Is there trouble with Islam?

Is there trouble with Islam? November 9, 2014

Below is a post which I mostly wrote some time ago, but which I will preface, edit and add to now.

Before I get stuck in, I want to emphasise how I am a liberal commentator and am happy to be shown where I am wrong; I do not want to level accusations at Islam which are wrong and which have developed out of a biased media caricature of what Islam is. It is  easy to fire from the emotional hip and to rely on emotional social identity theory of ‘us and them’ such that I present an attack on Islam which is either  straw man or unwarranted.

Moreover, there is an issue here with the while notion of causality, something which I have looked at in the post “Have I ever killed someone?” I will not so much deal with that in huge depth here as I want to look at the two ideas in unison in the next post on this matter.

A few months back I posted a piece called “I Am Rationally Islamaphobic“. Some time later James Foley was been beheaded by IS over in the Middle East. This was on the back of a 7-year-old son of an Australian jihadi who was sickenly seen to hold up a recently decapitated head with little show of distaste.

A few weeks before this I was linked a video online which showed indiscriminate assassinations of carloads of people, walkers, seemingly everyday people. It was the worst thing I have ever seen. It shocked me and will stay with me for a long time to come. It was supposedly IS but could well have predated that.

This stuff is amazingly commonplace:

A Catholic priest and others beheaded to the cheering of crowds, including children (July 2013).

Police/army checkpoints and people systematically assassinated etc (Jan 2013).

3 Syrian truck drivers assassinated for not being Sunni.

Way worse and more.

These things are shocking. Seeing actual people die is terrifying. It’s horrible. Our brains do amazing things to differentiate the fake in films from the real in reality. And instantly your brain knows the difference and reacts massively differently to both. In some senses it has made me think twice about glorified action films.14150357671961_700

The videos in these links are chilling and I advise not watching them (two have been removed, but the articles are really interesting).

As I wrote in my previous piece:

Of course, this is a heavily abridged list of atrocities. Most extremist activity of this sort goes on under the radar on a daily basis around the world. If I hear of an ideologically driven atrocity going on in the world then the prior probability is that this atrocity is done, somehow, in the name of Islam. Given that short but representative list of events, it is important to note that in the same time period, no atheist of even Christian has done anything in the name of their worldview to the extent of  any of those massacres or wrongs.

We can safely say that the prior probability of an atrocity being in the name of Islam is staggeringly high, and, further, that the probability of more such events over the next month is staggeringly high. And this is global. Where there is Islam, there is fundamentalism. Whether it be killing school children in a school in Nigeria or killing school children in a school in Thailand, the same sad tale unfolds.

I am afraid, not so much for my safety, but for the safety of men, women and children around the globe. I am afraid for people who want to be able to freely declare what they believe or don’t believe. If you have a religion to which many of its adherents ascribe punitive measures toward those who don’t adhere to it and who don’t announce belief in its tenets, then you have a problem.

I see this kind of anti-intellectual bullying as a set of memetic failsafes which ensure that that particular ideology is preserved. If you are threatened non-belief with death; if you are carrot-dangled heaven as bribery for belief, and thoughtstick-beaten hell as fear for disbelief, then such a belief system will endure.

We must fight the good fight for freethought across the globe. We must show that these punitive anti-intellectual mechanisms are the ultimate hoodwink. It is not good enough that hordes of people worldwide are simply denied the right to (publicly) critically evaluate.

Now, I don’t want to  be accused of straw manning Islam here. I know there are many moderates and liberals. But they don’t seem to be doing a very good job of curtailing the actions of the fundamentalists. Which is itself a very odd term, since  fundamentalists take the fundamental tenets of their religion and apply them. Should that not be what all proper adherents do? By admitting that there are a goodly number of moderates and liberals does nothing to eradicate the fact that there are also a goodly number of extremists who are doing very newsworthy things in the same name.

No, I am not being irrational or bigoted. The evidence speaks for itself. Where there are large congregations of Muslims, there is a higher chance that some of those people will harbour problematic ideologies. Whether it is a misinterpretation of the Qu’ran is irrelevant. The No True Scotsman fallacy will have no traction with me here.

Would it be more accurate to call me Islamicextremistaphobic? Probably, but that is unnecessary. We don’t special plead every atrocity committed by a Christian in the name of Christianity as being somehow non-Christian, or compartmentalising it to the point of being individualistic. Generalisations are useful. And the generalisation here is that the probability of Muslims committing an atrocity in the name of Allah over the next week is high. Perhaps if we got to hear if other religions did this, we would change our minds, but this information is not forthcoming.

Am I afraid if Islam? Yes. Can I defend this fear rationally? Yes, I think that I can.

[EDIT: I want to just make it as clear as possible, particularly for those readers who do not know me or my writing that I do not espouse a sort of bigoted anti-Islam as espoused by, say, the likes of the Daily Mail etc. I am fully cognisant of the reality of a spectrum of views within Islam and that many feel that these extremists should not be and are not representative of Islam as a whole. But this is the issue. If such a text and developed worldview is more probable and disposed to inspire and encourage non-democratic theocracies as well as entrenched and embedded sub-cultures of extremism, then the religion and holy text must be critically evaluated as a whole in this light. If we came across a cult who adherents were predisposed, empirically though examples of real life violence, to worldview derived violence and atrocity, we would come down like a tonne of bricks on such a movement. Just because of the size and historical heritage of the Islamic movement does not make it immune to such a reaction. I am not rationally bigoted toward each and every Muslim whom I might meet. However, I am rightfully dubious, wary, of such a movement. Just as I would have been very cautious in declaring my atheism to an Inquisition period priest in their church, I am just as wary declaring it to an imam in their mosque, just on probability. For a holy book to countenance death to apostates,  whether it be misinterpreted by liberals or extremists, must mean that one must be wary of its more fervent adherents.]

