Islam is a horrible religion and a terrible influence upon the world.

Every day I read stories about what is transpiring in nations dominated by Islam and think to myself “Yup, it could be worse.”  And then I blog about the lesser horrors of American Christianity because, well, that’s where I and most of my readers live.

But I actually agree with Sam Harris on the point that Islam is probably the most pernicious of all mainstream religions.  I think it’s equal in credibility to Christianity, but I don’t think it can be argued that Islam has shown a potential to produce malicious behavior unlike any other religion (I don’t think this justifies racial profiling, before anybody jumps on that bandwagon).

Anyway, here’s an example I just read.  Look what’s happening in Tunisia.  In response to a school barring a woman from entry because she was wearing a full veil, this happened:

Murad Ben Hamouda of the teachers’ union at Manzel Bouzelfa secondary school said Salafists stormed into the compound, smashed a few cars and “tried to kill the director for refusing the entry of a schoolgirl dressed in niqab into the classroom”.

School superintendent Abdelwahed Sentati was beaten with sticks and stones, suffering several broken bones, Hamouda said, and the assailants then fled. There have been no arrests, and interior ministry police had no immediate comment.

How many Salafists were involved in the attack was not immediately clear. But teachers said dozens of radicals lingered on the premises afterwards, chanting anti-secular slogans.

This is, of course, not even remotely rare in many countries dominated by Islam.  Hell, in Bangladesh atheist bloggers are facing the death penalty at the hands of their Islamic culture/government, and the editor of a Bangladeshi newspaper just got arrested for publishing quotes from those bloggers.  You can read these stories every fucking day.  The people who insist that these maniacs are the outsiders, terrible people who deride the Islamic faith by claiming it for themselves, are simply wrong.

Now, I’m not taking a position on whether or not it’s ok to allow someone to attend school with their face entirely covered.  I don’t think most schools in the States would allow it, and I don’t know the school’s reasoning.  But what I am saying is that when you consider asking a face covering to be removed to be a greater injustice than smashing cars, beating another human being, and threatening to kill a man, we have a problem.  Just like with Christianity and marriage equality in the US, it is plain as day that the relevant variable in this equation is the presence of Islam.  If you could magically wipe away Islam and all of the cultural mores that have been dredged from it, who could honestly argue that we’d still have people rioting over cartoons or smashing cars in reaction to a dress code?  Who can argue that we’d still have governments attempting to assassinate fourteen year-olds for the crime of insisting women should be educated?  And who can honestly say these occurrences do not reach a more terrifying scale because of any positive moral influence of the Islamic faith and not because these people, for the most part, do not have access to weaponry more dangerous than rocks and signs announcing who ought to be beheaded for offending their religious sensibilities?

Just like it’s not Christianophobia to highlight that the opposition to equal rights in this country is fomented almost exclusively from the pulpit, it is not Islamophobia to point out that the larger wellspring of religious violence from people screaming that they are motivated by honoring their prophet is undoubtedly due to the influence of Islam.  Beliefs are the catalysts of actions, and while religions are not the sole arbiters of people’s actions, they are clearly in effect in these cases.  The solution is not to convince people to merely be irrational in different ways, but rather to insist that people stop being irrational and start integrating reality as the basis for their moral concerns.  Sure, this would mean the end of liberal and fundamentalist religion alike.  It’s a small price to pay for a world where reason is given its due.

Some atheists, eager to make peace with Muslims by whitewashing Islam rather than by treating Muslims as if they’re interested in what’s true, will point to liberal Muslims as if they are to be taken as representatives of the faith.  By some mechanism, we are to believe, more Muslims than Christians, Jains, or Buddhists, have taken a beautiful faith and managed to square it with viewing offense as a lesser offense than murder.  Ignoring entire nations of gender inequality, violence in the name of Allah, and more, these apologists will tell us that the texts of Islam are beautiful and that if those other Muslims should do better by caring about what they really say.  Of course, the texts really do spell out all manner of horrors very succinctly.  But the insistence that all Muslims care about what is true is a fantastic insistence to have!  Unfortunately, the accommodating atheists do not extend “they should have done better” to all Muslims.  We shouldn’t stop merely at “It’s irrational to think that god would want people murdered over cartoons” and should continue on to “It’s irrational to think any person rose from the dead or rode a winged horse into heaven or that a god imbued you with compassion and then made moral pronouncements to the contrary, as if he didn’t want you to obey it.”  Doing better doesn’t mean being guilty of the exact same failures of critical thought.

