Projecting US Pathologies Onto Muslims

Glenn Greenwald offers a mirror for those of us who worry about the elements of theocratic expansionism which are enough a part of the Koran and early Islamic history to be considered potentially dangerous forms of the religion itself on its own terms (and not just of its appropriation by political agents):

I’m always amazed when I receive e-mails from people telling me that I fail to understand how Islam is a uniquely violent, supremely expansionist culture that is intrinsically menacing.  The United States is a country with a massive military and nuclear stockpile, that invaded and has occupied two Muslim countries for almost a full decade, that regularly bombs and drones several others, that currently is threatening to attack one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, that imposed a sanctions regime that killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim children, thatslaughters innocent people on a virtually daily basis, that has interfered in and controlled countries around the world since at least the middle of the last century, that has spent decades arming and protecting every Israeli war with its Muslim neighbors and enabling a four-decade-long brutal occupation, and that erected a worldwide regime of torture, abduction and lawless detention, much of which still endures.  Those are just facts.

But if we all agree to sit around and point over there – hey, can you believe those primitive Muslims and how violent and extremist they are — the reality of what we do in the world will fade blissfully away.  Even better, it will be transformed from violent aggression into justified self-defense, and then we’ll not only free ourselves of guilt, but feel proud and noble because of it.  As is true with all cultures, there are obviously demented, psychopathic, violent extremists among Muslims.  And there’s no shortage of such extremists in our own culture either. One would think we’d be more interested in the extremists among us, but by obsessively focusing on Them, we are able to blind ourselves to the pathologies that drive our own actions.  And that self-cleansing, self-justifying benefit — which requires the preservation of the Muslim-as-Threat mythology — is probably more valuable than all the specific, pragmatic benefits described above.  All this over a “menace” (Terrorism) that killed a grand total of 25 noncombatant Americans last year (McClatchy:  “undoubtedly more American citizens died overseas from traffic accidents or intestinal illnesses than from terrorism“).

Whatever one’s concerns about literalism, theocracy, fundamentalism, and the ways that each of these can take genuinely religious expressions (and not just “false” religious expressions), there is as much or more danger in blithely accepting one’s own (religiously or secularly) motivated state’s uncontrollably aggressive, self-righteous, jingoistic militarism.  And while America’s own penchant for violence does not make Wahabist Islam any less a genuinely religious, genuinely authoritarian, genuinely dangerous force against freedom of thought and practice in the world, there is wisdom for all of us to heed the advice to always be checking our own eyes for large planks of wood before taking the specks or even outright twigs from others’ eyes.

In sum, yes, Islam is not innocent of everything wicked done in its name.  But neither are we Americans innocent of everything wicked done in ours.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Brian

    I think the author should reexamine several things.

    a) How he equates extremism to dangerousness for all cultures rather than just some. This reminds me of Creationists unable to understand the difference between evolution and abiogenesis simply because their favored ideology merges them;
    b) The extent to which violent, primitive Americans are part of his culture more than violent, primitive non-Americans. Claiming to be of the same culture as these people serves the same function in the argument as claiming to have black friends does for people expressing racist sentiments;
    c) U.S. military aid to Israel in important context like U.S. military aid to Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and the PLO;
    d) the extent to which parts of societies can be changed-for example, the amendment processes or lack thereof for each religious/political movement;
    e) How it is possible to be a Muslim child, or a child of any faith;
    f) Whether the claim to simply be presenting a list of facts is merely a cheap rhetorical cover for making an implicit argument that may be false even if the facts are true. Note how I just used the term “cheap rhetorical cover”, a form of poisoning the well. As I was merely asking a question, I said nothing false, perhaps the author would still object and should consider exactly why he does;
    g) If in fact Wahabi Islam is as dangerous as he implies, whether zero or some other number would be the resultant number of civilian deaths from prosecuting his favored policies, particularly if constrained to be not perfect but merely less bad than any other country in history-for example, say he had to invade Afghanistan after 9/11 but never Iraq. If American policy in Iraq was wholly misguided in every way and increased the suffering in the world, whether we should nonetheless subtract from the total of misery inflicted by American actions that which would have been perpetrated by Uday and Qusay when making moral judgments.


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