The Inner Workings of the Apologist Mindset

This quote from Reza Aslan provides a fascinating look into how apologists think:

“People don’t derive their values from their religion — they bring their values to their religion. Which is why religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, [and] Islam, are experienced in such profound, wide diversity. Two individuals can look at the exact same text and come away with radically different interpretations. Those interpretations have nothing to do with the text, which is, after all, just words on a page, and everything to do with the cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political prejudices and preconceived notions that the individual brings to the text.”

By Ali A. Rizvi

What Aslan is saying here is pretty extraordinary. He is asserting that sizeable percentages of Muslims around the world — many of whom have said in multiple polls that they support killing apostates and stoning adulterers to death — don’t get these views from their religion, but their attitudes are somehow inherent in them as people.

Think about that for a second. Aslan isn’t being equivocal here — he is using absolute terms. He’s saying interpretations of the Quran have “nothing” — nothing — “to do with the text,” and “everything” — everything — to do with people’s “prejudices and preconceived notions.” In his New York Times op-ed, he wrote, “If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in your scriptures to justify your beliefs.” The fault, according to Aslan, lies with people, not the scriptures.

As my friend Christopher Massie points out: “The conclusion that disproportionate numbers of intrinsically violent and misogynistic people reside in a certain region of the world could not be more bigoted or racist.” 

Recall also when Ben Affleck referred to criticism of Islam as “racist.” By saying that, he implied that Islam or its adherents are all of a particular race. This, of course, is a remarkably racist assertion in itself.

Here’s the thing: there is good reason to believe that neither Aslan nor Affleck is racist or bigoted. Why, then, would they make such bigoted statements demonizing large groups of people?

***

This is the consequence of conflating criticism of ideas with bigotry against a people.

Aslan says that these “prejudices and preconceived notions” can be “cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political” — but never religious. Really? So every time a jihadist yells “Allahu Akbar” and severs the head of a non-Muslim from his body with a knife, citing verses like 47:4 and 8:12-13 from the Quran, you can blame every possible factor for his actions except the one source that literally contains the words, “Smite the disbelievers upon their necks”? And these words have nothing to do with an action that is completely consistent with them?

The apologist’s inevitable response will be that these words are being read too “literally.” And there’s a good reason that reading holy books “literally” — or exactly the way they’re written — terrifies religious apologists. I’m with them on this. It terrifies me too. It is for this reason that Aslan insists that approaching these holy books the way most people approach most books — by reading the words on their pages precisely as they are written and assuming that the author actually meant what he wanted to say — is somehow “unsophisticated.”

He is partially right about one thing: thankfully, the vast majority of Muslims don’t derive all of their morality from the Quran. But he is wrong to completely dismiss those who do — those who don’t just dismiss scriptural passages as “words on a page,” but take them seriously.

Words have power. Aslan acknowledges this when it comes to the role of politics, culture, and nationalism in shaping people’s “prejudices” and “preconceived notions.” But he doesn’t acknowledge this when it comes to religion. This doesn’t make any rational sense, considering the incredible influence these holy books have held over billions of people for millennia, despite a plethora of scientific discoveries and advancements that have successfully countered virtually all of their claims.

Apologists like Aslan will often go to unreasonable lengths to protect inhuman ideas at the expense of real-life human beings. They will also label criticisms of ideas, books, and beliefs “bigotry” or “racism” in the absence of any substantive counter-argument.

As a brown-skinned man with a Muslim name and family who grew up in Muslim-majority countries well into my twenties, I think it is an injustice and an insult to genuine victims of anti-Muslim bigotry to exploit their pain and struggle by using it to stifle any legitimate criticism of Islam. This is precisely what umbrella terms like “Islamophobia” do.

***

Since the Maher/Harris/Affleck dust-up, this conversation has finally broken into the liberal mainstream in a big way. Moderate Muslims of the “this has nothing to do with religion” variety like Aslan are finally being called out and held accountable for their claims by their fellow liberals. Many of them are now re-evaluating their own views.

Despite the initial reflexive backlash, this is a welcome development in the long run. It is a valuable opportunity for atheists of influence to engage with a fast-growing community of reformers and secularists from the Muslim world. Sam Harris is co-writing a book with Muslim reformist and ex-jihadist Maajid Nawaz, and engaging with Irshad Manji. Brave new voices emerging from within countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are demonstrating value for honesty and introspection despite great risk to their lives. Ex-Muslims and atheists from Muslim backgrounds are coming out and organizing at unprecedented rates. These are the voices we need in our discourse, not those of disingenuous apologists like Aslan.


Ali A. Rizvi is a Pakistani-Canadian writer, physician, and musician who resides in Toronto. He is currently writing his first book, The Atheist Muslim.

176 COMMENTS

  1. words do have power

    currently “racist” is a very powerful word, so powerful that the weak and cowardly protect themselves with it. why intervene in a dispute where one party threatens to kill another over a difference of opinion? better someone is murdered on my watch than I should be accused of being politically incorrect, right? sounds extreme but it has happened and many other horrific crimes by the power of that word. and islamophobia is gaining in strength, maybe soon the west will be a little more like pakistan where you can sort out your personal gripes by shouting “blasphemy”

    Religion is nothing but a bunch of words but words are extremely powerful even today, long after scholars worked out words were noises made by apes. as long as certain sounds in certain orders can trigger emotions, they can be used to control others.

    ideas like this, that people bring values to religion, do nothing to improve the image of religion and at best argue that religion is in itself pointless. maybe that’s the apologist position? arguing it’s completely irrelevant is its best defence?

  2. The issue is not how individuals think about a sacred text, but how they are told to think about that text by the shamans and other such political parasites. This is how great uniformity of interpretation is contrived, by the linking of old narratives to new cultural, social and political situations by the mostly sociopathic, but, occasionally well intentioned, though delusional, exploiters.

    Altogether too much attention is put on both sacred texts and common folk. Truly left to their own devices, ordinary folk will pick up those books less and less preferring to simply get on with their lives.

    The priests (and would-be priests) are the only ones to actively work against.

  3. Texts can certainly be interpreted but few a taught to do this in a rational way. Indoctrination is one method that can reinforce the most literal interpretations or encourage the most extreme interpretations.

    The Koran would be no problem at all if it was understood by everyone to be utter fiction. It’s power lies in the ability of people to believe and accept what it says as absolutely true and unquestionable.

  4. I have spent several months in Pakistan over the last few years engaging with Academia, Senior educated civil servants- basically the elite. The gamut with regards to religious belief ran from closet atheist to well educated scientists and apologists convinced the Quran is THE word of god and Mohammad was his last and only true prophet.. Like many Christians in the OT, the nasty bits in the Quran were seen as being allegorical, and when push came to shove, even among the educated elite, when the excuses ran out and scientific evidence to the contrary was offered, the fall-back position was one of deference to the Quran- even in very private conversations.

    I even went as far as asking several, when confronted with contradictory evidence to the Quran being presented, what their position would be. In every case the Quran won out- even among the more progressive individuals. The answers became deliberate lying, obfuscation, spreading blame onto others (they forced us to be that way), the shirking of responsibility, and changing the subject to something less controversial.

    The few bright lights who saw through all this BS, were some educated women, but given the status of women as third class citizens in Pakistan, were either ignored or regarded as crazy by their male colleagues both in public and private. The only way to fight such bigotry and ignorance is education, education and education. However, it won’t happen overnight.

    So despite me agreeing with everything you’ve written, it is up to the apologists themselves to realize their folly and change their position gradually. You can’t turn such an ingrained, backward, prevalent attitude around overnight. I would suggest gently trying to work with the Aslan’s of the world, behind the scenes to get them to change their ways. The Afflecks of the world seem to be undereducated shills, and should stick to making second rate movies that bend facts to suit their agenda.. jcw

  5. I really find it hard to believe how some of you do not understand that by using the term Islam and each and every time collating it with a beheading, that it would make even an atheist like me, feel as if you are accusing me of intrinsically being violent. Islamaphobic is right. You can have a go at someone’s religion as an atheist but you have to be more specific on who is carrying out the violence. Why not say the Iraqi Muslims or in fact ISIS muslims. I realise it can be broken down even further but you are scientists FFS. Find the truth.

  6. I’m with Aslan here. Humans have used religion since the beginning of time to justify atrocity and charity. Slavery ended because it is bad for business and we credit Wilberforce. Arabs and Muslims will have to study a long time to learn how to kill like Christians. The wealth and security of the west gives us the civil society we have some to believe its some sort of superiority on our part but its only been 70 years since inflation and fear gave the world Nazis. WW2 was WW1 part two and it was launched by The Tsar, The Kaiser and King first cousins who were the leaders of their own national Christian churches.

  7. So you think at no time has anyone committed bad acts because they thought that’s what their religion wanted them to do even though they said that was the reason? So any idea (communism, capitalism, fascism, consumerism..etc) can lead to bad acts but religion always gets a pass? Just ridiculous and pathetic.

  8. ok, good article. good writing for a change. but, is it not possible that there are degrees of, in this case misogyny, around the world. what if you compared, say, sweden with saudi arabia? and the same would go for homophobia, and so on. perhaps these things aren’t intrinsic to the race – i mean, what is race after all. however, culture does inform people’s attitudes, n’est-ce pas?

  9. I had no idea that Aslan had said anything so obviously and undeniably absurd.

    So, I guess it’s an amazing coincidence that people who hate pork end up being born to Muslim parents, while people who hate condoms end up being born to Catholic parents, and people who hate mixing milk and meat end up being born to Jewish parents, etc etc ARE YOU KIDDING ME.

    Oh, and gay Christians who feel terrible for being gay, begging God to take the gay away, wondering why God would make them “wrong”? They’re just self-hating gay people who are using Christianity as an EXCUSE for their anti-self bigotry!

    There are only so many ways to say “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!?!?!?”, and I feel the need to say all of them, but I’ll stop here.

  10. Yes I agree. It also becomes a cycle in which the leader shares a view and someone finds a way to “confirm” it, share it with others…then picks individual lines, phases, or quotes from their book and projects their views onto the words drawing parallels with their own lives or others. The leader does the same and on and on the cycle continues.

    I noticed in my previous religion much of the ancient text was used to support their upper middle classed western views of accomplishment, attainment of material wealth, self-help, etc. “Old narratives” were applied to Prosperity sermons. At the core of metaphysical teachings and non-literal interpretations of “sacred” texts is the use of analogies. Texts become symbolic like a Rorschach test, tarot cards, etc. were the reader can make a metaphor about most anything that has a grain of truth or reminds them of a personal experience and then use the connection as justification for their behavior. ALL of metaphysical woo- Tarot, astrology… use metaphor/analogy, traditional religions do it also in more subtle ways. (By the way does anyone recall the term for the use of flowers/plants as medicine based on how they look?)

    Our brains naturally link bits of information and ideas together to come up with creative solutions. Artists, designers, engineers, scientists… see how one idea works and apply it or link it to a solution (velcro being inspired by a burs’ ability to attach themselves, designers using a square in a logo to imply the idea of security, people improvising by using a nylon stocking for a broken fan belt…) Unfortunately, most all of us are not able to realize when and where the use of analogy and creative thinking is appropriate, so we use it all the time. We make connections and project our own lives onto the written words or ideas. People need to learn when and where creative thinking is best used and irrelevant.

    (The more liberal and creative the group, the more open ended and symbolic the religion. The more conservative and protective the people, the more fundamental the religion. No surprise)

  11. Texts can certainly be interpreted but few a taught to do this in a rational way.

    I think this is the problem. There is no room for 1+1=2(though some people try to be philosophical about it.) If your adding up a grocery list, there is no wiggle room with the math. Other than fact, there’s lots of wiggle room. The subjective attempts to be objective.

  12. traditional religions do it also (metaphor) in more subtle ways.

    I would add that they rein in people’s tendencies to do this by providing them with the symbolism rather than allowing the people to define their own meanings. With both traditional and liberal religions, people tend to use metaphors improperly. Liberals have an added delusion that they are somehow “freer” or more in alignment with “God” enlightenment, etc.

  13. Phil and Questioning Kat. I agree with you both as well. The ‘priestly class’ of old, managed to avoid the hard labour in the field because it was thought they had the ability to interpret the signs. They’re still doing it.
    It would be nice if their modern day equivalents were made to earn a living and kept their interpretations to be revealed on their own time.
    Anything can be twisted to mean anything.

    Regarding the Affleck/Harris affair, I was on the side of Affleck for what it’s worth.

  14. What is at work here is the principle of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The “liberal” loonies trying to defend or make excuses for violent Islam really hate capitalism or even Western civilization. Their Marxist “religion” failed miserably to overturn capitalism, so now they are willing to, if not embrace, at least defend ANY remaining militant opposition to Western civilization. This explains not only their “get out of jail free” card for violent Islam, but also their admiration for unsavory types like Vladimir Putin who thumb their noses at the West. Scratch the surface of one of these Islam apologists and you’ll find a frustrated and angry Marxist. Aslan, check; Greenwald, check…

  15. I think too much value is often placed on the texts as defining what is or isn’t a true characteristic of a religion. What matters more than anything in defining a religion is what is actually believed and practised. There’s no universal law that says a religion can only be the “true” interpretation of one of a small number of “official” scriptures, yet that seems to be the blinkered mindset of many people, both religious and not.

  16. So the downtrodden are taken advantage of by the powerful, unable to think or act for themselves. How very liberal of you. By all means let’s not dwell on the texts that given license to atrocious behavior or give agency to the common folk when we can blame that which gives our ideology light.

    It’s interesting to see the fracture amongst the liberals on this one. I’ll vote for the liberal just about every time, but somehow I don’t allow by worldview to cloud my vision. It’s obvious to anyone who wants to see that ideas motivate behavior. Religion is an idea and a really bad one. Must we as liberals be so immutable in our idealism of equality not to see that all ideas are not equal and to point this out isn’t a form of bigotry. What is bigotry is assuming some people are unable to think or act for themselves and we should taken pity on them instead of encouraging towards enlightenment.

  17. You mean with regard to those of us on the left’s unwavering support for Vladimir Putin?

    Yeah, the guy is a hero to us.

    Just promise me you won’t bring up other leftist heroes such as Genghis Khan and Ming the Merciless.

  18. @Prietenul’

    So many Long Bows here its like playing Pick Up Sticks with mittens. Way too hard to dissect or engage with a mind that can produce these links. You mentioned almost every bogey man out there but by failing to include Hitler, you only get a 7.25 for artistic merit.

    A rational person rejects all religion. My personal motto is that religion should be practiced by consenting adults in private. It should have no influence in the town square. I reject all religions. So does that make me a “Liberal Loonie”. BTW. In Australia, the equivalent right wing party to the Republicans are called the Liberals.

    I’ve often said that the problem with America is that it is still stuck back in the 1950’s fighting the cold war, while the rest of civilization has moved on. Prietenul’ post is typical example of this common fault.

    Can you name a communist country please.

  19. Much more so than Christians, Muslims have a set of public and private beliefs. You are given quite a bit of latitude in your private belief and behaviour so long as you do not publicly challenge orthodoxy. For example nobody would dare publicly challenge the existence of djinn (evil spirits) but almost nobody would take them seriously privately. In Egypt, homosexuality is treated the same way. You can do it privately so long as a you decry it publicly. The problem is any sort polling will get you only the unified public beliefs.

    Some strange behaviours associated with Islam have no support in the Qur’an. For example, the hijab had not even been invented in Mohammed’s time. The Greeks later invented it as a way of dealing with dust. Female circumcision is not mentioned in the Qur’an. Mohammed was a raving feminist relative to his peers. It is ironic that a religion with such a feminist start froze into the opposite.

    When I read the Qur’an I thought its rules for dealing with non-Muslims were exemplary and fair, especially for the time. Ditto for enemies. I am I told somewhere in there is a call to kill infidels that I missed, but that is not the general tone. If anyone knows the verse, lets look at the context.

  20. What Aslan is saying here is pretty extraordinary. He is asserting that sizeable percentages of Muslims around the world — many of whom have said in multiple polls that they support killing apostates and stoning adulterers to death — don’t get these views from their religion, but their attitudes are somehow inherent in them as people.

    No, that isn’t what Reza Aslan is saying. Ali Rizvi—the same Ali Rizvi presumably who when writing about the Boston marathon bombings showed zero interest in the motives of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and if memory serves criticized those who sought to look beneath the surface of these acts and find an answer that went deeper than ‘Islam done it’—misunderstands.

    Many if not most attitudes are inherent to us. In the period between infancy and adulthood our brains soak up a wealth of ideas and attitudes; from our elders, our siblings, our friends, our environment, which when combined with the traits evolution has instilled in us serves to make us the people we are. It’s worth reminding not only ourselves but Ali A. Rizvi since he saw fit to italicize the word that inherent has the same etymological origins as inherited (and if it doesn’t, it should have). As in the stuff we inherit from our forebears. Perhaps he meant innate. Even then he’s on shaky ground.

    Think about that for a second. Aslan isn’t being equivocal here — he is using absolute terms. He’s saying interpretations of the Quran have “nothing” — nothing — “to do with the text,” and “everything” — everything — to do with people’s “prejudices and preconceived notions.”

    Can I think about it for longer than a second? Aslan is correct when he says people take the bits they want from their religious texts. The Tsarnov brothers, whose motives you might recall did not concern Ali Rizvi, are from a Muslim family. Their father according to Wiki shunned religious extremism, giving us three people with the same genetic makeup who chose to interpret Islam in a way that reflected their personalities. This is Rezla Aslan’s point. If it were all about the religion, one would expect the two generations of Tsarnov males to be of one mind. The authority of the Koran and Hadith would have unified this family.

    In his New York Times op-ed, [Reza Aslan] wrote, “If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in your scriptures to justify your beliefs.” The fault, according to Aslan, lies with people, not the scriptures.

    Yes. A misogynist Muslim will use the Koran to justify belting his wife, just as a Christian with a hankering to smack his kids around will cite Proverbs 13:24. It would be simplistic to suggest these two hypothetical men were made violent by their respective religions. Ibrahim beats his wife because his father did the same thing to his mother, or because he has a crappy job where he gets no respect and needs someone on whom to take it out. Joe Sixpack doesn’t have a job but does have a drinking problem and takes his frustration out on Joe Jr. If none of these apologisms floats your boat, there are a million others.

    Take your pick. Or download a documentary about Chimpanzees and see our own behavior—our own “inherent” behavior—played out on your computer screen. The other great apes don’t have religion, I think I’m right in saying. What they do have is petty jealousy, insecurity, incidents of horrific rage, homosexuality…

    I wonder if they have homophobia, too.

    That’s an interesting one, I think, given Rizvi’s apparent belief that our irrational prejudices come from religion rather than being innate. All three branches of organized Abrahamism have in common a dislike of gay. A cynic might even posit the idea that Christian evangelicalismists and the Catholic Church actually do like gay, as gays and abortion are the only things giving them any semblance of relevance in the 21st century. Is gay such a big thing for these guys because they’re determined to stand up for biblical precepts, or is it because they know the homophobia button is a great one to press because it taps into something deep—inherent even—in the human psyche?

    If only they were consistent. But they’re not. If there is a Hell, I look forward to at some point swimming my way through the lake of burning excrement toward Scott Lively, Ann Coulter, Fred Phelps et al and asking them as they tread poo if they now regret eating all that bacon and those prawn cocktail starters. “It was right there in Leviticus, one of you guys’ favorite Bible passages,” I shall say to them. “You can’t pretend you didn’t know about it.”

    Did Leviticus make so many Abrahamists homophobic? I’m assuming most people here do not believe God is real, so it can’t be that He hates gay; His biographers were the ones who attributed this prejudice to Him all those thousands of years ago. What made pre-Leviticus people not like the gay, and where did homophobia come from? I’m beginning to understand why those like Ali A. Rizvi prefer not to look beneath the surface: it gets all kinds of complicated down there.

    As my friend Christopher Massie points out: “The conclusion that disproportionate numbers of intrinsically violent and misogynistic people reside in a certain region of the world could not be more bigoted or racist.”

