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Islamic Extremism and Paris: Faith Isn't A Fucking Virtue

Islamic Extremism and Paris: Faith Isn't A Fucking Virtue

This will likely be the most incindiary thing I post on my blog, probably ever. At least, I hope that no situation arises in the future which necessitates doing so. I will be following this up with another blog post in the next few days to talk more about the implications of our current situation, but I leave you with this today. It is the opening of the most recent episode of my favorite podcast, The Scathing Atheist. The following is from @Noah_Lugeons. I recommend listening to it with the embeded audio below (or listening to the full episode), but it's very NSFW so if you can't listen at least take the time to read it. It's better to listen though, so you can hear the emotion and intention.

One of the key points, for me, is the following excerpt and will be the topic of my following post:

I mean, look, people are scared and they are looking to their leaders for answers. If their leaders are standing further from the truth than the bigots then they're going to hire bigots to lead them. If one guy is saying "No, this isn't Islamic and Islamism has nothing to do with it. The real problem is just that we aren't being nice enough to the Middle Eastern countries..." and the other guy is saying, "Yes, the Islamic State is Islamic and we're going to deal with it by closing down all the mosques and only allowing in Christian refugees...", where does the average person fall?

If no one is being honest with them are they gonna go with the guy who has the solution wrong or the guy who has the problem wrong? 

(Transcribed from the audio. Any errors and missing/wrong punctuation are mine.)

@Noah_Lugeons, The Scathing Atheist, episode 144, Nov 19, 2015.

I don't want to talk about dead people in France again.

I already talked about it once this year and that was the hardest diatribe I ever had to do, but it's more than that, of course. I don't want to be yet another voice standing atop 129 corpses to say, "Hey, you that thing I'M ideologically committed, to that thing I'VE been saying for years, well, that's the REAL issue behind these Paris attacks."

There's just too many people already doing that and even if I'm right, I don't want to play King of the Mountain with them. I want to talk about happy, funny shit we can all laugh at like the latest adventures of Fat Guy in a Red Hat instead but ultimately it's my job to talk about this. And that's tricky because no matter what I say I'm going to fill up my inbox with plenty of people who disagree with me. You see this is one of those situations where the truth lands between two ideologies. You can theoretically piss everybody off with one single opinion.

Western imperialism and predatory foreign policy IS a MAJOR factor in the growth and power of ISIS and so is the fact that the Islamic faith is incredibly fucked up even compared to others faiths, and it makes no sense to examine one of these factors in isolation from the other.

So let me just concede 3 things up front:

First of all, all religions are bad and all religions are capable of inspiring violence. Some people love to point that this religion or that religion is the exception, but the one thing all those religions have in common is the fact that they're not the majority religion anywhere in the world and they never have been. Hell, Christianity didn't inspire violence until it had power so, yes, Islam is not unique in its ability to inspire believers to violent action. I will freely admit that but it would be a huge fucking coincidence if all the religions were equally able to inspire violence with the same ease, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it stand to reason that one major world religion must necessarily be at the top of that category, so yes, you can use Buddhism to inspire violence, it's been done, it's being done right now, but there are more steps between the generally accepted Buddhist doctrine and a violent one than there are in Islam. If you want to turn a docile, non-violent population of Buddhists into ethnic-cleansers there are more steps along the way than there are with Muslims.

Now, in practice that only matters in the short term, once you traverse all those steps you don't have to do it anew with every generation because future generations are just going to grow up in a world where their cultural understanding of Buddhism always included ethnic cleansing, so the two relevant factors in the overall violence of a religion are a) how violent the scripture or existing doctrine is and b) what percentage of that religion's followers currently endorse a violent interpretation of those doctrines and in both categories, Islam leads the way. But don't start writing your angry emails yet, because I’m not done conceding points to you yet.

Let me also concede, the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not support ISIS or terrorism in general. I don't want to be too exculpatory because the average Muslim does support some shit that should and would make the average secular person shudder but it would also be insane to argue that Islam necessarily leads to violence or the majority of Muslims interpret it in a violent way. This is so nonsensical of a concession because I don't know anyone in the atheist movement that would argue with me on that point but I feel the need to make it anyway.

The only people who argue that the Islamic religion is necessarily violent are the Christian bigots that figure anybody worshipping the wrong Jesus has to be a savage. But since so many people have invested so much effort in reducing Sam Harris' very nuanced view on the subject to the moral equivalent of "blacks like to shoot people with guns" I feel the need to point that out regardless of it's complete lack of support in the atheist movement. And finally let me concede that there are strategic reasons, both domestically and geopolitically, to avoid throwing all of Islam under the bus in light of an Islamic terrorist attack. I don't there are sufficient reasons, but there are definitely reasons. In the wake of a terrorist attack like this, there's an increase in hate crimes against Muslims and folks <drawl>what-look-like-Muslims</drawl> and no responsible person wants to add to that. and one doesn't want to reinforce the view abroad that the West is at-war with Islam. I think both of these reasons are radically overplayed in the media but they are legitimate concerns. Whatever increase we see in American hate crime is in the wake of this thing is probably going to pale in comparison to the next ISIS terrorist attack, wouldn't you think? And as to the international view that we're at war with Islam, well look, if you're saying massive numbers of Muslims are one Obama quote away from joining ISIS then you can't at the same time say that Islam isn't uniquely positioned to inspire grotesque violence can you?

