Sam Harris’ article and support for the idea that Islam is barbaric.

Yesterday Sam Harris posted an article titled On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God.  It tackles the recent outbursts by Muslims over a crappy internet video.  Stuff like this is why Harris remains one of my atheistic heroes (even if his position on profiling is wrong).

The contagion of moral cowardice followed its usual course, wherein liberal journalists and pundits began to reconsider our most basic freedoms in light of the sadomasochistic fury known as “religious sensitivity” among Muslims. Contributors to The New York Times and NPR spoke of the need to find a balance between free speech and freedom of religion—as though the latter could possibly be infringed by a YouTube video. As predictable as Muslim bullying has become, the moral confusion of secular liberals appears to be part of the same clockwork.

Consider what is actually happening: Some percentage of the world’s Muslims—Five percent? Fifteen? Fifty? It’s not yet clear—is demanding that all non-Muslims conform to the strictures of Islamic law. And where they do not immediately resort to violence in their protests, they threaten it. Carrying a sign that reads “Behead Those Who Insult the Prophet” may still count as an example of peaceful protest, but it is also an assurance that infidel blood would be shed if the imbecile holding the placard only had more power. This grotesque promise is, of course, fulfilled in nearly every Muslim society. To make a film like “Innocence of Muslims” anywhere in the Middle East would be as sure a method of suicide as the laws of physics allow.

What exactly was in the film? Who made it? What were their motives? Was Muhammad really depicted? Was that a Qur’an burning, or some other book? Questions of this kind are obscene. Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.

Bingo.  The whole article is just epic.

For those rushing to defend Islam (looking at you, Harvard Humanists), I implore you to take a close look at the reactions of the Islamic world.  Mark Turner points out some of the lowlights on the Friendly Atheist.

All that being said, the response from the Muslim world has being depressingly familiar. The edicts handed down by some Islamic leaders have sought only to fan the flames. Hezbollah’s leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah appeared publicly for the first time since 2011 — specifically to denounce the US and to call for further protests. The events of the last week have included:

  • About 3,000 protesters from the Philippines Muslim minority burned US and Israeli flags in the southern city of Marawi
  • In Yemen, hundreds of students in the capital, Sanaa, called for the expulsion of the US ambassador
  • In Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, hundreds of protesters faced off with police, throwing stones and petrol bombs, while police retaliated with tear gas
  • Hundreds of Palestinians staged a peaceful sit-in protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah
  • Angry demonstrators in the Afghan capital, Kabul, fired guns, torched police cars and shouted anti-US slogans
  • Police arrested at least 15 people at a small protest outside the US embassy in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku

When you gripe about the use of the phrase “peaceful Muslims,” you confess to either ignoring or to being unaware of a global climate that necessitates that distinction.  I then wonder how such people can accuse anybody of lumping all Muslims together when it is we who are paying the peaceful Muslims the courtesy of that distinction.  The term “peaceful Muslim” exists for the same reason as “moderate Republican.”

Once someone has applied the simple human trait of pattern recognition to the wake of these events it becomes obvious that lots of Muslims consider mocking Islam to be a greater priority for their moral outrage than people dying.  It is also easy to note the conspicuous silence of moderate Muslims on the matter.  I have read of only a couple who even dare to denounce the violence, but absolutely none who have affirmed the right of others to live in defiance of Islamic scripture by criticizing Islam.  This is either because moderate Muslims have not felt compelled to do so, which favors my position, or the moderate Muslims around the world fear repercussions from violent Muslims.  To confess the latter would be to admit that the problem of reactionary violence to dissent permeates the Muslim world to such an extent that even the moderate Muslims fear their own, which is problematic to anybody arguing that Muslim violence is a problem blown out of proportion.  Pointing this out is not Islamophobia – it’s being unwilling to shove truth under the bus for the sake of being politically correct.

American Atheists president Dave Silverman is running a campaign on twitter: #IslamIsBarbaric.  He’s right.  The fact that some nebulous percentage of Muslims is not barbaric doesn’t rescue Islam from being laced with barbarism any more than the existence moderate Christians erases the primitive inhumanities from the bible.  The plain and simple fact of the matter is that this world would be much better off had it never known Islam (or Christianity, or faith in general), and that Islam is so polluted with savagery, contradiction, and flat out inaccuracy that it should not be believed by anyone.