    I’m not surprised Rizvi chose to pass this statement off as someone else’s. This is what’s known as begging the question. Do a disproportionate number of intrinsically violent misogynists reside in a certain region of the world, or is that just the lazy meme you wish us to embrace? This is the sort of thing Reza Aslan is talking about when he says:

    “what we’re seeing now instead is a sort of armchair atheism—people who are inundated by what they see on the news or in media, and who then draw these incredibly simplistic generalizations about religion in general based on these examples that they see.”

    Ideas unsupported by statistical evidence which seem true in the cocoon of one’s living room are not necessarily to be trusted. You might ask why the media and our governments would want to promulgate the impression that there are a billion and a half ‘others’ out there whose basic humanity has been corrupted by affiliation to a murderous, foreign ideology. It’s not like there are precedents for this in our recent in our recent history.

    Recall also when Ben Affleck referred to criticism of Islam as “racist.” By saying that, he implied that Islam or its adherents are all of a particular race. This, of course, is a remarkably racist assertion in itself.

    Here’s the thing: there is good reason to believe that neither Aslan nor Affleck is racist or bigoted. Why, then, would they make such bigoted statements demonizing large groups of people?

    I’m sorry but even ten minutes of Bill Maher is ten minutes too many. The guy is such a berk it’s painful to watch. I made it to 1:39 before my irony meter exploded:

    Affleck: “You’re saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing, that if you’re critical of something…

    Maher: “Well, it’s not a real thing when we do it [audience laughter]… It really isn’t.”

    This is the—emphasis the—most disingenuous thing I’ve heard in a while, and from a supposed satirist to boot. It’s possible to justify any prejudice you have by saying yes, this prejudice exists, but when we do it we’re not being prejudiced. This is post-modernism bu#lshit in a nutshell. It’s Krusty the Clown looking out at an audience aghast at some appalling statement he’s just made and saying “When you give me that look it means I was joking.” It’s Clarkson, May and Hammond smirking as they escape the BBC executioner’s ax for the umpteenth time because ‘lads will be lads’, and if an Asian woman complains about Jezza’s making fun of ‘slopes’ on his program, his braying army of fans will bombard her with abuse on Twitter and make her life a misery. It’s Ricky Gervais and Frankie Boyle making jokes about cripples and children with down syndrome.

    If Ben Affleck says all criticism of Islam is inherently racist, he’s clearly wrong. New Atheists are being dishonest when they maintain their critics are trying to shut them down purely because of this criticism. This is the movement’s biggest lie. Those such as Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and even, unfortunately, our own Richard Dawkins would have us believe they are the only ones with balls enough to stand up to the forces of political correctness. When called out for some dumb thing they posted to social media or wrote in an article, this is the card they play. Fellas. Guys. Hombres. Listen up. Say what you like about Islam or Muslims. But be rational. If people disagree with what you say, don’t just accuse them of being PC apologists. No one is infallible, not even you. You are not automatically right in what you say.

    This is the consequence of conflating criticism of ideas with bigotry against a people.

    I agree. As I did when Sam Harris advocated the profiling of Islams at airports. I wouldn’t have a problem if someone pushed an Islam under a subway train, or shot a bunch of Sikhisms because he mistook them for Islams. If somebody were to round up negro and put it to work in the fields, there would be no complaints from yours truly, although I don’t envisage a lot of cotton being picked. Stick as many Judaisms in the gas chambers as you like as far as I’m concerned. Harris’ friend Ayaan Hirsi Ali believes Islam needs to be eradicated from the planet, using military means if necessary. There are weapons that can wipe out human populations while leaving buildings standing; presumably Sam and Ayaan are hoping for a missile which will remove all the Islams from the planet whilst leaving Muslims unharmed. Come on, weapons-manufacturing boffins, time’s a wastin’.

    Aslan says that these “prejudices and preconceived notions” can be “cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political” — but never religious. Really? So every time a jihadist yells “Allahu Akbar” and severs the head of a non-Muslim from his body with a knife, citing verses like 47:4 and 8:12-13 from the Quran, you can blame every possible factor for his actions except the one source that literally contains the words, “Smite the disbelievers upon their necks”? And these words have nothing to do with an action that is completely consistent with them?

    Why wasn’t “never religious” in quotes? I know it was when I quoted it but that was because I was quoting it. Is it because Aslan never said it was never religious?

    In the throes of passion I’ve been known to invoke the name of the Messiah, Zeus, Apollo, even though I believe in none of these deities. IS’ hatred of the West was not created by Islam; these psychos shout Allahu Akbar when blowing themselves up or decapitating their victims because that is the cultural framework through which their hatred finds a voice. Take a bunch of people, drop them somewhere in the world and treat ’em like crap for two hundred years. If the only literature they have is the complete works of Roger Hargreaves, when the most dickish, psychotic or genuinely aggrieved eventually rebel they’ll be shouting “Mr Tickle is great,” or “Little Miss Calamity.”

    This mindset, the one which asserts that were it not for the violent parts of the Koran those peoples whose natural resources the rest of the world requires to sustain its economic infrastructure would just roll over the way the red Indians obligingly did when those guys’ land became desirable, is a New Atheism standard.

    It’s also…

    Sorry, I have to shoot off. I shall finish that thought and the rest of this comment later today if possible.

    Allahu Akbar, Dawketeers.

  21. Cairsley. I really worry about the impact on the 6.67 Muslims living in the USA at the moment, most of whom would be described as moderate Muslims. I see a segment of the population demonised and made into scapegoats for everything wrong with the economy.

    I think all religions have their lunatic fringe and I despise them all in fairly equal measure. Sam Harris accurately points out the evils of Islam; the ‘motherload of bad ideas’! But what of the lunatic Fringe of the Jewish faith?
    They seem to be adopting many of the Islamic practices, disallowing contact between the sexes and insisting on coverall clothing.

    The background noise coming from the audience said it all for me. These people were being whipped into a frenzy by people who should know better. Where have we seen this before?

    Sam’s explanation hasn’t redeemed him in my eyes.

  22. I so wish Harris could acquire a little more of the political savvy that was Hitch’s. There is a missing part of his account for the behaviour of bad Muslims. Like the explanatory defecit for bad Germans in World War II. How suggestible and collective our behaviours can be, how shallow our passions in the face of a few strong willed others. It only takes a reflection of those views in our neighbours faces to have us join the band, and like the self-aligning domains in a magnet we line up and become powerful.

    We are drawn to the appearance of strength and its promise of stability.

    How do whole nations get skewed, the naturally more liberal and conservatives all becoming offset to left or right say? I adore the US but find its culture as smilingly selfish even amongst apparent liberals. They by turn will find northern Europe as skewed to the stiflingly collective. Our immediate neighbours set the norm. Our conceptual deltas are deltas from that norm. The cast of our thinking may be shallow but it is broad and supported it its edges. This is culture doing its thang.

    Change is even more difficult than we might imagine, but it is not sufficient to say Islam is the problem (as Christianity had once been) and leave it there. Until the rest of the world rewards only on the strength of national behaviours and not on the basis of, say, oil or political strength or utility, until we support the right “strong men” and women, we can’t begin the process of re-galvanisation. It is the socialist/marxist Kurds we should have been supporting from much earlier. The communist forces from Iran. It is no surprise to see visionary women like Malala Yousafzai and Maryam Namazi embrace marxism as a path to greater fairness for Muslims. We need a fast track reformation of Islamic politics first and foremost. As a capitalist I think it may just be that the bandaid of formal and institutionalised fairness and equality are a solution, at least in part and for some.

  23. Like the explanatory defecit for bad Germans in World War II. How suggestible and collective our behaviours can be, how shallow our passions in the face of a few strong willed others.

    Nice post. I concur. How could Nazism occur in apparently civilized world. But it did. The Lord of the Flies is in us all. Loosen the chain a little and the hounds are running. Give a little endorsement or blessing, and we’re back on the plains of Africa in all our tribal glory smiting the heathens in the next valley.

  24. What Aslan is saying here is pretty extraordinary. He is asserting that sizeable percentages of Muslims around the world — many of whom have said in multiple polls that they support killing apostates and stoning adulterers to death — don’t get these views from their religion, but their attitudes are somehow inherent in them as people.

    No, that isn’t what Reza Aslan is saying.

    Er, yes it is:

    Those interpretations have nothing to do with the text, which is, after all, just words on a page, and everything to do with the cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political prejudices and preconceived notions that the individual brings to the text.

    Notice the absence of “religious” in that long list of adjectives. Really notice it, because if we were to take your chimpanzee example seriously, we’d have to remove all the other adjectives from that list too. We’d have to ignore the cultural progress of the last few centuries, decades, and years that has seen the reduction of homophobia, murder, press control, lighter punishments and removal of such crimes as apostasy and blasphemy, and child, spouse, and ageist abuse. Furthermore, we’d have to assume every human being on the planet is a bastard, and pretend it’s always been exactly precisely unwaveringly the same then as it is now. Which is frankly more offensive than anything I’ve seen you criticize.

    Your argument is based on a deepity. Obviously, at some point the individual has to be involved in perpetrating the bigotry and violence, and each individual brings a mix of factors to the proceedings. But this is a stale truism, not a “get out of jail free card” insight. If we were seriously to believe that all religion amounted to was a cosmetic touch on people’s behaviour – in complete defiance of its power on the individual, as attested to even by the non-religious – then we’d be unable to explain why heavily Islamic countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia (as well as some parts of Southeast Asia) are overrepresented among those countries that demonize and execute homosexuals, continue to use the death penalty, state overwhelmingly the importance of religion in their lives, censor and limit the freedom of their presses, and either criminalize blasphemy or push to have it criminalized in the UN.

    Why is it that such consistency across national measures is hard to find outside those countries, with the only possible exceptions who come close being neighbouring countries in Asia and war-torn parts of Africa? You contend (apart from that nonsense you espouse about humans being humans) that it can’t be because of religion, because apparently the West are such demonizing monsters that we can’t help but demonize a different religion from some “other” place. This is such a non-sequitur that it’s not even funny.

    Just because the West has done some really crappy things – and I am not saying it hasn’t – doesn’t make everyone else a saint. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that every last unnuanced citizen in the West is a slanderizing, tar-brushing, neo-Nazi-esque bunch of warmongers who get high on xenophobia and want to wipe the Islamic world out in a nuclear holocaust tonight. Is the link between Islam and capital punishment, blasphemy law, etc. supposed to just melt away? Is it impossible for there to be some grain of truth amid the metric ton of crap? Of course not, because the argument is a non-sequitur, a red herring, and a misguided ad hominem.

    I don’t object to you pointing out the hypocrisy within the atheist critics’ ranks. I object to you using that to whitewash the evasive nonsense Aslan peddles.

  25. Sura 4:34 Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.

    Well, that is a bit of a dropkick through the goalposts for all the misogynists looking for a religion to allow them to beat their wives. But no way could any of those misogynists ever have been influenced by Islam to become misogynists… Give us a break.

  26. I partially agree with both views. On one hand, to say that the words “Smite the disbelievers upon their necks” don’t matter, and that interpretation is all that counts is naive at best.

    On the other hand, I see values changing the way people behave on a daily basis when looking at christianity. Homosexuality and obesity are both sins, but I don’t see many of these fundamental christians protesting when a new McDonald’s franchise opens. I figure that many of these people were raised in a time when people weren’t counting calories, and believed that bigotry was still relatively alright, as long as you weren’t blatantly obvious about it. Basically, homosexuality is forbidden, (to be taken literally,) whereas the passages regarding obesity are more of a sort-of guideline, rather than an actual rule.

  27. Dear David, I only mentioned three people by name: Putin, Aslan and Greenwald. Only Putin qualifies as a bogeyman. Aslan and Greenwald qualify as Marxists, however. I put “liberal” in quotes because they aren’t really liberals but Marxists (yes, we Americans consider anyone mildly leftist a liberal). I didn’t really talk about any communist countries but rather Marxist ideology. But since you ask for one, I will mention the German Democratic Republic which fancied itself “Real Existing Socialism” and tried very hard but collapsed ignominiously in 1989. By the way, as far as communism is concerned, the rest of civilization “moved on” in 1989, not in the 1950s. Between the 1950s and 1989 a few things happened like the building of the Berlin Wall, the squashing of the Prague Spring, and the violent suppression of Solidarnosc in Poland, but I guess these are all events of no importance to a Marxist.

  28. But since you ask for one, I will mention the German Democratic Republic

    @prietenul

    Better that I could possibly hoped for. Reds under the bed. I asked for a communist country today. Can you name one current communist country. And you chose East Germany. As far away as you can get from communism. A brutal dictatorship. Or could it be that communism is just another failed ideology. Dead as a dodo and therefore no threat. Unsaleable except in the minds of 1950’s McCarthy’ist Americans who still think Krushev is in power and thus it is some kind of threat. America, where they think that universal health care is communism when for the rest of the world, it is the civilized norm for all citizens. Laughable.

    All ideologies are failures. Communism. Capitalism. Marxism. Fascism. Mysticism. Liberalism (Whatever that is) Everything that ends in ISM except autism. They all fail because they are examples of backwards thinking. Come up with a thought bubble and try to shoe horn it onto the world. Communism and capitalism both fail for the very same reason. Me. I adhere to no ideology. Evidence first. Action second.

    And you seem to see a Marxist and something different to a communist. Can you explain. I’m confused.

  29. This whole debate, to me, is an empty false dichotomy.

    Aslan is partly correct. Murderers, rapists, abusers, and bigots, by and large, are already the way they are by the time they are using religious texts to rationalize their violent behaviors. Secular monsters do this, too. Hitler wrote an entire book attempting to morally justify the murderous rampage he was about to engage in. All human beings want to believe that what they are doing, is the right thing to do.

    But this does not necessarily mean that warped values are inherent. Hitler and the germans are no more violent than middle eastern muslims or colonial era christians, or any other human, for that matter.

    But something MADE Hitler that way. Something powerful, and permanent. He didn’t just read an old Wagner anti-semitism tract one day, and suddenly become a Jew hater. Of course not.

    These people, when growing up, have parents, and uncles, and aunts, and peer groups. People who influence their character. People who mould and form — or deform — them.

    There is an old Jesuit maxim, that makes it abundantly clear what I am saying: “Give me a child for for his first seven years and I’ll give you the man”. Study the psychology of the religious — and I mean from the very beginning of life, not just after they’re adults — and then perhaps you might find an answer to this problem.

  30. David R Allen Oct 23, 2014 at 7:16 am

    And you seem to see a Marxist and something different to a communist. Can you explain. I’m confused.

    I think communism comes in many shades:-

    Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism etc.

    Oh and under McCarthyism – anyone to the left of Genghis Kahn! ¬

    You are right to ask for a definition from anyone using the term!

  31. Greg Oct 23, 2014 at 7:19 am

    But something MADE Hitler that way. . . . . . . . . . .

    There is an old Jesuit maxim, that makes it abundantly clear what I am saying: “Give me a child for for his first seven years and I’ll give you the man”. Study the psychology of the religious — and I mean from the very beginning of life, not just after they’re adults — and then perhaps you might find an answer to this problem.

    Too true!

    Benedictine monastery Swastika

    Although Hitler’s inspiration for the Nazi swastika is uncertain, it may have been influenced by the swastika displayed at the Benedictine monastery where Hitler served as an altar boy. Whenever Hitler attened mass, he had to pass beneath the Benedictine swastika graven in the stone escutcheon of the abbey portal. Considering that Hitler once wanted to become a Benedictine monk, it is possible that this swastika stuck in his mind and later influenced his design for the Nazi swastika.
    http://nobeliefs.com/images/Benedictine%20swastika.png

  32. Hi prietenul,

    What is at work here is the principle of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

    Okay … so Aslan is a moderate Muslim and his enemies are … people who are pointing out that Muslim extremists are Muslims because then he, and people like him, get confused with the extremists?

    I hope I got that right?

    The “liberal” loonies …

    [whoever they are]

    … [people] trying to defend or make excuses for violent Islam really hate capitalism or even Western civilization.

    Because … not quite clear on the motivations at work here, but moving swiftly on …

    People like Aslan don’t appear to make a socio-economic statement to hang that on, but I’m still riding with you, we’re taking Aslan down … right?

    The [capitalist-hating, muslim-extremist-apologists?] Marxist …

    Sounds like a pretty limited political demographic there, prietenul, also I don’t get how Marxists are also liberals-in-quotes … ? Jus’ sayin’.

    [strange minor political faction (as earlier description)] … failed miserably to overturn capitalism …

    Not just a bizarre, small, political minority – but a failed, bizarre, small, political minority.

    [are] now … willing to, if not embrace, at least defend ANY remaining militant opposition to Western civilization.

    I can see how such a powerless, unsuccessful, group would be desperate for political allies – they sound pretty hopeless.

    This explains not only their “get out of jail free” card for violent Islam, but also their admiration for unsavory types like Vladimir Putin who thumb their noses at the West.

    It certainly does.

    Scratch the surface of one of these Islam apologists …

    I think you must be returning to Aslan and the OP.

    Scratch the surface of one of these Islam apologists and you’ll find a frustrated and angry Marxist. Aslan, check; Greenwald, check…

    I’m not really sure I’m up with your undoubted political savvy, prietenul. Thank you, though, for an enlightening post on a political minority that I have been blind to – until now.

  33. Nitya: Sam’s explanation hasn’t redeemed him in my eyes.

    It’s a shame, because I was initially behind Sam Harris when he was under attack on the Bill Maher show but I find myself agreeing that he has not come across well in the days following the initial ‘interview’.

    Ben Affleck seemed excessively aggressive in his attitude towards Sam Harris but he still made some valid points. People like Reza Aslan certainly don’t help though and in the days since the show aired there has been far too much negativity and nowhere near enough rational discussion.

  34. Thanks for the link, nomorewoo. This analogy succinctly underlines the crux of the matter:

    Let us move to the “but 1.5 billion people are not violent” claim. Let me draw an analogy. Most men have never committed a rape nor will they ever commit such a reprehensible and evil act. Yet most rapists are men. Rape is a very serious issue that requires that we understand its root causes even though it is a very small minority of men who should be of concern to us. That we can all point to men who do not rape does not suggest that we should not worry about this phenomenon. Pointing to the empirical fact that rape is a largely male crime is not hateful, sexist, bigoted, or man-phobic. It is a manifestation of the fact that clear-thinking people can extract statistical regularities from the world and arrive to otherwise valid conclusions.

  35. I am really interested in Dawkins evolution work from a scientific stand point BUT!!!…a religious himself!
    In these topics Dawnkins is no doubt, together with Krauss, Harris, Maher and so, a fundamentalist. They only have new gods, (certain racionalities, quiet obsoletes by the way, these discussion the French enlightenment had them like 2 centuries ago, and Dawkins view is quiet superficial also). It led him to simply avoid thinking what the other person is actually saying (in their closeness and narrow fundamentalist view). It is a lie his interpretation, Aslan say that you have to considered other cultural determinations…(I don´t agree with everything that Aslan says, but Dawkins perspective is religious)…that is way Israel fundamentalist are performing a ethnical cleansing in words of Ian Pappe an Israel historian, but not all Jews nor all people form Israel are Palestinian child killers, that’s why Bush and his “democratic” theocracy (he believed that he had a call from god) killed half a million of iraquies but not all Christian nor all American are fox news apologists.
    If you let me generalizes as Dawkins as a not scientific mind (in this topic) is doing, English people and American live 2 century behind the rest of the western civilization in terms of philosophical questions, this new atheisms is old atheism in Europe, no wonder why they have queens and president that perform a new ways of theocracies. But these dudes pretty unprepared for these topics are like Sheldon in the big bang theory show jajajaja. Please someone to tell them to read Nietzsche, or Foucault or Deleuze or onfray, or Negry, or Bataille ot Heidegger or so on, to understand that this positivist way of seeing the world still have religious structures and universal axioms that are not in the real word… ok any way they hardly would understand these authors.
    Hope he keeps doing what he does pretty well and avoid repeating this teenager rebel argument about religions and keep studding 21th century atheism

  36. Er???

    I’ve been through this list of opinions and found one thing incredibly lacking: everyone is pointing at the ‘individual’ and their interpretation of ‘sacred words on paper’ and agreeing with Aslan as ‘liberals’ are wont to do.

