Andrew Sullivan on ‘High-Minded Nonsense’ of Liberals on Tsarnaev Brothers

There has been a swirl of debate around what might or might not have been the motivations behind the Boston bombing attacks allegedly carried out by the Tsarnaev brothers, but one voice has stood out to me in this discussion: that of Andrew Sullivan‘s.

Sullivan began by confronting the garment-rending of Glenn Greenwald, accusing him of “left-liberal self-parody.”

[T]o dismiss the overwhelming evidence that this was also religiously motivated — a trail that now includes a rant against his own imam for honoring Martin Luther King Jr. because he was not a Muslim — is to be blind to an almost text-book case of Jihadist radicalization

To state today that we really still have no idea what motivated him and that rushing toward the word Jihadist is some form of Islamophobia seems completely bizarre to me.

When will some understand how dangerous religious fundamentalism truly is? And when will they grasp that a religion that does not entirely eschew violence (like the Gospels or Buddhism) will likely produce violence when its extremist loners seek meaning in a bewildering multicultural modern world? This was an act of Jihad.

He later dips into the hubbub as to whether Sam Harris and other “New Atheists” are critical of Islam to the point of racism or bigotry. Now, Sullivan and Harris have long been at odds theologically, having a few years back engaged in a fascinating (and often testy) written debate on the subject of religion. But when Harris started being attacked by folks such as Greenwald, Sullivan sided with Sam. He first quotes Harris, who says:

[E]ven if Noam Chomsky were right about everything, the Islamic doctrines related to martyrdom, jihad, blasphemy, apostasy, the rights of women and homosexuals, etc. would still present huge problems for the emergence of a global civil society.

To which Sullivan says:

How can one seriously deny that? All religions contain elements of this kind of fanaticism. But Islam’s fanatical side — from the Taliban to the Tsarnaevs — is more murderous than most.

Later, Kevin Drum carries the “we don’t know yet” flag as to whether the attacks were religiously motivated, and Sullivan calls it “high-minded nonsense.”

We know full well that Tamerlan had become a total extremist in his religion. He was thrown out of his own mosque for being a bigot; his family complained about his obsessive religiosity; he berated others for not being sufficiently devout; he had archaic notions of women’s role in society; he gave up his beloved boxing because of Islam. His YouTube account is full of Islamist extremism. And he deployed terrorist violence because of it.

That’s Jihad, Kevin. It’s religion in its most toxic form

[J]ust as silly as jumping to conclusions prematurely is the posture of aloof skepticism when the bleeding obvious is staring right at you. This was religious violence — the most terrifying any can be, because its perpetrators believe that God Almighty is protecting them.

Now, why am I focusing on Sullivan? First off, I’m an enormous admirer of his writing (whether I agree with him all the time or not), and I’m particularly interested in the perspective of a man who is such a contradiction on the surface: nominally conservative, gay, deeply Catholic but against the church hierarchy, etc. He is a vociferous defender of the virtues of faith, but also coldly realistic about its dark side.

I’m not saying I have any particular understanding or position of the alleged bombers’ motivations myself. But I am very wary of liberals’ sensitivity overreach that sometimes wades into irrational forms of ill-founded tolerance, and I will also say that when Andrew Sullivan links arms with Sam Harris, I’m going to pay attention very closely.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    I’m an enormous admirer of his writing

    you lost me there, paul. sorry, barebacking andy is a hypocrite, a liar, and a fool. he’s not worthy of respect, or anything else of value. do some research. he’s scum.

    • Sean Lissemore

      I’m sure Mehta has. I would say him being scum is the exact reason why Mehta appreciates his work. If you look at the other sort of shady characters this blog has promoting it makes perfect sense.

      • ortcutt

        This wasn’t written by Hemant. Always check the byline.

        • Sean Lissemore

          Then this no-name is an Islamophobe as well

          • RobMcCune

            So long as you have a vendetta against whoever he is.

    • Charles Honeycutt

      I give him a point for having his people put together that “The Strange Lies of Sarah Palin” post years ago. Now if only they’d do that for more people…

  • Gus Snarp

    … a religion that does not entirely eschew violence (like the Gospels or Buddhism) …

    I’d feel better about this sort of thing if he didn’t feel the need to insert bullshit phrases like this.

    • John Small Berries

      Yeah, it’s a bit of intellectual dishonesty there. Last time I checked, “the Gospels” wasn’t a religion (nor is violence entirely eschewed in them, either).

    • baal

      Right. The Gospels might be anti-violence but you’d never know it looking at the Neo-cons or dominionists.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        The Gospels aren’t anti-violence at all, though.

    • Rain

      I read it as: The Gospels or Buddhism does not entirely eschew violence. I guess he’s dumber than I thought, and my reading skills are worse than I thought too.

      • RobMcCune

        Or for Sullivan all bad things from one religion fall into one category while all the bad things from other religions or faith in general fall into an entirely different category.

    • Sean Lissemore

      Buddhist monks have been shown to be just as brutal and violent as any Muslim cleric (e.g. Tibetan feudalism or the 969 movement in Myanmar).

  • Anne

    I respect Sully, but he’s gotten knee-jerk on this subject. Whenever someone points out a contributing factor beyond Islam he trips over himself to put them down. When someone suggested checking for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Sully lept with

    “Anything but Jihad. Yes, we can explore every angle, but this is almost a parody of liberal wish-mongering. Tamerlan’s brain was damaged by religious fanaticism and fundamentalism.”

    He’s blind to the idea that it can be Islam + brain damage, or Islam plus any number of things. The Tsarneav family was unhinged in a ton of ways, and the older brother had a tendency towards violence that would probably manifest if he were a Hare Krishna (although hopefully not this explosively, pardon the phrase). To point these things out doesn’t mean people are being blind to the role of religion, just noting that these things are often complex. Considering that Dzhokhar is reported to be answering questions from his hospital bed with nods and shakes of the head to questions posed by others, his confirmation that Islam was involved is hardly proof that Islam is the only thing involved.