  • Laurence

    I actually heard a interesting take on this from my Chinese former professors and now boss. She thinks that many of the people that come to these protests and such are coming because of social and religious pressure from other people. She thinks that if they didn’t come, then bad things would happen to them. She talks about how when she was growing up in China, you didn’t say anything bad about Chairman Mao because if you did, you would go to jail. So everyone acted like they loved Chairman Mao out of self-preservation. She also said that this is probably why we saw everyone in North Korea crying after Kim Jung Il’s death. Political and social pressure can have a huge influence on people and that kind of thing should not be ignored. This doesn’t excuse any violence that has been committed, but I think it does help explain why the huge uproar has occurred. I’m perfectly willing to admit that she might be wrong, but I thought it was a really interesting perspective that should be heard.

  • iknklast

    I think the overall position of moderate Muslims is like that of moderate Christians. They feel bothered and upset by the violence of their co-religionists, but they are more bothered and upset by mockery and ridicule of the religion from those who do not accept their basic premises. Which is why when Christians do their thing (like with Jessica Ahlquist), the moderates rush over to the atheist sites with all their defenses in hand, rather than rallying around the attacked. I suspect Muslims probably do the same, and I’ve noticed that most moderate Muslims I’ve seen interviewed about things like Theo Van Gogh or Salman Rushdie always seem to point out that they were mocking Islam, and rarely do much more than a tepid protest that it wasn’t right to kill them, but they had no right to mock Islam.

  • dereksmear

    Between 6 and 10 August 2011, several London boroughs and districts of cities and towns across England suffered widespread rioting, looting and arson where thousands took to the streets. The first night of rioting took place on 7 August 2011 after a protest in Tottenham, following the death of Mark Duggan, a local man from the area, who was shot dead by police on 4 August 2011. The immediate spark for violence was when large numbers of police arrived to disperse the demonstration. Several violent clashes with police, along with the destruction of police vehicles, magistrates’ court, a double-decker bus, many civilian homes and businesses, began gaining attention from the media. Overnight, looting took place in Tottenham Hale Retail Park and nearby Wood Green. The following days saw similar scenes in other parts of London with the worst violence taking place in Hackney, Brixton, Chingford, Peckham, Enfield, Battersea, Croydon, Ealing and East Ham, Oxford Circus. From 8 until 10 August, other cities in England including Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester, along with several towns, saw what was described by the media as ‘copycat violence’.

    The riots were characterised by rampant looting and arson attacks of unprecedented levels. As a result, British Prime Minister David Cameron returned early from his holiday in Italy and other government and opposition leaders also ended their holidays to attend to the matter. All police leave was cancelled and Parliament was recalled on 11 August to debate the situation.

    As of 15 August, about 3,100 people had been arrested, of whom more than 1,000 had been charged. Arrests, charges and court proceedings continue. Initially, courts sat for extended hours. There were a total 3,443 crimes across London linked to the disorder. Emergency calls on Monday night saw a 300% increase, from 5,400 normally to 20,800. Along with the five deaths, at least 16 others were injured as a direct result of related violent acts. An estimated £200 million worth of property damage was incurred, and local economic activity was significantly compromised.

    The English are savage and barbaric.

    • Amyc

      Except, JT didn’t say “Muslims are barbaric,” he said “Islam is barbaric.” You’re talking about an entire group of people, and he’s talking about an ideology/religion. Do you see the difference?

  • http://gravatar.com/improbablejoe Improbable Joe

    You’re right… and you’re wrong. Islam is barbaric. But so is Christianity, and so is Judaism. So to explain Muslim violence, you have to up your game a little and explain why that violence stands out for you as distinct from Christian and Jewish violence. The answers aren’t happy or comfortable for most people, including people like you who I feel like I sort of know and I think mean well and are decent folk.

    Here’s a hint as to why Muslim violence seems unique and isn’t at all: there’s something called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. I’m sure you’ve heard of it? In the West, we take our violent folk and give them uniforms and make them soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines and police officers, and tell them that they are doing right when they do violence against others. In the Middle East, those same people do what, exactly? They enforce the rules the same way our military and police do, through violence.

    • Rory

      I’m not sure I follow you, Joe. It sounds like you’re saying that in the US ‘Christian violence’ is not regarded as such because it’s given the imprimatur of legitimacy by association with, e.g., the military. If I’m understanding you correctly, it’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure I agree that the violence occurring in the Middle East right now is analogous to the state-sanctioned violence of the ‘Crusaders’ in the military. For one, I think the US is much more motivated by economic impulses than religious ones–you’ll note we seem to be more interested in invading countries where we have financial interest. I don’t see a comparable element in the current violence in the Middle East.

      • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

        Rory -

        There have been vastly more terrorist attacks in the U.S. perpetrated by Christians due to fundamentalist beliefs than Muslims. And yet they are never called terrorists, while we all feel quite comfortable calling literally any violence by Islamists terrorism.

        • Rory

          Overall I would agree with you aleph–it feels to me like maybe that trend is beginning to shift, but I admit I don’t have any empirical support for that contention.

  • yemangycoyote

    I like your blog, and I agree that Islam is riddled with horrifically anti-human ideology (as are the other monotheistic traditions). However, I don’t think flag burning & peaceful sit-ins are “low points”, since flags are cheap and peaceful sit-ins hurt, well, not really anyone.

    Also, some of the worst offenses, like the murder of US diplomats in Cairo, are the product of something much more complex than simple religious fervor. The Crommunist has a great post on this over at freethoughtblogs – http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2012/09/18/on-atheist-smugness-and-geopolitics/

    • Andrew Kohler

      I think the problem with the flag burnings is the implication that the protesters do not intend to stop there (at least some of them; I realize this is an assumption). It’s similar to Heinrich Heine’s classic line from his play Almansor: “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, ultimately they also burn people.”)

  • DJJ

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the vast majority of Muslims are bothered more by the murder than by the insults. Those who are particularly bothered by either of them. Outrage takes effort and people are busy.

    Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the people marching to declare that they are not with those (murdery) guys outnumbered the people rioting.

    None of which actually constitutes a disagreement with the statement that Islam is barbaric, but I want to see religion as a whole be relegated to the sidelines. More a hobby or historical curiosity than something around which people and countries build their identity.

  • http://bigthink.com/blogs/against-the-new-taboo TauriqM

    Hi JT

    I’m still trying to work on this one. I agree ideas are not people; that faiths all contain parts that are barbaric and are themselves almost inherently irrational. I’m wondering though if the perpetuation of the idea of “Where are the moderates?” is entirely fair given, for example, cases like this: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/09/21/world/africa/libya-benghazi-counter-protest/index.html

    Or: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_WqmFsGlcOY

    And also: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/09/22/brave-libyans-attack-compound-of-muslim-radicals-over-death-of-american-ambassador/

    I’d be interested in whether these constitute moderate Muslims speaking out. If not, why not? And what kind of examples *would* demonstrate to you that there are Muslims against the barbaric aspects of their religion, just as there are Christians.

    While I do think Islam is to a very large extent barbaric, I’m worried about putting that as my introductory card when engaging with Muslims – especially as an ex-Muslim. You of course have done more on this than I have, which is why I am hoping for a response.

  • John

    Great, fantastic article. One thing I’d like to point out though that I think it is important and key to the danger of Islam.

    In the end you said Islam was plagued with contradiction. It’s not it very consistently and clearly defines believers and non believers. The Bible, yes, is full of contradictions. Some of the strict law-like sentiment in the Old Testament directly contradict the loving, peaceful, forgiving mood of the new (aside from revelations).

    However the fact that Islam is so consistent, the Quran is much better written (and more modern) than the Bible makes it clear whAt Muslims are to do to please God. That’s scary. There’s not much dispute about what Muslims ought to do to non believers. Convert them or kill them.

  • Andrew Kohler

    “Hundreds of Palestinians staged a peaceful sit-in protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah.”

    Fine by me–this is what protests ought to look like (for any group of people, over anything). I would still say that a crappy YouTube video is hardly worth the effort, but a peaceful sit-in is a respectable form of expression. I have to concede Sam Harris’s point that burning books (or flags) is also within people’s rights, provided they do so in a safe fashion and only destroy their own property. I really can’t ever respect acts of destruction, though, and especially the destruction of any book makes me physically ill (I find it far, far worse than destroying a flag).

    Quick note re: John’s comment of February 11: don’t forget that, beyond Revelations, the New Testament has Jesus whipping money changers, killing a fig tree, and saying “I come not to bring peace but a sword.” And as Christopher Hitchens was always sure to point out, it is not until the New Testament that the concept of hell is introduced (at least in scripture; Judaism does refer to a place called Gehenna/Gehinnom that is kind of like hell, but it’s rather vague).


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