist jihadist in describing terror attacks against the West:

But today, we won’t even honestly describe the motivations of our enemies. And in the act of lying to ourselves, we continue to pay lip service to the very delusions that empower them.

No Sam Harris, the real lie to ourselves is that we won’t (or can’t) honestly describe our own motivations. If we can’t recognize the greed of the oil companies and war profiteers in motivating our invasions, and yes, the influence of Christian and Jewish religious beliefs in anti-Muslim bigotry and justifying bombing, occupation, appropriation and other atrocities, how can we claim to understand the motives of our enemies?

Sam Harris doesn’t seem to understand his own motivations for his obsession with the dangers of Islam. Is it American exceptionalism? Is it his Jewish heritage and identification with Israel? Why does he single out Islam and Muslims for criticism, and ignore the terrorism inflicted on the Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar Buddhists, or the oppression of the Xingjian Muslims by the Chinese atheists, or Western terror in Iraq, Gaza, and Syria? Over and over one encounters the assumption that Western lives are worth more than Muslim lives. Charlie Hebdo is an atrocity but the Iraq invasion was a mistake, and the innocents killed and maimed are just collateral damage. Harris:

The idea that our enemies are sufficiently like ourselves and won’t set world on fire is delusion. … If you think there might be two sides, you have not understood what war is about. … ISIS a death cult, barbarians, savages, scarcely human.

When you portray your enemies as “scarcely human” you can justify any methods to defeat them. The practical result of Harris’ apocalyptic fearmongering can be nothing else but to spread fear among the people and provide support for the warmongers and “right wing Christian fascists” who, according to Harris, are the only people who have the “moral courage” to see the real problem. Harris is right that ideas have consequences, and should be asking himself how his ideas contribute to the slaughter inflicted on Muslims by overwhelming western military superiority, rather than on desperate acts of retaliation by people the west has exploited and brutalized.

Many thanks to Heather for inviting me to post this essay. Needless to say these are my opinions, not hers.

70 Responses to “Paxton Marshall Critiques Sam Harris’s “Sleepwalking Towards Armageddon””

  1. Redlivingblue says:

    Well thought and presented. Please explain why Muslims kill Muslims. Explain how western imperialism motivates a mob of Muslims to brutally kill another Muslim for supposedly burning a page from a Koran or for being homosexual. I agree that western imperialism is a huge contributing factor to the problem, however the problem, in my opinion, is dogma. Inerrancy of a book that gives license to practice horrific crimes in the name of a god, with the promise of paradise. Sam’s answers cover sectarian violence as well as attacks on western civilization. I feel your answer for motivation falls short of the mark.

    • paxton marshall says:

      Thanks. Why did the first and second world wars happen? Between Christian nations. Why have Christians killed Christians for 2000 years? Read the history of the reformation and what both sides burnt each other for. All religious books give license for horrific crimes as well as for caring for others. It’s a complicated situation over there with the sunni-shia divide intersecting with the competition for power and wealth. Our meddling has only made it worse. To blame all this on passages in a 1400 year old book makes as much sense as Harris saying the west developed separation of church and state because of a single line in Matthew. Religion is a factor, sure, but religion, in its practice and social function is far more varied and complex than verses of scripture. The sunnis and shia have often lived at peace with each other, and still do.

  2. rickflick says:

    I generally accept Harris’s perspective, though I don’t necessarily follow him down the line. You make some good points. I’m probably not going to try to refute much of it. It seems to me your main objection to Harris is that he overstates the danger that Islam poses to a well armed West. I see your point on that. Even if worldwide, Muslims will soon outnumber Christians, I doubt they would ever have the power to overcome the West. On the other hand, even if they decide to die trying through martyrdom (which their religion tells them is a great and wonderful fate), it could make for a very unpleasant situation. Even a one sided war can’t be a picnic for anyone.

    Your final point,

    “desperate acts of retaliation by people the west has exploited and brutalized.”

    is a little implausible. How can you attribute the behavior of ISIS in Iraq and Syria in it’s attacks on Kurds, Christians, and other Muslims as retaliation against the West? Wouldn’t it make sense for them to focus on attacking the West directly? The claim is that they are in the process of creating a worldwide Caliphate to rule by Sharia law. If they were just retaliating they wouldn’t need such overreaching plans. They could set their goal toward removing foreign influence within there own region.
    In any event, while the Middle East has a right to resent past misdeeds (I suppose starting with the British meddling), they don’t seem to be making a major point of that in their statements today. The earliest statements of displeasure I know of come from the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The main theme there was a fear of Western values disrupting pure Islam – really a religious and cultural clash supported by the Koran.
    It seems to me Islamists want to return the Middle East, and probably the world at large, to the 7th Century in terms of government, social order, and religion. Democracy and enlightenment values, which we value so highly, are anathema. They seem to be less concerned for Western injustices, like remaking boarders, propping up dictatorships, attempting to impose democracy, than in returning to a state of religious purity.
    As Harris frequently points out – take them at their word if you want to know what makes jihadists tick.

    • paxton marshall says:

      Rickflick: What ISIS says it wants and what it really hopes to get are not the same things. A world caliphate is just a slogan, what they are largely trying to do is to carve out a Sunnis state in western Iraq and eastern Syria. And they are striking out against the west also, and using hatred of the west, primarily America as a rallying cry. Religion comes to the fore in every war. People start invoking god to be on their side. And they select passages of scripture that motivate the troops. See Heather’s comment below on the degree to which ISIS is a reformulation of Saddam Hussein’s supposedly secular Baathist government.

      So no, I don’t take them at their word. I think their words, like everyone’s, are designed to achieve their ends. They are speaking to one or more audiences and hoping for a certain effect on them. This notion that we should take killers, politicians, and government spokespeople at their word, especially when it comes to their motives, is one of the most ridiculous things Harris said in the article, and unfortunately I seem to hear it often. I don’t know if it is a specifically new atheist thing? I guess in trials we should just dispense with the prosecution and take the word of the accused on what really happened? Surely no one is naïve enough to really take jihadists at their word.

      • rickflick says:

        I’m sure you are correct in siting the many causes of instability in the ME. Harris would, I’m sure agree. What he has insisted on is that Islam, today, is a significant contributing cause. The reason he points this out is that everyone else seems to be denying it – to our collective jeopardy.