Or they’ll say “What about x, y, and z scripture that says not to steal?”  Holy shit!  As if we never would’ve figured out that stealing is a dick thing to do if it weren’t immortalized on that page!  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that without Islam (or any other religion) we could’ve figured out that stealing is immoral.  What we never would have thought is that it’s ok to kill another person over a cartoon.

And the existence of liberal Muslims in parts of the world does nothing to unmake the faith’s culpability for the madness in societies dominated by Islam.  In all societies where people obey their compassion, they behave similarly: they are kind to others, charitable to the poor, and generally act like human happiness is the ultimate goal personally and morally.  These are simply compassionate things to do, regardless of whether or not a particular religion gives them a thumbs up.  It is clear that Islam (and Christianity, but Islam to a greater extent) cause so many people to put certain concerns above the goals of compassionate societies.  We mustn’t wait to take note of the obvious until Islam corrupts everybody calling themselves Muslims.

Sam Harris recently highlighted this fact to Glenn Greenwald:

I maintain that anyone who considers my views to be a symptom of irrational fear is ignorant, dishonest, or insane. (I recently suggested to Greenwald on Twitter that we settle our dispute by holding simultaneous cartoon contests. He could use his Guardian blog to solicit cartoons about Islam, and I’d use my website to run a similar contest for any other faith on earth. As will come as no surprise, the man immediately started sputtering non-sequiturs.)

The fact that some Muslims have paid greater heed to their own conscience than to the pages of the hadith (which spells out very clearly that the penalty for apostasy is, as many ex-Muslims are well aware, death), does not change the fact that were such a cartoon contest to take place, Sam Harris may receive emails imploring him to be more sensitive to believers, while Greenwald would undoubtedly need to start taking measures to safeguard his life.

It all boils down to this: Islam is hideous.  It’s not beautiful in the slightest.  The innate empathy in human beings is beautiful, and it allows some people to continue to have moral sensibilities in spite of their religious doctrines.  This is especially so in the case of Islam.  The world would be a much better, more educated, more peaceful place were Islam wiped from the pages of history, and anybody saying otherwise is deluding themselves.

  • http://damn-thing.com William R. Dickson

    Last year: “Yeah, well, you cowardly atheists wouldn’t dare insult Islam the way you insult Christianity.”
    This year: “Hey, you atheists insult Islam too much.”

    • Happy Madison

      Yeah, that’s right! So there!

    • Silent Service

      I just lump them all together as sufferers of the Religion virus. The difference is not really too far off from the difference between the Spanish flu, swine flu, and bird flu. They’re all variations of the same family of illness.

  • Glodson

    Something I think that is a bit scary is that if 9-11 hadn’t happened, many of our Fundies in the states would look at the Islamic theocracies and say they have the government God wants us to have.

    I am sure there’s even a bit of envy at the power the religion can have, how it can silence dissent with violence and impose the worst laws based on the holy books. And it isn’t that Christian Theocracies are much better.

    We’d be better off with none of the Abrahamic religions around.

    • Mackinz

      I agree completely. However, the Christian Right desires a Christian Theocracy regardless of 9/11. They haven’t changed their goals… just their method, painting it as an Us vs. Them war between “godless” Muslims and “God’s Holy Nation” or whatever they use to refer to the US in a way screaming of psuedohistory.

    • Artor

      Even after 9-11, I have heard Xian fundies lamenting that we don’t live like the Muslims, executing teh Gayz on sight and living as a theocracy. I believe Bradlee Dean was one of them, and fairly recently.

  • Silent Service

    The problem is not that specifically that Islam is hideous. It is. The problem is that unlike Christianity Islam has not gone through anything like our Enlightenment period where the majority of its followers figure out that following the letter of their religious laws makes them evil. The Bible is just as hideous, but few Christians follow the worst tenants like stoning, slavery, and dealing with heretics. Considering their current pattern, I don’t have a lot of hope for Islam or Christianity. But I don’t see that as a product of the faith itself. It is more a product of their vile and disgusting leaders using the inherent hate of religion to secure their personal place of power and authority over the last 60 years. The next 60 years are going to be just as ugly as the Middle East slowly wakes up to the Internet age thanks to Islam; but is it going to be much better as Christianity pushes to outlaw sexual orientation throughout Africa? They’ve already started, and would be a lot farther along if it were not for our modern communications tech sending news worldwide instantaneously.

    • Nate Frein

      But I don’t see that as a product of the faith itself.

      Yes and no…”Faith”, that is, the unquestioning acceptance of a belief and then defending that belief against any rational argument otherwise; and the holding of such a behavior as the height of morality, sets up the framework by which these atrocities are committed.

  • Imperious Dakar

    You have a point.
    I think all religions are (for the most part) false, but that doesn’t mean their all equal.
    Some religions are worse than others.

