On the Mumbai Terror Attacks

I had planned to post on a different topic today, but my attention has been riveted – as I’m sure everyone’s has – by the horrific events still unfolding in Mumbai. A well-organized and ruthless group of several dozen heavily armed terrorists has slipped into the city, attacking lightly guarded civilian targets with assault rifles and grenades, apparently targeting Western tourists. Over a hundred innocent people are dead, hundreds more wounded, and some of Mumbai’s famous landmarks are in flames. Details are still emerging sketchily from the chaos, and the repercussions on this city of 19 million, the capitol of India’s financial and film industries, have yet to be seen.

It seems certain that these terror attacks will reverberate in Indian consciousness as the equivalent of 9/11 on Americans – if not in sheer loss of life, then in terms of the panic, disruption and chaos caused. I can only imagine the effect on New York if there were heavily armed terrorists shooting at innocents in Grand Central Station and taking hostages at the Waldorf Astoria. There will be many families in India and elsewhere mourning tonight.

It’s not yet known who bears responsibility for this horrendous crime. Nationalist fervor over Kashmir has been a contributing factor to similar terror attacks in the past, but the apparent focus on Western nationals suggests a different motive this time. For me, I find the conclusion unavoidable that the toxic brew of Islamic fundamentalism has given rise to yet another savage assault on human life and dignity.

The fanatics who wage attacks like this may be living in the modern day, but their minds are dwelling in the past. The primitive, medieval mindset – with all its violence and brutality, its poisonous notions of tribalism and honor, its rigid and unwavering certainty, and its zealot’s thirst for bloodshed and holy war – has been imported into the present. Everywhere it arises, it causes innocents to suffer; and when the hands that do its bidding are equipped with modern weapons, the consequences are far more horrible.

The terrorists’ aim was probably to damage diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan, and it seems likely they’ve succeeded. With both sides armed with nuclear weapons, and with the factions of nationalist and fundamentalist fervor wrestling for the controls, the potential consequences are too terrible to imagine. I wrote about this trend in “Fossil Fuels“:

In the Bronze Age civilizations where it was born, religion’s destructive ability was limited: a few local skirmishes, at worst a regional conflagration. But just like fossil fuels now underpinning the global economy, the fever of faith has spread, and is now infecting not small, roaming desert tribes, but vast, globe-spanning civilizations standing eye-to-eye with the keys to apocalypse in their hands.

These attacks have shown the impossibility of preventing terrorist attacks by guarding every possible target. My home city clearly hasn’t learned that lesson, as one can see from this story about the police overreacting to yet another substanceless terror threat. Unless they put guards at every subway entrance and search every passenger, there is no way this could thwart a determined terrorist – and even then, an attacker could just target a mall or a department store instead.

Terrorism and religious zealotry cannot be defeated by force, neither at home nor abroad. What we need more than ever is for the voice of reason to prevail. In the short term, it’s a vital calming and guiding influence on leaders whose fingers hover over the nuclear button, and an essential counterpoint to the overheated raving of would-be holy warriors. But in the long term, it is beneficial as well. As many others have observed, the war over terrorism is fundamentally a battle of ideas: democracy against theocracy, liberty against authoritarianism, the future against the past, change against tradition, globalism against tribalism.

To win that battle, we must persuade the world that our values are superior. The way to ultimately stop terrorism is not to kill or imprison all its plotters, but to erode their popular support and delegitimize them in their home countries. We must win the battle of reason by presenting a cogent case for our society and an appealing vision of what we stand for. The outgoing Bush administration, which has done its best to ruin America’s image abroad through dictatorial polices of torture, arbitrary imprisonment and preemptive war, never understood this. It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration does. But in any case, we freethinkers and rationalists – in America, in India, and everywhere in the world – have a duty to speak out loud and clear for our values, and to lobby and push our leaders toward the correct path. In the long run, a dedicated voice of reason – not the madness of competing fundamentalisms – is the only thing that can make tragedies like this a distant memory and guide the world toward a brighter future.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I find the conclusion unavoidable that the toxic brew of Islamic fundamentalism has given rise to yet another savage assault on human life

    I’m not sure I would draw that conclusion this early. The modus operandi is not typical of Islamic attacks, although the Jihadi appellation from the group claiming responsibility may support you. There will be a lot of conflicting interpretions given for political reasons by the governments concerned (theIndian government is already implicating Pakistan for obvious reasons) and it may be some time before we can establish a real motive.

  • bestonnet

    Whilst in the long term the way to win is to secularise to the point at which even the most fundamentalist religious people are humanists in the shorter term we do need to continue hunting the terrorists down (of course the Bush administration’s screw ups (like using torture (which doesn’t work) and holding people they don’t actually have any evidence are terrorists) shouldn’t be repeated).

  • Justin

    Terrorism and religious zealotry cannot be defeated by force, neither at home nor abroad. What we need more than ever is for the voice of reason to prevail.

    But can reason defeat religious zealotry? I know that reason can and has convinced some fundamentalists to abandon their destructive beliefs, but I am continually amazed at some of the things that people can believe regardless of the facts.

    Come to think of it, widespread irrationality is why I am in favor of having a more “activist” judiciary; judges have studied the arguments on both sides of many issues and (however often) are a voice of reason that I trust (sometimes) more than the public to uphold civil liberties.

    (Please pardon the change of subject).