    Sully’s reactions, dismissing any discussion of non-religious factors as “liberal wish-mongering”, make it sound like he’s being deliberately blind to anything that doesn’t fit his own neat little box.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

      I read the TIME article about Tamerlan possibly having CTE. Then I read the comments and my IQ plummeted.

    • Charles Honeycutt

      Looking at Sullivan on Islam, I’m starting to think that we need to drop traditional descriptive terms like “liberal” and “conservative” and find ones that mean perhaps “understands the concepts of nuance and complexity” and “does not understand the concepts of nuance and complexity.”

      • Ders

        As long as some things can be simple and straight-forward. I suspect that Tsarnaev could come out and say “this was religiously motivated” and people would still be skeptical. If this was a Christian bombing a freethinkers conference everybody on this site would be jumping all over the religious motivation and they would probably be right. Sometimes a spade is really a spade.

        • Anne

          Some times it is, but how will you know if you, like Sully, tune out anything that’s not a spade. Say, hypothetically, that there’s a scale where 100 points makes you a killer. We know that religion alone, even extremist religion, doesn’t get you to 100 points because tons of religious people don’t kill, but maybe gets you to 70. It’s still worth asking about the other 30, and asking about those 30 doesn’t negate the 70 on the table. The more I read about these brothers the more I’m convinced that they didn’t necessarily have the same motives. Even if religion factored heavily with both of them, and I think it did, it did so in very different ways. Just saying “it was religiously motivated” doesn’t help us learn anything, it shuts learning down.

  • timberwraith

    I will also say that when Andrew Sullivan links arms with Sam Harris, I’m going to pay attention very closely.

    Yeah, me too! That takes Andrew Sullivan down many, many notches in my book.

  • Simon

    On the one hand, you have folks who want to wait until we have credible reports, preferably from a suspect not under duress and who are skeptical of “anonymous government officials”. On the other hand we have Andrew Sullivan.

    • aoscott

      Well said!

    • Pseudonym

      Sullivan accuses others of “overreach”. You have now consumed your RDI of irony.

  • Rain

    I thought I remembered Sullivan sounding like an idiot in the Harris debate. Maybe I didn’t read all the way through it. (Yeah I know it’s customary for freethought bloggers to fawn over Sullivan, yeah I know. Just doin’ your duty.)

  • Lina Baker

    I ask again – why is Islam being singled out as more violent than other religions? The Old Testament is FAR more violent, and endorses violence far more passionately, than the Koran. No question, fundamentalist, extremist Islam played a role in these brothers feeling justified in killing – just as fundamentalist, extremist Chrisitianity plays a role in people feeling justified in killing, not just hundreds of years ago, but today, right now. For Andrew Sullivan to smugly claim that Christianity is somehow safer/not as crazy – sorry, the facts stand in the way of such thinking. And one need only to pay attention to what’s happening now in Myamar to see what happens when Buddhists feel the same kind of religious justification/superiority that Sullivan and others are claiming is somehow exclusive to Muslims.

    • http://twitter.com/ombakrobert Robert

      Because we’re talking about 2013 and actions that occur in our day and age, not about potential. The people who point out that Islam is a factor will gladly point out Christianity is a factor in abortion murders for example.
      There is no doubt other religions are safer, relatively speaking even if
      1. They are still dangerous.
      2. They are tame compared to just how dangerous they could potentially be.

      • Sean Lissemore

        You seem to be saying that a correlation implies a causation. Could not socioeconomic status, education, political etc. factors rather than religion might explain why Muslims commit acts of violence. How are you so sure it is religion rather than a whole host of other factors is the cause?

        Just because you want to believe something is true, does not necessarily make it true.

        • Pseudonym

          “Racism causes violence” doesn’t help people who rely on racism for re-election.

        • http://twitter.com/ombakrobert Robert

          I don’t claim religion is the only factor in getting there, only that it is one of the ways that you can get a little further.

        • LardMasterFlashForReal

          > Could not socioeconomic status, education, political etc

          All of the London bombers were engineers and lawyers. All of the 911 bombers had college degrees – most of them Masters. OBL was extremely wealthy and well educated. Socio-economic issues don’t apply in these (important) cases.

          The question you could ask yourself is whether or not we’d know of OBL (or the Boston brothers) if they were Lutherans. I rather doubt it. At the very least we’re seeing Islam as a component if not a blatant motivator. *If* you accept the idea that belief systems motivate actions, then you must necessarily care about the specifics of a belief system. Islam – as it is practiced by some – does incite murder. Call them extremists if you like, but they call themselves Muslims. IOW, what matters is what the belief system means to them and what it inspires them to do.

          Yes, of course political issues are part of it. But the justification for murder comes from the tenets of the faith. Saying there are more moderate Muslims does not change this unfortunate fact. Obviously not all Muslims are plotting murder; most are moderate decent folks just like the rest of the world. So what? That’s not a good reason to ignore their unpleasant fellow Muslims who’d like to blow you up over a cartoon.

          Yes, of course political issues are part of it. But it’s possible Islam is the destructive agent in that mix.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Christianity is no better than Islam. One might possibly be able to argue that Islam causes more death by sheer act of one person killing another, maybe, but that’s about it. They both have the same amounts of blood on their hands. Christianity is just more indirect about it.

    • Blacksheep

      Extremist Christianity plays a role in feeling justified in killing”…absolutely true, the difference is that “extremist Christians” can’t back up their actions with Christian (NT) teachings. Radical Muslims can indeed back up viloent actions with the koran. That’s why it scares me – I can call out a Christian and point to Christ’s teachings, not so with the koran. Violence in the OT is often in the form of a violent story – or about God’s judgement – not instruction for believers to kill others. And Christianity is based on the “New” Testament – which literally means that there is a new paradigm that we live by. Christ went so far as to update our understanding of the Ten Commandments:

      “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, “Thou shalt not kill;” and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say unto you, “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…”

      • Sean Lissemore

        Actually the Torah is replete with references sanctioning sex slavery. Does that mean Jews are pimps?