Because even after conceding all of that the efforts by the American government and media to absolve religion in general, and Islam in particular, from any blame at all for this is dangerously misguided, not to mentioned bigoted. That's right, bigoted. It is bigoted to say that Islam isn't responsible for the violent rise of ISIS. Ignoring the reasons that these people themselves are giving to justify their actions and replacing them with your own liberal values that is a clear example of the exact kind of cultural bigotry that you're trying to avoid. I mean, of course, there are other factors involved and I don't know of anyone who is arguing there aren't.

But then to ignore the clear and obvious religious motivation that is the single uniting factor among the entire fucking group is just your own Euro-centric prejudice telling you that all cultures ultimately share your values. Because look, not everybody who joins up with ISIS agrees on this political goal or that geographic target but they all believe in the strict implementation of Sharia Law and the religious obligation to defend and expand the Caliphate that is an unavoidable fact and yet I can point to dozens of articles and reports over the last week that try to explain the REAL motivations behind ISIS and, wouldn't you know it, they're just like us, darn it! They just want better jobs and economic opportunity. Hell, I saw one article that snuck "good schools for their children" into a list of things the terrorists are really after.

Excuse me, are you fucking HIGH? You really think Boko Haram is after better schools?! You think ISIS is after better jobs?! How culturally insensitive do you have to be to say "well I know they SAY it's religious stuff every time we talk to them but what do THEY know? I know they BEHAVE that's consistent with a religious motivation but they only THINK they're after 72 virgins and the glory of Allah, they're REALLY after the shit I care about, the shit that I understand."

Look, if you wanted to argue that Al'Qaeda wasn't really Islamic, you might have had an argument to make. It wouldn't exactly exonerate the people who left something as dangerous as religion lying around for terrorist groups to play with and I don't know that I'd ultimately believe you, but you could probably make a half-way convincing argument that  Al'Qaeda is a geo-political goal disguising itself as a religious entity to fill its quota of foot soldiers, but if anything ISIS is a religious goal disguising itself as a geo-political entity.

This is an apocalyptic death cult whose actions are exactly inline with a literal reading of the Qur'an and the Hadith.

The most disturbing shit they do: enslaving women and children, crucifying people in the streets, destroying irreplaceable antiquities, the truly barbaric shit they're doing comes directly from their religious doctrine. And look that's to be expected! Of all the major world religions theirs is the only one founded by a conqueror. If Julius Cesar or Genghis Khan started their own religions, those would be some fucked up religions! They'd be filled with barbaric shit about enslaving your captives and breaking all their nice shit and everything.

Look, Mohammad told his followers to make sex-slaves out of conquered women. He told his followers to publicly execute people in campaigns of terror. He told them to expand the borders of the Islamic nation, and again, yes, PLENTY of Muslims don't take those parts seriously but anybody who elevates the rape-children-and-crucify-people book and says Hey this is the perfect word of God should take SOME responsibility when people actually take them seriously, shouldn't they?

Is it really a stretch to blame the pyramid for the height of the capstone?

And yet when you stand up and say, "Hey, you know what? Even for a religion, this one is fucked up!" you're shouted down as a racist, you're inundated with history lessons about colonialism and war profiteering, you're derided for not being equally outraged about every single loss of human life in the world, you're buried under violent crime statistics from Indonesia, you're reminded of every act of Christian or secular terrorism that your interlocutor can think of and even when you point out that none of that shit addresses the question of whether or not the Islamic religion is fucked up even for a religion, you're written off as a bigot and an ideologue incapable of rational thought.

Look, religion is a device for reinforcing tribalism, that is religion's primary function. That is what it was evolved to do. That's what it does first and foremost, and one of the downsides of tribalism is that it tends to evoke violence against people outside of the tribe, so how can we exonerate the tribe and the tool that reinforces it, when this inevitable consequence takes place?

I mean, sure, if you blame Muslims for Islamic terrorism but you don't blame Christians for Christian terrorism, yes, you're applying a double standard, but I hope you know I wouldn't shy away for a second for putting the blame on fucking Jesus if this was a bunch of suicide bombers for Christendom, and what's more, neither would most of the people who are going to send me angry emails about this fucking diatribe! Most of the atheists that were posting memes about how few Muslims are terrorists wouldn't hesitate for a second to point the finger at Christianity if we out swapped the religions.