    The big … gigantic … elephant in the room is that it is not the obscure passages on a page. It has actually been lifted off those pages and written into the law books of the majority of Muslim nations throughout the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa.

    These lessons are also being taught by Imam in the UK where attacks HAVE taken place and some schools (Madrassas) have been found to be radicalising students. (There are currently about 2,000 of them in the UK teaching school aged children and all use corporal punishment and they are exempt from Criminal records checks on their staff)

    The opinion that Aslan expresses is incorrectly founded upon the opinion that each Muslim is a Scholar and has the credentials that he acquired over the years attending places like Harvard. He also gained knowledge when he ran from Iran to the USA and became a Devout Bible Thumping Christian (something else a Middle Eastern Scholar would have been denied) before his conversion BACK to Islam.

    A man with multiple degrees is telling you that he’s the same as a goatherd in Afghanistan in his ability to sift through the pages of the holy book and decide if god meant it all or not.

    It’s like assuming that all Christians have the ability to debate Spinoza at the drop of a hat when their religious training extends to Sunday School and being board to tears doing rituals every third Sunday when they can be arsed to get out of bed or even worse, they are of the The Westboro Baptist Church variety.

    He ignores the various extreme schools of Islam such as the Wahhabi school who are responsible for the religious police force in the UAE and who arrest women for wearing nail polish with their Burkhas as one of the more ‘moderate offences’. This isn’t an ‘individual’ interpreting the Word. This is a branch of a religion that imposes their view on others with the rule of law on their side.

    We are all collectively sitting here arguing how the individual reads the Koran and the Hadith while a Pakistani Christian sits on death row because she had an argument with a Pakistani Muslim who would not accept water from her because she was ‘unclean’.

    Now, while you can say the Pakistani Muslim was an idiot for her absurd reading of the Koran or the Hadith, she has the power of the state behind her and the person doling out water in a restaurant sits on death row.

    There is also the case of the 14 year old girl who was raped by her 40 year old uncle who, after reporting the rape, was arrested for having sex with a married man and sentenced to 100 lashes. She died of her injuries 6 days after the lash.

    Let’s ‘get real’ people and understand that what Reza Aslan has to say has no bearing on the real world of the majority of Muslim people; that 1.5 billion people who live and breath the Book and LAWS of islam as applied by their nations.

    And let’s not forget the British teacher who went to jail for allowing a boy in her class to name a Teddy Bear after himself, Mohammed and was only freed when Baroness Warsi went to negotiate her release.

    By all means, look at the individual as an aspect of this but … do NOT forget that this is the basis for actual laws and punishments built upon the books that many of you laughably say can be ‘interpreted’ by the reader.

  37. I get to slouch on the shoulders of giants, such as contributors to this thread.

    ‘It is not the doctrine so much as the leadership’s interpretation.’

    Is it possible for a doctrine to have negative effects? Can two doctrines have two different effects with the same quality of clergy? Might it be a bad idea to venerate a mass-murdering pedophile (pbuh)? Does it matter that Mohammed (pbuh) was a warlord and not a homeless poet? If Genghis Khan turned out to be a Prophet of God, might his doctrine reflect his megalomania and brutality? Might that be a problem?

    It seems desperate to suggest otherwise.

    If we do accept interpretation as a means of diminishing harm and emphasizing benefit, how is that done? Moral reasoning. Logic. Of then, clergy can be seen as a path to moral outcomes, it is only by reason and logic. If logic and reason are the means to moral outcomes, this assertion rejects the use of ancient dogmas (especially those laden with brutality and absurdities). Therefor, to say clergy can solve the problem is a contradiction.

    There is a missing part of his account for the behaviour of bad Muslims. Like the explanatory defecit for bad Germans in World War II. How suggestible and collective our behaviours can be, how shallow our passions in the face of a few strong willed others.

    Nazis didn’t spread antisemitism. Antisemitism was a key selling point for the rest of the Nazi agenda. The weak-willed majority had long accepted or been tolerant of this wicked absurdity, and that is a fault. Islam, like antisemitism is a wicked absurdity, and it can only result in atrocity. There is no defense in numbers. If David Koresh had survived and presided over 65 military campaigns (like Mohammed) and secured the existence of Branch Davidianism as a mainstream doctrine, one would not have high hopes for its benevolence in a thousand years.

  38. You are massively wrong.

    To use an old chestnut: Atheism is to religion what abstinence is to the Kama Sutra.

    As you can see from the debate that is raging here, atheists quite often do not share common opinions.

    What we share is a lack of belief. That is all.

  39. The Hadith, the literature recounting the commands of the Prophet Mohammed is considered by most Islamic scholars to be the most important authority on the practice of Islam. No metaphor hides this command found in the Hadith about the punishment for the apostate: “Whoever changes his Islamic faith, kill him.” Study the Hadith and you will soon learn why there is a link between the sayings of the Prophet and Islamic violence.

  40. Juan Oct 23, 2014 at 11:59 am

    English people and American

    The two cultures and political systems, are vastly different, as those with an informed opinion know, so they cannot simply be lumped together! The various US states also have separate cultures to some extent.

    live 2 century behind the rest of the western civilization in terms of philosophical questions,

    Not really! It’s just that when the useful parts of Natural Philosophy matured into science in the 1800s, the scientific establishment abandoned the rump end of pointless philosophical questions, and left the theologians to ramble on about them down that side-track to a dead-end.

    this new atheisms is old atheism in Europe,

    Atheism is neither old nor new! It is a timeless understanding (- commonly by intellectuals), that the existence of gods is highly improbable.

    Attempts to paint atheism as some sort of religion, is just a projection of the theist ideological mind-set on to atheists, by those who do not understand the god-free reasoning in scientific methodology.

    To follow the point made by TSM – Atheism is a religion, in the same sense as OFF is a TV channel and bald is a hair-colour!

  41. How suggestible and collective our behaviours can be, how shallow our passions in the face of a few strong willed others. It only takes a reflection of those views in our neighbours faces to have us join the band, and like the self-aligning domains in a magnet we line up and become powerful.

    Yes, and that can lead to people throwing around accusations of racism or sexism or Islamophobia. Affleck seemed to have been primed as to how he should react to Harris – he hardly allowed him to get to the end of a sentence before trying to close down the debate with “gross & racist”.

    We need a fast track reformation of Islamic politics first and foremost.

    Surely you would need to discuss what you think is wrong with Islamic politics first – that’s if you are not shouted down for suggesting that there is something wrong with all Muslim politicians.

  42. O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
    What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
    Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
    O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
    And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
    O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
    Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
    What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
    Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
    In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
    ‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
    That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
    A home and a country, should leave us no more?
    Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
    No refuge could save the hireling and slave
    From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
    Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

  43. Many if not most attitudes are inherent to us. In the period between infancy and adulthood our brains soak up a wealth of ideas and attitudes; from our elders, our siblings, our friends, our environment, which when combined with the traits evolution has instilled in us serves to make us the people we are.

    Why do we need to “soak up a wealth of ideas and attitudes” if “most attitudes are inherent to us”? The preachers know that nurture is more important than nature – that’s why they are so desperate to control schools.

    ……..from our elders, our siblings, our friends, our environment

    And none of our elders, our siblings, our friends could possibly have gained those ideas and attitudes from religion?

    How do we get ideas from our environment? Do you mean like how Francis Collins found Jesus in a frozen waterfall? Or perhaps our built environment – churches & mosques?

  44. Inside traditional religious there is different opinions as well, don´t you all the Christian wars against each other. Please inform you and study before repeat that dogma of the not very smart atheism, real atheism is more complex than you not very well inform and not sophisticated at all intend of thought, You have in this “new atheist” tons of believes. You don’t see it because you are not very sophisticated, you have to make one step further to star understanding 21 century atheism, please read 19th century philosopher as Nietzsche and you will start realizing how much believes there is in this 18 th century atheism that you are in. Don´t go back to any believe, but questioning even the believes in rationalities as an absolute (there are been showed that all rationalities has a bias behind, read “Aantiediphus” of Deleuze & Gauatari ,old but clear demonstration of it).
    From your perspective you are atheist, form my you are a believer, sorry to say so, not trying to offend but to discuss that this discourses are religious as well.
    Best regards
    A not religious man trying to reach real atheism

  45. Not right, of course to xpress it in a few lines is hard
    Very different political system never the less inside the very same political believes and ideological trends! so not that different at all
    Second this 18th intend of atheism fell in to ideological paradigms that are based in believes and bias, as to think that science will give superior moral values because is base in rationality, any ne who believe that there is an absolute or even one better to another systems of values fell in to believers of objective meaning of reality,
    Real intend of atheism is get read of even that positivistic believes

  46. Any systems of values reflects believes of at least that there is an order in the world and Dawkins evolution studies show in a beautiful way how reality (in the living world) is a battle field, not order not meaning no rationalities that drives it.

  47. One of the real problems of course is that the Quran and associated Hadith, are written in Arabic, a language very few of the followers of islam can actually speak, understand, or let alone read.

    And of course, the only correct version and final arbiter is Arabic. How does one expect the hordes of uneducated non Arabic speaking people to actually understand the verses they have learnt by heart from a very early age? The vast majority of the followers of islam are clueless to what their holy book actually says and rely on “trusted” Imams, each with his own agenda to translate and interpret it for them.. A recipe for disaster as we clearly see. jcw

  48. Many people want concrete answers from their religion, they want a firm direction and purpose. Those who have the least need for ‘instruction on how to live’ probably have the least need for religion of any kind. Then of course those who want to control others use the opportunity as religious zealots to fill that void in the lives of the vulnerable.

  49. couldn’t agree more. too many people try to equate all major religions as noble and peace-loving. while they all can be used as tools of mind control and ethnic hatred, Islam has been particularly effective due to the abundance of verses that promote violence against the perceived enemies of their religion. not to mention the colorful and misogynistic life of its founder.

  50. See what happens to this analogy? It goes from MEN to MUSLIM MEN in one post!!! How many more bigoted fractions are we allowed???

  51. See what happens to this analogy? It goes from MEN to MUSLIM MEN in one post!!! How many more bigoted fractions are we allowed???

    Bigoted fractions? Is that something taught in Muslim schools?

    Sorry Olgun, I just couldn’t resist.

  52. Greg.
    Aslan is partly correct. Murderers, rapists, abusers, and bigots, by and large, are already the way they are by the time they are using religious texts to rationalize their violent behaviors. Secular monsters do this, too. Hitler wrote an entire book attempting to morally justify the murderous rampage he was about to engage in. All human beings want to believe that what they are doing, is the right thing to do.

    There’s a human tendency to place ourselves on the moral high-ground no matter what the situation. I don’t think anyone sets out with the full knowledge that they’re acting like a complete bastard. Even the child-beater probably acts under the delusion that they’re doing it for the good of the child. That’s how I interpreted Aslan’s comments.

    Religious texts provide such a convenient cover for any type of otherwise unacceptable behaviour. They fit any nuance. I’m wondering how long it will take for irate Christians to decide that they’d be doing god’s work by consigning Muslims to the gas chambers and burning their bodies! (forgive the hyperbole).

    If I were to accuse Aslan of anything it would be that of being tedious. I found it quite an effort to finish “Zealot”. I appreciate his scholarship but he lost me mid-way, and it took great perseverance to see it through to the end. Perhaps if I were a believer I would have cherished every word.

  53. Juan Oct 23, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Second this 18th intend of atheism fell in to ideological paradigms that are based in believes and bias,

    I am trying to understand you, but I take it, English is not your first language.
    Atheists simply to not have creeds or shared beliefs.
    Atheists are free thinkers, and therefore come to a diversity of views, regardless of what confused philosophers or theologians might say about imagined “atheist ideology”.

    as to think that science will give superior moral values because is base in rationality,

    Science does not “give moral values, but it does give evidence based predictions on which to exercise moral judgements on expected outcomes.
    That is quite different to the views of those who are incapable of using science to make accurate predictions or from those blindly following dogmas. Those who are incapable of predicting expected consequences of their actions, are in no position to exercise moral judgement.

    anyone who believe that there is an absolute or even one better to another systems of values fell in to believers of objective meaning of reality,

    There are no “absolute moral values”, but that does not prevent us choosing moral values which lead to harmonious living and co-operation, with respect for individual interests.
    This is enlightened self interest and avoids damaging conflicts which waste energy and resources.

    These moral philosophies are not “atheism” (which is simply a lack of belief in gods), but is the “Humanism” which many atheists would endorse.

    Richard Dawkins explains the evolutionary balance between altruism and selfishness in populations (of animal and humans), in some of his books.

  54. I’m wondering how long it will take for irate Christians to decide that they’d be doing god’s work by consigning Muslims to the gas chambers and burning their bodies!

    Harris claimed that criticising Islam is unfairly equated to criticising Muslims as people. Affleck (and it seems you) found that gross and racist.

    Now let’s make a slight adjustment to your hypothetical and imagine Sam Harris had said this:

    I’m wondering how long it will take for irate Muslims to decide that they’d be doing god’s work by consigning Christians to the gas chambers and burning their bodies!

    Affleck would burst a blood vessel!

  55. Sam Harris accurately points out the evils of Islam; the ‘motherload of bad ideas’! But what of the lunatic Fringe of the Jewish faith?
    They seem to be adopting many of the Islamic practices, disallowing contact between the sexes and insisting on coverall clothing.

    Nitya, I go one step further with Harris before branching off. I have to agree that Islam within its early texts has a few more useful tools of intimidation. It was a more coherent and purposed collection than any of the earlier Abrahamic rag bag of texts, the Bible, for instance, given a straggle of coherence only in the editing by competing factions at Nicea etc. The licensing of killing apostates in the Hadith, reflects the more martial intentions of the texts, shooting deserters. It is the Hadith that mostly cause all the problems within Islam itself.

    The bully parasites who constitute the core of the problem have in the various Hadith a set of bullies’ manuals.

    What I object to every time with Harris is this lack of finesse in the words he chooses, the singular vision of Islam. It is the fact that it is already Hadith-fractured in two (Sunni and Shia) with further splinters at the edges that should make us stop holding up a dishonest mirror to Muslims that helps maintain the fiction of Islam as a singular thing but an honest mirror of its truly fracturing natures. The Qur’an on apostasy is much more nuanced and negotiable than the various Hadith. (Rejection after acceptance is the test and begs the question of any choice in the acceptance of faith in the first place.)

    Driving a wedge here, between Qur’an and Hadith, in the minds of thinking Muslims may prove truly fruitful.

    Harris roots for Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s strategy, but Malala Yousafzai’s will make more useful changes in behaviour. Harris hasn’t a politically inclined bone in his body. We need social engineers not social scientists.

  56. Affleck seemed to have been primed as to how he should react to Harris – he hardly allowed him to get to the end of a sentence before trying to close down the debate with “gross & racist”.

    We need a fast track reformation of Islamic politics first and foremost.

    Surely you would need to discuss what you think is wrong with Islamic politics first.

    Affleck’s complaint was crude and ugly in my eyes. It wildly over proposed malice. For me it was more damaging than Harris’s offering. A claim of unreason rather than simple error will make discussion toxic every time.

    The politics I want is that which was nurtured amongst the Muslim left wing intelligentsia in the fifties, sixties and seventies, hijacked by the likes of Khomeini once its anti imperialist work was done, but recently seen flourishing again as a truly enlightened democratic socialism born from the once conventionally marxist PKK.

  57. Affleck spoke the language of the people he thought he was representing Phil. You probably have noticed I dont always understand your writings. There is room for both?

  58. Rizvi nailed it when he said “Reza Aslan at least got one thing right when it comes to women being equal to men in Indonesia…an equal number of them (about 80%) are circumcised.”

  59. Affleck spoke the language of the people he thought he was representing Phil.

    He imputed malice in those critical of Islam. He imputed hatred and met it with hatred. The conversation is over once the rhetorical spectre of “Islamophobia” is summoned. Not that you even need to use the word these days…

    There is room for both?

    Not in a productive conversation…

  60. I have to disagree on the grounds that the argument has many levels of understanding. I can trust you to understand the situation but not the masses who definitely show islamaphobia in their ignorance. That’s the level it is dangerous at. You can break down the wrongs of the Hadith but most muslims don’t even know the difference let alone those that hate them. You play into politicians hands if you do not acknowledge this fact.

  61. the masses who definitely show islamaphobia

    I’m on my old hobby horse here…sorry.

    They display Muslimophobia, which is truly irrational. And I see this all too well. Nigel Farrago is a baleful prospect. Harris talked of ideologies, but Affleck wouldn’t allow that all important nicety.

    [Hadiths, the Qur’an…] most muslims don’t even know the difference

    But this is exactly the point. This is the educative opportunity to reveal where others made historical choices on their behalf and allow them in turn to now venture some choices of their own. The problem with Harris and many here is that merely reforming a religion or having it go to schism is not viewed with any great enthusiasm. Its breaking free of the mind forged manacles or nothing. This one great bound into freedom will account for very few of those breaking out. Most will make that longer walk to freedom, of dissipating beliefs that allow having a family and a career and love and happiness.

    Don’t understand your “shooting” point.

  62. First off, sorry for the tardiness of this response. I haven’t been able to get onto the site for the past day or so. I actually thought it might be about to regenerate into a newer, improved version, a bit like going from Sylvester McCoy to David Tennant. Ah well.

    “Those interpretations have nothing to do with the text, which is, after all, just words on a page, and everything to do with the cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political prejudices and preconceived notions that the individual brings to the text.

    Notice the absence of “religious” in that long list of adjectives. Really notice it, because if we were to take your chimpanzee example seriously, we’d have to remove all the other adjectives from that list too. We’d have to ignore the cultural progress of the last few centuries, decades, and years that has seen the reduction of homophobia, murder, press control, lighter punishments and removal of such crimes as apostasy and blasphemy, and child, spouse, and ageist abuse. Furthermore, we’d have to assume every human being on the planet is a bastard, and pretend it’s always been exactly precisely unwaveringly the same then as it is now. Which is frankly more offensive than anything I’ve seen you criticize.

    No, chimpanzees have their own culture. They display what might be considered a primitive form of nationalism, mistrusting and even waging war against outsiders. They have hierarchies, play power games, form alliances in order to gain higher status within the group. All of this is political. The only behavior they don’t seem to display that we do is religious. I don’t see why my drawing a comparison between the fifth ape and its nearest living ancestor rubs you up the wrong way as much as it seems to. Is that not a valid thing to do? Nor why taking my chimp analogy seriously necessitates regarding every human being on the planet as a bastard. Chimpanzees can be nice as well as nasty. Are you suggesting that were it not for Islam, misogyny would not exist in those parts of the world which that religion has come to dominate? I’m sure you don’t need reminding that female genital mutilation predates the religion’s arrival in Africa and is less prevalent in the Middle East, that other planetary Muslim stronghold. This is what Aslan means when he says:

    No religion exists in a vacuum. On the contrary, every faith is rooted in the soil in which it is planted. It is a fallacy to believe that people of faith derive their values primarily from their Scriptures. The opposite is true. People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives.

    The religion meme adapts to reflect the cultural mores of wherever it finds itself. We know this from Christianity. When Christianity arrived on the shores of pagan western nations, it absorbed that religion’s festivals and rewrote them as events in Jesus’ life. Pagan deities such as the goat-legged Pan were recast as villains in the Christian narrative. When blacks were kidnapped from their African homes and put to work picking cotton in the American South, Christianity adapted to reflect African tribal practices. Go to any gospel church in Harlem even today and the experience you have will be markedly different to what you could expect in a suburban ministry in Wisconsin. Religion is so infinitely malleable that it’s ridiculous to cite Koranic passages, as Rizvi does in his piece, such as 47:4 and 8:12-13 and claim these as evidence that when a maniac shouts Allahu Akbar while committing some atrocity, these words are his motivation. No. Just…no. We change religion. It doesn’t change us.