        Also, note that there are many possibilities of motivations of Jihadists. The leaders and imams harp on the need to follow the texts and establish a caliphate. Yes, for some of them it’s just a rallying cry. But what’s good about that? For others it is the core of their behavior. ISIS and jihadism generally consists of those who are pure religiously motivated together with those who couldn’t care less about Mohamed’s visions, and those in between. There are however, many clues, such as the use of suicide bombers who are thought of as martyrs, that show us that Islam plays a huge role in the minds of some leaders and some followers. Thus, regardless of other causal factors, ISIS would not exist in it’s current form if the ME had a Christian or maybe Hindu background.
        Sam wants folks like Obama to admit and acknowledge how religious belief is a significant factor that should be considered in fighting the jihadists. Ideally, policymakers should understand that religion is not a force for good in the world but is decisive and leads to violence – especially Islam today. Understanding this aspect is the best way to resolve the problem.

        • Ken says:

          The best way to resolve the problem of terrorism is to stop taking part in terrorism (paraphrasing Chomsky). Other issues are real and important, but until we can take this most basic step, nothing else we do will matter at all.

          • rickflick says:

            Well, why not. If we stop bombing ISIS and pull out of Syria and leave Egypt and Saudi Arabia to their own devices, etc. The terrorists would probably pay no attention to outsiders. I’m not necessarily against that, myself. But, I don’t really know what the full consequences would be. Do you?

          • Paxton marshall says:

            I think we should withdraw from military involvement gradually, without setting timetables. But we should step up diplomatic activity, in reaching a settlement. Assad may stay but perhaps with a reduced country. There may be a new Sunni state carved out of Syria and Iraq. Maybe a Kurdish state. We should also stop selling or giving arms to repressive governments like those in Egypt and the Sauds. But won’t the military industrial complex fight that.

          • rickflick says:

            That sounds like a reasonable approach. Let’s hope things go in that direction. It could go a long way toward stabilizing the ME. I’m not sure that ISIS would feel as sanguine about it.

          • I’d like to see a Kurdish state, but I’m not sure Turkey will ever let that happen. Part of the land the Kurds consider is theirs is in Turkey, and Kurdish PKK terrorists are a problem for Turkey. Iraq would feel threatened by them, as would Iran. The political complications of an independent Kurdistan are the reason weapons aren’t shipped directly to the Kurds, and why the Kurds are kept perpetually short of arms and ammunition by the central government of Iraq. They’re scared of an attack on them by the Kurds at some point in the future. The Peshmerga are doing a great job against DAESH, but the PKK are a potential future threat to stability on the region.

            I agree that the settlement has to be diplomatic, and the West has to gradually withdraw militarily as the region is able to handle itself. Much as I dislike Assad, I think there’s no option but to keep him as the head of a smaller state. He actually has a fair bit of support within the country, and his supporters are as scared of alternative rule as Assad’s opponents are of his rule.

          • Ken says:

            There’s no way anyone can ever know the full consequences of foreign policy decisions. Yet we still must act, even if that is to decide to do nothing. That’s why the starting point needs to be a set of moral principles that are rarely, if ever, compromised.

            We’re reaping pretty much what you’d expect in the ME from the set of principles that have guided us in recent decades; i.e. we’ve gained cheap oil and the ability to project American power at the cost of our sense of security, our international reputation as a neutral arbiter, and rivers of blood, some of it American, but most of it Arab. That must be what we still want since it doesn’t look like we intend to change course.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Ken said: “We’re reaping pretty much what you’d expect in the ME from the set of principles that have guided us in recent decades; i.e. we’ve gained cheap oil and the ability to project American power at the cost of our sense of security, our international reputation as a neutral arbiter, and rivers of blood, some of it American, but most of it Arab. That must be what we still want since it doesn’t look like we intend to change course.”

            This sums it up perfectly Ken. But how can smart people, like Harris, keep writing about the Islamic threat to us, while not ever mentioning the much larger threat of the west to the Islamic world? Can he be that ethnocentric as to not be able to see from the Muslim perspective at all? Is he blind to what we’ve done to them? Another leading critic of Islam recently revealed that he has never known a Muslim, except an ex-Muslim. How can you pronounce on the evils of Islam if you’ve never known a Muslim?

            Some of the more aggressively anti-religious atheists, seem to have a very shallow and naïve view of religion. Harris seems to think people deny the link between belief and behavior. But what is belief? There are as many beliefs as there are believers. Like the Protestants in the reformation, Harris, and others taking his line, seem to rely on words, “sola scriptura”. They cite the founding documents and the words of jihadists and voila, a causal connection. They don’t seem to understand 1) that religion is more about behavior than words. It is the social connection and bonding formed by regular communing together, and 2) every religion has a history of being in different circumstances in different times and places. Hence the great diversity of denominations and schools of thought within Christianity, Islam, and other religions. Harris sees images of the dead in Paris on his TV, but never the images of families and neighbors huddling together and praying to Allah to keep them and their loved ones safe. IMO, for a professional opponent of religion, Harris shows little understanding of how religion operates in peoples lives.

          • Ken says:

            I don’t know, Paxton, I can only lament that Harris is not alone, as millions seem to suffer from such myopia, and it has ever been the case. It seems worse when it comes from a self-proclaimed rationalist, but doesn’t that just mean it is something fundamental to the human condition that all of us are subject to having and being led astray by our biases?

          • paxton marshall says:

            Ken says: “it is something fundamental to the human condition that all of us are subject to having and being led astray by our biases?
            Yes, precisely Ken!”

            Like all living things we have been formed in the competition to survive and reproduce. Our own forebears have prospered and evolved in part by our ability to catch and kill other animals. This gave them the means, and often the inducement, to catch and kill and sometimes eat, their fellow kind. What we call civilization, or maybe even enlightened civilization, is a product of the advantages that cooperation gave over competition. We have evolved the power of empathy and used it effectively to counteract the primal instincts of fear, anger, hatred, aggression. And we have made significant progress in equal rights and respect for all kinds of people in my own lifetime. But we are nowhere close to where we need to be yet. Understanding and controlling for one’s biases is a project for a lifetime. As Burns said; “oh what some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us”

          • Ken says:

            Amen, brother.

        • paxton marshall says:

          Rickflick, please read what Harris says in the piece. He not only rejects, he expresses contempt for, consideration of political and economic causes and the academics who propagate them.

          It’s pure speculation to say that “ISIS would not exist in it’s current form if the ME had a Christian or maybe Hindu background.” Do you think that Christians and Hindus have never done anything as bad as ISIS has? History has plenty of counter examples.

          In every war in history, religion as well as tribal, ethnic, and national identity are invoked by the ruling classes to get the common people filled with enough hatred and rage against the enemy to fight. Religion is a powerful tool to manipulate people into war, but it doesn’t mean it’s the cause of the war.