In fact, I have never once gotten an email from an angry listener pointing out what a small percentage of Catholic priests were involved in the sex abuse cover up, somehow they all understand that even the people who weren't directly involved were still culpable simply because the support they gave and continue to give to the institution that perpetrated it and yet they want a different standard when it comes to this other religion.

Again, any religion could be turned into this. You give Christianity a few impoverished generations and I have no doubt whatsoever that violent uprisings would start and they would use Christianity as a recruiting tool the same way Muslims have used Islam. And if you could imagine a Christian terrorist state built upon a literal reading of the Bible it's probably every bit as terrifying as ISIS, they wouldn't crucify people probably, but they'd be stoning gays and disobedient women, they'd be murdering people for adultery, they'd be executing people for atheism. The society they would create might be equally terrifying just in different ways. But just because other religions COULD be used in this way doesn't mean we should overlook the fact that this one IS being used this way.

And the way we talk about this informs the way we think about this, which informs the way we act about this. Obama's repeated bullshit assertions that the Islamic State is not Islamic are insane and damaging, what's more, some Christian son of a Muslim, which makes him an apostate in their eyes, lecturing Muslims about what is and isn't Islamic? That's probably no more endearing to the international Muslim community than admitting the truth would be. After all, anyone familiar with the Qur'an has to know that the shit ISIS is doing is in there. Most of them interpret it a different way, sure, but it's like arguing Fred Phelps. You can interpret it a different way if you want, but according to the Bible God DOES "hate fags" and anybody who says, "Yeah, that's just not in the Bible" they're not going to make a convincing argument if they're talking to someone who has read the fucking thing.

And right now, some people are asking, "Hey, Noah, why does this even matter?" I've actually gotten emails asking, "Why does it even matter if we call it Islamic extremism instead of just extremism?" These people would NEVER ask why being truthful would matter in some other circumstance, but for some reason now all of a sudden I have to justify specificity?!

OF FUCKING COURSE it matters, how can you solve a problem if you're ignoring a large part of it? It's like we tell the theists, how can you answer a question honestly if one of the answers is forbidden? Look, I'm sympathetic to the urge to counter the prevailing bigotry and we should be doing that. I'm seeing the same stories you are about planes being diverted because a brown person was using a cell phone, but we should be countering it rationally and truthfully. The asshats who are saying we should "close down all the mosques and stop taking in Syrian refugees and kill more people" definitely need to be countered, vociferously and unflinchingly but they need to be countered with fact and not obfuscation. They need to be countered with realistic admissions of where the guilt lies and propositions based on that, starkly and unflinchingly considering all the factors and then presenting an answer other than "kill all the people with the wrong Jesus."

Because if we're not honest here, aren't we just conceding the conversation to the bigots?

I mean, look, people are scared and they are looking to their leaders for answers. If their leaders are standing further from the truth than the bigots then they're going to hire bigots to lead them. If one guy is saying "no, this isn't Islamic and Islamism has nothing to do with it. The real problem is that we're just not being nice enough to the Middle Eastern countries..." and the other guy is saying, "Yes, the Islamic State is Islamic and we're going to deal with it by closing down all the mosques and only allowing in Christian refugees...", where does the average person fall? If no one is being honest with them, are they gonna go with the guy who has the solution wrong or the guy who has the problem wrong?

But there's more to it than that. If we're assigning blame, I think every religious person has at least some of this Parisian blood on their hands. Religions are like landmines waiting for a charismatic psychopath to just lead a group of followers across. So the real culprit is anybody who lobbies to leave the landmines laying around, right? Anybody who defends the landmine because it's always been there and it's pretty, and people write nice songs about it, anybody who lobbies for laws that give it a special privileged place in our society, anybody who defends the notion that faith is a virtue. They're all liable to varying degrees and if we want to assign tiers, hey, I'd say Christian extremists are more blame worthy than Muslim moderates but that does absolutely nothing to exonerate the Muslim faith. Whether you like it or not and whether or you admit it or not, we're at war with a very particular interpretation of Islam, and by "we" I mean those of us who believe in secular values. Those of us who believe in gender equality, and Democracy and religious freedom and separation of Church and State, and science and education.

There's a well-armed group of people that do not share those values and have declared war on our way of life. Just because George Bush said it doesn't make it untrue, and remember it only takes one side to declare a war. And again obviously we're not at war with the religion as a whole, but the fundamentalists couldn't thrive unless millions of people were primed for them with claims that this disgustingly violent book is the perfect, unquestionable WORD OF GOD.

And all the people who are trying to pretend this is a conventional war or that we can overlook the Islamic part and still win the fight or that we're not at war at all are engaged in a unilateral disarmament of reason.

 

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