The Caliphate of the Islamic State is itself a religio-political ideal, a theocracy. Now, one could claim that the things driving such atrocities are lust for power or something else (some might have said a socio-economic cauldron, but since many of the fighters are drafted from comfortable existences outside of the warzones, this seems incoherent). The problem with these sort of approaches is that we get some nebulous idea of what is causing such things. Twenty years ago, people didn’t have more desire for power, inherently as humans, than now, surely? So, if we are in a situation of heightened religious violence, what is causing it? What can we do about it? And is there trouble with Islam: is this religion in some way responsible for this ‘cancerous growth’ of extremism?

Adding to the list of litanies committed by Islamic State, there are the plethora of other groups, such as al-Nusra who are edging moderates out of Syria to the point of looking like the moderates have lost. What is equally scary is the fact that they are so successfully recruiting children. s a 13-year-old child said to the BBC reporter:

I like Islamic State because they pursue Sharia and kill infidels, non-Sunnis and those who converted from Islam,” he says.

“The people killed by Islamic State are American agents. We must behead them as Allah said in the Koran.”

I ask whether he has disclosed his age to those to whom he talks online.

“At the start, I didn’t,” he says.

“But recently I told them – and now they contact me even more, sending me photos and news.”

But why not simply enjoy his childhood, I ask?

“I don’t want to go out with friends or have fun. Allah ordered us to work and fight for the next life – for paradise. Before, I went to the park or the seaside.

“But then I realised I was wrong – and I’ve taken the righteous path.”

His family now lives in Turkey – so would he launch an attack here, or in Britain for example?

“Britain should be attacked because it’s in Nato and is against Islamic State,” he says, “but we would kill only those who deserve it. If they ask me to attack Turkey and give me a holy order, I would do it. Soon the West will be finished.”

What is also startlingly depressing is that, in the wake of the Islamic State making such terrible news, movements like Boko Haram have gone under the radar. But Boko Haram has been committing similar atrocities and is making massive gains, renaming towns as “City of Islam” and suchlike.

Estimates are that some 15,000 jihadis from 80 countries, 500 or so from the UK, are currently in Syria and Iraq. That is, by my calculation, 1 in 5000 UK Muslims going to fight jihad, and undoubtedly more sympathisers here. As an example of the reasoning for such jihad, see this excerpt from a BBC interview:

One British man who is still in the UK has told the BBC in an interview that he feels it is his “obligation” to now go to Iraq or Syria.

We don’t know his real name, or where he comes from in the UK, and during our TV interview his face is covered with a bright red scarf.

After he says hello, “Ahmed”, as he wants to be known, speaks with purpose. He details why he wants to fight in Iraq or Syria.

“God has commanded for the Muslims to go and fight jihad”, he says.

It follows a call from the extremist group ISIS, now calling itself Islamic State (IS), for Muslims to leave their homes and join it in its often brutal battle.

For Ahmed it is a religious call he cannot ignore: “This thing takes takes precedence over everything else in my life at the moment, this is the biggest thing for a Muslim.

“To die as a martyr is the promise of paradise, the highest paradise.”

He only agreed to speak to us if he could cover his face and if we changed his voice. He never removed his scarf, we never caught even a glimpse of what he looked like.

“God has commanded for the Muslims to go and fight jihad”, he said. I asked why: he had a choice, he didn’t need to go, so why did he?

Ahmed paused before replying “I have a choice, yes but Islamically this is an obligation.”

To me, the situation is scary because the heinous crimes of IS are going effectively unpunished and are fuelling further recruitment, rather than universal disgust! The casual contempt of women in the video of bartering for Yazidi slaves, countenanced by Islamic reference, is terrible. I would embed it, but it looks like it has now been removed, but you can read about it here, at the Independent, including this transcription:

-Today is the slave market day. Today is the day where this verse applies “Except with their wives and the (captives) whom their right hands possess, for (then) they are not to be blamed.”

-Today is distribution day God willing. Each one takes his share.

-I swear man I am searching for a girl. I hope I find the one.

-Today is the day of (female) slaves and we should have our share.

-Where is my Yazidi girl? Where is my Yazidi girl?

-Whoever wants to sell his slave, whoever wants to give his slave as a present everyone is free to do what he wants with his share.

-Where is my Yazidi girl?

-Whoever wants to sell, I can buy my brothers. Whoever wants to sell his slave I buy. Whoever wants to sell his own slave, I buy her. And if you also give her as a girl, also I take her. Who wants to sell?

-I want to sell.


-I pay three banknotes [1 banknote is most probably 100 dollars]. I buy her for a pistol. The price differs if she has blue eyes.

-I buy her for a Glock.

-I pay 5 banknotes.