  • Lux Aeterna

    Those religious fundamentalists are as deeply entrenched in their values and beliefs as we are in ours. They too, aim to convert us over to their side. While you believe firmly in the power of reason to advance your cause, they believe in using terror to advance theirs. When two camps meet with each immovably convinced that theirs is the right way (due to divine guidance or the power of reason), a conflict is inevitable. I hope that our side and method (reasoning) will prevail.

  • TommyP

    The pictures I have seen in the paper the past few days are just horrific. Before I even began to read the story, I was talking with a co-worker about the pictures, and I said something like “What do you want to bet that this has something to do with religion?”

    Needless to say, it seems it does. So very sad, those poor people!

  • http://1000bluebirds.blogspot.com/ 1000 bluebirds

    Other forms of religious dissent have some value here as well, including liberal Islam and other religions. Unfortunately, I doubt our own observations on religion will have much influence in the Middle East. I wish I could be more optimistic, but I can’t see conservative Islam going without a fight.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Those religious fundamentalists are as deeply entrenched in their values and beliefs as we are in ours.

    Speak for yourself. If they could show evidence that Allah exists, I would believe in Allah. Show them that Allah is logically contradictory, and they will probably try to kill you.

  • bestonnet

    But can reason defeat religious zealotry?

    Yes it can, in fact it is doing so as we type.

    The problem is that the process is far too slow (since it largely occurs through the young being more secular than their elders).

  • Rowen

    One thing I find rather interesting in the way this is presented on the news is how American centric the media still makes it. “Terrorists attacks in Mumbai: Over FIVE Americans killed!”

    I don’t mean to discredit their deaths, but seriously, it’s not all about us.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    One thing I find rather interesting in the way this is presented on the news is how American centric the media still makes it.

    Your not alone the British media does the same.

  • Brad

    From the New York Times,

    There were reports on the first night of the attacks that gunmen had rounded up holders of American and British passports at the Oberoi and herded them upstairs. But Rattan Keswani, the president of Trident Hotels, said he had found no basis for such reports.

    “Nothing seems to suggest that,” he said, noting that a range of nationalities was represented among the 22 hotel guests who died, in addition to the 10 staff members, all Indian.

    Also, see a collection of photos here.

  • Vin

    I couldn’t disagree with you more. People responsible for these attacks must face justice. Their organizations must be put down. By using your thougt process, we would have not invaded Afghanistan. I don’t consider what happens to the prisoners of Gitmo to be torture. Playing loud music and disrupting sleep is not torture. My question is: after 8 years of being incarcerated, why are they still not executed?

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    My question is: after 8 years of being incarcerated, why are they still not executed?

    because the a**holes in the Bush administration can’t or won’t demonstrate to anyone’s satisfaction that the people in their are actually guilty of anything.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I mean “there”. flame posting = bad spelling.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I don’t consider what happens to the prisoners of Gitmo to be torture. Playing loud music and disrupting sleep is not torture.

    The Nazis agreed with you, Vin. When they used forced sleep deprivation, waterboarding, cold baths, and stress positions on captured French resistance members, they called it “Verschärfte Vernehmung“. That’s German for “enhanced interrogation”, which coincidentally is exactly what the Bush administration calls it.

  • Leum

    Vin, sleep deprivation is actually one of the most effective forms of torture. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin described is experience while a prisoner in Soviet Russia:

    In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep…Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it. (emphasis added, source)

    Yes, we need to bring terrorists to justice, but it is neither necessary not useful to use torture to do so. Even if it were, the inherent immorality of torture would make its use unacceptable.

    As to why we haven’t executed them, well, partly because most of the people currently enjoying our hospitality in Gitmo aren’t terrorists, they’re random people picked up and hauled off to Cuba, usually with no more justification than simply being present.

    The few that actually are terrorists haven’t been executed because, as Steve Bowen says, our president, in his wisdom, has not deigned to take them to court. Largely, no doubt, because it would reveal how many people in Gitmo are innocent victims of our glorious armed forces (he could hardly only bring a few dozen people to justice, and then say, “Oh, we’re done now. Everyone else just stays incarcerated”).

    In any case, execution is not the best way to bring terrorists to justice. It just makes them into martyrs.

    Finally, if you have any evidence that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been at all effective in removing terrorism, I’d love to see it. War is effective at removing governments, not underground organizations (just ask the British how effective war was at removing the IRA).

  • Adele

    These attacks are absolutely staggering… how horrifically sad. So many innocent people dead.

    I suppose I’m not surprised at all that religious fanatics had something to do it. Religion is the only thing that can make so many humans behave so inhumanly.

  • Adele

    …and the incarceration of people at Gitmo without trial – indeed, without CHARGES being brought against them at all – is absolutely chilling. How long will it be before the government can do the same to American citizens? To deny the right to a fair trial is to deny one of the most basic tenets democracy and freedom.

  • Alex Weaver

    Those religious fundamentalists are as deeply entrenched in their values and beliefs as we are in ours. They too, aim to convert us over to their side. While you believe firmly in the power of reason to advance your cause, they believe in using terror to advance theirs. When two camps meet with each immovably convinced that theirs is the right way (due to divine guidance or the power of reason), a conflict is inevitable.

    This is plainly and simply false, as OMGF and others have pointed out, and the notion that rationalists are “just as [negative adjective] as the religious fanatics” is a Big Lie I’m really getting tired of hearing – and the fact that you, an ostensible rationalist, are repeating it is presumably proof that the Big Lie principle works (assuming you’re sincere, of course). What is spun as rationalists being “deeply entrenched” in their views is simply an unavoidable consequence of the facts and the willingness to change one’s opinion in response to facts being lined up on the same side of the debate.