          You say Harris wants Obama and the public to understand that Islam is a significant contributing cause of jihadism and that it should be considered in fighting the jihadists. So what does he suggest that Obama would or should do differently if sees the light and says the words “Islamist Jihadist”? Should we bomb more? Put boots on the ground? Or at home should we close mosques and bar Muslim immigrants? What does Harris hope to accomplish? He says he wants to reform Islam and has written a book with Nawaz toward that end. But he and Nawaz are reviled by Muslims. What possible influence does he think he can have on Islamic doctrine? Is he a Don Quixote tilting at windmills? Or does he have an agenda for how things can made better?

          You say “Ideally, policymakers should understand that religion is not a force for good in the world but is divisive and leads to violence”. I agree that policy makers everywhere should stop deferring to religion and treat ideas and practices on their merit. I have been an atheist for 50 years after having been raised a protestant Christian. I reject all gods and beliefs for which there is not good evidence. But I have friends and family, protestant, catholic, muslim, jewish, hindu who are good, kind, caring people and try to get along with all kinds of people. And they derive some kind of comfort and community from their religious participation without hating people of other religions. I am convinced it is all bogus, but I can’t say absolutely it’s not a force for good, and I certainly don’t think it always leads to divisiveness and violence. But yes, it is a dangerous tool and in the wrong hands and under the wrong circumstances it can certainly lead to divisiveness and violence, as it has at times in all religions.

          • rickflick says:

            Here’s something that I would suggest the president and Congress do to defeat jihadism – much of the problem across the world is created and spread by Wahabism, the most violent and offence taking strain of Islam. Wahabism is conservative, fundamentalist, and uses a literal interpretation of text. The Saudis have promoted this destructive force with their oil wealth by building thousands of mosques and madrasa around the world. It would seem to me the U.S. has enough political pull with S.A. to stop that process and also to reform the S.A. culture toward modernization. That would be a nice start. It’s a move that takes into account the influence of Islam in creating ISIS and other Islamist and jihadist cults. The U.S. should be using it’s strength – diplomatic, economic, etc., to weaken the influence of religions in the world. But, if you don’t call it out, you aren’t going to make much headway.

          • Paxton marshall says:

            I totally agree Rickflick, except for the last two sentences. We should stop enabling SA to spread Wahabi hatred, including cutting off arms sales if necessary. We should also use our diplomatic and economic resources to promote human rights everywhere. But to try to weaken religions everywhere is unwarranted interference in other cultures. We should cut off the unwarranted privileges religions receive in our own countries, but stop thinking we have the answers to other countries problems. It’s behaviors not beliefs we should concentrate on.

          • Ken says:

            Now you’re talking, rickflick. We had this very discussion recently in another thread. I agree that we should not fear naming any of the problems before us, including religion. But I agree with Paxton that the importance of religion even in the ME pales in comparison to admitting our wrongs and changing our own actions. This area that you’ve hit on though is one where it really is as much about religion as anything else and it’s an action we most definitely should take.

      • rickflick says:

        If the jihadists don’t mean what they say, why do they insist under every circumstance? They are not just making an occational nod to Islam. They want Sharia law enforced in every country, world wide. They say this at every chance they get, as far as I am aware.
        Why would someone be willing to trigger a car bomb that is designed to kill themselves and a hundred school children, without believing they will be flown directly to paradise, as the texts claim? Would they do it for the sake of a few thousand square miles of desert? Or to shift some metaphorical political boundary line? I don’t think so. It is tortured logic to think they would. How much more probable that they actually believe what they are tell you they believe? They believe their action is in fulfillment of scripture.

        • That’s what I mean about the “available tools in the toolbox,” an analogy I’ve used on other threads. There are lots of reasons people join groups like DAESH, but once they’re there, Islamism gives them the tools to use in the fight that others can’t.

          As Ken says, we discussed the big problem of Wahhabism exported by Saudi Arabia recently in another thread. I agree political pressure has to be put on them, and the US is best placed to do that. I think one of the big reasons that hasn’t been done before is that Iran has been seen as the big bogeyman following the revolution and the embassy hostages, and the US felt compelled to side with SA politically. For that reason, the issues with SA have been ignored by them as much as possible. Now that Iran is starting to engage more with the West, the West feels able to ease off supporting SA so diligently. That’s why I thought the award by the EU to Raif Badawi was so significant.

        • Ken says:

          “If the jihadists don’t mean what they say, why do they insist under every circumstance?”

          Rickflick, first, I don’t think they necessarily don’t mean what they say, but that you can’t divine a person’s full motivations only from what they say. They may be lying, or doing it for effect, or they may believe it fully, yet be even more driven by things left unsaid. We have to match what they say with what they do and against the context of what else is going on. So for Harris to argue that in a context of constant invasion and insecurity, that religion is the only motivator that matters, is what lacks logic.

          Second, In determining our response, what they say they want matters, but not as much as what they can reasonably be expected to achieve. It is ridiculous to treat calls for a global caliphate as though there was any possibility that could happen. I used to ask my conservative in-laws what the biggest difference was between Bush and bin Laden. It isn’t having a fundamentalist view of religion, as they both had that. The biggest difference is that bin Laden could only dream of the shock and awe that Bush had the power to create. This is a difference that really matters. Harris can wave such carnage away as “mistakes”, but the Arabs who’ve survived it can be expected to remember how their loved ones were killed.

          “Why would someone be willing to trigger a car bomb that is designed to kill themselves and a hundred school children, without believing they will be flown directly to paradise, as the texts claim? Would they do it for the sake of a few thousand square miles of desert?”

          Because it is effective. And because they’ve been led to believe, rightly or wrongly, that there is no other way to fight back. History is littered with people willing to die for a cause or for land. Why should an Arab be any different and why should they value their land less just because it is desert?

          • rickflick says:

            I don’t think Harris ever said religion was the only motivator that matters. Just a very significant or principle motivator.

            The reason you have the wrong impression here could be that Harris is trying to attract attention to an aspect that has been widely ignored. Everyone from the president to Chomsky and the whole regressive left is trying to ignore the religious aspect and blame it on the presumed resentment for political meddling. They are leaving out a critical element. So Harris is attempting to point out the 800 lb gorilla in the room. He doesn’t feel the need to help reinforce causal factors that are already getting plenty of attention.

            The suicide bombing could be accounted for in a few cases as national pride, but it is more than an occasional event. It is the prime method of waging war. It is not indicative of normal patriotism. Remember, the ISIS is not fighting just for land. They are fighting for complete domination of other religious sects in the region. They are not just saying it. They are in the process of actually accomplishing it. You either convert or die. When they capturing groups of people they releasing the Sunnis while the Shias are singled out for execution. This is not simply a matter of Iraqis and Syrians trying to keep out the imperial armies. When the U.S. military was withdrawing from Iraq, ISIS took the opportunity to replace their influence by attempting ethnic cleansing on fellow Iraqis. Does that sound like a rebellion against the West to you?