    Your argument is based on a deepity. Obviously, at some point the individual has to be involved in perpetrating the bigotry and violence, and each individual brings a mix of factors to the proceedings. But this is a stale truism, not a “get out of jail free card” insight. If we were seriously to believe that all religion amounted to was a cosmetic touch on people’s behaviour – in complete defiance of its power on the individual, as attested to even by the non-religious – then we’d be unable to explain why heavily Islamic countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia (as well as some parts of Southeast Asia) are overrepresented among those countries that demonize and execute homosexuals, continue to use the death penalty, state overwhelmingly the importance of religion in their lives, censor and limit the freedom of their presses, and either criminalize blasphemy or push to have it criminalized in the UN.

    I’m glad one of knows what my argument is. I thought I was just responding to some flaws in Mr Rizvi’s article. I never said religion doesn’t have enormous power, that it amounted to a mere cosmetic behavioral touch. Nor am I sure what you mean by ‘a “get out of jail free card” insight” ‘. I think you might be projecting here. My own fault I’m sure for being too vague. Clearly religion can be a tremendous motivator. The list of those whose religious faith inspired them to change the world is long. Rosa Parks, William Wilberforce, John Brown, Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, Osama bin Laden, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafsai… I could name others but I’d have to Google.

    Now, be honest and tell me, what was your initial gut reaction on reading that short list of names? If I may do a little projecting of my own, I imagine it was something along the lines of: “None of those people was motivated to get off their butt—or on it in the case of Mrs Parks—and become political because of their religion; with the exception of old beardy face they were all driven by a profound desire for justice.” And your gut would be right. Give it a toffee.

    Yet when something happens like the July 7 bombings, or Lee Rigby’s murder, or the Boston marathon attacks, a great many people, including as I think I’ve already said Mr Rizvi who really should know better given his background, show no interest in looking for socio-political explanations for these men’s actions as they would with those I just listed. The idea of the zombified Manchurian Muslim, programmed by his religion to do harm, is so irresistible even supposed intellectuals like Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss and Jerry Coyne lose any sense of perspective. Why is it that otherwise intelligent people, and Bill Maher, refuse to look below the surface not only of murderers but ordinary people whom the stork happened to drop in the lap of a Muslim family? Harris is a neurologist for heaven’s sake. I wonder if the pie chart on his office wall representing the Muslim mind consists of a single color and the words “Islam 100%”.

    …Why is it that such consistency across national measures is hard to find outside those countries, with the only possible exceptions who come close being neighbouring countries in Asia and war-torn parts of Africa? You contend (apart from that nonsense you espouse about humans being humans) that it can’t be because of religion, because apparently the West are such demonizing monsters that we can’t help but demonize a different religion from some “other” place. This is such a non-sequitur that it’s not even funny.

    Right, humans are not humans. Silly me. Since your extrapolation of my ‘argument’ led you to entirely the wrong conclusion, suggesting my position was that religion is a mere cosmetic flourish possessing no power over people, I don’t really know how to respond to this. That was your own non sequitur, buddy; please don’t try and say that strawman bs came from me. Why are the places you mention so uniformly illiberal? Because they’re poor, mebbe, and the poorer someone is the more susceptible they are to hucksters peddling religious snake oil.

    I know you don’t approve of any mentions of humanity’s closest relations, but if you’ll forgive me one more visit to the chimp habitat: Severely reduce the number of bananas you give these guys, make their group food-poor in other words, and you’ll see their behavior start to change. Tension will infiltrate their monkey microcosm. Old rivalries which went away when it was bananas as far as the eye could see will resurface. Scapegoats will be sought. This is the milieu into which irrationality finds a perfect home. Back to humans, and enter the Lyle Lanleys, peddling not monorails as a panacea for community ills, but religious faith.

    Why is the American South more religious than its northern neighbors? Is it because it tends to be poorer than the North? Or is it poorer because it’s more religious? No doubt you will say—projecting is totes fun—the South’s lack of affluence is attributable to religion with all the baggage that carries: mistrust of science and technology, refusing to fully embrace gender/race/sexual equality. I would posit—and I am only positing here, not asserting; you don’t need to be all mean and insulting if you choose to reply. I had to look deepity up you know, and then I wish I hadn’t. Words can hurt—that the reverse is true, and religious faith in the South is so prevalent because of the poverty that came about following the collapse of its financial infrastructure following the American Civil War and the end of slavery.

    Perhaps it’s a combination of both, which I think serves my argument—see, this is my argument, not all the stuff you concocted—that the religion meme is a symbiont on the human animal, influencing behavior but not responsible for creating it; bringing innate characteristics to the fore, like Venom in the third Spiderman movie if you like. That space goo tried to alter Spidey’s personality, but eventually failed because of Peter Parker’s innate goodness. Only when it encountered nasty journalist Eddie Brock was it able to reach its full potential.

    Except not really, because that would suggest religion is something alien to us rather than being of our own creation. Perhaps a better example from pop-culture would be the id-monster from MGM’s Forbidden Planet, a force capable of destroying an entire planet which came from our own consciousness. Whatever.

    I don’t think you realize that you already answered your own question, when you spoke about:

    “the cultural progress of the last few centuries, decades, and years that has seen the reduction of homophobia, murder, press control, lighter punishments and removal of such crimes as apostasy and blasphemy, and child, spouse, and ageist abuse.”

    Progression such as this can only come about in an environment of prosperity. Lack of prosperity begets crime/violence, which begets insecurity, which begets irrationality, which begets illiberalism and a concomitant search for scapegoats. Look at Greece. People forget to pay their taxes for years, the economy takes a nosedive, and before you know it we have Golden Dawn making immigrants’ lives a misery. Or how about present-day Russia and the rise of homophobic attacks. Bloody religion, it poisons everything so I’ve heard. Nothing to do with Putin wanting to deflect attention from the fact his oligarch pals are robbing the country blind. No, it’s that damn Bible again.

    (Deepity warning) I guarantee you there is no homophobia in Shangri-La.

    Just because the West has done some really crappy things – and I am not saying it hasn’t – doesn’t make everyone else a saint. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that every last unnuanced citizen in the West is a slanderizing, tar-brushing, neo-Nazi-esque bunch of warmongers who get high on xenophobia and want to wipe the Islamic world out in a nuclear holocaust tonight. Is the link between Islam and capital punishment, blasphemy law, etc. supposed to just melt away? Is it impossible for there to be some grain of truth amid the metric ton of crap? Of course not, because the argument is a non-sequitur, a red herring, and a misguided ad hominem.

    It’s hard to move around here for straw people. Do me a favor, Zeugy, and stop putting words in my mouth. The argument you just constructed is your argument, predicated on what you think my position is. When did I suggest I thought everyone else was a saint compared to the devils the West has in the past vomited up? Is this what the get-out-of-jail-free stuff was about; do you think I’m somehow excusing the atrocities done in the name of Islam in the past couple decades? It is possible to criticize one’s own government without being a fully paid-up apologist for the other side, you know.

    To answer your question, and if I can wade through and shove aside all the ad hominem, non-sequiter, red herring stuff making a nonsense of this paragraph, no, the link between Islam and state-sanctioned killing is not just supposed to melt away. Rephrasing things can give one a new perspective, don’t you agree? Did you see what I just did? I turned your “link between Islam and capital punishment, blasphemy law, etc,” into “the link between Islam and state-sanctioned killing.” I put the onus onto the governments whose responsibility is the enforcement of religious laws.

    If the ruling powers can get away with oppressing a populace, they will, and by using any means at their disposal. Yes, in the past five minutes or so of our history, all that cultural progress you’re a cheerleader for, the “reduction of homophobia, murder, press control, lighter punishments and removal of such crimes as apostasy and blasphemy, and child, spouse, and ageist abuse,” has been made.

    Let’s not mention that a child born at the stroke of midnight 25th December 1999 will in the space of its short life have witnessed two first-world leaders fabricate evidence of weapons of mass destruction in order to begin a war which resulted in the death of half a million people. It will have been born into a world in which there are more people in slavery—I can’t wait to get me an iWatch when those things hit the market—than at any other time in our species’ history; a world in which there are individuals who possess more personal wealth than entire countries.

    The Arab Spring showed us it’s governments that are the problem, not individual proles. If an authoritarian unelected administration which rules over, let’s say five million people, promotes death to the West—despite our being the ones who enabled them to come to power in the first place. Ungrateful much?—hangs gays from cranes and enforces with zero tolerance those bits of the Koran which call for the killing of apostates, and you say every one of those five million souls is a slave to Allah and a potential threat to the rest of the world, you’re being dumb.

    Because I’m half American and half English and my anti-Zelig, outsiderish nature leads me to inflect my speech with clipped English tones when in the land of my birth and Americanisms when I return to my other home, I am sometimes accused—because I’m not only annoying and argumentative on discussion sites, I’m like this in the real world—in the U.S. by people I don’t know of being a royalist. They think if they insult the Queen, my goat will be got (see, I’m in America now, so it’s got not gotten). They don’t know I’m a republican who thinks Brenda and her inbred brood are a bunch of parasites; my accent is enough to compartmentalize me.

    What’s happening in this situation is that I am being profiled. It’s a harmless sort of profiling; I’m pretty cute and unlikely to steal the silver or plant semtex in a lavatory cistern. So, tequila consumption notwithstanding, I don’t represent much of a threat. Thank God for my alabaster complexion. Were I a few shades darker I might be met with more suspicion. My whiteness is a platinum card which fast-tracks me not only through airports but life generally. Is this okay? My contention has always been that those whose response to terrorism is… well, basically Sam Harris’… are the real enablers of Islamic extremism in the West.

    Treating “anyone who looks like they might conceivably be a criminal” as a criminal is a sure way to foster resentment. Suggesting, as Bill Maher did, that a young Muslim who—and this can never be repeated enough—had no say in the faith into which he was born, is essentially a mafioso or mafioso-in-waiting is to deny this person his basic humanity. Someone whose community treats him with mistrust even though he’s never done an illegal thing in his life is going to start despising that community. He could just go into himself, or find solace in his religion, or a twisted form of that religion. This is how radicalization works. Islamic extremists want those like Maher, Harris et al to spout their anti-Muslim crap. They want westerners to regard ordinary Muslims with suspicion. This is not rocket science, boys and girls; it’s basic human psychology.

    You can’t crow about how awesome western liberalism and tolerance are compared to the rest of the world in one breath, and in the next say this can only be maintained by directing security services’ attentions toward those whose suntan looks as if it might be natural and not acquired from a salon or Boots the Chemist. You can’t bleat about how wonderful western society is, how today there are fewer miscarriages of justice than ever and intolerance based on appearance is on its way out, whilst denying people due process of law and extraordinarily rendering them to some penal colony limbo in the butt-end of nowhere for the rest of their natural because they requested hummus in their online grocery order but no alcohol or bacon-flavored Frazzles.

  63. I’m with you all the way in that respect but still think the trio on the left had the niceties, that I thought were lost, with Affleck getting the conversation out there.

    The shooting was Alan’s last post on link. Instead of governments taking control we have looting and talk of shooting, linching…mob mentality.

  64. I just hit the “Report comment” button on this one. Not that there’s anything wrong. Just that I think as many people as possible should read it!!!!

    Like.

  65. Bill Maher did, that a young Muslim who—and this can never be repeated enough—had no say in the faith into which he was born, is essentially a mafioso or mafioso-in-waiting is to deny this person his basic humanity.

    Lack of care about what was said inflames this debate more than it should.

    Bill Maher, who though here speaks with very little care, almost as little as Affleck, in fact speaks of the religion acting as the mafia, it being the only religion “that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.” This exhonorates individuals. We don’t have this problem of distinguishing the Roman Catholic from the Roman Catholic Church.

    I don’t want to defend Maher’s often overly broad claims, but this time he did NOT identify the problem as Muslims, let alone “a young Muslim”. He may be guilty of similar charges but not this one.

  66. The Lord of the Flies is in us all. If we want to find the apologist, or the motivation, we just need to look in the mirror. We are a stone aged hunter gatherer with all that entails in evolutionary drives trying to live in this alien world we’ve created. We just need a licence to be let off the chain.

    How could Germany, a civilized, educated and industrious society succumb to fascism and the holocaust. What happened to the good burghers of Bavaria. The famous experiment where volunteers were required to administer ever increasing electric shocks to imaginary victims, following the orders of the instructors. We are all capable of the atrocities committed by ISIS. We are all susceptible to following orders. It’s absolves us of responsibility for our actions.

    Islam, the Koran, the Bible, Jones Town, the kid that committed the 53rd high school shooting THIS YEAR in America (What is wrong with you Americans.) and a thousand other licences are out there. When the right person gets the right licence, they will go off and return to the plains of Africa, and deal with that OTHER Tribe, those in the next valley. And they will feel gloriously justified.

    William Golding in that chilling novel, Lord of the Flies revealed our inner beast. I highly commend the novel. So when we discuss Islam and ponder whether it is the evil that instructs, I would council that it is just the key that opens our psyche and releases the beast. The Bible does the same thing. Killing in the name of Jesus and god is a common history.

    There is no inoculation for us, but thicker chains can be found to bind us in reasoned, rational evidentiary thought. When we’re able to look in the mirror, see the beast and keep it chained, no matter what the Koran / Imam or the Bible / Priest says. That is about as good as we can hope for.

    It’s not Islam. It’s us.

  67. Might have been lost in Sam Harris getting away with comments like ” 78% of British Muslims think the Dutch cartoonist should have been prosecuted”…. What was the question?

  68. David, we are getting far off the thread here, but let me get in one (or two) more words. You asked me to name a communist country shortly after you suggested the rest of the world had moved on after the 1950s. I chose East Germany as an example of a Marxist country (no one really knows what Marx had in mind with “communist”) which existed from 1949 to 1989. Those in power there really fancied themselves communists and boasted East Germany was already in the stage of “real” socialism and working its way to communism. Just like the apologists for Islam, you then proceed to argue East Germany was “as far away as you can get from communism. A brutal dictatorship.” The apologists for Islam also argue the violence and brutality we see in Islam has nothing to do with Islam. This ability to ignore the actions and words of people and assign totally different motivations to them must be unique to the “loony left” (I have changed “liberal” to “left” because I consider myself a liberal in the American sense). What do you think was the real motivation of the communists in East Germany? Brutalism? Dictatorshipism? No, they were inspired by Karl Marx (even renamed a city after him). My point is that today’s Marxists are so frustrated by the collapse of most communist experiments (Cuba, N. Korea and China are still experimenting as we speak) that they express this by defending any militant movement against the capitalist West. The former Communists of East Germany now sit in today’s German Parliament as part of “The Left Party.” Even 25 years after the total collapse of the country they ruled, they can’t bring themselves to admit East Germany was a brutal dictatorship (“Unrechtsstaat”). However, they oppose bombing the Islamic State and they defend Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Whoever pokes the West in the eye is eminently defensible to them.

  69. Aslan gave a lecture or speech titled “Jesus was a Marxist” and I don’t think he meant it in a negative way. Greenwald? Never met a Marxist group he wouldn’t give a speech to. You should really try Google Search, it’s wonderful. I thought I was the first to see this connection between frustrated Leftists and the invocation of Islamophobia, but alas I was too slow. The Economist (A Convenient Adversary?, April 14, 2014) already noticed this trend: “Arun Kundnani, a British-born scholar who is now an adjunct professor at New York University, is a different sort of leftist. He is not Muslim, either by background or conviction, but he maintains that “Islamophobia” is a thinly disguised form of racial prejudice, and that on both sides of the Atlantic, the war on terror has been an excuse for governments to ratchet up surveillance and harassment of people who are “guilty” of nothing worse than critical thought about their countries’ domestic or foreign policies. He has been touring his new and old homelands with a book entitled “The Muslims are Coming”. As the title implies, he thinks militant Islam has become a convenient bogeyman; it serves an ideological purpose, just as (from the viewpoint of a suspicious leftist) an exaggerated Soviet threat sometimes did during the cold war.”

  70. Marktony. Sorry that it’s taken so long to reply, but I’ve had difficulty with the site. Anyway, if I still recall what I had in mind it was thus….
    Harris was not broadcasting for the likes of us. He was commenting on a program aired for public viewing. As there is already a great deal of negativity directed at the Muslim community in the US ( as it is here) I think he should have watched his p’s & q’s.

    No doubt Affleck was fully cognisant of the direction the discussion was going to take.perhaps he made a pre-emptive strike at the vaguest suggestion of a “racist” remark!

    Harris may have been critical of Islam in general, but it was going to be taken as criticism of the moderate Muslim community in the US. It would have been wiser to stem the conversation at this time. I see the comments of Harris and Maher as exacerbating an already touchy situation.

    Some other thoughts I expressed elsewhere;

    Have you read Orwell’s ‘1984’? I liken our current fixation with Muslims with passages from the book. The media…hand in glove with the government …tell us who we have to hate this week. The public respond to the messages pumped out by the media. One week it’s Asians the next it’s Muslims. It could be Jews! The government needs us to be united in our hatred of some group or other. There’s no more unifying force than a common enemy. I try to take people as I find them and reserve judgement. I must restate the fact that I hate Islam. It’s not the religion of peace. There is no religion of peace.

  71. My point is that today’s Marxists are so frustrated by the collapse of most communist experiments (Cuba, N. Korea and China are still experimenting as we speak)

    Cuba. The last attempt to make socialism work and its’ about to collapse. Fail.
    North Korea. A brutal dynastic feudal monarchy that has nothing to do with communism or socialism. Fail.
    China. 3000 years of capitalism interrupted by 60 years of stupidity. A one party capitalist megalith. Fail.

    There are no communist countries left in the world. It’s a failed ideology.

    You seem to think that communism / socialist is still a threat. This is a view I find common amongst Americans whereas the rest of the world has dismissed this issue. Then you try to link people who make excuses for the stupidity of religion as being of the “Left” as though the “Left” is some monstrous evil. The left, that was previously linked to socialism has moved on is not the “Left” that Americans think is still a potent force in the world. Communism is dead. It will never again be tried as an alternative method of government. It’s a fail.

    BTW. I don’t hold to any ideologies. Left, Right, Centre, Green, Fascist et al. I am of the view that an ideology is an argument in the absence of evidence. Some guy like Hitler or Marx, has a thought bubble then tries to shoe horn it onto the world. I am of the view that each and every decision you make, should have a researched and evidentiary basis to support that decision. Ideologies stick to the ideology even though it is failing. Capitalism thinking that you can have infinite compound growth in a closed system is just stupid. Fail.

  72. Nitya. I think they did a major site rebuild over the weekend. It was done most of Australia’s Friday, Saturday and is just up Sunday Morning. If you look below the Post Comment blue button below, you will see a new feature that will post you an email if anyone comments on your post. This should be a good improvement in the functionality of this forum.

  73. David.
    Thoughts of kids chanting “Kill the pig! Kill the pig!” spring to mind. It’s such a short step for all pretense of civil behaviour to crumble.

  74. Thank you! It’s been really frustrating! I thought it may have crashed because the sudden volume of traffic was more than it could bear.
    In desperation I commented on the Facebook post on this topic. The venom spewed out on that medium is unbelievable!

    P.S. I liked your “Lord of the Flies” reference. I’d like to match that and raise you “1984”.

  75. You can find the same amount of completely insane stuff in the old testament, yet we somehow have raised ourselves about it. We are sometimes aware that other more civilized considerations such as oil and other natural resources make us invade other countries and kill hundreds of thousands of civilians and not bat an eye when palestinians are killed in UN refuges by the boat load. We are clearly not religious nuts and as such we really need to pat ourselves in the back and point towards the middle east and tell them how awful they are. No, that’s not a drone you are hearing….

  76. The layout of this discussion-board makes replying to comments rather difficult when so many comments have been made and none of them is numbered or otherwise easily referred to. Perhaps we, like those Jews awaiting the promised Messiah or like those Christians await his second coming, can still wait in hope that this website will at some appointed time not yet revealed be visited by a mighty technician annointed for the purpose by the higher powers to transform it into a much more user-friendly forum for dialogue between its members.

    In any case, I respond to Nitya, who above states:
    “I really worry about the impact on the 6.67 [million] Muslims living in the USA at the moment, most of whom would be described as moderate Muslims.”