    I couldn’t disagree with you more. People responsible for these attacks must face justice. Their organizations must be put down. By using your thougt process, we would have not invaded Afghanistan.

    How does this follow from…anything?

    I don’t consider what happens to the prisoners of Gitmo to be torture. Playing loud music and disrupting sleep is not torture.

    Try it.

    …and the incarceration of people at Gitmo without trial – indeed, without CHARGES being brought against them at all – is absolutely chilling. How long will it be before the government can do the same to American citizens?

    There is reason to believe they already have.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Vblockquote>just ask the British how effective war was at removing the IRAWell put, although we were never technically at “war” as we were the government in power in Northern Ireland. But it is precisely this mis-named “war on terrorism” that preventing us focusing on rational approaches to the problem.

  • http://www.myspace.com.driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    just ask the British how effective war was at removing the IRA

    Well put, although we were never technically at “war” as we were the government in power in Northern Ireland. But it is precisely this mis-named “war on terrorism” that preventing us focusing on rational approaches to the problem.

    Hmmm…beer and html; very poor cocktail.

  • http://chuggingalong.wordpress.com Robin Jacob Abraham

    Selfish events have led to this day in Mumbai. The partition has only left us with suspicious minds all around the India-Pakistan border.Corruption and callousness has led to the terrorists slipping in to the city with such ease. A weak political will has ensured that India does not do much about the situation. The average Indian has seen too many terrorist attacks to even care although this attack has surpassed all other attacks in the past. If India is to take a stand, it is now..otherwise all is lost

  • Vin

    If you want to call sleep deprivation torture, I would disagree. These aren’t altar boys here, the are harded terrorists. If torturing an individual can save an impending attack like 9/11, then it is morally justified. Come out of the debate mode and into the real world. If one of your family members were killed in an attack, but could have been saved by information gathered from such interegation, would you feel the same way? I lost 4 friends in 9/11 whose only crime was that they worked in the WTC. Sometimes I wish a place like hell did exist for those who do these deeds.

  • Alex Weaver

    If you want to call sleep deprivation torture, I would disagree. These aren’t altar boys here, the are harded terrorists.

    1), the first sentence has no logical relationship to the second.
    2), both of these claims are very much in question and you would do well to produce some evidence in support of them instead of simply doing the keyboard equivalent of repeating them, verbatim, through a megaphone this time.

    If torturing an individual can save an impending attack like 9/11, then it is morally justified.

    This might be true IF torture were known to produce reliable information. It isn’t. And if an attack is impending, then torturing someone you think is guilty until he tells you whatever he thinks will make you stop torturing him if you hear it, and acting on the basis of whatever he made up to stop the pain, is probably the single worst way you could approach the situation.

    No matter…

    I lost 4 friends in 9/11 whose only crime was that they worked in the WTC. Sometimes I wish a place like hell did exist for those who do these deeds.

    …how much you, personally, want people, whom you associate with the “Them” who hurt you, to suffer.

    There’s a movie called “Twelve Angry Men.” It ought to be required viewing for everyone leaving high school. Go watch it and try to learn something.

    …watch Lee Cobb Jr’s character closely. He may seem familiar.

    Also,

    If one of your family members were killed in an attack, but could have been saved by information gathered from such interegation, would you feel the same way?

    If one of your family members had just disappeared and was eventually revealed to have been tortured at, and perhaps died in, Guantanamo, despite being entirely innocent of anything except being the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time – a scenario that there are many reasons to believe is considerably more plausible than yours – would you?

  • bestonnet

    Vin:

    If you want to call sleep deprivation torture, I would disagree.

    So? There are people who disagree with those of us who call creationism a pseudoscience, there are people who disagree with those of us who call natropaths quacks and I really don’t see any reason to regard your disagreement with us as any more valid then their disagreement with us.

    Vin:

    These aren’t altar boys here, the are harded terrorists.

    What evidence do you have for that?

    If there really was good evidence that they were terrorists then why haven’t they been tried in a civilian court? after all, if they had evidence proving they were terrorists beyond reasonable doubt that would be the best place to present it, in front of a jury composed of a random cross-section of society which both prosecution and defence have a say in the composition of.

    Vin:

    If torturing an individual can save an impending attack like 9/11, then it is morally justified.

    That assumes that torture is effective.

    If torture is not effective than all debates over when it is appropriate to use torture or whether it can be compatible with democracy become completely meaningless.

    Vin:

    Come out of the debate mode and into the real world.

    OK then, let’s look at the real world and see if we can find any facts that will end the debate.

    Here’s one, torture is useless and tends to result in unreliable information including false confessions.

  • Archi Medez

    As usual I agree with most of what Ebonmuse writes in his post. By now, 2 or 3 days after his post, it is reasonably clear that the attackers were Islamic militants, and that the attacks were directed at Indians, Westerners, and Jews. The attackers at at least one point reportedly asked some of their potential victims to state their religion, and some Muslims were allowed to go free. This reminds me of policies mentioned in the Old Testament and in the Quran, Hadith, and Sira, where people are either slaughtered or spared depending on their declared religious beliefs.

    Ebonmuse writes:
    “The fanatics who wage attacks like this may be living in the modern day, but their minds are dwelling in the past. The primitive, medieval mindset – with all its violence and brutality, its poisonous notions of tribalism and honor, its rigid and unwavering certainty, and its zealot’s thirst for bloodshed and holy war – has been imported into the present.”