-It depends on what she looks like.

-If she is 15-years-old…I have to check her …Check her teeth.

If she has green eyes…

If she doesn’t have teeth, why would I want her?

-Put dentures for her.

-I don’t want.

– ON the Yazidis… Can one take 2 slave girls? Does that work?

-[Voice behind camera] You have a share. What will you do with it?

-I’ve got a share of Yazidi but I don’t want one.

-Why? Wait why don’t you want yours?

-Abu Farouk and I, we do not want any.

-[Asks boy] Do you want a Yazidi slave? [boy nods] Can you handles her?

And on and on and on and on.

Why do I mention this all? Well, I am interested in the causality of this all. Whilst I do not want to stir up anti-Islamic hatred here or anywhere, I also do not want to needlessly ignore problems where they exist. I take it we all, readers here, want this horror to stop. So is this just men with a lust for power and control? Is that what drives jihadis from the UK and elsewhere to these foreign countries? Well, no, because there are countless such causes involving power struggles around the world to which men from the UK do not go and support (certainly on this scale). You only have to look at the glossy magazine that IS produce to realise that this really is religiously inspired (you can see this here, but there should be warnings because many of the images are disturbing). If we are talking about proximal necessary causality, and do not wish to regress to the Big Bang, then we should probably admit that Islam is largely to blame. More on the philosophy of that in the next post. But for the time being, suffice it to say that if we removed Islam from the causal soup influencing these young men, such atrocities in the region would unlikely now be occurring.

Of course, any Muslim could pull the No True Scotsman. I get that. We can argue whether a moderate who exegetically interprets the uncomfortable verses out of the Qu’ran could claim that these radicalists, these fundamentalists, are not really true Muslims, reflecting Muhammad. But they are fundamentalists who are following the fundamental tenets of their religion, no? After all, Muhammad had a dodgy track record. I need not, particularly, reel off the verses of the Qu’ran which definitely do call for the death of infidels and suchlike. To me, this exegetical issue is evident in the difference between Islam and Christianity. Reinterpreting Islam to cohere with a progressive modern society is a stretch since the holy book is the direct word of God, as opposed to the merely inspired word of God written down by humans, as is the case with the Bible. And this gives force to the Islamists who feel they are enacting the actual word of God. Christians are less likely to do that, less likely to enact the terrible passages of the Old Testament since they are exegetically erased in their modern relevance on account of the ‘context’ card.



It is much more difficult for Islam and Muslims to do this.

So back to the main thrust of this article. Is Islam and are Muslims at fault for the current crisis in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world? Does the religion need to reform its way out of this scenario?

Well, at most we can say some Muslims and a type of Islam, but that is, in my opinion, what is often meant by “Muslims” and “Islam”. If you think that when we attack Christianity, given that there are 42,000 different denominations thereof, we are always using the word as a shorthand for “this type(s) of Christianity” since there will always be a mode of Christianity which isn’t homophobic, right-wing, pro-slavery or whatever. When we generalise, we do so to be pragmatic, otherwise every term we ever use to be pragmatic would have to be utterly and accurately specific such that we would end up having to physically name every single “Muslim” we are referring to. You wouldn’t have generalised sets of things, but collections of named individuals which fully represent a set. This would make conversations impossible. You could never again refer to politicians, criminals, sports people, men, women, children, unemployed, employed etc. in generalised terms.

Let’s take this further. Do these people who are committing such atrocities do so as being representative of Islam and as having Islam, or their idea of Islam, as defining their actions? Well, to answer the latter question, whilst politics and poverty and any number of other variables may be at play, the core idea is religious. Read the magazine. Listen to their words. See the Sharia laws and organisation of the communities which they set up in their wake. See the justification for their actions. Listen to the reasons as to why the jihadis go abroad to do these horrible things. Yes, the motivation is definitely at least mainly religious.

Attacking foreign policy is, to me, simply a post hoc rationalisation to try to justify such actions to non-Muslims to seem rational and justified in any kind of objective sense. I cannot over-emphasise this enough. Foreign policy is a poor excuse. Go out and democratically vote. become a peaceful political activist. Such reasoning only thinly veils what are religious motivations, which themselves may well represent a very complex set of in-group / out-group social identity psychologies.

Perhaps we could say social identity theory is at root, that such people are only looking to stamp their in-group identity on the world. But that identity itself is religious. Religion represents their in-group. If the Qu’ran had been a properly peaceful book, more like the New Testament (and utterly ignoring the Old) then Muslims would have a very different social and political identity, so I don’t buy that as being at fault as opposed to the religion itself. The identity and the religion are integrated. That identity is wrong by point of fact that no morally good agent should want to fight for that identity, should want to be in that group, should want to offer themselves to that set of moral obligations.

We come back to admitting that religion is at causal play here, in some necessary fashion, within these agents, as opposed to, say, me. I am not a jihadi committing atrocities because I do not have Islam as a contributory causal component.

But there are plenty of moderates, right? Plenty of non-jihadi Muslims.

Yes, but as I have said before and linked above, these Muslims are, in fact, not acting upon the fundamental tenets of their religion. They are, in fact, the non-true Scotsmen. Liberal and moderates have interpreted their way out of the texts such that Islam can cohere with core societal values that they hold.