      • Charles Honeycutt

        It has been pointed out to you over and over again that the Bible can be read legitimately in multiple ways, and that major sects do so. The believers who interpret it differently from you can come right back at you with their own quotes when you try that. Stop acting like your Scotsman argument works. You are not the magic gatekeeper of Christianity.

      • Baby_Raptor

        So only Blacksheep truly knows the bible. Everyone who disagrees with him in any way is wrong. All hail the prophet!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    And when will they grasp that a religion that does not entirely eschew violence (like the Gospels or Buddhism)

    “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34

    • Charles Honeycutt

      Unlike a lot of things in the Bible, that one is a clear metaphor.

      The three verses following it are pretty fucking vile.

  • ortcutt

    We need to acknowledge that ideas are powerful things. As a liberal person, it never ceases to disappoint me when other other liberals ignore the impact that religion has on motivating violence. I find Andrew Sullivan generally odious, but he’s right once in a while.

  • LouisDoench

    I don’t see the great writing in Sullivan. Was it back when he called liberals who were against the invasion of Iraq fifth columnists? Oh yeah, good time that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1151983040 facebook-1151983040

    The gospels may eschew violence, but Christians do not only attend to the New Testament. So, they don’t get a pass on the violence front. Other than that, I agree that many liberals responded in a ridiculous way, some calling the lock down of the city “a fascist police state” and other raising questions about whether the suspects were even the ones who did the bombing. And there are people on my FB page, that I would never have suspected to be so irrational.

    • Carpinions

      Perhaps on the “police state” claim, but on the suspect wait-and-see, I saw some saying that before we had reasonable suspects, and also in backlash against the obviously false reports of a Saudi man’s involvement. I didn’t see that charge as irrational at all.

  • timberwraith

    Glenn Greenwald has written another installment in this ongoing discussion. It is, in part, a response to Sullivan and others like him. Greenwald discusses how US aggression in the Middle East has served as the primary motivation in several terrorist attacks on the US, rather than religious ideology. He provides numerous quotes, from the perpetrators themselves. Be forewarned, however: it’s a bit long.

    • http://twitter.com/ombakrobert Robert

      I think Harris and others acknowedge that US action in the middle East contributes to these problem. I don’t see anyone claiming that it is Islam on its own that pushes people to do things.
      But how does that deal with the idea that Islam pushes people just a tad further than other religions whether it’s the hypothetical example using Jainism x Islam or the real one using Christianity today which is pretty bad but not as bad as it was before Western enlightenment cut into its power and influence.
      It may seem like a small difference in potential but in fact it is an important one.

      • timberwraith

        I think nationalism and political brainwashing serve as an effective substitute in bringing Western people to violence against other nations. Shall we compare that with the versions of Islam that encourage people to defend their homelands against US violence? I seem to recall super-majorities of the US public supporting two different wars in Iraq (remember the 90s?) in spite of both being quite unjust.

        And the US is supposedly a “Christian nation”. It spreads its bullshit a little differently that Islamic nations, but it’s still efficient at getting its people to support mass death.

        And if you on the other side of this equation, and you are fighting an enemy who spends so much of its economic resources on military technology, you can’t exactly fight that foe militarily, can you?

        So, what would you do if your homeland and/or culture was being obliterated by a country of such awe inspiring military force?

        • Art

          Both Iraq wars unjust? Iraq II, for sure, but not Iraq I: Iraq invaded itKuwait, remember, and the UN approved pushing Iraq out again. Some of the things done were criminal–like the slaughter of the retreating Iraqis–but the war itself was legitimate.

          • timberwraith

            The US favored Iraq’s prior aggressions with Iran when it suited US needs and declared war upon Iraq when Iraq’s later aggressions were disapproved of. It was yet another installment of moving political and military chess pieces on an oil-rich chessboard. And then, there was the massive diplomatic blunder of the US ambassador, just prior to the invasion of Kuwait, declaring the the US was neutral on Arab-Arab conflicts. When the invasion happened? Not so neutral, after all. More people died in the Middle East at the hands of the US military and memories were created of the US being the fucked up, capricious military bully that it usually is.

            That’s the short story.

        • http://twitter.com/ombakrobert Robert

          I agree I would likely use guerilla tactics. I don’t think that’s at issue. I would use underhanded tactics too, I would engage in immoral acts for something I considered right.

          That doesn’t resolve the issue, it complicates it.

          Religion is a part of the equation and it’s not a part that cancels out when comparing it to other religions. It could, hypothetically, but it doesn’t in our world today.

          If you want to argue the economy and other situations get you to a certain point, I will agree with you. If you want to argue that what a specific religion teaches is irrelevant in getting you any measure further than all those circumstances, or all those circumstances + a different religion, then we disagree.

          • timberwraith

            What I would argue is that how a religion develops, which parts of its texts are emphasized, which parts are ignored, how that religion is implemented in its host culture and on, and on, can not be divorced from larger social, economic, political, and geopolitical forces. To do a blunt, simplistic comparison of all of the sects of one religion with that of another erases the larger history in which those religions, as they are currently expressed, are embedded.

            This is what I see a lot of people doing, both atheist and non-atheist and that’s a problem. It’s a problem because such simplistic perspectives are then used on a society wide basis to justify violence, prejudice, and suppression of those people who are on the losing end of a malformed argument. Political, economic, and military action then follow that collective understanding.

            Which is what we’ve had decades of already. And the fact that “New Atheists” who I once considered to be a part of “my tribe” are a part of this larger pattern is really quite discouraging.

            • http://twitter.com/ombakrobert Robert

              I agree that which parts of a religion get emphasized cannot be divorce from the circumstances that society developed in.

              I also think that it’s important not to exempt that religion or society for the violent religious differences because of HOW they came to be emphasized.