    That is a fair concern, Nitya, for various reasons, including the scapegoating you mention in your next sentence and the example of the blind eye turned to fringe elements in Judaism. Whereas Sam Harris does well to point out that the holy writings of Islam contain plenty of texts to support violent jihadism, I agree with you inasmuch as I think Dr Harris has been sidetracked from his rationalist, secularist and humanist objectives by his fixation on the nasty bits in Muslim scriptures and his quasi-Protestant assumption that the scriptures define the “true” religion.

    Phil Rimmer, in his excellent comment that immediately follows yours just quoted from, points up Sam Harris’s lack of political awareness. As Katy Corbett states above:
    “Someone whose community treats him with mistrust even though he’s never done an illegal thing in his life is going to start despising that community. He could just go into himself, or find solace in his religion, or a twisted form of that religion. This is how radicalization works. Islamic extremists want those like Maher, Harris et al to spout their anti-Muslim crap. They want westerners to regard ordinary Muslims with suspicion.”

    Indeed! It is ironical that Dr Harris may even be contributing to the radicalization of Muslims by harping on about the inherent violence of Islam (and thence the untrustworthiness of Muslims in our midst), increasing both Westerners’ prejudice against Muslims and Muslims’ animosity towards Westerners. However, Dr Harris does make the good point (in the interview linked in my previous comment) that most of those who suffer the violence of the Islamic extremists are Muslims, and that it is therefore only compassionate that we should oppose the culture of violence legitimized by Koran and Hadith. But it is at this point that I think Dr Harris has taken the wrong turn, becoming engrossed in the more particular problem of the use of violence in radicalized groups associated in various ways with Islam instead of the much more important task of confronting Muslims with the superstitious inanity of their religion.

    Politically, of course, the problems of jihadist violence may best be dealt with by investigating and rectifying relevant socioeconomic and political injustices. But, oh! What a cat among the pigeons of the Western capitalist establishment that would be! Against that, however, has to be weighed the difficult-to-define impediment that Muslim superstitions pose to modernization in countries where Islam prevails. As has been the case in the West, modernization of these countries will require a sufficient neutralization of religious superstition before the socioeconomic and political conditions taken for granted in modern democracies can be achieved.

  77. The belief that the US and England have done less arm to the world then a few rotten apples in the middle east is at best cognitively defective. Maybe it’s not religious thinking that makes Dawkins ,Harris and others completely unaware of the arm their own nations have done to the world and point their fingers judgmentally on a billion muslims and think that somehow that’s going to be taken as some sort of revelation by the lot. But how deluded can anyone be?

  78. . Hi Cairsley.
    instead of the much more important task of confronting Muslims with the superstitious inanity of their religion.

    I wonder about the success of this tactic. Muslims like all religious groups, seem blind to the inanity of their own beliefs. We have many professional people over here, ready to justify their superstitious nonsense with a well honed argument. In particular I’m thinking of medical specialists, many of whom are women. They attend their practices in muslim garb ( well, the hijab that is) and seem proficient
    and extremely professional. They will tell you that dressing this way frees them from the ‘male gaze’ and I’m sure they believe it. Who am I to argue anyway? Personally I think they look quite nice, though they look hot (as in temperature) during our summer months. I do not feel so kindly disposed to the burqa or the niqab.

    The input of Dr Harris probably has helped to alienate and radicalise the disaffected Muslim youth in his country as you’ve stated. At the moment I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and consider it an unplanned side effect. I’d really like him to stop following the path he’s on, however. In the interest of peace within our respective countries I think he needs to tone down the rhetoric.

    BTW Its becoming slightly easier to post a comment as the day wears on. There still seem to be a few glitches but I’m not moving at the ‘snail’s pace’ I was a few hours ago.

  79. “Do you think the publishers of the Dutch cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed should be prosecuted?”

    How twisty do you think it could have been?

  80. But it is at this point that I think Dr Harris has taken the wrong turn, becoming engrossed in the more particular problem of the use of violence in radicalized groups associated in various ways with Islam instead of the much more important task of confronting Muslims with the superstitious inanity of their religion.

    He has certainly taken a wrong turn at this very point. This is the point where political savvy will pay dividends.

    I return to my point about the intellectual folly of President Obama’s assertion-in-effect that only nice religions are “true” religions, making the religion of IS a dishonourable malformation. At the level of world politics (as opposed to the parochial world of getting-re-elected-politics) this is getting it back to front. This is a smack in the face for Harris’s inner 20%….not real Muslims.

    If a religion, as lived, is what its adherents believe it to be (which for me is the trick to untying the Gordian Knot of Islam), then Both Obama and Harris should assert that this is the case. Islam has many faces. The fact that this is denied by each facet is the farce, is the tradgedy. Obama is doing home politicking with his “nice religion” schtick and Harris has no intellectual interest in the useful evolution of religious cultures.

    The people on the ground, who are going to fix this (Sunni Kurds, those “Massouds” that still exist), seem to be the only ones that accept the plurality of Islam as a fact and that talking and some form of mutual acceptance is the only way forward.

    The name calling, though, has to stop. Particularly the name calling of perceived name callers. Shit sticks.

  81. In what sense does Dawkins speak for England? Is each individual so mired in the guilt of his or her own country’s history that they cannot form certain moral opinions?

  82. JackLewis2011 Oct 26, 2014 at 12:09 am

    The belief that the US and England have done less arm to the world then a few rotten apples in the middle east is at best cognitively defective.

    I’m not convinced that the educated liberal left in England or the USA, is unaware of the ravages of European colonial empires, or of the present and recent US commercial empire building, but the western establishment, and capitalist media, would certainly like to keep the population in ignorance of these effects on divisive mischief-making in global populations.

  83. Hi again, Nitya. I fear you have taken my words “instead of the much more important task of confronting Muslims with the superstitious inanity of their religion” in too particular a context. Like you, I prefer to be respectfully tolerant of religious people and their practices, so long as these do not infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others, but I will at appropriate times question religious people (politely of course) on their beliefs and suggest reasons why these might not be worthy of support. In writing the words you quoted from my previous comment, however, I had in mind the more general and more public context of public education, books being published and lectures being given, news media and so on about the various reasons (e.g. scientific findings, legal and ethical principles) why religious beliefs are untenable. Sam Harris has in the past been especially effective in this educative role, but he seems now to be sidetracked from this general objective into a fixation on proving the special wickedness of Islam on the basis of hateful texts in the Koran and the Hadith being used by Islamic extremist groups. I agree he is doing more harm than good with this approach and should return to the more positive role of advancing reason and science, a solution that, given time, dissolves religious beliefs generally held in a society.

    On the subject of Muslim garb, the only thing that really revolts me is the covering of women’s faces in public. This is so obviously an affront to all that is civilized, that I would be quite happy to have burqas banned by law. But the hijab is just a scarf worn around the head, leaving the face open to the world. It is a very modest form of attire by Western standards, but, having come from a religious background myself and having even spent some years in a religious habit, I am not fussy about precisely what items of clothing people choose to wear, and I do understand how Muslim women can quite sincerely be happy with something like the jihab. Some of them take quite a bit of trouble to co-ordinate their colors and can look quite stylish.

  84. I don’t see why my drawing a comparison between the fifth ape and its nearest living ancestor rubs you up the wrong way as much as it seems to. Is that not a valid thing to do? Nor why taking my chimp analogy seriously necessitates regarding every human being on the planet as a bastard. Chimpanzees can be nice as well as nasty. Are you suggesting that were it not for Islam, misogyny would not exist in those parts of the world which that religion has come to dominate?

    Your chimp analogy was to indicate that nastiness was somehow “inherent” in human beings. Firstly, that’s insulting to those people who aren’t nasty, either because it basically ignores them or because it slanders them. Secondly, invoking inherent features when discussing a cultural factor like religion comes across as sheer evasiveness. Obviously religions are made by people and don’t drop out of the sky, but they also have power, and the logic of switching the focus from the ideas to the individuals leads to the nonsense outcome that ideas and cultures en masse don’t have an ounce of real influence. Of course, the apologists for religion don’t go that far, but just far enough to get religion off the hook. It is, in other words, self-serving, and to see you make their argument frankly surprises me.

    Thirdly, yes, I think misogyny would be severely reduced if Islam was knocked down a peg or two. Campaigns (not military ones, though) designed to reduce its hold over that segment of the world seem to me to be a strong way to demolish the unpleasantness of the religious ideologies at their foundations. At the very least, Islam in the region would have to be weakened to the point where it was basically secular humanism with a few odd quirks and rituals. That’s why a failure to state the problem outright and to go around it annoys me so: because it ignores a solution that might actually work.

    I’m sure you don’t need reminding that female genital mutilation predates the religion’s arrival in Africa and is less prevalent in the Middle East, that other planetary Muslim stronghold.

    “Islam is a strong factor on misogyny”=/=”Islam is the only source of misogyny”. Assuming for the moment your claim is true, then why did certain neighbouring Islamic sects pick it up? Because of certain Islamic sects’ focus on suppressing women, based on their ideas about women. If Islam didn’t exist, we would have one less factor for the prevalence of FGM.

    Religion is so infinitely malleable that it’s ridiculous to cite Koranic passages, as Rizvi does in his piece, such as 47:4 and 8:12-13 and claim these as evidence that when a maniac shouts Allahu Akbar while committing some atrocity, these words are his motivation. No. Just…no. We change religion. It doesn’t change us.

    And yet, later on, you say:

    I never said religion doesn’t have enormous power, that it amounted to a mere cosmetic behavioral touch.

    and

    Since your extrapolation of my ‘argument’ led you to entirely the wrong conclusion, suggesting my position was that religion is a mere cosmetic flourish possessing no power over people,

    So which is it? Religion holds power, or it’s just a helpless chameleon along for the ride on our “inherent” natures? You can’t have it both ways. If religion is so infinitely malleable, playing only to the whims of its surroundings, then why would anybody cite it and gush over how inspiring, comforting, or True it is?

    I’m not saying religions don’t morph, but you’re using this as an excuse to claim that we can ignore religion when talking about people’s motivations. So presumably, religious motivations either don’t exist, or are feeble little things that play second fiddle. Yes, and I suppose religion’s ethical prescriptions and cosmological justifications are just for show.

    Your symbiont example just shows that you’re still confusing a basic fact with some deep insight. Yes, the success or failure of a corrupting influence is conditional on other factors. So what? Virtually everything is conditional on something else. Your example is also shooting yourself in the foot, because it precisely illustrates my own point. Whether it’s well-fed by other factors or is weakened by meagre pickings, the “Symbiont” is still a corrupting influence. If goodness arises in its presence, it’s in spite of its influence. Kill the Symbiont, and you don’t get Venom. Eddie might still go on a rampage, but a regular human is less of a problem than a souped-up supervillain.

    To desist from speaking in analogy for the moment, I’m going to agree that other factors likely gave Islam a foothold that it enjoys now. Talk about how the US has alienated the Middle East through its warmongering. Talk about exploitation of African and Asian countries by international businesses catering to the West. Talk about how they can rise out of this sad state of affairs through economic and political triumphs instead of military ones. Don’t assume that bringing Islam into the conversation as a culprit (or, technically, co-culprit) is some distracting xenophobic move to make Americans feel justified in bombing them.

    Your list of names later on, intended to contrast, is at best cherry picked, at worst not even what you claim they were. For starters, religions inform ethics. How do you know those specific people weren’t influenced by their religious upbringing? What of the slave owners, the racists, the civil rights activists, who invoked religious motivations, e.g. by quoting the Bible? And even granting that these eight people were secular in their motivations, it’s jumping the gun to extrapolate from them and make the same claim about billions of other people.

    We change religion. It doesn’t change us.

    Er, no. Not unless you want to pretend that religious indoctrination, especially in childhood, doesn’t happen, and not unless you want to pretend that religions don’t teach their own brands of warped ethics and politics. And this is precisely why I find your comment so atrocious. Your denialism – if it is intended deliberately, though I’m not sure you’re not just mistaken – doesn’t seem to realize how big religion is.

    Nor am I sure what you mean by ‘a “get out of jail free card” insight” ‘.

    Your insight, if you could call it that, is that nastiness is inherent in human beings and would exist without religion. The “get out of jail free card” aspect is that you seem to be using this to give religion a pretty big pass, as if people who are outright seeped in religious ethics are merely coincidentally religious and aren’t really affected by it. It’s not so much that I object to the notion that religions can change in the face of other cultural factors – the weakening of Christianity in the West in the face of secular humanism is an obvious example – but I do object to the idea that this is somehow all that they can do, and that the process can’t go both ways. I especially object to it when it’s used to get religion out of the courtroom altogether, as you seem to be doing.

    Yet when something happens like the July 7 bombings, or Lee Rigby’s murder, or the Boston marathon attacks, a great many people, including as I think I’ve already said Mr Rizvi who really should know better given his background, show no interest in looking for socio-political explanations for these men’s actions as they would with those I just listed. The idea of the zombified Manchurian Muslim,

    I think you’ve got it backwards. It’s the people who claim socio-political factors other than religion who are dealing in absolutes, as in “It’s absolutely not religion.” As far as I can tell, Harris et al. want people to acknowledge that religion plays a bigger role in such atrocities than they like to admit. Because this means suggesting religion is not a good thing, people misinterpret him as saying “It’s all totally 100% because of religion. American interference causing political unrest and a history of atrocities? What’s that?” And the big reason behind this is because they’re too spineless to call a spade a spade. Your effort to equate the murder-cry of allahu akhbar with someone shouting “Goddamnit” when he gets his foot stuck in the door is a really obnoxious example of that.

    Right, humans are not humans. Silly me.

    There are times when being a literal-minded smartass can bring much merriment and humour to a conversation. This isn’t one of those times. Now who’s twisting who’s words into a strawman?

    Why are the places you mention so uniformly illiberal? Because they’re poor, mebbe, and the poorer someone is the more susceptible they are to hucksters peddling religious snake oil.

    It’s true that a society’s level of dysfunction correlates with its level of religiosity, but as far as I know, the causal arrow is not so clear-cut; whether religions cause dysfunction, dysfunction leads to an upsurge in religious attendance, or some third factor plays on both of them. And a large part of removing religion from its sphere of influence in these parts of the world must be citizen emancipation, improving the quality of life for the inhabitants, and economic justice. On this, I think we are both in agreement.

    I’m guessing where we part company is on the issue of to what extent we should also directly challenge and target religious influence itself. I think you think that religion is a symptom of these other factors, and that if we deal with the other factors, the religion will take care of itself.

    I would add that it can also be a big problem in and of itself, exacerbating the problem and making it worse because it peddles a moral and cosmological ideology that both puts it at odds with alternative, “competing” ideas and warrants immoral behaviour as if it were good. A consistent opponent of scientific breakthroughs and humanitarian movements in history has been the religious themselves, precisely because these breakthroughs and movements flout their own prescriptions and challenge their positions. Even in the teeth of popular acceptance of evolution and homosexuality in America today, the opposition is almost entirely religious. The same thing will hinder efforts to improve the lot of heavily Islamic countries in North Africa and Asia. It’s not just a correlation between dysfunction, religiosity, and GDP. It’s a strong correlation between Islam and such things as capital punishment, official homophobia, blasphemy laws, and censorship of the press.

    I don’t think you realize that you already answered your own question, when you spoke about:

    Well, yes, but as I’ve mentioned, that humanitarian progress had to work throughout in opposition to religion, which has been a regular thorn in its side. I’m not saying religion is the only problem, nor even the biggest. Even the source of some of my claims, like Pinker’s Better Angels and Whites Atrocitology, emphasizes that there are bigger and more consistent factors than religion when it comes to historical atrocities. However, I want to see people recognize that it actually is a problem to begin with, much less a sizeable one.

    When did I suggest I thought everyone else was a saint compared to the devils the West has in the past vomited up?

    I apologize. That was unnecessary hyperbole on my part.

    Do me a favor, Zeugy, and stop putting words in my mouth.

    Can we agree to make this a mutual policy, then? I only ask because, in your race to blame Islamic government, use anecdotes to counter a point about rising global trends, tell me I think muslims are “a threat to the rest of the world”, go off on a tangent about profiling, and to claim that I’m some kind of bleating pro-Western cheerleader, you seem to be doing your utmost to argue against points I haven’t actually made.

    Firstly, while there is merit in the idea that authoritarian state imposition of Islam is a big factor, you seem to be using this to push the idea that the trend is towards citizens not agreeing with the authority and wanting something else. Please note, I use “trend” to avoid the sort of all-or-nothing thinking that underlays your hypocritically suggesting that I think “every one of those five million souls is a slave to Allah and a potential threat to the rest of the world. But the research suggests that the citizens agree with a lot of the things the authorities are imposing:

    http://www.pewforum.org/files/2013/04/worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-full-report.pdf

    There is evidence supporting your claim that government backing can make a huge difference (see Higher Support for Sharia Where Islam Is Officially Favored Religion), but the evidence also supports my point that, even without government backing, the religion itself is still a good chunk of the problem.

    Secondly, my point about invoking the liberal progress was that it was largely a secular affair. The increasing humanitarianism of the last few decades succeeded, at least in part, because religions have been defanged, weakened, and opposed, at least in Europe. Moreover, this doesn’t involve “not mentioning” problems currently existing, such as the slave trade. Of course it’s not all roses, but most of it, compared with what the rates were like even a few decades back, is. Focusing on the exceptions and downplaying the general trend is cherry picking.

    Thirdly, I never said Muslims were a threat to the rest of the world. Don’t lump me in with the paranoid Islamophobes just because I think at least some Islamic doctrines are morally questionable. Virtually all of the points I brought up were problems within countries with highly Islamic influences, governments, and populations. My worrying about the prevalence of homophobia in these countries isn’t because I think it’ll infect the rest of us, or something. Even the hopes behind the attempts to pass blasphemy laws in the UN seem to me to be mere pipe dreams. It’s because homosexuals are suffering because of those laws.

    Fourthly, yes, profiling and prejudice happens, and Harris’ suggestion to detain people who “look Islamic” really means “detaining Arabs, who are assumed to be Muslims”. This is problematic even on his own ground, since anyone would spot that a hypothetical terrorist could simply use a more inconspicuous person for their operations. And I find it prejudiced anyway, since it does what you say it does: criminalizes innocents. But why bring it up when I’m not supporting profiling? If you think I’m tarring all muslims with the same brush in absolutes, then I would retract any statement that explicitly says that. Except I never made any. Again, you are making unwarranted suggestions about where I’m coming from.

    Fifthly, you can list as many atrocities as you like, and put the blame on human psychology, or on the laps of Western powers like the US who either contribute to problems in the Middle East and so on, or who use religion as a scapegoat for such. To the extent that these exposures are well-supported, yes, by all means, expose real problems such as the obnoxious suggestions made recently that bombing such places sky high would be humane. I am on your side for that.

    But what you’re doing seems to go beyond that. I’m not saying you’re excusing the atrocities done in the name of Islam, nor am I saying that you’re “a fully paid-up apologist for the other side”. I’m saying you’re making the same mistake Aslan is making: emphasizing non-religious factors and basic human psychology so much that you downplay or outright exorcise religion from the list of culprits.

    To use your own analogy, let’s say multiple symbionts are making some poor guy run amok. We count, say, thirteen symbionts, agree that they all combine to make this supervillain nightmare, and decide to start wrenching them off. Duly, the supervillain starts to power down. Then, on the thirteenth, someone suddenly says, “You know what, the other twelve played a role in making this guy a villain and supported this one, so it can’t be the fault of this one, at least not by much. It couldn’t possibly have played that big a role, or even any role, in making Venom. Anyone who protests doesn’t understand basic human nature and is trying to pretend the other twelve don’t matter or didn’t exist. Just leave it on and stop anybody trying to wrench it off.” That’s how I currently perceive your argument.

  85. Darn, its difficult to tread the not so straight and narrow in this argument. Zeug, I have to say I think this has got the balance a little more usefully positioned. There are aspects to this religion’s available texts that better allow the private little panels on the back of people’s (men’s!) to be flipped up and the switches flicked.

    Council people about their private places. Coyness doesn’t help. And go after the switch flickers.

  86. For inciting violence?

    For not being responsible in the light of what came before?