Great. I applaud that. Unfortunately, I think they have less religious warrant for this than their radical counterparts.

Now, I am no Qu’ranic exegete, and this could get me into trouble. But I refer you, again (as in a previous post) to this online comment/article:

There is always the plight of context argument with Islam’s holy text Quran. The apologetic version is “Quran cannot be interpreted and understood except with its context.” This paraphrasing is constantly adduced by Islamic apologists whenever any argument against the violent verses within the text is raised.

But the way Islam justifies the divine origin of Quran automatically exclude it from the use of historical method of exegesis. There is this dilemma for Muslims to face. The text in fact is contextual as understood by Muslim explanation of its historical formation. But it is not a version of facts Muslims want to subscribe when they are fomented to believe in the interminable status of the text. Quran is meant for the whole of humanity is the undisputed Muslim belief. The belief proceeds on as the book is pertinent to the end of times.

Is not it implausible to believe in the infinite relevance of Quran and at the same time rise objections to critiques by embarking a context smoke screen? Should not Muslims give up the context excuse if they want to use Quran as a text which’s relevance is distended to the end of times?

There is only an affirmative answer to these questions….

Let us come back to the Quran. Allah spoke to a seventh century Arab in the latter’s language. And all what he said to this prophet is recorded to fructify a Quran. To sum it up, Allah sent his last message to this same prophet then stopped speaking downright. Because god sent his last message and promised to preserve it forever, he will not speak any more until the day of resurrection. He will not send any prophet, since sending a prophet will stir him up again. This is the end. God sent his final messenger, and even though he did not favor immortality to the messenger, he blessed the message with immortality.

So, Quran, Islam’s holy text is not a pushover. It is the ultimate message of god. There is nothing to add or subtract in it. All of its components are divine, equally divine. All are applied to all and all.

In conclusion, if there is a command in Quran, there is no need to look for its historical context since humanity from the formation of Quran to the end of times are living in the context of the text. It is the Muslim belief. God, Gabriel, Muhammad, three key figures formed Quran have infinite relevance, so the making (Quran) too necessarily possess the quality of being interminably relevant. If this is the common Muslim belief pertaining to Quran, there is no room for a context excuse in its case.

Thus, the context excuse in the case of Quran is flawed in its fundamentals.

Which is to say that moderates and liberals have no epistemic right to draw the moderate or liberal context card. These proclamations of God are immutable and timeless.

And I would agree. It’s just that it never happened and that that God, like all of the others, is nonsense.

But this nonsense is driving hatred, moral and political upheaval, violence, poverty, inequality and subjugation throughout much of the world. And it has not insignificant support throughout the rest of the world. (eg “The ‘Explosive Growth’ of Jihadism in the Netherlands”, or The Economist looking at French Jihadism, etc).

As you can see from some of these horrifying pictures, children are being recruited, and all around them are religious quotes, slogans, chants and justifications.



These pictures aren’t for emotional appeal to get you to agree with my point, this is reality. This  is what is going on on a massive scale, and every child you see in these pictures is at the very least de-sensitised, and at most an active jihadi.

This is the world as it is changing and in which we live. Yes, this has always happened to some degree, and yes, the West may have contributed in some fashion to exacerbating the problem in its actions over the last 100 years. But that has been and gone. Now is now.

It is time to rediscover our humanity.

And it lies in humanism and its values, and not in this type of religion. No, not at all.

So, what’s my point?

Well, it’s about time Islam had a reformation. It wouldn’t be epistemically warranted, as far as the religion itself is concerned, but it would be bloody useful. Outsiders can’t tell Muslims what to do with their religion, it will only entrench fervent believer. No, big movements need to come from the inside.

I will leave you with this concise quote from a commenter on facebook:

“The existence of some who identify as believers of a particular religion but do not exhibit the worst of that religion is not evidence that the religion itself is not worthy of serious criticism.”

[UPDATE: Some people have reacted to this piece in claiming the West is responsible in its actions over the years – see my above comments about foreign policy; or that nationalist tendencies are, but that this is just an extreme type of nationalism (eg the No True Nationalist fallacy). So it is sadly apt that Boko Haram today have had a suicide bomber kill 47 students at a school assembly. That has nothing to do, really, with nationalism or western foreign policy, but a dominionist, religionist jihadi worldview. Which is my point.]

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  • NoCrossNoCrescent

    And when I talk about this I get called “a shill for the American empire”, ” a xenophobe”, but most amusingly perhaps “a Christian posing as an atheist”. But as a wise man said, you can’t fool all the people all the time.

    • I tried to be objective and non-sensationalist. Hope I was.

    • kraut2

      Yes, you are a fucking shill for the American Empire because the responsibility for this whole bloody mess lies with an America that supports the Saudi regime and its wahabi ideology from day one, that removed a Sadam Hussein from power who was able to hold Iraq together without replacing it with a stable government – you break it, you bought it, and don’t wash your fucking hands of the responsibility – who paid for and supported Osama and the Taliban against Russia with the consequences of a severe blowback, who supported so called moderates in Syria that are now fighting as Isis, who paid for their training, who replaced Gaddafi that then opened the floodgate of fundamentalism, who also instigated the mess in Ukraine by paying and supporting the so called Euro Maidan which was a cover for a fascist takeover.