            Just this morning there is a report of a 20 year old ISIS guy who publicly executed his own mother, for Christ’s sake, just for encouraging him to leave ISIS. That kind of mind set is indicative of religious extremism, not national pride.

          • paxton marshall says:

            rickflick, I don’t know where you live, but here in the US the fact that ISIS, al Qaeda, the ayatollahs etc are Muslim have hardly been ignored. I don’t know where you or Harris could have gotten that idea. Have you listened to the Republican candidates trying to outdo one another in promising what they would do to ISIS. The leading candidate, Donald Trump became even more popular when he proposed to keep all Muslim immigrants out. Attacks and threats against Muslims and Mosques have spiked since the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. In contrast, when have you learned on the media of the history of western imperialism in the region? Heard lately about the Sykes-Picot treaty? The 1953 UK/US overthrow of Mossedegh and saddling Iran with the Shah for 25 years? What western media outlet, right or left has called the Iraq and Syria invasions what they were, terrorism against people helpless to defend themselves against the advanced weapons we used against them. So please tell me how the Islamic roots of the anti-western terrorists have been widely ignored.

            You are tacitly admitting that Harris’ analysis of the situation is one sided, but saying it is necessary because that side doesn’t get a hearing. The fact is that Harris is joining the right wing warmongers and “Christian fascists” (his term) in ignoring all provocations and attributing terrorism to religion. Of all the flaccid excuses for Harris’ obsession with blaming Islam, the claim that the danger of Islam and Islamism is being ignored is about the most delusional.

            Nobody is saying that ISIS/DAESH are good guys. But its origins in the Bush dismissal of the Iraqi government and army are fairly easy to trace, and fact of reprisals of the new Iraqi Shia government against Sunnis is also well documented. So yes, ISIS is fighting against Shias, but it really has nothing to do with the religious doctrines of the two sects, but a history of past grievances. So I’m not saying all the conflict is due to the west’s meddling. The main goal of all the groups is wealth, power, oil, and land. Religion is a convenient tool to get unstable deluded saps to do the dirty work of suicide bombing etc. But to say that the leaders are primarily motivated by religion is untenable.

          • I don’t want to put words in rickflick’s mouth, but I think he meant ignored by the left. The right are focussing on Islam too much, which is making the left ignore it. Therefore there is no sensible dialogue about the contribution of religion. I think that is Harris’s point.

            It’s sort of what I was referring to in an earlier comment too about watching Fox News and the ads on that channel. The distrust between right and left has become greater and greater in recent years, pretty much since Bush stole the election from Gore. There are few on the right who are capable of admitting when Obama gets things right, and vice-versa. Because the left is distancing itself so much from the revolting anti-Muslim rhetoric on the right in the US, they are failing to admit that a small part of it is valid. That conversation has to be had imo, but oftentimes when someone on the left tries, they are met by accusations of racism or Islamophobia.

          • rickflick says:

            You took the words right out of my mouth Heather. Thanks for saving me the trouble. 😉

          • Thanks for absolving me of my guilt over replying for you. 🙂

          • Ken says:


            “I don’t think Harris ever said religion was the only motivator that matters.”

            It’s almost all he talks about, while deliberately minimising the effect of any other factor, especially the MAIN factor.

            “So Harris is attempting to point out the 800 lb gorilla in the room. He doesn’t feel the need to help reinforce causal factors that are already getting plenty of attention.”

            I said in another thread:

            The crux of the issue is indeed how much importance to put on religion vs politics. I think it is self-defeating for the Left to avoid confronting religious questions because it gives those fixated on them reason to fixate further. Rather, we should confront religious questions precisely to argue them into their proper place, which for not all, but most issues to do with the ME is somewhere near the bottom of the list. They are forced even further down the list by the fact that there is so little we can do to address religion directly, while we could begin to change our own attitude and actions tomorrow to immediate direct effect. And doing so would also ultimately affect indirectly those same religious issues by changing a big part of the dynamic that is currently making sectarianism such a powerful tool.

            So if religion is an 800 lb gorilla, Western imperialism is an 8000 lb t-rex. As Paxton says, it gets nothing like plenty of attention, and certainly not from Democrats like Obama. Most people don’t even know the extent of our interventions, nor the numbers killed. I once briefly debated the point with Harris over email in which I compiled a list a bit more complete than Paxton’s. I was arguing that we had some responsibilities in the matter, that maybe we should stop killing innocent Muslims if we wanted the violence to stop. We were discussing Robert Pape’s book, Dying to Win, on suicide bombing as a reaction to occupations (recommended as it directly addresses some of your questions) and Sam said:

            The only reason why we are “occupying” Muslim lands (where we are not there by permission, as in Saudi Arabia), is because we are fighting a defensive war against jihadists.

            I was flabbergasted. Not for oil? No geopolitical concerns at all? All history ignored? So I wrote back (note, this was pre ISIS):

            Sam, you must be kidding. Have you ever said this publicly? That implies 9/11 would have happened even if the US had never been involved in the mid-east. You have to ignore just about all of 20th century history (not to mention the 19th century) of western meddling in the mid-east to believe this. Here’s just a sample:
            – First came the broken promises of the British and French that Arab nations would gain independence after WWI. Instead colonization continued unabated.
            – 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes when the state of Israel was founded. Since then, ever more land has been occupied and Palestinians killed. Gaza has been likened to an outdoor prison.
            – When there was a spark of actual western style democracy in Iran, the US and British snuffed it out by overthrowing Mossadegh and installing the despotic regime of the Shah.
            – The CIA helps install Saddam as dictator of Iraq. His worst crimes are committed while being fully supported by the US. [Best joke of the gulf war: “We know you have WMD, we have the receipts!”]
            – US installs troops in Saudi, promising to leave after freeing Kuwait, but never does.
            – Before 9/11, the US is friendly to the Taliban in Afghanistan, hoping an oil pipeline will result. No concern is shown for the deplorable situation of women under this regime; that would only come later when politicly useful.
            – In the first gulf war, US targets civilian infrastructure such as water treatment plants (an explicit war crime), then imposes sanctions via the UN that ensure no repairs occur.
            – At the end of the first gulf war, US asks residents to rise up and overthrow Saddam, then changes it’s mind. Up to 200,000 die in Saddam’s retaliation.
            – US insists on extending sanctions in Iraq long after the UN would have lifted them. UN reports 5000 children dying per month beyond what can be considered normal, due to water born diseases and lack of medicines.
            – In 1997, when unnecessary child deaths are getting near 500,000, Madeline Albright says on US tv that the deaths of the children are “worth it” to achieve US goals.
            – Two successive UN Humanitarian Coordinators in Iraq resign, citing genocide as the reason. Including adults, estimates of those killed under sanctions range to 1.5m people.
            – Bush outright lies about an Iraqi link to 9/11, al Quada, and WMD, and invades Iraq again. Only oil infrastructure is protected once chaos breaks out.
            – In both gulf wars, depleted uranium shells are used, with the predictable results of greatly increased rates of cancer and birth deformations.
            – US shown to be torturing Iraqis in the same prison as Saddam did.
            – The US continues to use drones to assassinate targets, “accidentally” killing hundreds of innocents as well.