              Tackling the problem involves tackling all fronts, including problems like religious extremism which might not have gotten so bad but for reactions to outside influence but which nonetheless is a real problem than can be dealt with while others tackle the other issues. It’s like talking about a lot of other things in secular humanism – just cause we haven’t solved all the other problems doesn’t mean we can’t frankly talk about this particular one.

      • Sean Lissemore

        The Catholic Church is a hot bed of pedophiles. How is Islamic extremism significantly worse?

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

          Your analogy makes no sense. Catholic priests are not motivated by their religion to molest children. There’s nothing in Catholic theology that says it’s okay to have sex with a child. If there were, and pedophiles were abusing children because they believed it was what their god wanted them to do and justified their actions by pointing to verses in their holy book, then it would be a comparable analogy.

          • Sean Lissemore

            Wrong. The priests weren’t motivated by religion, but the bishops and Cardinals were. The leaders in the Catholic Church hid and moved around dangerous pedophiles to protect the “good name” of Catholicism. And in many instances after the priests were moved to a different diocese they raped and tortured again. The leadership of the Catholic Church not only obstructed justice but were an accessory to pedophilia in the name of religion.

            Yet you are making all sorts of excuses for this particular religion, but you and others here are relentless in attacking Islam. You’re bias is showing. Some may call such bias Islamophobia.

            • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

              You know, it’s difficult to have a discussion when you constantly accuse anyone who disagrees with you of bigotry. I did not even mention Islam in my comment. I merely pointed out a faulty analogy. Apparently no one is allowed to say anything at all without being accused of Islamophobia.

              The Catholic church is a vile institution, but I find it hard to believe your claim that they were motivated by theology to cover up sexual abuse. They were motivated by the desire to protect the reputation of their church. Their theology condemns all sexual contact outside of marriage, which would obviously include abuse of children. The hierarchy is explicit about the fact that sexual abuse is wrong. Neither the priests molesting children, nor those who covered it up, were motivated by the teachings of their holy book to do so.

              • Sean Lissemore

                I said the priests weren’t religiously motivated when they were raping children.

                Now with regard to protecting the reputation of the Church, I promise you that was all motivated by their religion. The whole point of the cover-up was to protect the good name of Catholicism. The distinctions you are making for what constitutes “religious motivation” seems very arbitrary and convenient for your argument.

                Moreover, Islam expressively forbids killing non-combatants especially women and children. Period. Yet why aren’t you making these same “No true Scotsman” excuses for Islam? Like I said you are biased precisely because of your Islamophobia.

                • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

                  It’s obviously impossible to have any type of productive discussion with you. You accuse everyone of Islamophobia.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bob.level.92 Bob Level

      The fundamentalists can always say they are retaliating for some action whether real or imagined and use that to justify more attacks. The simple act of not being Muslim is justified by the hard-liners in the Koran to warrant murder.

      • timberwraith

        And we can ignore the impact of the sheer level of carnage imposed by US dominated geopolitics in the name of “freedom” and “democracy”. Secular religious violence meets Eastern religious violence… and the blood shall continue to flow.

  • mikespeir

    So, what now, now that we’ve established that it was religion that motivated them? I think that’s the problem. Because we don’t really have a good answer to that issue we’d rather assume we just don’t know the reason.

  • Art

    There seems to be some pretty muddled thinking in some of these comments.

    In most European countries, nominal Christians are really post-Christians who support liberal, secularism. The US, Canada, Australia & New Zealand are pluralistic, liberal, secular societies; we’ve bumped against each other, and worn off a lot of the sharp edges. We’re far from perfect, but we’ve built open societies with lots of rights and freedoms.

    On the other hand, most Muslims, for no fault of their own, have been immersed in a single religion from birth; they’ve been educated exclusively by that religion; and it’s baked in deep.

    Any where in Europe, the US or Canada you can stand up and proclaim atheism if you wish, you can argue with religious people, and try to draw them away from their faith. Go try that in any Muslim–let alone Islamist–country. Good luck.

    Islam is NOT a religion like any other: it is world-wide; it is intolerant of criticism; it is narrow; and it contains a slice that is quick to resort to horrific violence. (But it too is subject to attacks by other religious extremists, to wit, events in India and Myanmar.)

    But some people seem to want to be wilfully blind to the evidence: numerous, horrific bombings between Islamic sects in Iraq & Pakistan; the bombings in London; the bombing in Madrid; the attack in Mumbai; 9-11; attempted bombings in Canada; mosque-inspired marches of hatred over Salman Rushdie and the Danish cartoons all over Britain & Europe; and now Boston.

    Can anyone come up with such an extensive list of Christian, or Jewish, or Hindu atrocities? (It might be fair to point out US drone attacks.) But any other world-wide, religion-inspired, havoc? No. Muslim-related terrorism is the worst problem today.

    It would be fair enough to raise certain things as being the CAUSE of so much Muslim hatred: the criminal US/British attack on Iraq; the ongoing war (by nominally Christian nations) in Afghanistan; the presence of US military bases in Muslim countries; the US/British support of tyrants across the Middle East; the imposition by the US of the Shah in Iran; the whole history of colonialization and exploitation by France/Britain/US; the one-sided support of Israel; and the ongoing drone attacks. So if anyone wishes to countenance Muslim terrorism by reference to these sins of the West, say so. But don’t even try to deny that we are currently beset by Muslim terrorism.

    • sunburned

      Islam IS a religion like any other. The difference is the amount of legitimacy it is given because of the various theocracies that have adopted it throughout the world. Do you really think that if fundamentalist sects of Christianity were to rise in power that we would have the ability to “stand up and “proclaim atheism” if you wish/ed? I guess it wouldn’t have to even be fundamentalist sects if history is any indication.

      As for the list of Christian atrocities… It’s not really that hard. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_terrorism#By_country

      “But don’t even try to deny that we are currently beset by Muslim terrorism.”

      We are not beset by Muslim terrorism…..we are beset by terrorism. If you remove the religious justification for terrorist attacks, you still have the attacks happening for the same reasons with different justifications.