      You are a bloody fool looking only at the symptoms of what America, the empire of chaos has wrought in order to keep its economic and military dominance, this concept of chaos an agenda advanced by the neocon clique around Bush.

      Yes, we have to deal with the mess now your so obviously beloved by you governments have wrought – and I include Obama as clearly being on the side of the neocons – but keep in mind who brought this shit upon us for their own short term gains.

      What we need is what we had during the cold war – a counterpoint to an as of now unilaterally acting America, a balance to keep the greed of the elites of this country in check, who think they have a natural right for the cheapest resources at the cost of human lives. acting without restraint to further their resource grabbing at any cost to others.

      • Easy tiger!

        So whilst you are broadly correct in what you say, and that the West is certainly involved in causing geo-political problems, I think this is not what is primarily causing the kind of issues going on in the Middle East.

        You see, the US has done the same thing for 60 years in South America, and whilst there have undoubtedly been issues there over the years (Pinochet, the missing thousands etc), the people there are not defined by the greatest reward or punishment in human conception.

        What Islam does, as a memeplex, bribes its adherents to do the most abhorrent things.

        And the US has done similar things around the world, but never before have British citizens gone apeshit over here and joined military jihads.

        Because now, religion is at play.

      • Hey Kraut, you might want to see my update addendum at the bottom of the article.

  • David Warden

    Hi Jonathan – I thought I would mention that fundamentalist Christians believe that God will destroy infidels, gays etc. Fortunately they have more or less stopped doing this work for him so it only exists as a theological threat. It’s still pretty ugly though and it’s not very nice for our fellow humans to go around with this genocidal thought in their head as they go about their normal business in the human world. It seems to me it’s worse for them psychologically than for any of us infidels.

    Do you think writers like Tariq Ramadan could help to foster an Islamic reformation?

    • Bad thoughts are bad.

      But bad thoughts backed up by bad actions are worse; much worse.

      I would, if I was the UK, be packing millions upon millions into agencies and thinkers like Qwilliam.

    • kraut2

      Christianity has always the “out” of acknowledging of the OT as “one” of the holy books, but claiming it was superseded by the kinder and gentler version as supposedly preached by someone called Jesus of Nazareth.
      This way it is easier to distance the NT and the christian reformation of judaism from its more unpalatable roots.
      Islam has a bigger challenge – the reinterpretation of the prophets word, to fit it into a modern context. However – at present the fundamentalists have at least militarily the upper hand, so reformation might be a lot tougher considering that the threat is equally towards non fundamentalist muslims, muslims of the wrong site of the schism and non muslims.
      and the opposite:

      • Absolutely, and that was much of my point. The potential for reformation is stunted given the provenance (so called) of the text.

  • Mat

    Extremists of any kind will seemingly always consider themselves justified to carry out all kinds of atrocities.
    During the Cold War both the US/UK and Soviet Union installed, supported, and armed any number of ruthless and cruel dictators. This was done as a means to ensuring that their ideology (and thus co-operation and control) would ultimately dominate a specific country or region.

    There are countless nations that are still suffering as a result, be it Iran, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, all of which have their own problems with religious fundamentalists and extremists (in the cases of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, their current religiously oppressive stances and human rights abuses are tolerated out of convenience).

    Iraq is clearly the most recent example of the UK interfering in the politics of another nation.
    Was the overthrowing of Saddam wrong? No, he was cruel and ruthless. Was helping to ensure that someone like him could ruthlessly control a nation, removing all hopes of legitimate opposition as he did so? Yes.
    At the time of writing this the top search result for the word ‘Iraq’ on Google is this news story:
    ‘British man Kabir Ahmed is reported to have died while carrying out a suicide bombing in Iraq.’

    It seems bizarre that just over ten years ago our government at the time illegally invaded the country, and in doing so left it totally unstable, without a legitimate well established democratic process.
    We are both the reason Saddam was able to turn Iraq into what it was, and why there were no political parties to attempt to democratically create control after he was removed.
    As for why a British man would feel compelled to go and mass murder people there, that’s something we’ll have to try and work out for ourselves.

    At the very least all of this teaches us that our roles in these conflicts are still visible. It also explains why such extreme groups are able to thrive in such unstable conditions, and why groups that were previously violently and ruthlessly oppressed – by previous authoritarian dictators – are now trying to seize back power, which they probably consider to rightfully be theirs (Egypt is a grim example of the Muslim Brotherhood trying to democratically gain power and influence, only to unwittingly instigate a military coup, which would ultimately prove to be as ruthless and oppressive as the Brotherhood may have been).

    Extremist groups like IS are taking full advantage of countries like Syria and Iraq, exactly because there is no stability or because the ruthless authoritarianism that used to suppress them is no longer there (or in the case of Syria not strong enough to).
    If we don’t want groups like those to exist, then we not only need to stop creating conditions in which they can, but we also need to ensure that we aren’t actively supporting and arming them, as we have also done in the past.

    In response to the idea that the above is so much worse, simply because religion is a driving force, instead of extremist nationalism, it’s worth reading about the vast number of human rights abuses, mass murders, torture, and coups against democratically elected leaders that were allowed to happen in pro-Western nations.

    if we don’t want to take any responsibility for our past, or even our current foreign policies, then so be it, but we shouldn’t act surprised when we witness suffering as a result of them.