    I know what Ebonmuse means, but I disagree with the phrasing. Referring to the Islamist ideology as a “medieval mindset” seems to come from a western perspective, where the West had its medieval period of religiously-based zealotry, killing “blasphemers,” “witches,” and waging “holy wars,” etc., and where the West has almost entirely rejected such primitive and medieval practices for at least a couple of hundred years. (There are of course some major exceptions, e.g., the Nazi’s religiously- and racially-based atrocities). So from this perspective most westerners can look back with disdain on these aspects of their medieval period.

    But the Islamic world, with some exceptions, has not rejected certain objectionable policies and practices of hundreds of years ago or even 1385 years ago. So these militants have a mind-set that is not specifically medieval in the Islamic frameworks. One can see the consistency between their mind set, as indicated by stated and implemented policies, and the history of 1380+ years of religiously/ideologically motivated militant “jihads” (offensive and defensive battles; raids, assassinations, surprise attacks, hostage-taking, and so on). This is surveyed in Efraim Karsh’s book Islamic Imperialism. One must also take into account the history of imperialist jihads into India, as described for example by authors such as K.S. Lal. As we know, the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus have never quite simmered down.

    For the past approximately four decades the Islamic world has been undergoing a “revival” of Islamic law (see Rudolph Peters’ Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law), politics, and geopolitics, in the context of a relative increase in Muslim population size and distribution, and increased clout of Muslim countries internationally (as represented, for example, at the U.N.). Some Muslims want no part of this; others want sharia* to be implemented and pursue long-term political and other methods to achieve it (or achieve it more fully); while others think they must use militant jihad to achieve this either immediately or in steps. *An average of approximately 71% of Muslims in Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia want a strict application of sharia in every Muslim country; 65% want an international caliphate to be set up (see World Public Opinion Survey, 2007). The establishment of Islamic rule, on whichever patch of land, and eventually of the whole earth, is the goal of the various militant and non-militant Islamist groups.

    All of that said, I agree with Ebonmuse on the general point: These are pernicious old memeplexes that are expressing themselves through their host agents in the present.

    Ebonmuse writes:
    Terrorism and religious zealotry cannot be defeated by force, neither at home nor abroad. What we need more than ever is for the voice of reason to prevail. In the short term, it’s a vital calming and guiding influence on leaders whose fingers hover over the nuclear button, and an essential counterpoint to the overheated raving of would-be holy warriors. But in the long term, it is beneficial as well. As many others have observed, the war over terrorism is fundamentally a battle of ideas: democracy against theocracy, liberty against authoritarianism, the future against the past, change against tradition, globalism against tribalism.

    Well, to be precise religious zealotry cannot be defeated by force alone. The use of force is necessary in regards to militant groups who leave us no other options. Improved security can certainly reduce the odds of terrorist attacks being carried out. The intelligence agencies of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany, and other countries have been, with some exceptions, successful in thwarting terrorist plots since 9/11 2001. For the voice of reason to prevail, we are going to have to do more to tackle the Islamists in the mosques and the schools, and pressure those countries where this is a problem. Argument is not enough; we need to use political and legal clout to implement the changes that are needed. We also have to get more involved in fighting Islamism within mosques and schools in western countries. Atheists and other non-religious people, within the wider context of arguing against religious fanaticism of all sorts, should keep doing what they are doing, speaking out, getting published, participating in secularist organizations, and hopefully getting elected to office. To continue what we (non-religious) people are doing, we are also going to have to continue to work hard to ensure that freedom of expression, including the right to criticize religions, is maintained and, where lost, reasserted and reestablished.

  • Vin

    The evidence that these men are part of either Al Quida (sic) or the Taliban comes from the fact that, while wearing civilian clothing, they were firing at American troops; many had IEDs. We are also told that there was useful information gathered that helped plot the death and capture of others. I agree the Bush administration messed this up as they should have had military trials years ago. A civilian trial is out of the question. They are not American citizens, nor were they caputured on American soil. The whole open process would force our country to reveal covert operations and hurt national security and put those operatives at risk. I’m curious as to what the Obama administraion will do with them.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    These aren’t altar boys here, the are harded terrorists.

    This may be foreign to your mindset, Vin, but in the United States of America, someone is not automatically guilty of something just because the government says he is. We have this thing called the Constitution which says that people accused of crimes have the right to a trial by jury, before a neutral judge, with a defense lawyer. They are allowed to call witnesses in their defense, they are allowed to see any evidence the government cites against them, and they are protected from cruel and unusual punishment.

    All these rights have been denied to Guantanamo prisoners, who are often prevented from speaking to their lawyers (if they are even permitted lawyers), who are prosecuted by military panels based on secret evidence they cannot see or defend themselves from, who cannot call witnesses in their own defense and who are tortured to extract confessions. All of this is a matter of record. It’s also why numerous military JAG lawyers have resigned in protest over the rigged, show-trial nature of the tribunals.

    The evidence that these men are part of either Al Quida (sic) or the Taliban comes from the fact that, while wearing civilian clothing, they were firing at American troops; many had IEDs.

    And you know this how? Do you have access to some source of information that the rest of us don’t? Please share.