    For instance, Catholicism has claimed for (at least) decades now that its pro-woman, and if we merely judge it by comparing it to Islam (and nothing else) the Catholic Church actually does look fairly pro-woman.

    But that’s kind of like comparing a mugger who just steals from his victims to a robber who rapes and kills.

    • Robert

      You’re far too generous – I’d say the analogy is:

      Comparing someone who rapes and kills while talking about love to someone who rapes and kills while talking about raping and killing.

      • Tobias27

        That’s about right.

  • Imperious Dakar

    I think its a bit more basic than that.
    For its first couple of centuries Christianity was outlawed and despised in the Roman empire. It truly was a religion of the poor and oppressed because the elite saw it as a threat (which in some ways it was).

    But since before the Prophet died Islam has been a religion of conquest and political domination.

    Both Islam and Christianity have changed a great deal since that time. However, traces of what they originally were remain. And I believe that is a big part of why Islam is so much more aggressively misogynistic and violent today.

    • Artor

      Hmmm…what you say has some merit, but I don’t think it’s the full story. Before the Crusades, Islam was the driving force behind a huge amount of scientific and artistic advance, far ahead of what was going on in Christiandom. But several hundred years of barbarians sacking their cities and destroying their culture left it’s mark. I think a big part of why Islam today is so violent & reactionary can be laid at the feet of the Catholic Church. As they say, evil carries the seeds of it’s own destruction. Today, we are all reaping what the Church sowed so many years ago.

  • Scott

    I’ve always wondered why it was a social bomb to say anything anti-Muslim, yet Christians are ridiculed like crazy in our country. I was a religious studies major at Missouri State University and the difference of approach to Christianity vs. Hinduism, Islam, and eastern religions were stark. With Christianity it was criticism, with other religions it was respect, tolerance, and seeking to understand what they believed.

    However, it’s not because Christians refuse to listen to their bibles because of the enlightenment that makes them tolerable.. rather it’s because they don’t listen to their bibles that they are not more respectable. Christians are taught not to return evil for evil (1 Pet 3:9).. they are taught to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matt 5:43-38) (by the way, these texts were written when Christians were being killed by the established government for being Christian). Could this account at all for the vast majority of Christians who don’t retaliate though grieved and disgusted when Jesus is ridiculed in blogs, pictures, or tv shows vs. reactions we’ve seen to similar (and far more rare) treatments of Mohammed?

    I say yes. Christians treat persecution differently, and they are taught to. Not all of them, but at least when a Christian retaliates for an evil done to them, a fellow Christian can point at their book and say, “You’re in the wrong, this is not what the books says.”

    For everyone who says stoning, slavery, and the like are required by Christians today based on the Bible do not carefully (or literately, as we would read any book for that matter) read the Bible. They hi-light one or two verses and neglect the grand story-line of the scriptures and the Biblical theme of the new covenant.. and other very specific scriptures (such as the ones noted above). So I’m glad people are finally recognizing and admitting the difference between conservative Christians and conservative Muslims. A lot of it has to do with what we believe and who we follow.

    • GCT

      I’ve always wondered why it was a social bomb to say anything anti-Muslim, yet Christians are ridiculed like crazy in our country.

      What country are you speaking of, because it sure as hell isn’t the US?

      I was a religious studies major at Missouri State University and the difference of approach to Christianity vs. Hinduism, Islam, and eastern religions were stark. With Christianity it was criticism, with other religions it was respect, tolerance, and seeking to understand what they believed.

      That couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Xian ignorance of world religions coupled with a persecution complex, could it?

      However, it’s not because Christians refuse to listen to their bibles because of the enlightenment that makes them tolerable.. rather it’s because they don’t listen to their bibles that they are not more respectable.

      So, all the people of the last 1000+ years have not been paying attention to the Bible, and it’s only recently that people have been reading it? Not buying it. There are some horrendous things written in the Bible.

      Christians are taught not to return evil for evil (1 Pet 3:9).. they are taught to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matt 5:43-38) (by the way, these texts were written when Christians were being killed by the established government for being Christian).

      They are also taught that homosexuality is an abomination, that non-Xians are fools, that it’s OK to spit racist epithets at women seeking health care (if one follows Jesus’s example at least) and a whole host of other things. Don’t cherry pick parts of the Bible and pretend the rest don’t exist.

      Christians treat persecution differently, and they are taught to.

      What persecution are you talking about? Xians are not persecuted in the Western world.

      Not all of them, but at least when a Christian retaliates for an evil done to them, a fellow Christian can point at their book and say, “You’re in the wrong, this is not what the books says.”