  • timberwraith
    • ortcutt

      You do realize that there is a difference between “killed by Christians” and “killed by Christians motivated by Christianity”. People pull the same bait-and-switch against atheists in terms of the millions killed by Stalin and Mao. Sure, they were atheists, but was their lack of belief in a deity what motivated them to kill? No.

      • timberwraith

        Yes, I do. And I still think it’s valid to compare the violence between the two. We are loosing our shit over one religion, which is particularly effective at motivating its followers to fight Western violence while ignoring the violence of Western culture. The hypocrisy is immense.

        • ortcutt

          I don’t know why you keep equating “the West” with certain religions. I am not a Christian. The West is not of any “religious origins”. I have no religion.

          • timberwraith

            Actually, I equate “the West” with a history of colonialist domination which has and continues to destabilize entire countries and cultures across the globe in the pursuit of financial largess. It has historically used Christianity to justify that violence. It now uses secular ideologies to do so. That is, until the prior decade came along with the wonders of George W. Bush, et. al. But, ultimately, it’s still about money, power, and natural resources. Christianity, from the an oligarch’s perspective, is usually just a tool used to manipulate the masses.

            • timberwraith

              Oh my, lots of typos. Gah.

              • timberwraith

                A downvote because I recognizing that I made typos? Wow.

          • timberwraith

            And yes, I realize that in other historical eras, other parts of the globe have served as the seat of empire. It just so happens that Western nations currently hold the collective reigns of power… and that will change in time as well.

        • http://twitter.com/ombakrobert Robert

          Or, some people are ignoring the Western history of colonialization, others are taking it for granted and still others are not ignoring it nor taking it for granted.

          Then separately some people are ignoring the influence of specific religious ideas and others are not ignoring those.

          And these are separate groups adressing separate issues, both valid (religion is a valid issue to bring up and Western influence is a valid issue to bring up). Unfortunately group that criticizes religion has a weird overlap with other groups that are racist or xenophobic and so on, leading other people to oversimplify and strawman or discard the religious issue entirely when it absolutely is one factor.

          • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

            Not to excuse Western imperialism in any way, but how exactly was it different than, say, the Ottoman Empire? That was one of the biggest and longest running empires in the entire world. Even up until WWI, torture was a standard method to get people to confess and to punish them for their crimes in prison.

            Do we remind ourselves that the Turks fucked up history and the world map and entire societies? No. We don’t. We exclude any other empire but our own empires because it’s somehow not very acceptable to blame the Ottomans, or any other empire, because for some reason they’re listed as “poor indigenous peoples”.

            So they get a pass. Well, not with me.

      • Sean Lissemore

        How about the mass pedophilia perpetuated by the Catholic Church. Pray tell, how is Islamic terrorism significantly worse?

  • http://www.dougberger.net Doug B.

    Was it a particular religious book that told the brothers to do this? I don’t see it any different than the Troubles in Northern Ireland where the one side happened to be Catholic and the other side Protestant. The Troubles was all about power and it is the same with militant Muslims just as it was with the Haganah killing Arabs and British soldiers to gain control of Israel. I just think it is false argument to say Islam is more murderous than any other religion.

    • Blacksheep

      here’s a link to the violent passages in the koran:

      http://www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Themes/jihad_passages.html

      Christians are violent sometimes, no doubt. The big difference is that a Christian can’t back up his violence with scripture, a muslim can. Christ’s teachings are non violent, and any talk of judgement, etc. is in the context of God – not telling people to kill / punish / seek revenge.

      I’m very non-judgemental / Libertarian in my views, but it’s not accurate to say that islam is no more violent than other religions. I think it factually is.

      • GCT

        This is just wrong. Luke 19:27 “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” for just one example.

        Xians can and have backed up their violence with scripture for hundreds of years.

    • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

      You’re completely ignoring that Israel’s majority of Hagannah soldiers at the time were not only secular, but even atheist communists who utterly rejected religion. They were seen as blasphemers by most in the religious community. You should read “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok. Israel’s founders were mostly very secular or agnostic atheists. The founder of Zionism, Herzl, was an avowed atheist and utterly loathed religion. David Ben Gurion was an agnostic atheist.

      Most of them were not motivated by religious doctrines. In fact, they made a point of rejecting them.

      • http://www.dougberger.net Doug B.

        It doesn’t matter if they were motivated by their religious beliefs or not and that is my point. We get into this debate about which religion is worse and we get distracted about the real problem. People did these horrible acts. If we focus on only the religions then we end up setting up bigotry and discrimination against people who don’t blow other people up who happen to be that particular religion. That is the conclusion we want to avoid.

        • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

          Actually, I agree with you in part. But unfortunately, it’s not the part which matters to me right now.

          The reason I bring this up is that what you were doing is the equivalent of the right wing when they say that the US was founded for religious reasons with religious philosophies.

          It wasn’t. We, as atheists, argue against this point every day. We point out to the very salient fact that our founding fathers were, by and large, secularists. They were not motivated by religious principles on the whole. Naturally, there were some who were religious amongst them, but this was not their overriding philosophy.

          It is a very common misconception on both the right and left, but I think especially on the left in atheist circles, that Israel was founded in some sort of zealously religious moment. But it wasn’t. It was, in fact, founded by the secularists; the atheists; the liberals and the left.

          People forget that today because they see a growing religious community and they tend to link that to the foundation of the state. They think that it’s a religious war on both sides. But it wasn’t and it isn’t.

          In fact, one of the reasons that you had such animosity from the Arab side to the original zionists was that they were not typical Jews. They hated religion, they had equality for men and women, they did not cover themselves completely in public, and a whole host of other grievances of a religious nature. I’m not saying that all those people were completely devoid of religion, but most of them were. They were, in fact, declared as outcasts from the rest of the Jewish communities of the world at the time.

          This is as important a point as it is to say that the original founders of the United States were not religious zealots either.

          I run across this mistake online time and time again, and I really feel as if I have to set the record straight. It was only after 1967 that the religious started “supporting” Israel. They essentially hijacked the conversation, and I’m a bit pissed off at them for doing so.