            Ours is one of almost constant adventurism and occupation in the mid-east, and every Arab knows this history. The only real surprise about 9/11 is that it took so long for a bin Laden to appear on the scene. The CIA call it “blow back”; they know what they do has consequences. And of course, we helped create bin Laden too, when we thought he’d only be killing Russians. Was that just a religious war too?

            Harris never replied. It’s not that some terrorists aren’t primarily driven my religion, it’s that they don’t get the level of support required to grow large enough to do real damage unless a level of chaos exists that makes people believe there is no other recourse, no other place to turn. There will always be extremists, but the current lot could never have got where they are now on religion alone.


            “The right are focussing on Islam too much, which is making the left ignore it.”

            That just doesn’t sound right to me. This isn’t about Dems vs Reps. You have to remember that regarding US ME policy, the argument is between the left and the establishment, which includes the Democrats. Obama is no dove, he only looks like one compared to Republicans. Some Dems say the Iraq war was a mistake, but as a group they have no intention of repudiating the bulk of past US policy or taking any sort of responsibility for all the killing and oppression it has contributed to and in many cases led. The argument between Reps and Dems is what degree of intervention is required to meet US foreign policy goals; they don’t disagree in broad brush what the national interest in the ME is, and Dems have a pretty poor record in pursuing it too. Clinton was probably the worst offender in recent times when it comes to body count. Obama is better than both Clinton and Bush, but insists on extra-judicial killings via drone strikes that kill many innocents, continues to support dictatorships, and has a regime change policy that it turns out even the joint chiefs have tried to undermine during the last few years. He is no where near off the hook.

            And Harris is not trying to make some minor point about religion not being properly debated. He sees it as an existential issue that outweighs all others, and particularly US “mistakes”, as though killing Arabs at what some in the UN have described as genocidal levels was a minor thing.

            “Because the left is distancing itself so much from the revolting anti-Muslim rhetoric on the right in the US, they are failing to admit that a small part of it is valid.”

            I do agree that contributes to the dynamic, but the key word here is “small”. There is no sense of perspective in the debate in the US and Sam Harris is only making it worse.

          • rickflick says:

            Well, you raise some good points Ken. My conclusion is that it is definitely a case of many causes embedded in the history of the region including cultural and religious divisions. For each jihadist and Islamist, there is a different combination of psychological forces at work.
            I think you are a little rough on Obama though. You seem to implicate him in sustaining an imperialistic stance. While I suspect he hopes for ME stability in the short term, he does happen to be responsible for withdrawal of tens of thousands of troops from Iran and Afghanistan. He has also held out against voices advocating American troop involvement with ISIS, limiting himself to the air champagne.

          • Good list of some of the areas where the West has got in wrong in the ME.

            I’m going to have to go back and read and listen to Sam again. The impression you have come away with of his pov is different from the one I did. Obviously, our opinions are both going to be coloured by what we already think and know. I think it will be interesting to listen to/read him with your pov in mind. I’m wondering if it will change what I think of him. I don’t know.

            I do think there is a tendency sometimes to forgive (for want of a better word) faults in those in the ME because of our own faults, and (as we have discussed before) there’s also a tendency to see “our side” as the good guys too. Those things get a bit mixed up with the facts. Most people want it to be easy to identify the goodies and the baddies, and, of course, there’s good and bad on both sides.

            The issues in the ME threaten the rest of the world, so we take note. There are worse things going on in parts of Africa, but they don’t have such an affect on us so most people ignore them. Perhaps looking at the differences in the issues would help? One is obviously oil – terrorists in Africa don’t threaten the international oil supply. However, most of the West doesn’t get much of its oil from the ME anymore either, and the price is controlled more by the futures market than the oil producers. Another is that ME terrorists have access to more and deadlier weapons than Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, LRA etc. African terrorists kill more people, and more non-Muslims, but those people are Africans so the West doesn’t feel as threatened. ME terrorists have done a really good job at getting people scared, and right-wing politicians have helped them out there big time. I posted this on the Heather’s Homilies Facebook page the other day:

            Last year, 44 Americans were shot by Muslim terrorists. By comparison, 52 Americans were shot by toddlers. Which raises the question: Why isn’t the government doing more to protect us from toddlers? Think about it. They don’t share our values. They barely speak English. They steal our welfare. They have no marketable skills. They’re prone to angry outbursts. Worst of all? Most of them aren’t even Christians. How long until we say enough is enough and deport these free-loading parasites once and for all??? Jeremy McLellan

            I think it demonstrates the obsession with terrorists, when they’re not really as big a threat as they’re made out to be.

            I’ve waffled a bit here. Sorry about that.

          • Ken says:

            rickflick, yes, Obama is better, but US foreign policy in the ME for the last seven years really can’t be called anti-imperialist. And what happens next? Hillary would be a big worry and even Bernie, while willing to take on Wall St, is pretty soft on the ME. In fact, he may feel he needs to be exactly because he is promising so much on the domestic front.

            I do realise that my expectations are impossibly high for the Democratic establishment. It’s a fair point to question how much further politicly Obama could have gone. Maybe what we’re seeing is the beginnings of real policy change that will become more apparent over time. I’m not convinced yet.

            Heather, it will be interesting to hear what your second impressions are of Harris. I note again that I haven’t listened to this latest a first time, but Paxton’s description fits with what I’ve heard him say on many other occasions and with my own experience with him as you’ve now seen. My impression is that he is getting more myopic and shrill as time goes by. His title suggests this too, but as I haven’t listened, I can’t claim certainty.

            With a new member in our family, I’m sure glad toddlers in NZ are better behaved than in the US!

          • I haven’t listened to the Sam Harris podcast again yet, but I’ve just watched this interview he had with Dave Rubin back in September:

            I think it’s a different one to the one you posted before. It’s 1 hr 20 mins, so it’s quite long, but I thought it was worth the effort.