      And other Xians can point to yet other passages and say, “No, that’s not what the book says, ” or “No, that’s not what it means.” How does one differentiate between the competing claims to figure out which claim is correct and which is not?

      For everyone who says stoning, slavery, and the like are required by Christians today based on the Bible do not carefully (or literately, as we would read any book for that matter) read the Bible.

      Show me where in the Bible it says that. (I know you’re going to trot out the old, “I came to fulfill the law” quote which doesn’t claim what you are claiming here, so let’s just not go there. You need to actually provide some passage that claims you don’t have to follow the law. I’m going to point you to the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus not only says that you should follow the law, but that you need to follow it so strictly that thinking bad thoughts is against it.)

      They hi-light one or two verses and neglect the grand story-line of the scriptures and the Biblical theme of the new covenant.. and other very specific scriptures (such as the ones noted above).

      That’s what you did in cherry picking out the verses you like while ignoring the others that you don’t like.

    • Andrew Kohler

      As regards the Christian view of persecution, I commend to everyone the following analysis of one of the passages that Scott quotes, the Sermon on the Mount. The Christian view of persecution (a major component of the sermon) normally does not result in violence, it is fortunately true, but it is nonetheless problematic in encouraging persecution as a noble state (leading to the false diagnoses of persecution by the right wing of American Christianity) and in saying that those who are persecuted should not fight against the injustice. The following analysis is by Matt Dillahunty (with some edits from other users of the Iron Chariots Wiki):

      http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Sermon_on_the_mount

      “For everyone who says stoning, slavery, and the like are required by Christians today based on the Bible do not carefully (or literately, as we would read any book for that matter) read the Bible.”

      I have yet to hear anyone argue persuasively that the text of the New Testament in any way condemns slavery (see, for example, 1 Timothy 6:1-2). There were plenty of Christians in the ranks of abolitionists, no doubt, but I am unconvinced that their holy texts may be credited for their virtue. After all, these were the same holy texts of most slave “owners” in America (“owners” in quotation marks because I refuse to acknowledge that a human being ever can be property, even when being treated as such by others). It is true that Christians *today* reject slavery, but the Thirteenth Amendment wasn’t ratified very long ago in terms of the history of Christianity.

      Christian Dominionists do not have as much clout in the world as Muslim fundamentalists, but as others already have commented these people are not any less destructive in their desire to subjugate others. It is perfectly fair to note that, as Christopher Hitchens said debating free speech in Canada several years ago, “Not all monotheisms are the same *at the moment.*” I believe this is what Robert means in the comment below that the execution of apostates in Islam is worse than Christians burning heretics at the stake in the sense that the former is happening today and the latter is not. I agree that all such persecution is equally morally abhorrent, but we do need to consider what problems we are facing at the moment.

      At the same time, however, I am very leery of focusing on questions of degree. For example, it is true that the Uganda “kill the gays” measure is far worse than the federal Denial of Marriage Act in the USA, but this does not change the fact that we should be implacably opposed to both injustices. I do not think questioning whether one religion causes more harm than another is very productive: we need to identify all harms (including those that are unrelated to religion) and work to eliminate them.

  • GCT

    The “lesser horrors” of American Xianity are that way only because Xians are blunted by our secular laws. One need only look at Uganda to see what a theocratic Xian nation can produce in terms of horror (death penalty for gays). If Dominionists (Reconstructionists) had their way, it would be just as bad as the Middle East theocracies. The main difference is opportunity.

    • mythbri

      I completely agree.

      Islam and Christianity (all eleventy-billion sects of it) are not fundamentally different – they exist in different circumstances. Christianity happens to be tempered by the existence of strong secular societies/government in a lot of areas. In some areas, it’s not so tempered. What is the source of the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda again? How about those witch hunts?

      I have absolutely no reason to believe that if I lived in a Christian theocracy, my life would be no better than if I lived in an Islamic theocracy.

      Sam Harris is culturally Christian, even though he’s an atheist. So am I. We (in the United States) are soaking in it. Does anyone dispute this? I believe that Harris’ cultural Christianity and colonialist mindset informs his criticism of Islam more than reason does – particularly as regards his apologism for torture and promotion of racial profiling (please don’t pretend that it’s possible to profile someone for a set of beliefs).

      We can make criticisms of Islam and the things that happen in countries that are under Islamic control – we MUST make those criticisms, as part of the struggle to create more secular societies. And we can do that by arguing upon principles and reason. If we resort to racism and cruelty and justify it as the means to an end, then how much better are we than anyone, religious or not?

      • Glodson

        Exactly. Look at what we exported to Uganda. And the people instrumental in that, the Scott Livelys, aren’t embarrassed by that. That was a success.