  • Sean Lissemore

    By the way things are going on this blog I expect Mehta’s next post on this subject to be “Why Multiculturalism is Evil.”

  • Sean Lissemore

    According to Mehta when a Muslim commits an act of violence it is representative of their entire religion, but when a Christian like Eric Rudolph does it then they are just a lone wolf. But he is definitely not Islamophobic!!!

  • Sean Lissemore

    I have a genuine question for Mehta or his supporters. If this blog somehow existed during the Medieval age when Islam was the religion of science and learning and Christianity was the religion of ignorance and brutality, wouldn’t the things you are saying about Islam right now are the things you would be saying about Christianity back then?

    Wouldn’t that necessarily mean that some other factors rather than the type of religion makes a certain religious group violent?

    • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

      I’m so tired of this stupid little canard. “Oh, look at Andalusia!” and “Oh! Look at Baghdad!”. This is complete hogwash.

      Yes, it is true that there were cultural centers of learning in the “Muslim world” at the time, but it is also true that the vast majority of those lands were not cultural learning centers. Most places in the “Muslim world” at that time were just as brutal and backwards as “Christendom”. But we don’t talk about this because we focus on where the records were kept and how wonderful they were and we weren’t, because we still hang our heads over the Crusades.

      So why then was there a call for the Crusades? Well, the reason that most people appear to think there were a Crusades was fanatical religiosity. And while that is true for most of the Crusades, it is not how they were started. Pope Urban II didn’t get the idea out of thin air, you know. He got the idea because of the constant assault on Constantinople by Muslim forces. I assure you that these forces were not simply neighbors knocking at the gate and asking for a cup of sugar.

      And how do you think that the “Muslim world” became the “Muslim world” so fast? It’s because it spread mostly all by conquest. It is true that some of it was a peaceful spread, but that was not the majority.

      And I’d further like to add that three hundred years before any Crusader set foot on “Muslim land”, the Christians were trying desperately to throw out the Muslim invaders from their lands – completely unprovoked, mind you. Those Muslims soldiers slaughtered and killed a great number of people at the time and converted, by the sword, a great number of people.

      So before you start blasting Christianity alone for the horrors and ignorance which happened during the middle ages, you might want to lump Islam in there as well.

      I’m not excusing Christianity at all, but I’m also certainly not going to cherish “The Flower of Islam” as if it shit streams of enlightened silk pages in its wake.

      • Sean Lissemore

        Sorry but you clearly don’t know what you are talking about. The leaders in the Arab world that were benefactors towards learning and science. The leadership in the Christian world were slaves to the Catholic Church.

        Moreover, there was a lot more tolerance in the Arab world. Maimonades, a great Jewish thinker and physcian, was one of the most important advisors to the sultans in Egypt. Whereas, Jews were banned from participating in government in Europe. Furthermore, when Saladin reconquered land from the Crusaders he took great care not to harm civilians of all religions, including protecting their places of worship. The crusaders slaughtered civilians by the thousands and destroyed their places of worship.

        Moreover, it was the Crusaders who sacked Constantinople! Clearly you don’t know what you are talking about. You are just spouting out poorly construed Crusader propaganda.

        • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

          I *do* know what I’m talking about and I never disputed that there were great centers of learning in the Muslim world. In fact, here, I’ll quote what I said:

          “Yes, it is true that there were cultural centers of learning in the “Muslim world”…”

          Is that clear enough for you? I know who Maimonades was as well, thank you. But you’re talking about a small percentage of the history of the Muslim world. Saladin didn’t rule for hundreds of years. He had predecessors and successors, and so too did caliphs in Baghdad. Not all of them were kind and generous to others. Not all of them were peace loving gentle people. I might also add that Saladin wasn’t the bloody saint that everyone made him out to be. It is true that he spared the people of Jerusalem, unlike the Crusaders one hundred years before. However:

          1) He originally wanted and intended to slaughter everyone, but changed his mind after the Crusaders threatened to destroy everything inside the city.

          2) Anyone who couldn’t pay the ransom was sold into slavery. Not exactly a saintly thing to do.

          And not all the Crusaders destroyed places of worship. You’re guilty of repeating Osama Bin Laden’s version of the Crusades, which is a far cry form the truth. The truth is that there were both good and bad people on both sides of that divide. Some Crusaders “went native”, learned Arabic and Hebrew, and even protected innocent civilians. Indeed, some even fought duels in public against those who did otherwise. There were many factions, many schools of thought, many different kinds of people involved, and it was not as black and white as people like you make it out to be. I am not contesting the pogroms which some Crusaders engaged in, but I am also not denying that after the first wave of religiosity, things settled down into a tacit peace and many people who descended from the first Crusades, and even some of the first Crusaders themselves, came to see this place as their home, and those people as their neighbors.

          I know that the Crusaders sacked Constantinople, I know the full story about what happened, I am fully aware of the first wave’s insane tragedies and mistakes, of the rivalries between the professional knights and armies and the waves of simple peasants following one self-proclaimed leader or another (90% of whom never made it at all), of the bloodbath pogroms in Germany against Jews on the way to the Crusades by both professional knights and peasants, up through the sacking of Jerusalem, the settlement of Jerusalem, the founding of the order of the Templars and other “Holy Orders”, the politics within, the infighting, why the Arab world didn’t respond at first to the initial taking of Jerusalem, the rise of Saladin, the battle at the Horns of Hattin, the story of the “true cross”, the taking of Jerusalem by Saladin, the negotiations, the slavery afterwards of the poor, the re-settlement by Saladin of Eastern Christians back into the city, Richard the Lionheart who couldn’t speak a word of English, the history of his father and mother, the siege of Akko – which I see from my balcony every single morning as I have coffee, Richard’s quest for Jerusalem which never came to fruition, the offering of his sister to Saladin’s brother, the negotiations in between, Richard’s vow never to set eyes on Jerusalem as long as he couldn’t have it, the deal struck between Richard and Saladin, the tentative allies in the Mongols which some Crusaders sought, the war crime atrocity of Richard in front of Akko with all the Muslim prisoners, the rise of Baibars, the terror that Baibars brought, his origins as a slave soldier, what he did and built through his empire, the huge amount of heads he lopped off in so doing, and far, far, far, far more. I’ve read the sources, I have studied them.