            I’m glad you’re enjoying your new grandchild! I’ve been having a lot of time with my nieces and nephews over the last few weeks. However, I don’t know how parents manage on a permanent basis. Kids are more tiring than arguing with you guys on here!

          • Ken says:

            Certainly glad to hear that!

      • R. Blanston says:

        Paxton Marshall,
        Why shouldn’t we take ISIS at their word? They tell us ad nauseam why they’re doing it, and execute their plan perfectly. You leave out the pew research data that shows most muslims are in favor of suicide bombings to achieve their ideological goals. You left out the data the shows millions of muslims would be in favor of Shariah law as the law of the land. Furthermore, you don’t advocate any plan what so ever – other than the U.S. is bad, and Islam is not bad. I only have to glance at the news and hear of an attack every single day somewhere in the world Islam is pronouncing itself as the one true religion. We simply don’t see that with other religions. We don’t see the the Tibetan monks doing anything but loving their Chinese captors that torture them – They don’t revolt or attack or use any kind of violence, and their texts do not ever call for violence like those in the Islamic religion. Your review lacks content and shows somewhat of a lack of idea about the true nature of the world around you. I think you should study Islam more. Learn the 5 pillars. Learn the mandates, learn how 27,500+ deadly acts of Islam since 9/11 affects peoples ideas about Islam.

        • Ken says:

          R. Blanston, since we covered most of this above, I think pretty thoroughly, can I refer you to rickflick’s comment on 8 Jan at 4:45pm and the long discussion that followed in response.

  3. I think the reason I usually find Paxton’s views so extreme is because the atmosphere in NZ is so much more relaxed and cooperative. However, for the last few days there have been periods of time when I’m watching Fox News that we’ve got the US ads (we don’t usually), and I think if I had to watch them all the time, I’d be different. One I saw today was from the NRA and featured Wayne La Pierre. I was horrified. My jaw literally dropped at the level of propaganda. Watching just some of those ads in combination with Fox News would have, I think, I much bigger effect on people than just watching the channel itself.

    I think we only have to look at the current stoush between Iran and Saudi Arabia to see what a big part religion plays in the conflicts in the region. The Sunni/Shi’a divide is over a thousand years old and shows no sign of being alleviated any time soon. The small part that isn’t religion is racial – Persian vs Arab, and that’s far older.

    • Ken says:

      Glad you’re seeing some of what passes for dialogue in the US, Heather. There are far too many people well beyond the pale.

      The sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia may go back centuries, but it hasn’t always been as bad as it is today. As recently as the 70’s, the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia visited each other’s countries and maintained better relations. It is true that they both had a similar flavour of Western supportive right-wing government at that time, but that just goes to show that even this fundamental religious conflict was only part of what motivated them, and that politics could indeed be even more important.

      Religion may well colour everything that happens in the ME, but it is rarely the primary motivator.

    • Ken says:

      Just read this on the extent to which religious vs political differences are driving actions in the ME. I haven’t watched the video yet.

      • That’s a really good article, and I have a lot of respect for Vox. The problem I have is that in Islam religion and politics are not separate things like they are for us. The Sunni-Shi’a conflict has always been a political one, right from the start – it was about who would rule the Muslim world. In Islam, that doesn’t mean it’s not religious.

        The situation has got worse in recent decades, and that’s because of political issues, and that has increased the Sunni-Shi’a divide. The leaders play on the religious differences because they work – because many people DO care about them.

        The video stars Mehdi Hasan, who speaks out of both sides of his mouth at the best of times as far as I’m concerned. He makes many good points. However, at the end of the day, saying the Sunni-Shi’a divide is irrelevant is the same as denying Islam has nothing to do with DAESH, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab etc. Yes, there are many other extremely important factors, but the religious one cannot be ignored.

        • Ken says:

          Yes, but we overplay its importance to our huge detriment. As the article points out, the main reason we can’t ignore the sectarian rift now, as it wasn’t a big problem until recent decades, is that we’ve helped pump it up into something that can’t be ignored. This is exactly the sort of “contribution” Sam and others of his ilk would have us continue to make, thereby turning the clash of civilisations into an inevitability. I’ve no issue calling out human rights abuses and stupid religious beliefs, or factoring in info on sectarian conflicts, but when we’re talking of what our national domestic and foreign policies should be, we need to focus on what will make a difference. And what will make a difference is what we control, which is our own actions. It is no surprise that things continue to get worse when we moan so much about the other side, while refuse to get our own house in order. Surely this is Paxton’s main point.

  4. Ken says:

    Good post, Paxton. I have a few quibbles as you know, but they are just that. I entirely agree with the thrust of this that Harris has become part of the problem. He’s been sucked into the dark side that believes a clash of civilisations will occur no matter what the West does. Once you go there, there’s no reason to argue against one’s own atrocities. Only more bad can follow for everyone.

  5. paxton marshall says:

    I accept the corrections offered by Heather, Redlivingblue, and Rickflick that much of the Muslim on Muslim conflict in the middle east (eg the proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran) is not primarily a response to western imperialism. But it is not primarily about Sunni vs Shia or Persian vs Arab either. Like western imperialism itself, it is primarily about wealth (oil) and power. ISIS, however is a direct outgrowth of the US invasion which stripped power in Iraq away from the Sunnis and gave it to the Shia, who proceeded to abuse the Sunni as the Sunni had abused them. The military command of ISIS is primarily Saddam Hussein’s old officer corps. They are effective because they are savvy and seasoned, not because they are religious zealots. They claim they want a world wide caliphate, but they are actually fighting for control of Arab Sunni areas in Iraq and Syria, nominally ruled by Shia. And for oil.

    BTW, during the Reformation in Europe, beheading was considered a humane method of execution, much more so than being burned at the stake. It is also worth note, that horrible as the wars of religion in Europe were, they may be said to have given rise to a reaction against superstition and religious brutality, known today as the enlightenment. Is it too much to hope that such a reaction may happen in the Islamic world? But it is unlikely as long as they are continually bombarded by the west.

    • This was well done Paxton, and you made many good points. The one about the single Bible verse that Sam tried to pin things on struck me the first time I heard the podcast too – it really was a bit of a reach by him, and I’m not sure what he was thinking there.

      I agree the reason the West initially took an interest in the ME was oil wealth. For many who followed them it was about God too – the missionaries were always hot on their heels, although that wasn’t so much the case in the ME of course. Our ancestors have a lot to answer for all over the world.