    • Thanks for you thoughtful reply, Mat. In a sense it is a false analogy, since nationalism does not decree certain doctrinal positions. I don’t know if you read my full piece – it is admittedly very long! The point is that the Qu’ran DOES decree death to infidels, and those who have interpreted this out of their belief system, the liberals and moderates, have less epistemic right to do so than the fundamentalists. THIS is the issue. The Qu’ran differs from the Bible in being THE word of God, immutable and less able to be contextualised.

      There is also an element of victim blaming in your piece.

      What I mean by this is that in rape cases it is recognised that just because a woman may be drunk (ie that the scenario is more conducive to rape) this does not give the perpetrator the moral right to commit the atrocity of rape.

      OK, so the analogy has its limits. But what the West has done, in so many countries, has not been right or good, or sensible.

      But this DOES NOT make what the IS are doing in any way morally right.

      And this was a point from my piece: there are many places in South America where the West has screwed governments and people over, and yet the reaction has not been this barbarous.

      The barbarity of the scenario in the Middle East arises out of the dehumanisation of infidels. It is primarily a religious reaction, and enactions of religious doctrines and decrees,

      So, in the rape case, we can and should talk about the prevalence of alcohol abuse..But this does not excuse rape.

      We can and should talk about the West’s part in screwing up countries around the world, but it does not excuse the beheading of thousands, the creation of child jihadis, the death called upon countless infidels based on their nonbelief or different beliefs.

      And it doesn’t excuse those from other countries like the UK travelling IN ORDER to take part in suicide bombings and jihadi violence,

      (An interview yesterday showed that there is a waiting list of suicide bomber volunteers!))

      • johnny wong

        ‘And this was a point from my piece: there are many places in South
        America where the West has screwed governments and people over, and yet
        the reaction has not been this barbarous.’

        By your logic, that Islam is to blame, we should have seen a barbarous reaction from the Muslims who live in South America.

        • Not quite. Because there are different types of Muslim, which was largely my point. Those who have assimilated and diluted their beliefs to cohere with progressive societies and moral values.

          And those who have not.

          The fact is that Boko Haram today have murdered 47 school children. Now how is that a fair price to pay for Western geo-political ideals? That is a self-confessed attempt to make an Islamic state, which is, of course, what IS are doing too.

          It is one thing admitting that there are moderates and liberals, but this does not justify ignoring the radicals who do seem to be following the fundamental tenets and decrees of their holy book, which is the direct word of God, supposedly.

          • Mat

            They aren’t ignored any more than the Christians who murder abortion doctors or kill Muslims are. Or the Buddhists who kill Muslims, etc.
            The difference is that people don’t view those acts and say “they were inspired by their holy texts, all people that read them must be potential murderers”, they instead tend to say “those are extremists that need to be stopped” ideally including an afterthought about what their motivations and psychological states were.

            When I heard about the extremist acts carried out by Anders Breivik I didn’t think Norway needed to re-assess and worry over nationalism in Norway, I thought there was clearly one person, who is either mentally ill and/or has been driven to carry out extremist acts of terrorism.
            Again, in that instance we have to do our best to try and find out the causes, rather than suggesting that nationalism in general is a menace.
            The fact that the Qur’an has texts promoting violence in certain conditions is only a problem is everyone who reads it decides to act out those parts – which they don’t, to a factor of hundreds of millions.

          • “they were inspired by their holy texts, all people that read them must be potential murderers”

            That is clearly not my position. Mine would be “The holy text definitely does lend itself to believing that, and liberal or moderate Muslims are potentially not as epistemically warranted as radicals”.

            Which presents the problem. Now, there can be moderate Islamic success – see the political scenario in Indonesia. But again, the country does have its issues, with worries about a creeping “Pakistanization”.

            I am not saying that religion is the only cause, or that there are no other contributory factors. Of course there are. But Islam has a lot to answer for. Its holy book does. And this presents a problem. It needs a reformation, but the provenance of its holy books means that this is unlikely.

            “The fact that the Qur’an has texts promoting violence in certain conditions is only a problem is everyone who reads it decides to act out those parts – which they don’t, to a factor of hundreds of millions.”

            I have a problem with this because, comparatively speaking, Islam DOES have this issue. In the UK, I calculated 1 in 5000 Muslims have left for Jihad, with many more sympathisers remaining at home.

            I have a teaching friend who is ostensibly a liberal Muslim. However, she knows several people in Portsmouth who have gone to fight, and one who has died. She also couldn’t understand how an atheist like me could be moral. Her religious reasoning, as a pragmatic liberal, was terrible. She had few critical faculties in this particular domain.

            That’s anecdotal, for sure.

            But how many Christian ‘jihadis’ do you know?

            Here’s where it gets interesting.

            Because you COULD argue that fundamentalist policy makers in the US, for example, could be doing more harm to the world in denying AGW, and making dumbfuckery policies over and above any Islamic fundamentalism.

          • Mat

            What if, theoretically, Israel was invaded by a huge force, one that has every chance of winning against whatever opposition put up by Israel.
            Now imagine that upon hearing this news, and seeing countless footage of civilian deaths and suffering, some Jewish people, from various nations, decide to go and fight.
            Are they motivated purely by their religious texts, or by their faith or religious bonding in general? If a percentage of those Jewish people go on to commit horrific acts, are those acts the result of the Jewish texts, or that individual’s own emotional or environmental causes?