          I made no apologies for the religious insanity of the Crusades or the barbarity of “Christendom” during the middle ages, of the anti-semitism involved, of the brutality and barbarity of certain rulers and epochs, of the ignorance instilled by the Church, or anything else they did which was soaked in blood.

          All I did was say that the Muslim history is not a bed of roses either, and that I’m tired of hearing that it was so. They conquered most of their empire by the sword, the same way that you apparently hate the Christians for conquering their empire as well. They executed and killed countless people for not converting to “the faith” and they dealt in slaves just as much as the barbarian Christians under the guise of feudal hierarchy.

          I’ve spouted absolutely no propaganda, and you apparently are the one who has fallen into the trap of idolizing a Muslim empire which was not the consistent and beautiful garden which you’ve apparently made it out to be.

          It was originally in Baghdad, in the ninth century, where the “yellow badge” of the Jews was invented by the Caliph. The idea spread to the West during the medieval period. In many places in the Muslim world, Jews were forbidden to ride horses or camels, so their heads would not be taller than the head of Muslim. They had to wear distinctive clothing, had to live in ghettos, could not gather together in large groups, had almost no rights under the law, and sometimes could only walk outside at night. If a Muslim was walking down the street, they had to cross to the other side so as not to make the Muslim deviate.

          There are many such examples of anti-Jewish bigotry by different rulers throughout the middle ages, up until the 18th and 19th centuries in the Muslim world. Many of these rules were still enforced in, for example, Yemen, until all the Jews were airlifted out after the foundation of the state of Israel. Baghdad famously hung some Jews by lamp posts when the news came out that there was a state of Israel. In some places, during some times, these rules were forgotten when a good ruler came around. But it never lasted a very long time and it always resulted in the same horrific result time and time again of another pogrom, of strict rules being enforced by the next Caliph, or the one after that, and I’m a little pissed off that people like you would forget that such things did happen. Not just for a decade or two, but for well over a thousand years.

          So take your pro-Islamist history and choke on it.

          • Sean Lissemore

            Some of what you say is true, and some of what you say are half-truths. I’m not going to address each one line by line.

            However I will say this: Was the Muslim world at that time perfect? No. Was it astronomically better than the Christian world? Yes. It is all relative. The Classical era is generally considered to be a time of learning and advancement, but it was also an era of slavery and constant warmongering. But relative to the rest of the world it was a time of great achievements for the human race. Same thing for the Golden era of Islam. Especially when you compare it to Christendom.

            • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

              Exactly what did I say that was only “half true”?

      • Sean Lissemore

        It was also the Arabs who brought back to light and translated thousands of old scientific texts from the Classical period after being shunned for a thousand years by Europe. Great advances in mathematics, science, medicine, and philosophy were made by the Arabs. To say the Christian world was anywhere close to the same level of the Arabs at the time is idiotic.

  • http://twitter.com/Hughmanist Hugh

    It’s untrue that Christianity does not promote violence, unless you want to disown its basis in the Old Testament. In the USA there is much talk of ‘our Judaeo-Christian values’. If you read the Old Testament you’ll see that these values include genocide. If you recall the actions of George W Bush, you will see that being a Christian is compatible with the use of extreme violence, as it always has been.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    “And when will they grasp that a religion that does not entirely eschew violence (like the Gospels or Buddhism)”

    From the Gospels:

    Matthew 10:34
    Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

    Luke 12:51
    Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

    Luke 22:36
    He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.

    Revelation 19:11
    And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

    And here are some CHRISTIAN TERRORISTS:

    Timothy McVeigh. Scott Roeder. Koresh. Jim Jones. Michael and Debi Pearl.

    I’m sure there are more that I’m either forgetting or don’t know about, but you can’t say — not truthfully, at least — that the Gospels eschew violence or that Christianity is peaceful.

    • Sean Lissemore

      When Christians do it they’re just lone wolves according to Islamophobes like Mehta.

    • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

      You forgot Anders Breivik. =)

  • james Hampton

    Everyone already knows the attacks were religiously motivated.

    • http://twitter.com/Hughmanist Hugh

      Motivated by the arrogance and irrationality of the religious mindset but not by the teachings of Mohammed or the values of the Muslim community

    • Sean Lissemore

      but that is incidental. They were just looking for a movement to be associated with and Islam happened to be convenient for them. If you could compare them to anyone it would be the Columbine shooters.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    This is such a difficult issue because on one side you have true Islamophobes of the “kill/deport all Muslims” variety, who are convinced that all Muslims are untrustworthy and that any expression of Islam is inherently evil. On the other side, you have liberal apologists who go around screeching that “Islam is a religion of peace” and that any criticism of Islam is motivated by racism or xenophobia. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, but it’s hard to get to without being accused of bigotry or ignorance by one side or the other.

    • http://twitter.com/Hughmanist Hugh

      Lots of people are aware of the evils of religion in general and Islam in particular without being fanatical about it.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

        The point is that people find justification for those evil actions through the teachings of Islam. This is not something unique to that religion, of course. Any holy book that contains violent rhetoric, given the right religious, political, and cultural climate, can inspire violence. The Bible can be and has been used in that way. It’s just that currently the majority of religious people committing acts of murder through terrorism are pointing to that particular holy book as justification. It has not always been that way in the past and may not be that way in the future. But at the present time, it is a problem disproportionately affecting Muslims.

        • http://twitter.com/Hughmanist Hugh

          Narrowing the field of moral concern to “religious people committing acts of murder through terrorism” heavily biases the answer. Isn’t the humanitarian question about violent deaths of civilians? It’s difficult to see why a ‘Christian’missile killing Muslim civilians is not part of the discussion about a ‘Muslim’ bomb in Boston. Particularly, what is religious about the missile or the bomb?