    It’s a near certainty that many of these people were innocent Afghanis who were swept up in U.S. military dragnets, or turned over by their neighbors because of a personal vendetta. The government essentially admits this, which is why it has already released hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners without ever charging them with a crime (though also without apologizing or compensating them for their years of confinement). As for the ones who have been brought to trial, the government’s case has been shown to be so flimsy that even ultra-conservative, George W. Bush-appointed judges like Richard Leon, have ruled that the evidence against them is not credible enough even to justify their further detention.

    A civilian trial is out of the question. They are not American citizens, nor were they caputured on American soil.

    You’re wrong again, Vin. Jose Padilla, for example, is an American citizen who was arrested on American soil; the Bush administration still asserted the right to treat him as an enemy combatant and imprison him indefinitely without a trial or charges.

  • Adele

    During the Spanish Inquisition, torture was authorized when cases of “heresy” were “half-proven” – that is, an accusation had been put forth but no evidence had been gathered to support the accusation.

    In Guantanamo Bay, “half-proven” appears to mean that the subject is imprisoned, but neither an accusation nor any evidence has been put forth.

    You know you’re pretty backwards when you’re behind the Spanish Inquisition.

  • bestonnet

    Vin:

    The evidence that these men are part of either Al Quida (sic) or the Taliban comes from the fact that, while wearing civilian clothing, they were firing at American troops; many had IEDs.

    <sarcasm>Yeah, ah ha, that makes a lot of sense.</sarcasm>

    Vin:

    We are also told that there was useful information gathered that helped plot the death and capture of others.

    Yes, just as we were told there were still weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
    Vin:

    They are not American citizens, nor were they caputured on American soil.

    I should have expected it to get to that bad argument.

    If the US captures them then the US should try them under their legal system with all the rights that a US citizen has or give them to someone else who has jurisdiction.

    If the US government isn’t willing to try them under the same system they would try their own citizens then they shouldn’t even be in the business of holding them.

    The whole open process would force our country to reveal covert operations and hurt national security and put those operatives at risk.

    If they had fired upon American troops then getting evidence beyond a reasonable doubt would not require revealing covert operations until after the covert ops have been conducted (since it would still take months for the trial to start), in the few rare cases in which a trial may compromise national security then the accused should at least be well treated (i.e. as someone who might actually be innocent) until such time as a trail can be held.

    Vin:

    I’m curious as to what the Obama administraion will do with them.

    I’d expect them to try the few that they actually have evidence on in a civilian court and release the rest.

  • James Picone

    Vin: The assumption that someone shooting at American troops is a terrorist is plain wrong. The definition of ‘terrorism’ is fairly vague, so the word tends to get twisted into whatever any party wants it to be, but one of the base requirements is that a terrorist attacks civilians.

    Shooting at an invading army would be considered military action. I can quite easily imagine an Afghani civilian shooting at US troops, even without being connected to the Taliban.

    Plus, y’know, people like David Hicks, whose only crime was being trained by terrorists – there’s no evidence that he’s ever participated in any sort of terrorist activity.

  • Alex Weaver

    This may be foreign to your mindset, Vin, but in the United States of America, someone is not automatically guilty of something just because the government says he is.

    Surely you’re not suggesting that politicians might at times be less than scrupulously honest?!

  • Collossus of ‘Rhoids

    Moslems are the underclass in India, much like blacks in the ‘States were (before the civil rights movement). Until they receive equal treatment, they will continue to blow themselves up, kill people, etc. But then again, they don’t think they’re Indians, they think they’re moslems, so why should India treat them like Indians? 150 million moslems in India, receiving even worse treatment than the Christians. Me, I’d hate to believe in any god. But most people from the sub-continent look down on me for not believing in god, and they’ll never have my respect until they stop doing that and stop their friends and family from doing that. Also, moslems in India, I have news for you: Convert to Hinduism you idiots! It doesn’t matter in the long run what you believe because when you die, you cease to exist! Convert to Hinduism and scat all over the christians just like the hindus and christians scat all over you now.

  • Silver

    This site and it’s writings are as rabid as the *religious zealotry* that you cite. What’s the difference? You love atheism and these guys love Islam. 2 different *religions* but the same zealotry.

    Cheers

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I wasn’t aware that Ebon was blowing people up for his beliefs Silver.

  • Alex Weaver

    This site and it’s writings are as rabid as the *religious zealotry* that you cite. What’s the difference? You love atheism and these guys love Islam. 2 different *religions* but the same zealotry.

    Cheers

    Leaving aside the fact that atheism is no more a religion than “bald” is a hair color, you are apparently claiming that making arguments against religion on moral and logical grounds is morally equivalent to murdering people in order to intimidate or outright eliminate people the religious perceive as enemies.

    Making arguments is morally equivalent to murder.

    Were you dropped on your head as a child?!

  • bestonnet

    OMGF:

    I wasn’t aware that Ebon was blowing people up for his beliefs Silver.

    Neither was I, but I don’t watch FOX news (or can even get it here).

    Alex Weaver (directed at Silver):

    Were you dropped on your head as a child?!

    Whilst I don’t the answer I suspect that it was more a case of extreme brainwashing than actual brain damage (though that certainly can’t be ruled out).

  • http://stargazers-observatory.blogspot.com/ Stargazer1323

    If torturing an individual can save an impending attack like 9/11, then it is morally justified.