    A half hearted YES!!!! Not expecting it to happen but the question can be skewed .

  87. That was an awful interview which I have never seen because I never watch Fox News. But after that YouTube clip ended, many other YouTubes were offered for my continued viewing, and I clicked on an old debate from 2007 between Reza Aslan and Sam Harris. It was absolutely hair-raising! The moderator quoted from Aslan’s book which went something like this (keep in mind this is from 2007):

    “Muslim men and women, First Worlders and Third Worlders, gays and straights, extremists and moderates, militants and pacifists, clerics and lay people, are actively reinterpreting Islam according to their own changing needs. By doing so, they are not only redefining Islam by taking its interpretation out of the iron grip of clerical institutions, they are shaping the future of this rapidly expanding and deeply fractured faith. Jihadists like Osama Bin Laden must be understood as products of, not counters to, the Islamic Reformation. Indeed, Bin Laden joins a long and unsavory list of militant puritans, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Hindu, who consider themselves and their individual followers the only true believers and all others to be hypocrites, imposters and apostates who must be convinced of their folly or abandoned to their horrible fates. It may be too early to know who will write the next chapter of Islam’s story, but it is not too early to recognize who will ultimately win the war between reform and counter-reform. The cleansing is inevitable and the tide of reform cannot be stopped. The Islamic Reformation is already here, we are all living in it.”

    It is now 2014. With the Caliphate being proclaimed in parts of Syria and Iraq, with the young European and American Muslims flocking to their cause, judge for yourself whether Aslan or Sam Harris had a more realistic grasp of existing trends in the Islamic world. It almost seems as if Aslan is getting a bit shrill and frantic these days. Maybe he should expend a little more energy in trying to reform Islam instead of defending it.

  88. For inciting violence? For not being responsible in the light of what came before? A half hearted YES!!!! Not expecting it to happen but the question can be skewed .

    !!! Then you are representative of UK Muslims in wanting to restrict free speech. It’s not the cartoon publishers that incite violence, it’s those preachers that whip Muslims up into a frenzy. It was only in 2008 that we finally abolished the blasphemy laws – sounds like you would like them back.

  89. No, chimpanzees have their own culture. They display what might be considered a primitive form of nationalism, mistrusting and even waging war against outsiders. They have hierarchies, play power games, form alliances in order to gain higher status within the group. All of this is political. The only behavior they don’t seem to display that we do is religious.

    Your comparison to chimps would be more apt here if you compared with humans from a few hundred thousand years ago. We have developed much more sophisticated language and the invention of writing was a huge leap forward in human history. Yes, chimps have their own culture but, like for ancient humans, there is a limit to what they can pass on to the next generation. But with writing, you can keep records and pass a continuously growing knowledge base on to the next generation. People can read those records and think to themselves “that’s an interesting idea, if that is correct it implies X or if Y is correct actually the idea is interesting but wrong” – the scientific method.

    Now, of course some of what’s passed on may be rubbish made up by some chimp to explain why life is so shit or to justify waging war. But we humans are susceptible to believing rubbish if it appeals to our “cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political prejudices and preconceived notions” and our religious prejudices. But if the text was just words on the page then the written word would not have that potential for building the human knowledge base.

    Right, humans are not humans. Silly me. Since your extrapolation of my ‘argument’ led you to entirely the wrong conclusion, suggesting my position was that religion is a mere cosmetic flourish possessing no power over people, I don’t really know how to respond to this.

    Your position seems contradictory. First:

    I never said religion doesn’t have enormous power, that it amounted to a mere cosmetic behavioral touch.

    Then you go on to argue that religion is not a motivation for peoples actions, referencing some famous people who were religious. So were you just kidding when you said religion has enormous power? Or did you mean it has enormous power but not quite enough power to motivate good or bad actions?

    Here is a quote you might find interesting:

    “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners [moral values]” William Wilberforce 1787.

    And from a biography of Wilberforce:

    In 1789, following his conversion to Christianity, Wilberforce became the voice in Parliament of the Abolition Movement; joining campaigners such as the Quakers, Thomas Clarkson and the former enslaved African Olaudah Equiano. For Wilberforce the slave trade was a sin for which Britain had to repent or be damned.

    But Wilberforce, and the Quakers for that matter, was not motivated by religion? You say he was driven by a profound desire for justice. And how did he come to that profound desire? It’s that nature vs nurture argument again. His nature in combination with his life experiences (including politics, religion etc) led to that profound desire. If born in a different time/place, would it not be possible for his life experiences to bring in him a profound desire for justice that led him to murder people?

    Yet when something happens like the July 7 bombings, or Lee Rigby’s murder, or the Boston marathon attacks, a great many people, including as I think I’ve already said Mr Rizvi who really should know better given his background, show no interest in looking for socio-political explanations for these men’s actions as they would with those I just listed.

    I don’t think they believe other factors are not in play, they are just responding to the frequent response after these atrocities that “it has nothing to do with religion”. In a videotape broadcast by Al Jazeera on 1 September 2005, Mohammad Sidique Khan, described his motivation for the 7/7 bombings including:

    “I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe. Our drive and motivation doesn’t come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer. Our religion is Islam, obedience to the one true God and following the footsteps of the final prophet messenger. Your democratically-elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security you will be our targets and until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight”

    I’m sure you would read that and only take seriously his words about Western government atrocities against his people. The bit about not being motivated by tangible commodities and obedience to the one true God is secondary or irrelevant. How did a primary school teacher, born and brought up in Leeds, come to believe that blowing people up on a London train was the right thing to do? Well perhaps it had something to do with his association with Muslim cleric Abdullah el-Faisal. Perhaps he was persuaded that his Muslim faith required him to violently defend his fellow Muslims in foreign countries by blowing up Londoners.

    Interestingly Abdullah el-Faisal was born Trevor William Forrest in Jamaica to an evangelical Christian family. How did a Jamaican Christian brought up in a family belonging to the Salvation Army become a radical preacher? After converting to Islam he studied in Saudi Arabia before moving to the UK and then a further 7 years at the Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, which is apparently a very conservative university (even for Saudi) promoting the strict Wahhabi form of Islam.

    Khan was not motivated by religion? Just a little bit? Or are you claiming religion is a motivator but never the primary motivator?

  90. There are aspects to this religion’s available texts that better allow the private little panels on the back of people’s (men’s!) to be flipped up and the switches flicked.

    I think the worst part about ideologies like religious ones is encapsulated in that Weinberg quote about getting good people to do bad things, though I think Weinberg is unhelpful in singling out religion so (and thus overstates his case against religion). One of the most reliable ways to get mass atrocities going is to spread a moralistic view that, as part of its ethics and philosophy, requires dehumanizing and/or demonizing at least some outgroups to the point of paranoia, oppression, violence, and mass murder.

    This, I think, is likely what unites American exceptionalism, the atrocities committed by Hitler, Stalin, and other 20th Century despots, the Crusades, and (to a lesser extent) Islam in much of the Middle East: the largely moralistic aspects of their exploitation and human rights violations: the self-serving narrative that they are the heroes solving their problems by vanquishing the villains. The only rival contestant I know of is sheer self-interest and the resulting indifference towards victims of one’s predation, such as conquest in Roman times and corporate violations of human rights (and exploitations of poorer nations, which creates inequality) in the modern era. Even these examples sometimes like to dress themselves up as beneficiaries, dutiful heroes making sacrifices, or (at most) reluctant villains who had no choice.

    The other aspect that aids and abets this is the “pseudoscientific” aspect: either claiming that their conclusions are reasonable, or attacking reason, science, critics themselves, etc. when/if they start criticizing. It’s harder to debunk such nonsense when the nonsense is putting up smokescreens and mirrors in self-defence. In fact, I think this getting around rationality is a big reason why such moral calamities are made possible in the first place (well, that and unfortunate ignorance). For example, Hitler’s racist ideology was filled with claims that were laughably off, but when it also demonized intellectuals and spreads through society so thoroughly, it gained a bit more force. That’s also why faith is pernicious. Once you’ve prized open someone’s mind, it’s easier for an idea to get in there and entrench itself.

    Now imagine some innocent growing up in that kind of culture (or subculture), and strongly wanting to be a moral, smart, and upstanding citizen. You bet that kind of thing is going to warp them.

  91. The video prietenul refers to is a must watch.

    Aslan and Harris

    Harris does a moderate job of defending his most outrageous claim of Muslim derangement at offense against Islam by cartoons for instance. He does an excellent job though of distinguishing the different natures of dogmatism (always dangerous), political, say, versus religious. And this is surely the centrepiece of concern here- religious dogma has the extra virtuous buttress of faith. It is personal and sacrosanct. Islam for too many Muslims preserves one unique thing for itself. No questioning of its core is permitted. It is in the light of this still insufficiently challenged aspect of religious dogmatism that his “outrageous claim” makes rather more sense.

    What I had forgotten here though was his eagerness to say he was not the one to build up a moderate Islam, that his diplomatic skills were zilch…

  92. Those interpretations have nothing to do with the text, which is,
    after all, just words on a page, and everything to do with the
    cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political prejudices and preconceived
    notions that the individual brings to the text.

    This statement in particular I have a huge problem with.

    The text itself was not created in a vacuum, it was created in an existing culture which in this case clearly borrowed from the older works of Judaism and Christianity to make its own religious proclamations and edicts. The cultural, nationalistic, ethnic and political prejudices of its time obviously had influence on the text. So how is it possible that the only way the text affects individuals or a nation is through an individual lens?

    It is obviously true that people can use religion to commit horrible atrocities or beneficent acts of charity and that those acts are the result of individual perception. But the text are born of individual perception themselves. They are as much a result of the culture they originate from as the acts of those that follow it. In fact a huge problem with the Abrahamic faiths in particular is that they are trying by and large to perpetuate Bronze age notions many centuries out of date; attempting to rubber stamp values from a far more brutal and ignorant time into a modern age that is while not perfect by any stretch far more advanced in most every way.

    The make up of societies today reflect centuries of evolution of thought on most every level that these books ignore because they are in fact a product of their time. They may be just words on a page but the words obviously carry influence and power and has to be held accountable to the degree of what we as a society allow people to practice from it.

    Yes individual perspective is key in all of these instances and individual responsibility must be a primary concern, but to simply dismiss the works of the Bible, Torah and the Quran as just words in a book completely dismisses the affect adherence to those words have had on the real world for centuries and how it continues to infect the world today.

    Words do indeed have power, and there are countries that allow these words to hold far more sway than they should ever have. Ignoring that is simply stupid.

  93. !!! Then you are representative of UK Muslims in wanting to restrict
    free speech. It’s not the cartoon publishers that incite violence,
    it’s those preachers that whip Muslims up into a frenzy. It was only
    in 2008 that we finally abolished the blasphemy laws – sounds like you
    would like them back.

    That is not what I said and you know it. I added the words “Half heartedly” for that reason. I just wonder how much pain and suffering you are prepared to inflict on a “race” before we are afforded the respect that others get. Black people being the only ones to use the “N” word. Jews being the only ones to be able to tell Jewish jokes etc. When will it be politically correct for muslims to be seen as able to tell jokes about the “profit”, not in their own eyes but yours? When will you see that we are man enough to correct our faults our own way. Nothing to do with free speech. Just a humane way for change without millions being killed in the process. Do you honestly believe that we like dictators or religious zealots running our lives? You are only helping to aid these people by making people close the door on the west as is happening in Turkey right now. Erdogan is not wanted but who is America helping, or rather was? The Turks now see the west as a threat and have closed ranks. Better the devil you know and all that…..

  94. That is not what I said and you know it. I added the words “Half heartedly” for that reason.

    It makes little difference that you half heartedly agree to restrictions to free speech. They are still restrictions nevertheless.

    I just wonder how much pain and suffering you are prepared to inflict on a “race” before we are afforded the respect that others get.

    What pain and suffering have I inflicted on a race by my criticism of your willingness, albeit half heartedly, to restrict free speech?

    Black people being the only ones to use the “N” word. Jews being the only ones to be able to tell Jewish jokes etc.

    Is there any reason why you bring up racism and antisemitism? Just a little smear perhaps?

    When will it be politically correct for muslims to be seen as able to tell jokes about the “profit”, not in their own eyes but yours?

    Are you now saying your comment was a joke? Just a half hearted joke?

    Do you honestly believe that we like dictators or religious zealots running our lives?

    Where did I say that? Are you practising for your next criticism of Harris?

    You are only helping to aid these people by making people close the door on the west as is happening in Turkey right now.

    How is insisting on freedom of speech, by not prosecuting people for publishing cartoons, got anything to do with what’s happening in Turkey?

  95. I have not agreed to any restrictions on free speech. Quite the opposite, and again…You know it. I have asked for respect and intelligent action that is afforded others. It might take you a hundred years before you come to the same conclusion that using the “N” word is not right or spewing Jewish jokes for that matter and it is frustrating to watch history repeating itself through self imposed ignorance. You know very well what I mean and acting innocent to blur the edges does you no favours.

  96. It might take you a hundred years before you come to the same conclusion that using the “N” word is not right or spewing Jewish jokes for that matter and it is frustrating to watch history repeating itself through self imposed ignorance.

    So, are you saying that there should be restrictions on the publishing of cartoons in the same way as you think there should be restrictions on the use of the “N” word or on Jewish jokes?

    Would you also prosecute the publishers of the Jesus & Mo cartoons?

  97. So, are you saying that there should be restrictions on the publishing
    of cartoons in the same way as you think there should be restrictions
    on the use of the “N” word or on Jewish jokes?

    Would you also prosecute the publishers of the Jesus & Mo cartoons?

    There is to be no restrictions or prosecutions Mark. Stop skewing my words. There is however self regulating values which you seem to want to bypass. I am requesting the same respect that took you hundreds of years to give black people because you understand the process. I am asking you not to act like those drunken fools who punch each other out at the bar and then turn around and buy each other a drink as if they have been best friends for ever. Free speech is your right and mine to criticise stupid behaviour and misuse of…..I would say the same thing to a muslim who published cartoons of Jesus or any other religion. Its not rocket science.

  98. There is however self regulating values which you seem to want to bypass.

    Then maybe I had not appreciated the full conversation because I was bypassing nothing. Phil may have understood your reply as referring to self regulating values, without you saying so, rather than prosecution or restriction but I didn’t.

    When Phil posted:

    “Do you think the publishers of the Dutch cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed should be prosecuted?” How twisty do you think it could have been?

    Instead of this:

    For inciting violence? For not being responsible in the light of what came before? A half hearted YES!!!! Not expecting it to happen but the question can be skewed.

    You could have said:

    “I would not want to restrict free speech but I would hope that a certain amount of self regulation of values would prevent people from publishing offensive speech, such as jokes at the expense of Jews, Muslims etc”

    Anyway, I think we have pushed our luck with the moderators so I’ll say no more.

  99. The better world is the one that doesn’t take offense, rather than the one that doesn’t give it. The evil done by any religious dogma as opposed to other dogmas is the more pernicious because because of the respectful veil it insists upon. Over the last several hundred years this has been broken down in most places for the two older Abrahamic faiths. Dogma preserved by faith has sufficiently lost its automatic respect, even amongst “the faithful”. Roman Catholics are more moral than their Church. The switch flippers have lost their protection and their control. We need less respect and less cover for them.

    I require no-one to have respect for my lefty anarchist leanings, but I would rather they treated my Scouseness and receding hairline with a little tolerance. The first is my choice and I can be fairly judged on it.

    In the Qur’an Islam is a choice. You accept Allah or not. Choices may be judged. To demand an automatic respect for it is rather to say that you had no choice in the matter.

    You may not find political cartoons nice, funny or respectful, but this is the price for open societies.

  100. The price may be greater Phil and being philosophical rather than responsible will see it paid…..We seem to be in the twilight zone of reality once again because each side is afraid of the other ad infinitum. It doesn’t even seem to stop within atheist circles. I find that scary as shit.

  101. So which is it? Religion holds power, or it’s just a helpless
    chameleon along for the ride on our “inherent” natures? You can’t have
    it both ways. If religion is so infinitely malleable, playing only to
    the whims of its surroundings, then why would anybody cite it and gush
    over how inspiring, comforting, or True it is?

    Hit wife first, justify later. Basic instinct. It is a vicious circle. You guys seem to forget that this is a marriage. Two people!!! Find me one woman who goes into a Muslim marriage that just accepts she will be beaten. She hopes that her husband will not beat her and is a good man that will provide for her children regardless of what their religion says.

  102. Zeuglodon.
    Campaigns (not military ones, though) designed to reduce its hold over that segment of the world seem to me to be a strong way to demolish the unpleasantness of the religious ideologies at their foundations. At the very least, Islam in the region would have to be weakened to the point where it was basically secular humanism with a few odd quirks and rituals.

    What method do you propose using to bring this about? Perhaps you could campaign against a few more whist in the process; Young Earth Creationism,
    belief in witches and magic that result in deaths of innocents in places like Papua New Guinea. How would you do this without violating the rights of other countries to conduct their affairs? Call on the UN for support?

    I think they’d be justifiably incensed at this imposition and furthermore I doubt it would be successful. To my thinking, this method would not be a useful ploy even in your own country. As long as people abide by the laws of the land ( and that’s a big ask) I think they’re entitled to believe whatever nonsense they choose.

    Education is the only valid method of ensuring that individuals have the tools with which to come to logical conclusions regarding the workings of the world.

  103. . Hi Cairsley. . Sam Harris has in the past been especially effective in this educative role, but he seems now to be sidetracked from this general objective into a fixation on proving the special wickedness of Islam on the basis of hateful texts in the Koran and the Hadith being used by Islamic extremist groups. I agree he is doing more harm than good with this approach and should return to the more positive role of advancing reason and science,

    I agree with you; he does seem to be sidetracked and he’s definitely taking the more populist role of the hammer of Islam. Expose people to enough education, particularly in the sciences and they should be able to work it out for themselves in time. Look at the Jewish community! How many believers would be in their midst?

    Given your background, you’re in a position to offer a special, insiders’ perspective to our discussions here. I think this could be very valuable.

  104. But I’m not in the least fearful of Muslims. I’m not the one with any problems. My concerns are only for others, other Muslims. Only in being open handed about what I want for our community can I earn real respect or know clearly I have none. Only in a community where we can talk without limit can we be sure we can talk our way (eventually) out of trouble.

  105. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the only emanations of Islam worth caring about are its barbaric aspects? Have you read any good Islam-related news recently? Or good Catholic-related news, for that matter? Religions are the scourge of humanity, all of them: but Islam is the most revoltingly brutal.

  106. Only in a community where we can talk without limit can we be sure we
    can talk our way (eventually) out of trouble.

    No room for manoeuvre or compromise or of getting to the limit eventually?

  107. Religions are the scourge of humanity, all of them: but Islam is the
    most revoltingly brutal.

    It is if you continually ignore what Bush did. Yewhaw! we got ourselves a turkey shoot!!!!!

  108. Well said. And I do believe you also win the award for the most profoundly pertinent Forbidden Planet reference in regards to the Muslim extremist phenomenon.

  109. Though not his primary emphasis, there is much truth in what Reza Aslan has to say, applying his argument to pertinent historical developments.

    My wife taught a unit on the Spanish “discovery” and conquest of the New World to her elementary school pupils, using a phrase that captured the motives of the conquistadors: “Gold, God, and Glory.” You don’t have to be a genius to figure out which of these motives predominated. Certainly they expended considerable energy converting the indigenous pagans to Catholicism, congratulating themselves on saving and civilizing savage souls, while carrying out the corollary task of slaughtering and enslaving aborigines for the enrichment that accrues from expropriating land, labor and resources from racially inferior colonial subjects.

    I doubt if the correct practice of the Eucharist was uppermost in conquistador minds as they whipped indios loading silver and gold ingots aboard ships headed for Imperial Spain.

    Religion along with secular ideologies serve various functions which defy reductionist explanation. One pragmatic function the Abrahamic monotheisms performed from their inception, gradually diminishing in western Christianity throughout recent centuries, was to establish political- ethnic entities which could project military power in conquest of land, resources and trade routes – what would become in modern times, national identity expressed in imperialism, or, if you will, patriotism fortified with Divine providence.