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

            I just don’t understand how anyone can make that comparison. It’s not a “Christian missile.” Americans are not motivated to send those missiles because of violent rhetoric in the Bible, and they don’t justify the deaths that occur by pointing to certain verses that they believe give them license to kill those people.

            There’s no such thing as a “Muslim bomb” either, but there are bombs set off by Muslims to kill innocent civilians, and the motivation/justification for murdering those civilians is based on what they read in their holy book.

            I don’t think it biases the answer to say that we are focused on terrorism carried out by religious people in the name of religion. That’s what this whole thing is about. Of course there is also terrorism carried out in the name of politics, and that can be pinned on people from many different religions. But religious terrorism carried out by Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. is not currently focused on innocent civilians.

            The closest parallel to Muslim terrorists is Christian terrorists who blow up abortion clinics and kill doctors. Those people have entirely religious motivations. However, even they do not target innocent people. They are not setting off bombs at the local mall. They’re not shooting patients. They only go after the people whom they believe are guilty of the murder of fetuses.

            • http://twitter.com/Hughmanist Hugh

              If the humanitarian concern is violence against civilians, terrorism does not merit the obsessive attention which is given to it. Government forces, armed with the latest technological marvels of Raytheon and other arms producers, are killers on an altogether grander scale.

              Although there are people who claim that the scriptures justify violent actions, it’s not obvious that we should accept their claim without question. It seems to me bizarre that you should accept that doctors are legitimate targets because deranged pro-lifers say they are. Because the law or the historical circumstances of ancient tribes in the Middle East mandated violent action, that is not a reason why individuals should feel authorized to act against the laws of the United States today.

              It’s not Christian or Muslim to act against the teaching and practice of the religious community.

              • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

                If we’re discussing terrorism, then we should stick to terrorism and not go off on tangents about how governments kill more people than terrorists. Of course they do, but that’s not the point.

                As to your other point, are we going to play No True Scotsman? What makes radical Islamists any less Muslim than the moderates? People can interpret holy books in any number of ways. Who is to say that one way is more valid than another? The Bible is very clearly pro-slavery. The Bible was used to justify slavery for centuries. Yet you will still find Christians who like to pretend that the Bible doesn’t say what it does about slavery. Similarly, there are Muslims who like to claim that there is nothing in the Koran that promotes violence. The problem is that other Muslims have looked at those verses and come to an entirely different conclusion.

                Fortunately, the radicals are a minority on both sides of the aisle, but they can’t just be written off because the majority would like to pretend that everything is all hunky-dory with their religion. Everything’s not all hunky-dory with Islam, nor with Christianity, nor with Hinduism, nor with Buddhism. But Islam is being discussed at present because a not insignificant number of radicals are trying to kill people and justifying it with their interpretation of their holy book.

  • Tom Swiss

    “a religion that does not entirely eschew violence (like the Gospels or Buddhism”

    Jesus told his followers to sell their cloaks and buy swords. (And most Xian sects take the Old Testament, which contains all sorts of murderous violence, as canonical also.)

    During the era of Japanese imperialism, Zen temples raised money to buy warplanes, and one leading master claimed that killing Chinese was an
    expression of Buddhist compassion meant to rid the victims of their “defilements.”

    While Islam makes no pretense of pacifism, it has strict rules about how to fight — killing noncombatants is absolutely forbidden. Islamist terrorists are violating the tenets of their claimed religion.

    • Sean Lissemore

      Don’t forget the 969 movement in Myanmar and monk led Tibetan feudalism!

      • Al

        Indeed.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      And yet they keep killing… NONCOMBATANTS! (Then bitch and moan about how the “meany poopyhead imperialists” are rightfully retaliating.)

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      And yet they keep killing… NONCOMBATANTS! (Then bitch and moan about how the “meany poopyhead imperialists” are rightfully retaliating.)

    • Johan Wehtje

      The bit about non-combatants being off limits in Islam is straight up BS. For a start there is a sharp distinction between the treatment that people of the book can expect (though this is shot through with contradictions) and what outright Idolaters can expect – such as polytheists – where Islam condones wholesale slaughter. Also even what protections are offered are strictly conditional upon non-muslims displaying the requisite degree of submissiveness. Not to mention that in war the Muslim rule as regards non comabatants is that they can be taken as slaves at any time.

      It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest, as you are attempting to do, that warfare has the same standing in Buhdism or the Christian gospels as it does in Islam.

  • rgcustomer

    Andrew Sullivan: “… entirely eschew violence (like the Gospels or Buddhism …”

    Funny thing about those Gospels… they seem to be a tiny part of a much larger book, just loaded with violence before and after them, including the spectacular ending.

    And someone needs to tell Buddhists that they eschew violence, because they don’t seem to know it.

    For example: “It is just to punish those who disturb the public order. Whether one
    kills or does not kill, the precept forbidding killing [is preserved]. It is the precept forbidding killing that wields the sword. It is the precept that throws the bomb.
    -Sawaki Kodo”.

    Or those involved in the Sri Lankan Civil War.

  • MRR

    My problem is that Sullivan is a bit partisan in his criticisms of religion. For example he ask “when will they grasp that a religion that does not entirely
    eschew violence (like the Gospels or Buddhism) will likely produce
    violence.” However, a close reading of the Gospels and of Buddhism finds that this is not the case. There is justifications for violence and damnation in both these traditions. I agree that Islam has been singled out by many people in the west as being the violent religion. This singling out has to do more with the legacy of imperialism of Europe and the United States to what is traditionally thought of as the Islamic world (Arab states, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia). This process of singling out Islam is where he is able to link arms with Harris. They are united in their inability to consider how western imperialism has played some role in the driving the religiously motivated violent actions.

  • Alinanancy

    Great Post! But you might just want to try having medieval irish church history, it would be really interesting!

  • DatBus

    Sullivan nails it.


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