    I know the conversation has moved on, but I wanted to express an important opinion here. If we were to assume that torturing someone for information would prevent an attack, if it would absolutely save millions of lives, it may be justified, but it is NEVER moral. It would be a necessary evil if it were effective, but torture should never be considered a moral thing to do, because that takes away the responsibility of the torturers for harming other human beings. No matter how bad those being tortured were or what they might have done, causing them harm in return, even for information, cannot be a moral act. So, give me examples of the necessity or effectiveness of torture, if they exist, but please don’t claim that it is a moral thing to do.

  • Vin

    Stargazer, based on your point, I will agree and withdraw my statement about torture being morally OK. It can be, however, justified. Perhaps I am at odds with everyone else here, but I am steadfast in my opinion. I miss my 4 fellow workers at the Trade Center who worked in building operations. They moved in to help others get out. Perhaps if you were in my shoes, some of you could at least understand my position.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Vin,
    It’s natural to want vengeance for the lives lost, but it’s not a moral position. This is why in our justice system we don’t let wronged parties decide the fate of those who have wronged them.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Vin

    I miss my 4 fellow workers at the Trade Center who worked in building operations. They moved in to help others get out. Perhaps if you were in my shoes, some of you could at least understand my position.

    I think your personal position is very reflective of the way the American people felt collectively post 9/11. It is unfortunate that the U.S government felt the need to act vengefully rather than rationally. Opportunistically linking Al-Quaida to Saddam Hussein and deploying the might of America’s armed forces, may have made them and many U.S citizens feel better at the time but stopping to think about the consequences would have been better.

  • Alex Weaver

    It’s natural to want vengeance for the lives lost, but it’s not a moral position. This is why in our justice system we don’t let wronged parties decide the fate of those who have wronged them.

    Given that Vin still refuses to engage substantively the arguments and evidence presented to the effect that many if not most of the people being tortured are not only not producing or in a position to produce useful information but in fact are entirely innocent, I think there’s a more insidious “well, SOMEONE’S gonna pay” element at work here.

  • Vin

    Alex, if I can not prove that they are guilty, you can also not prove they are not. The whole situatino stinks.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I miss my 4 fellow workers at the Trade Center who worked in building operations. They moved in to help others get out. Perhaps if you were in my shoes, some of you could at least understand my position.

    How do you know whether anyone else posting in this thread lost friends or family at the WTC?

    Alex, if I can not prove that they are guilty, you can also not prove they are not.

    If you can’t recognize the fallacy of that statement, Vin, you have no right to call yourself an atheist.

  • Vin

    Ebon, thanks for letting me post my opinion. If anyone else here has lost friends on 9/11, I’d like to hear about it and share their stories. As to your secon comment, forgive me, but what does being an atheist have to do with it, I don’t understand.

  • Adele

    @ Vin – Christian apologists often use the same line of “you can’t prove God doesn’t exist” to justify their own belief. With all due respect, you sound exactly like them.

    Furthermore, in this country, those suspected of a crime are by law innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the accuser in every instance, and until the guilt of the prisoners can be proven, they are innocent.

    The guilt of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has not been proven to the satisfaction of any impartial observer – including, as Ebonmuse pointed out,

    ultra-conservative, George W. Bush-appointed judges like Richard Leon.

  • bestonnet

    Stargazer1323:

    If we were to assume that torturing someone for information would prevent an attack, if it would absolutely save millions of lives, it may be justified, but it is NEVER moral.

    If it actually does save lives and was necessary (or it could be reasonably supposed to have been necessary) to doing so then that would be enough to make it moral.

    Vin:

    Perhaps if you were in my shoes, some of you could at least understand my position.

    Whilst there may not be anyone else here who lost friends at the WTC I think we all know some victims of crime so we’ve probably all experienced the kind of wanting for revenge.

    Vin:

    if I can not prove that they are guilty, you can also not prove they are not.

    No, it’s assumed that they are not guilty unless it is proven otherwise, in criminal cases the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt.

    Besides, proving a negative is much harder (often impossible) than proving a positive, that’s why guilty until proven innocent is considered a very bad idea.

    Ebonmuse:

    If you can’t recognize the fallacy of that statement, Vin, you have no right to call yourself an atheist.

    Whilst it is an obvious fallacy and one that I would expect an atheist familiar with the arguments against theism to be aware of I don’t think it should take away one’s right to use the term atheist (though it should take away the right to call oneself rational or logical).

    Being an atheist is a necessary condition to being rational, but it is not sufficient.

  • http://stargazers-observatory.blogspot.com/ Stargazer1323

    If it actually does save lives and was necessary (or it could be reasonably supposed to have been necessary) to doing so then that would be enough to make it moral.

    bestonnet,

    Though I do not want to completely derail this thread, I would like to ask you to clarify your thoughts in regards to this statement.

    As a clarification of my own position, I consider the intentional harming of another person through torture to be an immoral act. If a moral result comes out of it, such as the saving of lives, that still does not make torture moral. In my opinion, a moral end does not imply a moral means to that end. Therefore, as I said before, if the torturing of an individual would definitely save lives, it may be a necessary evil, but it would still be an immoral act.

  • bestonnet

    A necessary evil is still the moral course of action to take if not doing it would result in an outcome that is worse.

    As a hypothetical situation not including torture, say you were in Mumbai during the terror attacks, hidden (so there would be no risk to yourself), with a sniper rifle (and we’ll assume you could use it pretty well) and could kill the gunmen (at that place) who were shooting people, would it be moral to do so? would it be moral to not do so?

    An ethical system which is blind to results is simply not worth using.