    The Jews rooted their exclusive identity and solidarity in the revealed truth that the Jews are God’s chosen people, winning God’s favor and new territory by putting the Malachites to the sword. Christian crusaders massacred Muslim men, women and children after taking Jerusalem in the first crusade to rid God’s city, or more precisely, a freshly conquered city, ripe for plunder, power and profit, of infidel competition. ISIL jihadists are carrying out mass murder of heretics and infidels to cleanse their recently proclaimed state for much the same motives as the 16th century Spaniards in New Spain (Mexico) – reconfigured as: Oil, God and Glory.

    We may justifiably but too narrowly condemn Jihadists for their atrocities by condemning Koranic scriptures which seem to authorize them. Crucially, Aslan reminds us that religion is a dependent variable and not an independent variable. We cannot reduce complex historical phenomena down to one static factor. Religious fanatics though they are, their goal is to carve out a state from the territories they have brought under their military-political control in Iraq and Syria. They are much more besides religious fanatics; they are also zealous nationalists.

    Their vision for an Islamic state more than clashes with the modern western states in which we live – with the aspirations and practices of a political order based on democratic constitutions, civil rights, liberty, and freedom of conscience.

    We need not flinch at accusations of ethnocentrism. To the contrary, we may proudly affirm that our system of government and civilization (while not perfect) are superior for the 21st century. I believe that sooner or later, enough moderate Muslims will reject the immiserating model of the Islamic state in favor of establishing secular, functional and more democratic forms of government.

  110. What Aslan is saying here is pretty extraordinary. He is asserting that sizeable percentages of Muslims around the world — many of whom have said in multiple polls that they support killing apostates and stoning adulterers to death — don’t get these views from their religion, but their attitudes are somehow inherent in them as people.

    As I read the quote, he’s not just singling out Muslims. He says…

    Which is why religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, [and] Islam, are experienced in such profound, wide diversity.

    I suspect Aslan attributes this condition to all religions. While the Christians may not currently be killing and beheading, they’ve got a few premiership cups on the mantle piece for this very same behaviour. Ander’s Brevic was doing the christian god’s work when he shot all the kids on the Swedish island.

    On the day of the attacks, Breivik electronically distributed a compendium of texts entitled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, describing his far-right militant ideology.[11][12][13][14] In them, he lays out a worldview encompassing Islamophobia, support for “far-right Zionism”[11] and opposition to feminism.[15][16] The texts call Islam and Cultural Marxism “the enemy”, argue for the violent annihilation of “Eurabia” and multiculturalism and advocate deportation of all Muslims from Europe based on the model of the Beneš decrees.[17][18] Breivik wrote that his main motive for the atrocities was to market his manifesto.[19]

    I think we are doing it wrong by singling out Islam for special condemnation. The condemnation should be more general, with examples of atrocities for all religions, Islam being the currently contender for this year’s premiership cup.

    Circumstances change. With the fanatic religious zealot, there’s a very short fuse before they start killing in god’s name. I could see America, awash with guns, being a possible future flash point if the religious fundamentalists get backed into a corner. You already have the right wing christian survivalists vowing to blow away the government man if he comes on his property.

    I think the secular movement should be an equal opportunity condemner of all religions.

  111. Cairsley: [Sam Harris] is doing more harm than good with this approach
    and should return to the more positive role of advancing reason and
    science, a solution that, given time, dissolves religious beliefs
    generally held in a society.

    This is a very accurate summary of the hole in which Sam Harris now finds himself after several days of over-enthusiastic digging.

    There was an excellent Sam Harris interview recently with Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks (link below). Cenk starts off by stating that he agrees with 90% of what Sam Harris says (a similar position to my own) and the subsequent 3-hour discussion on ‘the other 10%’ makes for fascinating viewing – especially towards the end when Sam horrifies Cenk by advocating a hypothetical nuclear first strike against a Muslim country.

    The more Sam talks on such matters, the more he worries me. I strongly agree with Cairsley that the advancement of reason and science will gradually dissolve religious beliefs. Demonizing Muslims and bombing their more fanatical members into martyrdom will simply lead to an even more dangerous world than the one in which we already find ourselves.

  112. Hi Barry.M

    It is a pretty amazing interview and its length gives it time to explore all avenues. I find it amazing being Turkish and having grown up in the UK because I can see the clash of cultures clearly. The practical logic of Cenk (pronounced Jenk, for those interested) against the philosophical logic of Sam.

    I am afraid that all I got from Sam was that all peoples of the earth do stuff but because it is written in the Koran, we can back track and reference Muslims to their bad deeds. Sounds like his philosophical mind has pretty much shut the door on that one. He kept repeating the point about Muslims going to paradise and that was a factor as to why they can blow themselves up without worry. Never could work out how that is different to heaven and how you gain entry by being “good” with “good” only being defined by a priest or chaplain on the battle ground. What else is happening here if not a promise that there souls will be looked after?

  113. @ Olgun

    I’m not sure I understand your point. If you’re speaking metaphorically rather than literally, it’s not clear to me.

    @ Nitya

    A decent first step would be to withdraw military intervention.

    http://www.monbiot.com/2014/09/30/bomb-everyone/

    There are no good solutions that military intervention by the UK or the US can engineer. There are political solutions in which our governments could play a minor role: supporting the development of effective states that don’t rely on murder and militias, building civic institutions that don’t depend on terror, helping to create safe passage and aid for people at risk. Oh, and ceasing to protect and sponsor and arm selected networks of death. Whenever our armed forces have bombed or invaded Muslims nations, they have made life worse for those who live there. The regions in which our governments have intervened most are those which suffer most from terrorism and war. That is neither coincidental nor surprising.

    Yet our politicians affect to learn nothing. Insisting that more killing will magically resolve deep-rooted conflicts, they scatter bombs like fairy dust.

    Where Katy has a point is that a large emphasis should be on killing the attitude that there is some clash of cultures between “The Islamic World” and “The Civilized/Western World”. An impoverished, bomb-torn country is not going to respond warmly to invitations to dispute religious arguments and criticisms with atheists, nor to remove apostasy and blasphemy laws from the books. Nor do I think education is going to solve it. The first step is going to have to be some combination of diplomatic negotiation (specifically making reparations for America’s past atrocities) and encouraging civil rights campaigns, international talks, and economic justice in the Islamic countries and between them and everyone else.

    Once hostilities have been reduced, then you send out the invites, metaphorically speaking.

  114. So, Reza Aslan retweets a meme poster that takes a sentence from “The End of Faith” out of context and calls Harris a genocidal fascist maniac and it’s Harris who needs to sit down and shut up?

    Really now?Harris blog post

  115. Can a doctrine be at fault, ever? Naziism? The KKK? If we accept the premise that a doctrine can be at fault for harms, why exclude Abrahamic doctrines? How can we determine all Abrahamic doctrines to be equal?

    Xianity and Judaism are both supremacist doctrines. Jews are chosen, and even have an extra soul (though according to the Zohar only women have an afterlife). Xians are preferred by God, as all others burn in Hell. Both Judaism and Xianity are amoral (sin is not morality, and morality does not determine God’s favor). With the exception of the Wahabi sect, Islam does promote morality, that is a moral kufar can enter Heaven and immoral Muslims go to Hell. These are general, fundamental features of the doctrines, but even small doctrinal details can have huge effects, especially when they run up against our innate morality, the kind we find in animals and babies.

    For instance, the exclusive nature of Xian salvation makes spreading the meme the only moral imperative. To not spread the meme is to allow suffering through omission of action. This is bad enough, but when this absurdity collided with other doctrines during the academic bottleneck of the Dark Ages, the result was Inquisition. Two monks got together. One had read of Greek materialism, the other read of Zaroastrianism. They synthesized these two ideas into a kind of dualism, making material Satanic and the mind/soul of God, the body being a vehicle for the mind to be tempted and tested by Satan. This was the idea behind liberating souls from the cage of the body through torture. Being able to overcome pain and pleasure would thus be a measure of a soul’s worth, and since this life was just brief interlude to eternity, simple reasoning made torture a moral imperative.

    Absurdities lead to atrocities, and perhaps we can say there is a moral imperative to know truth. We can decry these doctrines as immoral by their absurdity alone. We can also look to specifics, as state sanctioned pedophilia is exclusively Islamic.

  116. . Zeuglodon.
    Once hostilities have been reduced, then you send out the invites, metaphorically speaking.

    That sounds like a much more considered approach than my interpretation of your initial response. I’m not aware of the country of origin for every respondent, but appeared as if the U.S. born participants were generally more reactionary in their replies. I also sensed a tendency to disregard the ability of other nations to run their own race. A different story in your own country of course, though I’d still be mindful of exercising ‘stand-over’ tactics because once permitted your christian majority may see fit to bully all dissenters even freethinkers! ( of course I see that you’re not recommending force judging by the tone of your following post)

  117. @ Nitya

    Personally, I’d be thrilled to find evidence of Muslims themselves in these countries pushing for the sort of change I suggest: promoting a more tolerant and religiously free (possibly even secular) mode of government. This would be a highly internal shift of policy, so to speak, with the citizens themselves deciding they want reform. It would justify optimism in the future of these countries. I think the book Who Speaks for Islam? suggests that this may already be happening, with some Muslims saying they want many the same things we enjoy – equality for women, freedom of religion, etc. I don’t know how reliable the figures it contains are though. It wouldn’t be perfect – it wasn’t when the West went through the rights revolutions in the 20th century – but it’s a start.

    Failing that, I think an international initiative wouldn’t necessarily be something to worry about, though it depends on to what extent it’s not manipulated by vested interests. I’d worry about high intervention from big corporations and governments, certainly, especially given the role the US and the UK (and arms companies financed by them) have played in causing chaos in these countries’ histories.

  118. Zeuglodon.
    manipulated by vested interests. I’d worry about high intervention from big corporations and governments, certainly, especially given the role the US and the UK (and arms companies financed by them) have played in causing chaos in these countries’ histories.

    Absolutely!! I’m cynical enough to ‘follow the money’ in all such initiatives.
    I’d really like to see agitation from within as well, after all that’s how we progressed from feudal conditions to our modern, secular states today.

    I’d worry that the repressive nations making up islamic states may have learnt a thing or two from our past and are not keen to make the same ‘mistakes’.

    The lot of women in the west only improved because women themselves agitated for change. There are probably more impediments in the way for our islamic sisters, but I think the Malalas out there are going to be the ones to achieve this, not any well-intentioned foreign power.

  119. I think the book Who Speaks for Islam? suggests that this may already be happening

    I bought this in O’Hare airport in 2007. The most depressing $23 I ever spent. Benchmarking, in effect, against American Christian values was not encouraging for me. If anything it underlined the problems of the effortless reach of religious thinking and the perverse behaviours brought about by the chronic and aggravated insecurities of conservative sensibilities. The happiness that equality is got with quid pro quoes, patriarchy is paid for by pedestalism, has not a scintilla of self awareness about the paralysing effect this has on an individual’s freedom to live a life of his or her own choosing. Pure Stepford.

    The great signals for real change are the Massouds, the Malalas, the marvellous films Iranian women make and the Kurds and their glorious Charter for the cantons of Rojava (Western Syria)

    The first paragraph of the Charter’s preface says,

    “[w]e the peoples of the democratic self-administration areas; Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians (Assyrian Chaldeans, Arameans), Turkmen, Armenians, and Chechens, by our free will, announce this to ensure justice, freedom, democracy, and the rights of women and children in accordance with the principles of ecological balance, freedom of religions and beliefs, and equality without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed, doctrine or gender, to achieve the political and moral fabric of a democratic society in order to function with mutual understanding and coexistence within diversity and respect for the principle of self-determination and self-defense of the peoples.”

    It continues,

    “The autonomous areas of the democratic self-administration do not recognize the concept of nation state and the state based on the grounds of military power, religion, and centralism”.

  120. I think we are doing it wrong by singling out Islam for special condemnation. The condemnation should be more general, with examples of atrocities for all religions, Islam being the currently contender for this year’s premiership cup.

    I think premiership cup is the wrong analogy, maybe Oscar. Islam would probably have won the premiership cup for many years in a row. Even with air strikes (including drone strikes) chalked up to team Christianity, would they have won the cup in the year of the Brevic bombing (2011)? Later in 2011, there was a suicide bombing at a Shia shrine in Afghanistan that killed almost as many as Brevic. Here is a list of terrorist incidents for the second half of 2011, including CIA drone strikes.

    I think the secular movement should be an equal opportunity condemner of all religions.

    I think they are. If you look at the Religion section of the News items on this site you will find plenty of articles critical of other religions, mainly Christianity. The number of shocking articles on Islamist terrorist incidents may be more than others but do you think that is down to bias on the part of RDFRS rather than reflecting the number of such incidents occurring?

  121. @Nitya,

    Harris was not broadcasting for the likes of us. He was commenting on a program aired for public viewing.

    What do you mean by “the likes of us”. Are we not the public?

    As there is already a great deal of negativity directed at the Muslim community in the US ( as it is here) I think he should have watched his p’s & q’s.

    Did watching it incline you more towards directing negativity at the Muslim community?

    No doubt Affleck was fully cognisant of the direction the discussion was going to take.perhaps he made a pre-emptive strike at the vaguest suggestion of a “racist” remark!

    What was the most racist remark Harris made in the interview?

    Harris may have been critical of Islam in general, but it was going to be taken as criticism of the moderate Muslim community in the US.

    We just disagree here. I didn’t see it as criticism of moderate Muslims in the US. Do you mean just because he was on a US show?

    It would have been wiser to stem the conversation at this time.

    I think a lot of religious people have changed their minds precisely because people such as Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens etc have refused to stem the conversation. I don’t want to see the conversation stemmed. Don’t you think there are plenty of voices challenging Harris?

    On the BBC news web site today in World news they reported on “Iraq bomb attacks leave at least 34 dead” and also there was Escaping Boko Haram: How three Nigeria girls found safety. These kidnappings had a lot of media exposure at the time but other events have caused it to be somewhat forgotten while more girls (and boys) have been kidnapped. If idiots in the US see these reports and blame American Muslims, then shame on them, but I think it’s more important to get these reports out and keep up the pressure on groups like Boko Haram.

  122. Of the Abrahamic faith traditions, Islam remains the most fierce in insisting that the Quoran represents the Word of God dictated verbatim to the prophet Mohammed. So literal is the Word that Muslims are charged with memorizing the entire Quoran in Arabic because Arabic is the language God chose for His dictation. The majority of Muslims worldwide do not speak Arabic and while in practice most are excused from memorization, the ambition to commit the Quoran to memory remains an ideal imperative of the religion.

    In a damning sense, Reza Aslan speaks the ultimate heresy to his own faith: “People don’t derive their values from their religion — they bring their values to their religion…Those interpretations have nothing to do with the text, which is, after all, just words on a page, and everything to do with the cultural, nationalistic, ethnic, political prejudices and preconceived notions that the individual brings to the text.”

    Allah to Reza..come in Reza. There is no God but God. The Quoran is MY WORD not a collection of “just words on a page.” True, Mohammed was my beloved messenger. But anything he may or may not have said or done recorded in the Hadith or in other sources are not MY WORD. Yes I think highly of my prophet and I certainly approve of his exploits in spreading MY WORD. You know, Reza you seem like a pretty good guy and I kinda like you. But don’t bring this lecture to Mecca or you’re gonna be flying home with your bowels in your hands.

    We atheists agree with Aslan that Holy Books contain merely words on a page. What we don’t believe is that these words could possibly be inspired by, or in the case of the Quoran, dictated by God.
    Advances in science and technology have provided evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that religious scripture was concocted and written by human beings. Contingently the authors sometimes narrated engaging stories, legends, and myths of which creation myths and miracles were shown by science to have no connection to the world, the universe or the cosmos. Like all works of fiction the contents of scripture are products of the imagination.

    Viewed in embarrassing retrospect, they recorded the social consensus of what was considered moral or ethical practices of their time, the so-called “Divine Mandates” which yet survive -slavery, the oppression and sequestration of women, the murder of infidels, heretics and apostates. Consistent with our bio-sociological evolution the authors also hit upon some “common-sense” conduct that modern society still embraces under the rubric of moral obligation: charity, healing, mercy, kindness and most impressively acceptance and compassion for the “other” ( see the parable of The Good Samaritan).

    Attributing Divine authority or authorship to any religious scripture written by human beings, Aslan poisons his good intentions to bring about a just, rational and open society based on secular humanism by inclining miscreants who believe they already carry God’s Word, paperback edition, in their vest pocket to commit the the most heinous atrocities in His Name.

  123. . Marktony. Harris was not broadcasting for the for the likes of us.

    Initially I wrote ‘to the likes of me,’ thinking that I’m not likely to take up cudgels after his speech. I later thought to include you as well as neither of us would be likely to be inflamed by his words. I think this was a program with the aim to appeal to popular sentiment. The Muslims are the ‘bad guys’ in the eyes of the public, so it doesn’t take much to gain traction with the audience. They’ve earned their place as the ‘bad guys’ by the display of violent behaviour, but things are never as simple as they may seem.

    did watching it incline you towards more negativity?

    Of course not, though I’m hardly your person off the street. I’m thoroughly familiar with his views on Islam so these views did not come as a revelation. Most people in the audience would not be as au fait with the Harris viewpoint. If viewing the show through the eyes of the uninitiated, I’d see a highly articulate man confirming my own gut feeling.

    what do you see as his most ‘racist’ remark?

    I suppose the point you’re making by this stage is that Harris was not being ‘racist’ at all. I think we’re starting to quibble over word meanings here, and
    the whole rant was not ‘racist’ because muslims are not a distinct race, in
    fact sharing closer genetic ties with the Jews than with one another.

    As this show was broadcast over the U.S. airwaves, I think it’s fair for me to come to the conclusion that people are going to take his message personally. Audience members are going to take their anti islamic feeling out
    of the confines of the auditorium and act in a hostile manner. Muslims watching at home are going to feel fearful as momentum against them gathers pace. The idiots amongst both groups are likely to act out their hostilities when they come into contact.

    A lot of religious people have changed their minds because of Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris.

    That is so! I doubt it was the result of a frontal attack like this however. I suspect that it would be the case of ‘the last straw’ , but I’m speculating of course.
    I hope I haven’t given the wrong impression and come across as being impervious to the horrors of Islam! of course I see this, just as I see the horrible consequences of almost all religions. I hate to see a segment of the community vilified because I think that it’s this type of thinking behind witch burning, genicide and at a future date demonisation of atheists!

  124. Affleck produced little but the predictable Leftist apologia, aggressively dismissive, unwilling to consider another POV. “Islamophobia” (“a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons”) and “racism” are mere smears without merit, beloved of those with limited intellectual capacity- just so tiresome.
    Yet in the face of all the Islamic violence, terror and murder so many still cling to the utterly discredited “Nothing to do with Islam” mantra… how much longer will the Big Lie be foisted upon an increasingly aware populace?

  125. Thank you for posting this. The last two paragraphs have it-

    We believe that Islam badly needs to be reformed, and it is only Muslims who can truly make it into a modern religion. But it is the likes of Reza Aslan who act as a deterrent to change by refusing to acknowledge real complications within the scripture and by actively promoting half-truths. Bigotry against Muslims is a real and pressing problem, but one can criticize the Islamic ideology without treating Muslims as themselves problematic or incapable of reform.

    There are true Muslim reformists who are willing to call a spade a spade while working for the true betterment of their peoples — but their voices are drowned out by the noise of apologists who are all-too-often aided by the Western left. Those who accept distortions in order to hold on to a comforting dream-world where Islamic fundamentalism is merely an aberration are harming reform by encouraging apologists. (Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider)

    Real respect flows from honesty.

    I come back to my first point. It is how the texts are used by the clerics and the political leaders that will be the key to this change. This is where Islam happens. Fascistic thinking is all too easy if you are told you are threatened or have been cheated.

  126. I just posted an approving response to this Patheos link. My problem is that it hasn’t appeared and I wanted to strongly qualify one word I used, “fascistic” or better change it for another. If my post appears, please bear this in mind… Ah! It just has. I think I want variously, narrow, forceful to the point of inflexibility. Aggressively defensive

  127. phil rimmer Oct 28, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Fascistic thinking is all too easy if you are told you are threatened or have been cheated.