      Our pov in the West is to see religion and politics as separate things, but in Islam, they’re mostly not. Some countries, like Indonesia, are going along the road of successfully separating them, but, especially in those that use Sharia, there’s no difference. It’s hard for us to get our heads around that, but we need to if we’re ever going to understand the situation.

      You’re completely right that many of the leaders of DAESH are from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, and not just the military. I’ve half written a post about what’s happening in Ramadi, so I’ll elaborate later, but there are thousands of people who were denied jobs of all kinds (teachers, doctors, clerks, you name it) following the fall of Saddam because of US policy dictated by Paul Bremer during the occupation. He created the situation that made the rise of DAESH inevitable.

      The reason burning at the stake was used was religious; it was a punishment handed down by the Catholic Church. It wasn’t a normal method of execution because it was thought it meant you couldn’t be re-born when Jesus came back. That didn’t matter when you were deemed irredeemable by the Church, and they wanted you wiped from existence – since you were evil it was one less soul for God to worry about when the Final Judgement came. But yes, beheading was considered more humane than hanging because it was quicker. Normally the wealthy got beheaded and the poor were hanged. The nobility were able to request beheading with a sword rather than an axe. A sword was normally sharper, and so there was a better chance of it only taking one blow. There are several genuine horror stories of beheadings with blunt axes.

      • rickflick says:

        I’m pretty sure Bremer wasn’t making up this policy. Cheney would be the decider.

        • I think this is one of the few areas where we have to give Cheney a pass. The policy idea came from an advisor to Bremer, and it was his decision to implement it. At the time Bremer was seen as a diplomatic genius and he was given a pretty free hand in the shaping of post-war Iraq.

          • rickflick says:

            I don’t really know about that, but ‘the buck stops here’ means Cheney, if that counts. If Cheney was farsighted enough to anticipate ISIS he could have and maybe would have worked toward a better transition.

        • paxton marshall says:

          Yes, Cheney and Rumsfeld and their minions. Bush would have to approve but he was pretty compliant in those arrogant, delusional early days of the occupation.

  6. Just to throw a spanner in the works:

    I’ve just started watching a documentary series that’s been running on the History channel called ‘The Road from Christ to Constantine’. It’s by history professor Jonathan Phillips at the Royal Holloway, University of London. Anyway, apparently that verse about rendering unto Caesar’s that which is Caesar’s IS considered significant by historians of the period. The Christian movement didn’t focus on challenging the authority of Rome, which meant that for three hundred years they flew under the radar. There is no record of them being oppressed by the government in the early days, although there was by others in their communities for the usual reasons – they were different. It was only when they started to become a threat politically that more pressure went on them, but that didn’t last long as the Empire soon became Christian anyway.

    So we may have been wrong about that one. Still, I’ll have to do more research.

    • Paxton marshall says:

      Certainly it was smart of early Christians to “fly under the radar” by not challenging Rome. But as soon as they gained recognition by the empire they teamed with the government to oppress and harass other religions and alternative interpretations of their own. Separation of church and state is an enlightenment secular concept with no obvious connection to the reluctance of early Christians to challenge the empire.

  7. j.a.m. says:

    A woman blows herself to kingdom come in central Instanbul. Naturally I blame Richard B. Cheney. Damn you Cheney!

    • Ken says:

      And I thought you wanted to be considered sophisticated.

      • j.a.m. says:

        I’ll never be sophisticated enough to dream up convoluted mind-numbing excuses for head-choppers and kamikazes.

        • Ken says:

          Yet doing the same for an industrial scale mass murderer and war criminal causes you not the least problem.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Like you say, comrade, I’m a rube. I don’t fall for everything I read in Правда.

          • Ken says:

            “To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

            That wasn’t in Pravda.

          • j.a.m. says:

            Okay, yes, I concede that Cheney conspired with the Koch brothers, Roger Ailes, and the NRA to fake the moon landings, create the AIDS virus, spike our drinking water, and emit mind-controlling frequencies via millions of microwaves. But a war criminal? That’s a stretch. An industrial scale mass murderer? You confuse Mr. Cheney with Planned Parenthood.

            But let’s try to focus on the initial point: By precisely what mechanism did the fiendish Mr. Cheney induce our Glorious Martyr to take out a bunch of innocent German bystanders? Was it blowback against Ms. Merkel’s devious scheme to relocate a million-strong Muslim population out of a balmy clime into a chilly one? Was it retaliation for the Germans’ prominent and belligerent role in Operation Iraqi Freedom? Perhaps a protest against the brutal German colonization of South America? Or was it owing merely to the power of Mr. Cheney’s winsome smile and boyish good looks?

          • Ken says:

            Why the constant bullshit, jam? It doesn’t make you look clever, just unable to make a real argument.

            And as you’ve been trolling this site for months, you already know the arguments for why Cheney is a criminal. Your attempts at obfuscation don’t change a thing. You also know that no one here would seek to excuse the Istanbul killer of their crime, as you do Cheney his crimes. There are multiple causes for why deaths from terrorism have risen four fold since 9/11. If you think US actions have absolutely no impact despite the slaughter, you should say why, preferably without more crap. Just try it straight if you can.

          • j.a.m. says:

            The question you understandably evade is very straightforward: What is the line of reasoning that led Nabil Fadli to conclude that cruelly murdering innocent people — people minding their own business, who wanted to live, and who had nothing whatsoever to do with his supposed grievances, whatever the hell those are — that this barbaric act would be an effective way to stick it to our beloved but long-retired (and innocent until proven guilty) vice president?

  8. Ken says:

    More BS. You are the one who invented this fantasy. I don’t claim there is such a line of reasoning, so it isn’t my question to answer.

    Now what fantasy excuse will you invent to pretend Cheney has done no wrong?

    • j.a.m. says:

      I’m not sure Mr. Fadli’s victims’ loved ones would describe it as a fantasy. The only fantasy would be the glorious martyr’s, perhaps one that involves compliant virgins in the afterlife.

      You say no one would make excuses, and yet you as much as say that suicide terrorism is understandable. I simply have requested that you share that understanding as it relates to an actual case. It’s not immediately obvious to a mere mortal how your laundry list of alleged grievances supposedly shared by the entire Arab population would be grounds to attack Germany or Turkey, much less innocent bystanders.

      Mr. Cheney can speak for himself. The country was very, very fortunate to have someone at the president’s side with Mr. Cheney’s stature, experience, knowledge, sobriety, and lack of further career ambition. He certainly is not guilty of anything unless and until convicted in a competent tribunal, so I’ll await that verdict (feel free to wake me). Moreover, if there is anything to answer for (which I deny), there’s plenty of accountability to go around, not least on behalf of the incompetent Obama regime, as well as the legislators (Biden and Clinton among them of course) who authorized military action to enforce a multitude of UN resolutions against Saddam.