            >I am not saying that religion is the only cause, or that there are no other contributory factors. Of course there are.’I have a problem with this because, comparatively speaking, Islam DOES have this issue. In the UK, I calculated 1 in 5000 Muslims have left for Jihad, with many more sympathisers remaining at home.I am not saying that religion is the only cause, or that there are no other contributory factors. Of course there are.’But how many Christian ‘jihadis’ do you know?<
            I know one Christian nation, and one secular one – which is virtually a Christian one – that illegally invaded a country and caused the deaths of 460,000+ civilians (so more than twice as many as the amount so far killed in Syria).
            A lot of those soldiers could have been Christians, perhaps even including the ones that murdered civilians in cold blood, raped civilians and tortured them.
            Perhaps like the group of soldiers who went into a civilian home, murdered the entire family, except for a 14 year old girl, who the group of four soldiers raped and then shot in the face, followed by setting fire to the corpse.

            Both leaders of those nations stated that their god told them to do it. As for the war crimes committed by those soldiers and many others, I guess that is covered by the 'other contributory factors' because if they had been Muslims we could have just said it was because they're Muslims.
            We could also ask if the foreign policy of those nations lead to the mass killing of all those civilians, but again that isn't Islam, so it's probably not worth bothering thinking about.

            These situations are deeply complex, and the short and long term history of the issues and situations do need to be fully known if anything can be learned from them.
            If you want to continue to witness a planet's worth of inhumanity, suffering and cruelty, but somehow focus entirely on the instances linked to Islam, then so be it. The non-Islamic based atrocities will still be in the background, waiting for your attention.

    • Hey Mat, you might want to see my update addendum at the bottom of the article.

      • Mat

        My point is that if a country is allowed to be run by a ruthless dictator, then you will see countless abuses, rape, torture and murder over the period of their ruling by that dictator.
        I highly recommend that you read up on the various dictators that were installed over the last 40 odd years. They carried out (with the blessing of either the West or Russia) acts that are equally as worse than those referenced in your piece, and collectively on much, much larger scales.
        They are potentially made all the worse by the fact that they were carried out by paramilitary groups that directly answered to the dictators running the countries. So not only were the acts themselves horrific, but the victims and their families were at the mercy of their own oppressive leaders – not a random and relatively small group of extremists.

        Add to that the total collapse of stability and law and order, after such dictators are either removed from power or overthrown and you have a continuation of those events. Such collapses allow various groups or people to try and seize that control and power, be they sectarian clashes based on specific regions with old scores to settle, different religious denominations, nationalities within one nation, or fanatical religious groups.
        Examples include the large scale torture and killings carried out in Iran soon after the 1979 revolution, or the terrorism and murders carried out in Iraq after the removal of Saddam, or when Gaddafi was murdered in Libya.

        Please don’t think that just because I see reasons for those things happening, that I in any way find them in any way less horrific, inhumane and 100% inexcusable. I’m sure you won’t, when you come to read about them.

        ‘there are many places in South America where the West has screwed
        governments and people over, and yet the reaction has not been this
        barbarous.’ – you really need to do your research before you make such statements. Here is some reading on the various barbarous acts that took place in just one of the countries, Chili:
        ‘Tens of thousands of men and women were subsequently arrested and tortured. Many are still missing and many thousands left the country as exiles.
        3,216 people are officially recognized as missing or murdered, while 38,254 people are recognized as survivors of political imprisonment and/or torture.
        Amnesty International visited Chile in November 1973 to document human rights abuses and published a report a few months later.’

        If you want a more personal account, then here is an interview with one of the victims. She is an American nun who was imprisoned, tortured and gang raped (one of the rapists was an American).|

        If you think there is no connection between the way we have used and destabalised these countries, and the types of groups that fight for power in them, then I would strongly urge you to read more about the histories of these nations.

        • “I highly recommend that you read up on the various dictators that were installed over the last 40 odd years. They carried out (with the blessing of either the West or Russia) acts that are equally as worse than those referenced in your piece, and collectively on much, much larger scales.”

          I am aware of this. But this says nothing about the morality of those committing atrocities in the ME or elsewhere, in the name of Islam. They are separate issues which should be dealt with in their own way. I used South America as an example precisely because I have been interested in the US’ meddling there since watching John Pilger’s War on Democracy some years back.

          I think it is not just about the scale, but the inhumanity of it, the style of the killing and death, and the sheer contempt for the global society. They are not keeping it secret, which is an implicit acceptance of the moral dubiousness of it, but gladly, gleefully, telling the world.

          Hah! I see in you comment now that you reference and link Pilger’s work.

          OK. So there were, like everywhere and at all times, horrific actions. But they were on behalf of nefarious dictator rulers. But in the ME and Nigeria, it is the ‘freedom fighters’ and challengers to these regimes who are committing the atrocities. And the bribes and punishments are eternal. They are the greatest and worst things in human conception. Heaven and hell are powerful motivators. The motivation and feeling of rectitude that God gives you is second to none.

          I think you are perhaps presenting a false dichotomy.