        People like that would have the same laws here, if they could. The difference is that we are the beneficiaries of a secular government.

        It is hard to distinguish between the religion and the countries using that religion as a power base, but if we substituted Christianity in for Islam, I expect the result would be largely. The same.

    • Artor

      Or look at what was going on in Britain just before the Colonies were established. We had Catholic Bloody Mary slaughtering Protestants, then we had Puritan Oliver Cromwell slaughtering Catholics. Then we had Puritans in the New World slaughtering Indians, and anyone they were suspicious of. I think it was the Enlightenment, and the explicit rejection of Xianity done at the founding of the US that has had a big influence in pulling the teeth of Xianity in the Western world.

  • http://twitter.com/johnradke jtradke

    JT, the question you haven’t answered is: are these atrocities because of Islam specifically, or is it because of theocracy? In an alternate universe where fundamentalist Christians ran Tunisia, would people there be better off?

    • baal

      I somewhat suspect the one theocracy looks very much like the next over. I usually comment on posts where the RWA (right wing authoritarians) are the bad actors to remind liberal christians that they need to speak out against them as well.

    • Artor

      Or perhaps, this universe, where the do actually run Uganda.

  • http://twitter.com/johnradke jtradke

    Also, Sam’s proposition about cartoon contests is a non-sequitur itself. If there were any significant number of theocratic nations run by Christians or Buddhists or whoever, you’re damn right I’d be just as afraid to make drawings of their sacred icons.

    Now, there aren’t any such nations out there. Is that because there’s some thing particular about Islam that leads to anti-secularism more than other religions, or is it more an accident of history that that’s how things have turned out?

  • Kimbeaux

    Damnit! GCT, mythbri and Glodson beat me to it. Islam is no worse an idea than Christianity. It merely has more unrestrained power today. How is killing people for blasphemy today any worse than burning people at the stake for heresy yesterday?

    • Robert

      Because it’s happening today. That makes it worse in a practical sense even if you succeed in arguing it’s not worse in any other sense.

      • Kimbeaux

        The *idea* of Islam is not worse today in a practical sense. The difference you are seeing is due to who holds power today.

        • Robert

          I agree (for the most part). The point is that difference matters. Although to be fair, I think Harris would point out that Islam is technically even more dangerous as an idea but as far as I’m concerned they’re both so potentially dangerous it’s a distinction without a difference.

          I’d say it’s not just about power though – the enlightenment is a huge part of the difference and would create a difference even if we lived in theocracies. Again, it might be a technicality and mean we have almost all the evil but slightly less of one particular evil (suicide bombings?) but that wouldn’t mean it would be a much better society to live in.

          • Glodson

            It isn’t like there are Christians who bomb for their god.

            And don’t forget groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army. And the history of Islam. The fundamentalist sects seem to stem from the colonial time periods.

            It isn’t as simple as one is worse than the others. It is a dynamic of oppression, power vacuums, and dogmatic totalitarianism. But for a few changes in history, Christianity could be just like Islam is now.

          • Robert

            Again, for the most part I agree. Clearly neither of these two religions is anywhere near Jainism in not even allowing it to be possible to be that kind of fundamentalist.

            If both were in the same environments we’d argue differences like “well in one you’d have X% chance of becoming a suicide bomber while in the other you’d have X+1% chance because those extra lines in that particular book make it that tiny bit easier to rationalize that behavior once you’ve added all the other ingredients.

            But that’s not where we are, it’s only something that could have been but isn’t. And that matters.

      • Artor

        Look at Uganda.

  • trucreep

    Initially, when I first saw Greenwald getting into it with Harris (and New Atheism), I was torn. However, the exchange let everyone get what they thought out there, and I have to say it’s made me step back and rethink some things.

    Needless to say, the journalist whose article Greenwald was originally linking to, Murtaza Hussain, pretty much sums everything up perfectly in a post he made on Harris’s Facebook. http://ggsidedocs.blogspot.com.br/2013/04/murtaza-hussain-replies-to-harris-and.html

    I think that sums it up better than any further comment I could make.

  • Tobias27

    I don’t want to nitpick but all religions are tied for the worst. The followers of Isalm are just more priimitve and violent and (add ten more things here)

  • Judaka

    Without religion we could have figured out morality? Morality isnt something thats figured out.. and when you apply Christian/Western ethics to Islam your opinion is the result. People are stabbed over parking spaces, that’s irrational violence.. Wasn’t America doing the exact same thing to entire contries over communism just a while ago? And now for oil? I think you need to re-examine what constitutes as unnecessary violence in this world.


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