      • The Paxton marshall says:

        Jam, how do think the loved ones of the thousands of victims of Cheney’s “shock and awe” terrorism feel? Do you think the sanitized killing of a drone pilot in Nevada is more humane than a suivide bombing? Why? Do you have any idea of the discrepancy between the number of them we have killed, and the number of us they have killed? Does it make any difference that we are killing them with jets, missiles, drones, the most advanced weapons the world has ever seen, while they have to strike back with any crude device they can get their hands on?

        • j.a.m. says:

          Let’s stay focused on the case at hand, Nabil Fadli. Turkish media quoted Mr. Fadli’s father as saying the family is shocked and ashamed, unable to say who convinced their son to go to Turkey to kill himself and murder others. Daesh previously had told the family that their son was KIA fighting Kurds inside Syria. Before switching sides, Mr. Fadli had knocked around for a couple of years with the Free Syrian Army. Before that he ran a furniture store. His wife is Armenian.

          Curiously, the older Mr. Fadli, who lives in Syria, makes no mention of Mr. Cheney, the downfall of Saddam 13 years ago, drones, colonialism, etc. Doesn’t sound like he understands the root causes of suicide terrorism any better than the rest of us.

          But whatever the root causes may be, they’re irrelevant.

          • The Paxton marshall says:

            Yes jam, let’s stay focused on their terrorism and ignore our own. That’s a fine example of using evidence and reason to understand the situation. And the root cause of anything is never irrelevant.

          • j.a.m. says:

            I suggested that we apply reason and evidence in a specific, concrete case because generalizations are getting us nowhere. Obviously that was naive.

            Yes, the last sentence of that post was poorly constructed. The point is that no amount of rationalization, blame-shifting, tit for tat or other false equivalence has any bearing on the evil of killing innocents. To even intimate otherwise is beyond the pale in my view.

          • The Paxton marshall says:

            Yes, jam the killing of innocents is a terrible thing. I don’t know where you’re from, but I’m from the US. Pick any time period you want and the US has killed more Muslims than they have killed us. And no doubt many of them died in excruciating pain from collapsing and burning buildings, without the rescue and medical services that western societies have had. Why do you insist on denying the whole picture and just focus on the evils of one side?

      • Ken says:

        “I’m not sure Mr. Fadli’s victims’ loved ones would describe it as a fantasy.”

        The fantasy is your suggestion that I don’t hold Fadli responsible for his actions. I hold both ME terrorists and US politicians entirely responsible for their killing. It is only you who what to let one side off.

        “You say no one would make excuses, and yet you as much as say that suicide terrorism is understandable.”

        As Heather says, explaining is not excusing. If you are really interested, which I doubt, start with Pape’s Dying To Win for the rationale for modern suicide terrorism. Spoiler: both religion and politics are involved.

        “I simply have requested that you share that understanding as it relates to an actual case.”

        I’ve already said I don’t believe there is such a direct link as you seem to think in that case. I don’t know enough about it to say further. You can’t talk about random individual cases and claim to fully understand all motives without knowing a lot about the person involved and their background, their politics, religion, what they’ve said, etc. A very imperfect analogy would be that climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and violence of storms. That is happening regardless of whether we know it is true for any particular storm. Likewise, you can in general expect people to hit back when they feel they’ve been wronged. Even the CIA says that’s what motivated 9/11, ffs. And given how the US reacted to that, no more proof should be needed that people will in fact seek revenge when wronged, even if that means killing innocent people, as both the US and ME terrorists have done.

        “It’s not immediately obvious to a mere mortal how your laundry list of alleged grievances supposedly shared by the entire Arab population would be grounds to attack Germany or Turkey, much less innocent bystanders.”

        What is obvious, however, is the mere fact that you refer to my list of Western interventions as “alleged” shows that you either have zero knowledge of history, or will stop at no sophistry to deny that history. It is obvious you do not seek to understand, but to paint the lie that the Bush administration could do no wrong.

        “Mr. Cheney can speak for himself.”

        He sure can and is one of the few still claiming the Iraq war that has destabilised the region and contributed to countless deaths was a good thing. It’s madness.

        “He certainly is not guilty of anything unless and until convicted in a competent tribunal, so I’ll await that verdict (feel free to wake me).”

        Of course there will never be a verdict, because there will never be a trial. Crimes of US leaders don’t get prosecuted because there is no authority in a position to do so. That doesn’t mean we should not tell the truth and learn from the mistakes.

        “Moreover, if there is anything to answer for (which I deny), there’s plenty of accountability to go around, not least on behalf of the incompetent Obama regime, as well as the legislators (Biden and Clinton among them of course) who authorized military action to enforce a multitude of UN resolutions against Saddam.”

        First, I’ve written here often about the crimes of Clinton, Obama and other Democrats. Killing in the ME has never been a partisan issue.

        But your logic is truly amazing. First you say there’s no way to judge guilt except via a tribunal, then you deny there is even anything to answer for, then you attempt to share the guilt with others. That you want to have it every way at the same time shows that you are not engaging sincerely or seeking truth.

        I’ll not waste my time further. I’ve been contributing on this site for a year now. I doubt there are many interested in this argument, but I’m happy for people to compare my words to yours and determine who has better made their case.

        • j.a.m. says:

          Though I believe my post was clear enough, nevertheless since you impugned my logic I will restate for the permanent record:

          I understand that you feel you would have handled the Saddam situation better if you had been in charge. You have every right to that opinion, which could be called second-guessing or Monday morning quarterbacking or armchair generalship. But to throw around language about war crimes is to trivialize a grave matter. If you’ve got the goods, bring suit, obtain a conviction, and then I will be forced to concede your point. But then there should be no selective prosecution — that criterion is hardly inconsistent or unreasonable.

          If you don’t think Fadli is a suitable candidate for a case study, pick any other. If you can’t come up with a recent and relevant example to help us understand the mechanics of your thesis, well…

  9. j.a.m. says:

    To get the “whole picture”, you’d have to go back to the Persian, Greek and Roman empires, and then follow the rise of Islam over a thousand years (replete with bloody conquest, subjugation and rivalry) from North Africa and Iberia to Central and South Asia. And you still wouldn’t have the “whole picture” of influences shaping today’s world.

    But — and I can only repeat myself — just rehashing generalities doesn’t get us far. Shall we focus on the case at hand?

  10. Ken says:

    This, and the blog post it references, are indeed sobering reading for atheists.

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