  • Lux Aeterna

    OMGF:
    “If they could show evidence that Allah exists, I would believe in Allah. Show them that Allah is logically contradictory, and they will probably try to kill you.”

    Precisely. We believe firmly in logic (“If they could show evidence that Allah exists, I would believe in Allah”) while they believe just as firmly in their religious scriptures (“Show them that Allah is logically contradictory, and they will probably try to kill you”), even if at the expense of logic.

    Alex Weaver:
    This is plainly and simply false, as OMGF and others have pointed out, and the notion that rationalists are “just as [negative adjective] as the religious fanatics” is a Big Lie I’m really getting tired of hearing – and the fact that you, an ostensible rationalist, are repeating it is presumably proof that the Big Lie principle works (assuming you’re sincere, of course). What is spun as rationalists being “deeply entrenched” in their views is simply an unavoidable consequence of the facts and the willingness to change one’s opinion in response to facts being lined up on the same side of the debate.

    I’m not talking about rationalists being entrenched in their opinions (etc. atheism, humanism), but our belief in logic itself. If we are talking about opinions, I of course agree that rationalists are certainly more accomodating to facts and evidences, and are certainly more likely to change our stance than religious fundamentalists.
    But nothing could sway us from our entrenched belief in approaching the world from a logical perspective, and in that sense, we are as firmly entrenched in logic as they are in their scriptures.

  • Lux Aeterna

    I think there’s been a lack of distinction between torture per se and torture at Guantanamo.

    Torture in Guantanamo should be stopped, as it is a hypocritical practice that goes against core American values. Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest that it does not work.

    However, what if we are certain that it will work, and that it can save lives (ie. The Bomb Dilemma)? While it will still be immoral, I will personally take the Utilitarian approach and choose to torture.

  • Leum

    The bomb dilemma is a red herring. Torture is nearly always ineffective, and situations in which the bomb dilemma exists (i.e. you know an attack’s about to come and that you have someone in custody who knows the specifics) are rare to the point of irrelevance.

    However, I agree with bestonnet and Lux Aeterna in principle, that torture could be morally justified and therefore be a morally correct option. I just don’t think such situations actually happen in real life.

  • Danny

    The blame for these terrorist really go to their parents. Think about it. These are terrorist less than 25 years of age. They must have heard strong opnion, heatred and vengence from their parents as tehy grew upin their formative years. After that the Muslim cleagy did the rest shaping up their values.

    Hate Hate. They are right and rest of the world is doing them wrong. so kill them!!

  • Alex Weaver

    Alex, if I can not prove that they are guilty, you can also not prove they are not. The whole situatino stinks.

    ….

    ……..

    “No one has to. The burden of proof is on the prosecution – the defendant doesn’t even have to open his mouth. That’s in the constitution.”

    Seriously, watch the movie I recommended.

  • Alex Weaver

    I’m not talking about rationalists being entrenched in their opinions (etc. atheism, humanism), but our belief in logic itself. If we are talking about opinions, I of course agree that rationalists are certainly more accomodating to facts and evidences, and are certainly more likely to change our stance than religious fundamentalists.
    But nothing could sway us from our entrenched belief in approaching the world from a logical perspective, and in that sense, we are as firmly entrenched in logic as they are in their scriptures.

    That’s more reasonable (pardon the aggressive pattern-matching) but I don’t think it’s correct. Our confidence in logic – mine, anyway – is derived not from an a priori commitment to that approach but from comparing the results of logical decision-making and belief-forming to the alternatives. It may be difficult to imagine a universe where logic would not obtain that “legitimacy by results”, but if it were shown to consistently mislead us it would be abandoned.

  • Vin

    Yes, I’ve seen the movie 12 Angry Men a few times…great movie. But that is a movie and not real life. We can assume these men in a court innocent till proven guilty. All I was saying is that the real guilt or innocence of these ‘men’ is not known. I will also add that making cell situations uncomfortable by sleep deprivation or temp. control is not torture. Torture is causing or attempting to cause pain, physical harm, or death to an individual. Threating to chop off a finger is torture. Disrupting sleep is not.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Uncomfortable positions and sleep deprivation are physically and psychologically harmful.

  • Vin

    Not compared to other more harmful things.

  • bestonnet

    So since punching you in the face is minor compared to cutting your head off, it’s not assault?

  • Silver

    Leaving aside the fact that atheism is no more a religion than “bald” is a hair color, you are apparently claiming that making arguments against religion on moral and logical grounds is morally equivalent to murdering people in order to intimidate or outright eliminate people the religious perceive as enemies.

    Making arguments is morally equivalent to murder.

    Were you dropped on your head as a child?!

    ======================

    no actually i’m saying that putting all *theists* in the same category as the terrorists is wrong. not to mention that the atheists are peaceful line is flawed considering that commies are officially atheists.

    and about being dropped on my head – that was a sharp observation. so much for logical rational debates. ciao.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Who put all theists in the same category as the terrorists? Even if that were the case, is it morally as bad as murdering someone for having the wrong imaginary friend?

    I’m not going to go into the communism thing, but nationalistic zealotry and megalomania are not rational either.

  • MS (Quixote)

    Being an atheist is a necessary condition to being rational

    No non-atheists are rational? I think it would sooner be true that all A and non-A are irrational.

  • Alex Weaver

    and about being dropped on my head – that was a sharp observation. so much for logical rational debates. ciao.

    When one does something like equating strongly worded arguments with mass murder, one has already forfeited the possibility of having a logical debate as well as any claim one might otherwise have had to being taken seriously. Whining about being treated like an idiot after acting like one doesn’t help your credibility.