    Indeed! History has some prime examples of politicians and clergy facing both ways at once when there is a profit to be made for their respective positions and their respective organisations!
    These two linked paragraphs make the point very clearly!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini#Religious_views

    Atheism and anti-clericalism

    Lateran Treaty

  128. “But it is the likes of Reza Aslan who act as a deterrent to change by refusing to acknowledge real complications within the scripture and by actively promoting half-truths…
    There are true Muslim reformists who are willing to call a spade a spade while working for the true betterment of their peoples — but their voices are drowned out by the noise of apologists who are all-too-often aided by the Western left.”

    Suddenly another voice is heard:

    “you have to kill ISIS soldiers and militants. There is no other response to ISIS militants and soldiers. But that’s not the end of it. You have to take away their appeal, and the way that you take away their appeal is to address the grievances that they use to draw people to their cause.”

    “You have to kill ISIS soldiers and militants.” At last a “true Muslim reformist who is willing to call a spade a spade while working for the true betterment of [his] people…” Will the brave Muslim who said this please stand up…REZA ASLAN!!! Why you.. I oughta.

    In our obsession to brand Aslan an apologist we overlook Aslan the reformist -the man who is on our side.
    When I first read the post, I agreed (and still agree) with Phil and others about the imperative for reform of Islam -Islamic culture, Islamic society and Islamic politics consistent with the reforms of modern secular democracies.

    Not surprisingly we and Aslan have much to disagree about. After all the man is a devout Muslim. But on balance I believe we have wronged him. In our fury to condemn his foolish religion we have ignored the insightful scholarly perspective he brings to the troubled history and dysfunctional evolution of Islam.

    Worse than anything, the argument has descended into a personal feud, a conflict corrupted by egos. Put simply Reza Aslan despises Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins- and-vice versa. The former is Muslim and the latter are New Atheists. On religious matters they are going to fight like cats and dogs. Sound and fury, slander and insult, are likely to carry the day. On the pressing need for reform of Islam, however, they stand on common ground.

    (For Aslan’s comprehensive views, click on the blue highlighted word “quote” in the first sentence at the top of the page..”This quote from Reza Aslan, etc.” I recommend reading the entire article/interview)

  129. David, arguing with you is very tiring. You don’t read or understand what I am saying.

    “You seem to think that communism / socialist is still a threat.”

    NO! I think Islam is a threat. Communism has failed. I said that over and over again! The reason Marxists defend violent Islam is because they are frustrated and angry that their communist utopia never materialized and in fact collapsed miserably in so many communist experiments throughout recent history. They express this anger by attacking capitalism and the West and that is why they are defending Islamic terrorists BECAUSE “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

    David, the problem is that you are still trying to debate the Cold War with someone. The Cold War is over, WE won! The Marxists lost. NOW you can move on… The 1950s was a little too fast.

  130. David, arguing with you is very tiring. You don’t read or understand what I am saying.

    No. I understand. I just don’t agree with you. You are making a common mistake. I disagree with you, which you attribute to lack of understanding of your position.

    The reason Marxists defend violent Islam is because they are frustrated and angry that their communist utopia never materialized

    This is a very long bow. Can you give me a few examples of these “Marxists” and how they are now publicly supporting ISIS of the goals of fanatic Islam. You must consume very different international news feeds than we get in Australia. It sounds very Foxian.

    They express this anger by attacking capitalism and the West and that is why they are defending Islamic terrorists BECAUSE “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

    Again. An example would be handy. Or is this just a generalization based on your own ideology. If this was an intelligence link diagram, you would need to demonstrate that Marxists (examples), who hate capitalism, find this a motivation to support Islam (Cite documents) and that their motivation is that they lost the cold war. I would suggest that the required links would be longer that the six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. You seem to think the Marxists are evil (I agree) and that they support the evil of the fundamentalists religious. I don’t think your position holds water. I don’t think you are right.

  131. “you have to kill ISIS soldiers and militants. There is no other response to ISIS militants and soldiers… (Reza Aslan)

    This is certainly shocking. And I find it distasteful and not in the spirit of the reformers I admire and who have a much better grasp of realpolitik. The Massouds of old and the Kurds now both know they have to (had to) fight the aggression of IS (Taliban) as they have to fight for their lives, but they also know the only long term solution is a political one that denies no-one a stake in their own future. They don’t have “our” ideological battle to see an end to faith, just to see an end to immoral behaviour. Evil ideas need to die at the hands of their own demerits. The real task is to survive the present, acknowledge that a peoples beliefs are what they claim they are, and work to change hearts.

    Harris has no insight into the political process needed, but Aslan works to utterly undo the unnease that should permeate Islam, that it is a very effective tool for ill in the hands of ill-thinkers. Most Roman Catholics are happy to acknowledge their Church as lagging behind modern moral thinking and their own behaviours. This is the state for Islam to get to. People not only acting more moraly than the faithly tenets and magisterium dictate, but openly acknowledging that fact.

    Honesty is the only starting place and Aslan like Obama, in denying IS religious legitimacy, remove any sense of necessary religious disquiet.

  132. In our fury to condemn his foolish religion we have ignored the insightful scholarly perspective he brings to the troubled history and dysfunctional evolution of Islam.

    Incidentally, not my fury. I have a growing band of Muslims I profoundly admire, from a thousand years ago (they did us a solid keeping the intellectual flame alight in the Dark Ages), through the twentieth and twenty first centuries. My concerns are not of faiths per se, disabling as they often are, but only better moral behaviours.

  133. It is not foolishness that we condemn, but viciousness and murderousness, as displayed in the unalterable texts of Islam. The lying Reza ” “The very first thing that Muhammad did was outlaw slavery” Aslan is not so much an opponent of Islamic State as an opponent of the wrong, Sunni, kind of Islamic state; supporter of the Islamic Republic that he is.

  134. Phil: While I find myself agreeing with almost everything you say, I’m puzzled by the double-binds you advocate.

    Long-term solutions can be deferred when the enemy is drawing a bead on you with a Kalashnikov. Aslan has the courage to call for the killing or capturing of ISIS combatants. Presumably he would have called for killing or capturing the 19 terrorists who boarded flights on 9-11. Aslan to his credit has zero tolerance for terrorist violence at his own peril. Though millions of Muslims ostensibly concur, there are millions more who would never dream of strapping on explosives but inwardly support those who do. As the cliche goes, “it’s a beginning.”

    Aslan has studied the Middle East, the Arab world in depth – up close and personal- but no one is asking that he be recognized as an omniscient authority on how to approach the impenetrable chaos of the region.
    The fact stands that he has called for addressing grievances which draw young men to ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and presumably to more moderate groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Anyone who rejects violence and calls for negotiation is ready to come to the table where Muslims and non-Muslims, including secular humanists, can begin to resolve conflicts peacefully, rationally, morally.

    inquisador:

    “It is not foolishness that we condemn, but viciousness and murderousness, as displayed in the unalterable texts of Islam.”

    Aslan has also condemned the “viciousness and murderousness” of ISIS. He goes further to advocate killing the militants and soldiers as the only way to stop these fanatics from murdering Muslims along with other religious minorities in the region. To be sure he would find the concept of murder “displayed” on the written pages of “the unalterable texts of Islam” to be fatuous. The killers, he argues, are deriving their own interpretation from the text consistent with preconceived interests and purpose.

    Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam can be secularized, humanized by cherry picking benign passages while letting the oppressive, violent and dysfunctional mandates fall into retrograde oblivion. Marshaling 1.5 billion believers, Islam is not going away. If the religion cannot be reformed consistent with the institutions and practices of secular democracy, the we might as well get in bed and pull the covers over our heads.

  135. Nitya,

    Of course not, though I’m hardly your person off the street. I’m thoroughly familiar with his views on Islam so these views did not come as a revelation. Most people in the audience would not be as au fait with the Harris viewpoint. If viewing the show through the eyes of the uninitiated, I’d see a highly articulate man confirming my own gut feeling.

    Are those of us commenting on this site so far removed from the “person on the street”? I hope not. How did you gain your broad knowledge without being exposed to ideas which you may have wrongly interpreted?

    As this show was broadcast over the U.S. airwaves, I think it’s fair for me to come to the conclusion that people are going to take his message personally. Audience members are going to take their anti islamic feeling out of the confines of the auditorium and act in a hostile manner.

    Perhaps some in the wider US audience will have had their anti-atheist feelings confirmed but I wouldn’t suggest Affleck should not challenge Harris. He could have been more polite and let Maher finish his discussion with Harris and I don’t think he justified the “gross & racist” comment.

    I have found the discussion forums on this site very informative and often entertaining. I think it would be great if RDFRS reached an audience as large as popular shows on TV, but I wouldn’t suggest the Moderators would then need to be more restrictive on content. Would you not have said this if you knew the audience was going to be much larger:

    I try to take people as I find them and reserve judgement. I must restate the fact that I hate Islam. It’s not the religion of peace. There is no religion of peace.

  136. Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider are the more honest sources for me, they and as I say, the Muslims on the ground fighting IS. Seeking simply to kill IS soldiers is a heap different from fighting to defend yourself against soldiers attempting to take control of your land for religiously righteous reasons, subduing (killing) them and then seeking to establish a safer longterm environment for yourself and their embittered orphans. If Aslan thought for a moment people shouldn’t fire back at IS troops and defend their lands he would indeed be sicker than even I thought. As a religious apologist, though, he does rather want them to just go away…

    Again it is by saying they are merely evil and in need of shooting you leave a festering sore. This is Aslan and the apologists’ gift. By denying IS their religious impulse, they are instantly demonised and the region’s future made less tractable for the expediency of others.

  137. Would you not have said this if you knew the audience was going to be much larger:

    No, I would not have said this to a wide audience such as the radio. If I had the courage, I’d like to say something much more general such as “I’m an equal opportunity condemner”. If I were going to get down to specific groups there are many I’d target.

  138. It’s quite a blessing to humanity that Reza Aslan is not a medical doctor. Had a patient complained about pain in their head with the possibility of a tumor, Reza would dismiss it as the patient’s interpretation of the sensory impulses and not the chances of having any tumor.

  139. A little poem I wrote back in 2006. Still waiting for that trust that will bring peace and subsequently conflict resolutions. A lot of damage was done Melvin. Kicking in of the front doors of family homes.

    Plutoed

    Follow the sharrows’
    To avoid the climate canary
    For green is a snowclone.

    I julie,
    And you come
    But he is lactard
    To the milk of human kindness.

    I waterboard
    The decider
    About his flog

    I feel I have pwn’ed him
    But he holds tight
    To his data valdez

    The fox lips
    Spew Islamic macaca moments
    That stay the course

    We wait the sudden jihad syndrome
    And soon he will be plutoed.

    http://www.americandialect.org/2006.WOTY.noms.ballot.pdf

  140. Does this sum up as ‘Religions don’t kill people, people kill people.’ ?
    If so that’s fine. I now understand what it means to be an apologist, which I was for a significant part of my life (for which profound apologies).

  141. “There are no “absolute moral values”, but that does not prevent us choosing moral values which lead to harmonious living and co-operation, with respect for individual interests.”

    When you talk about the aim for a harmonious living, this concept has in its core a tacit (consciously or unconsciously) idea of a better order, that’s why one thing could be harmonious (language is never apolitical nor neutral) and a better order is only to be defined by a system of values. To say that this to harmonious living can lead us to co-opetarion is to say that there are goals in which you are co-operation to achieve, so you are proposing a teleological dimension. That´s, wanted or not, a religious proposal, instead of proclaim the order of one supernatural god it proclaim an order based on statements that behave as gods.
    One religious person can answer that religion is the best way to respect individual interests, because under their system of values there is not bigger interest that god, or heaven or whatever. With this arguments you only can fight at the same discursive level with the same structures and the same level of line of forces if you let me to use a Deleuzian expression.
    “Humanism” is based on statements of this kind, is well known the complaint of it in many XIX and XX century thinkers (i.e. Michel Focault just to mention someone that is still in vogue), again Dawkins uses XVII century arguments that are quiet obsoletes, and that has a simple cause, he is an eminence in his field, but an dilettante in philosophical questions, so his argument are like the arguments of a rebel teenager that still have a lot of absolute drivers and that is no really well informed)

    A real philosophical quiestion is to ask what are his interests to get in this topics, what political (in the broad sense) are behind his efforts? To “demonstrate” the existence of god as his opponents try to do (arguments even more obsoletes) has a political intention, to reproduce a culture an a way of life, but in seems to me that Dawkins efforts work in the very similar way (using scientific knowledge instead of myths but aiming as well for political aims) to impose the culture that he believes that is better, and just to believe that one is better to another is to think that in reality there is an hierarchy of values and goods
    We know where this “humanism” led to from an historical perspective in Europe and in the eurocentral colonies in XIX & XX centuries!!!
    Nice to have this discussion with you, I really enjoy it

  142. a better order is only to be defined by a system of values.

    Not at all. It can be defined by a collectively agreed set of societal performance parameters. You choose some. I choose some and we weight them democratically. We will agree on most. Health outcomes. Wealth outcomes. Moral metrics of murders and thefts unwanted pregnancies, disruptive behaviours etc. Robustness to catastrophe. We may differ on personal freedoms and educational outcomes etc., but putting it to the vote is the fair way to decide our contentious wishes for society.

    Using our metrics of societal success we can measure policy effectiveness and evolve towards a better outcome. As we do we will learn better what we actually want rather than what we think we want.

    Better outcomes are all we can reasonably do. Ideals are for those who don’t care about the here and now….

  143. Juan: “…seems to me that Dawkins efforts work in the very similar way […] to impose the culture that he believes that is better…”

    From my understanding of Professor Dawkins, I don’t get the impression that he wants to impose any kind of particular culture at all. In fact, he has written of his desire to leave people free to decide their own culture/morals simply by not imposing values based on religious texts.

    Similarly, he has mentioned the ‘shifting moral zeitgeist’ in a positive manner on several occasions and I would argue that this demonstrates his awareness/acceptance of constantly-changing morality.

    Therefore, if you mean that he wants to ‘impose a culture’ where people are free to decide their own set of morals based on a general consensus of opinion free from indoctrination, then not only would I agree with you but I’d say that it sounds like a pretty healthy system to me!

  144. Religion was probably good for its time but unfortunately you have to have a minimum IQ of maybe 90 to rise above superstition. The world is full of people who’s brain shuts down at a certain point of logical reasoning and when they don’t have an answer, they say “God”. There are also Sociopaths who are smart (most are not Science educated) and use religion to control and manipulate others. When I see Joel Osteen’s picture I want to Vomit. When I see Richard Dawkins, I feel like there may be a spiritual purpose for life and it’s a feeling like the one I have for a friend and that sums up my spirituality.

  145. Reza Aslan says: Those interpretations have nothing to do with the text… this way of thinking is so common especially in IRAN where people interpret the Quran as a social event, while the book (Quran) itself says “Those who try to find hidden meaning in this book are charlatans, we have made these passages easy so that everyone can understand” Now this circuit (circus) speaker makes money off of interpreting religion itself. There is a purpose in life and that is the search for the truth and religious people stop that progress by polluting young minds with their own superstitions.

  146. I was born into Islam and was never religious (too smart for that) but now am a fan of truth by way of Science however I understand Ben’s frustration of attacks by people who have not lived in those countries backed by a Judeo-Christian political agenda who makes money from that, to attack Islam and not other religions. If you noticed the Jew (Bill Maher) and the other guy not once mentioned judaism or christianity, how convenient for them. Of all religions Islam is under attack the most and that only strengthens it! The West and Russia put corrupt dictators in those countries. The only thing they could not ban was religion and people used it as the only tool they had against oppression ( Jihad means struggle against oppression). Five years from now we may be talking ISIS in Egypt because US with the help of Judeo-fascist right wings (Netanyahu, Gingrich, Adelson, Koch brother) one more time killed democracy in a country in its infancy and put their dictator puppet in charge. US and Israel are the biggest terrorists in the history of the world and until that changes, fanatics will exploit religion.

  147. @OP – Apologists like Aslan will often go to unreasonable lengths to protect inhuman ideas at the expense of real-life human beings. They will also label criticisms of ideas, books, and beliefs “bigotry” or “racism” in the absence of any substantive counter-argument.

    Mormon apologists have been at it for years!

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/11/mormon-church-admits-founder-joseph-smith-40-wives
    Mormon church admits founder Joseph Smith had about 40 wives

    Wives included a 14-year-old and others already married to his followers
    Church had claimed for 200 years that Smith was monogamous

    Next they will be claiming his alien golden plates actually existed!!!
    Duh!!!

  148. It seems to me that, in the quote, Mr.Aslan states that the cultural, regional etc. background forms an individuals way of interpreting a given religious text – this to me doesn’t seem to imply the “condemnation” (for lack of a better word) of a certain, let’s say ethnic, or regional group.The social environment of said individual will of course be an influence on her/him, but it’s still not quite the same thing.
    I competely agree with the main content of the article, apart from that detail.

    P.S.: Since this is my first post, i’d like to apologize for the slightly pompous nickname – my real one was already taken. I read some of Euripidaes work in the original version while in school – but remember nothing of it.
    P.P.S.: Forget that, it says “Peter” anyway.

  149. It does not. In the case of rape there is ONLY the posibility of men raping another (women or men), because we are biologically determined that way. The mecanics of sex work in a certain way regardless of your sexual orientation. What i mean to say is: in this case there is no posibility AT ALL for a wonam to rape a man. She can hurt him with an object, but that is not rape. This is not something to dismiss. It´s the problem with analogies. People som times say: a country is like a big family, or other stupid analogies that fail to point out the real complexity of the problem.
    In this case, Islam is a religion. You can bilieve in it or not, but you are not determined by an inescapable fact of biology. The analogy is useless. This is the problem of trying to explain something by the way of analogy. It´s best to make an analogy between a certain religion and another (considering similarities and differencies and the social, political, socioeconomical and historical backgrounds)
    We people are more than the propaganda we consume and the rising of our parents. There is no other way to explain change. Believing that another group of people are this or that way by simplistically determining a cause is dangerous. Leads to racism and bigotry. No matter how academic an scientific one may sound.

  150. I would point out that the US have invaded 2 countries and butcherd many more people than the terrorist. I don´t defend the terrorist, they are disgusting. The US goverment, the Israely goverment, the UK goverment… they are disgusting too. Violence is violence, no matter the source or justification.

  151. Well, that is not true. Words have power and one should be carefull when using them. Christianity did the same thing not so long ago. Historically speaking, of course. That they don´t do it anymore (openly) is proof enough that we should stop trying to attack the Islam problem and focus on the issues of inequality and social development that create the real problems we have. When a goverment like the US goverment decides it can say that installing clandestine facilities arround the world to torture people is a “mistake”, then the moral high ground is lost. If your way of life is manteined by exploiting others, invading countries and topling inconvenient goverments (or blocking an islands trade with the world) then your moral superiority goes to the gutter (more so when said goverment is responsible for training and suppliying the “enemy”).
    Of course fanatics are disgusting and should be repudiated (sorry, my englich is not as good as yours, i´m not native). But the problem lies elsewhere.
    If not, a new crusade is called for. An atheist crusade, of enlighment and reason. Of freedom and democracy. But a crusade all the same.
    Maher´s claims aim for blood and termination. They don´t look for a peacfull resolution, or debate. They claim truth (these are facts, he says… about polls.. he says that polls are facts…). They sound like the words of a priest.

  152. Late to the party.

    Reza Aslan makes an arguable premise, it does not infer from the excerpt that he is concluding a inherent racial disparity among interpretations as you initially suggest.

    I could hazard a guess, that, if you except his premise he would go on to say the interpretational differences are to do with socio political situations among different regions, cultural practices, educational opportunities and GDP per capita etc.

    Which is an argument that would just so overly convoluted, spanning so many fields of expertise, it would be nigh impossible to have with anyone that wasn’t completely self aware of what he believes and why AND had the upmost intellectual honesty.

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