  • Alex Weaver

    no actually i’m saying that putting all *theists* in the same category as the terrorists is wrong. not to mention that the atheists are peaceful line is flawed considering that commies are officially atheists.

    The first sentence is a strawman; the second has been addressed at length. While Marxism and its derivatives are technically “atheistic” in that they do not posit the existence of a god, they remain dogmas which are believed in blindly and from which dissent is punished, supposedly revealed by a great historical teacher whose followers have split into quarreling camps over whose interpretation of said teacher’s teaching is correct, which praise and encourage belief in magic (see their economic claims for details), which claim that a deterministic intangible driving force of which their followers have special understanding is behind historical events, and which treat their temporal leaders as messianic figures. In this, Communism is at least as much a “religion” as most forms of Buddhism.

  • bestonnet

    Silver:

    no actually i’m saying that putting all *theists* in the same category as the terrorists is wrong.

    Where did anyone do that?

    Silver:

    not to mention that the atheists are peaceful line is flawed considering that commies are officially atheists.

    There have been more than a few Christian communists throughout history and I highly doubt they were atheists.

  • Lux Aeterna

    Leum:
    “Torture is nearly always ineffective”
    Nope, ask the Japanese and Germans. Torture does work!

    “…, and situations in which the bomb dilemma exists (i.e. you know an attack’s about to come and that you have someone in custody who knows the specifics) are rare to the point of irrelevance.”

    No. This situation is aplenty in Israel and the middle east.

  • Silver

    Who put all theists in the same category as the terrorists? Even if that were the case, is it morally as bad as murdering someone for having the wrong imaginary friend?

    I’m not going to go into the communism thing, but nationalistic zealotry and megalomania are not rational either.

    ======================================

    agreed. to be very specific – i’m saying (and i probably should have been less cryptic) that violence has nothing to do with theism or atheism for that matter. it’s ingrained in humans.

    there have been atheists (and i’m not talking about a few religious commies) who were violent and there have been theists. some atheists for instance were not necessarily dogmatic (about atheistic beliefs – you know there are some) but they were violent nonetheless.

    you referenced the bronze age – there was cannibalism going on around that time. the reason why things were not on the scale they are today was not because of religion. it was because of the lack of technology. technology has made it possible to destroy lots of people much faster in so many ways and i think it’s pretty obvious how so i need not go into that.

    my wife read an account of the egyptian (?) guy in the US who’s widely accepted as the father of terrorism. he started out with hatred for americans because he didn’t like them spending time mowing lawns! where’s religion in that? sure it has evolved from there but then all islamic fundamentalists live either in pathetic conditions or in oppression (saudi arabia – is rich but there’s oppression) which will give rise to jealousy and hatred. it’s a natural human emotion. religion is just an excuse then. proof of this is malaysia – a peaceful islamic nation. why? because they are not only reasonably prosperous but also quite broad minded. why would people leading a comfortable life want to indulge in violence and waste their time?

    i’m not sure i need to discuss this further – because i think if you are reasonable (and i hope you are) you will accept these arguments to be true. so i’ll bow out of this discussion now.

  • Alex Weaver

    Leum:
    “Torture is nearly always ineffective”
    Nope, ask the Japanese and Germans. Torture does work!

    Torture is notoriously ineffective at eliciting reliable information. It is very effective at causing fear and breaking psyches.

    “…, and situations in which the bomb dilemma exists (i.e. you know an attack’s about to come and that you have someone in custody who knows the specifics) are rare to the point of irrelevance.”

    No. This situation is aplenty in Israel and the middle east.

    If you had enough information to know you had the right guy and what he was telling you was true, there would be no need to torture him in the first place. If there’s a bomb about to go off, acting on false information a victim made up so that you’d be satisfied and stop torturing him is about the worst thing you could do. Why is this so hard to grasp?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Silver,
    I see you ignored a couple things. Who put all theists into the same category as atheists? Even if someone did that, how is that morally equal to murdering someone for not having the same beliefs?

    As for what you actually wrote:

    some atheists for instance were not necessarily dogmatic (about atheistic beliefs – you know there are some) but they were violent nonetheless.

    What atheistic beliefs? Atheism is the denial of beliefs. And, who are you talking about, and what do you mean by “not necessarily dogmatic” when it comes to atheism?

    Now, I happen to agree with you (I think I’m agreeing) that it’s not so simple as claiming that religion is the only thing that drives this terrorism. You are correct, IMO, to point out the economic issues as well, as they are an important part of the equation. That said, when the religious teachings are about hatred and violence, and incite to violence as current fundamentalist Muslim teachings are/do, then you can’t simply shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, there are other factors and humans are regularly violent, so what?”

    Finally, your parting shot that either we accept what you say or else we are unreasonable is ridiculous.

  • bestonnet

    Alex Weaver:

    If you had enough information to know you had the right guy and what he was telling you was true, there would be no need to torture him in the first place. If there’s a bomb about to go off, acting on false information a victim made up so that you’d be satisfied and stop torturing him is about the worst thing you could do. Why is this so hard to grasp?

    Because if it were to be grasped all possibility of torture ever being justified disappears.

  • Alex Weaver
  • Adele

    Thanks for the article, Alex Weaver – it was fascinating. It’s wonderful to know that there are those out there who don’t buy into torture. Then again… one person willing to torture another is too many.