          I am NOT saying that asking Islam for a reformation means we can’t do things about the political and moral issues that exist elsewhere in the world!!!!

          My original point about using South America was precisely THAT there were atrocities but that the reaction by the victims of those regimes WAS NOT to go around selling people into slavery, massacring minorities, raping people and so on.

          So perhaps you have got me the wrong way round, or I have not been clear enough with my claims.

          It is this:

          Islam needs a reformation
          A reformation would not be a true reflection of Islam

          Perhaps as long as Islam exists, there will always be true Muslims with a propensity to kill infidels on large scales.

          The West’s actions, whilst at times stupid and not helpful do still do not morally justify such atrocities. After all, the West’s meddling in South America did not cause the victims to go around beheading people (those sorts of actions were perpetrated by the Quisling governments that the US put in charge!).

          • Mat

            I’m glad you enjoyed ‘The War on Democracy’ – it’s certainly a very decent and worthwhile documentary.
            I recommend the documentary ‘The Power of Nightmares’ by Adam Curtis, although as a three part 3 hour long documentary, it isn’t exactly a quick watch. But it is extremely compelling and interesting, so I suspect the time will fly by.
            You can watch all three parts here:

            ‘The films compare the rise of the Neo-Conservative movement in the United States and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and claiming similarities between the two. More controversially, it argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organised force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is a myth perpetrated by politicians in many countries—and particularly American Neo-Conservatives—in an attempt to unite and inspire their people following the failure of earlier, more utopian ideologies.’
            If you want an example of the West interfering in another nation, which would then lead to people carrying out horrific acts in the name of religion, then may I represent the mujahideen of Afghanistan, circa 1978.
            Finances, arms and military intelligence all provided by America – which would later be put to use carrying out terrorist attacks worldwide, thanks to the expert training they received by the US, and payroll of Bin Laden.
            It would also leave Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban just over a decade later, not long after the Soviet Union pulled out of the country (leaving it unstable and weak).
            It’s also worth noting that when the Taliban did seize power they received diplomatic recognition from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – two nations that are consistently supported by the West regardless of their various human rights abuses.

            You can even watch Rambo teaming up with the mujahideen, in an unholy alliance against the evil Soviet Union, thanks to the film Rambo 3.
            I’ll try and focus the debate by saying that Islam may not need a reformation any more than Christianity did – it simply has to be made less relevant or powerful by the nation or society that it exists within.
            The NT was around for virtually as long as the OT, but it still took hundreds of years for Christianity to become the relatively tolerant and modern religion it is now (but that is seemingly only the case in stable wealthy nations).

            Also, as both the NT and OT are considered sacred texts and part of the same book, it’s highly debatable that a ‘true’ Christian would follow both, especially considering this comment by Jesus:

            ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For
            truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest
            letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from
            the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands
            and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of
            heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called
            great in the kingdom of heaven.’ – Matthew 5:17-19

          • Thanks – sounds like a fascinating doc.

            The West’s involvement in the Middle East/Afghan is indeed a circlef”ck.

            And I do not deny any of this. I absolutely agree that the West’s politics need a wholesale rethink and pieces need to be picked up in any number of countries.

            “The NT was around for virtually as long as the OT, but it still took hundreds of years for Christianity to become the relatively tolerant and modern religion it is now (but that is seemingly only the case in stable wealthy nations).”

            The whole post above was really a carry-on from this post:


            The set-up of the religions is fundamentally different, meaning that Islam cannot effectively (not without too much tension) adapt to society in the way Christianity does.

            As for true Christians – I agree. It’s what I spend my days, weeks and years arguing!


          • Mat

            I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, if nothing else it has a great soundtrack :-)

            It’s interesting that this very issue of what is the ‘true’ form of Islam was discussed by none other than ‘Tony Robinson’ of the EDL in the documentary ‘Quitting the English Defence League: When Tommy Met Mo’.
            Tony made the point that if slavery, and the oppression of women, etc is in the Qur’an, then surely that IS Islam and thus is a threat to any civilised progressive society.

            During the documentary Tony and Mo met with two experts of Islam, who discussed that very problem:
            I’ve set the link to start at that specific part of the documentary.

            The experts talk about how Islam has changed over the centuries, and also that further changes to the interpretation of the Qur’an are needed and highly desirable.

          • Correct me if I’m wrong as it is from memory, but weren’t the experts secular or very liberal?

            My view is that the govt should pour millions into Qwilliam and suchlike.

          • Mat

            Pretty much yes – so thank god(s) they’re the experts and not the theocratic conservatives.

            I totally agree with you. I feel we also need to ask if the way the media portrays stories is helping or making things much worse (this applies to anything from climate change to the rise of the far right in politics), and if communities can do more to promote unity and understanding.
            Also, it would be a huge help if we didn’t have faith schools!

            The Quilliam Foundation have their own statement on radicalisation:

            ‘What is your perspective on radicalisation?
            Our analysis suggests that radicalisation of all varieties (Islamist,
            far right, violent, non-violent) is made more likely where an individual
            is exposed to an ideology, often justified in reference to a fabricated
            narrative about recent history and current affairs; where the
            individual encounters an individual or group (either in real life or
            virtually) who can articulate that ideology and relate it to the
            individual’s personal circumstances and context; where an individual
            doubts their British identity or sense of belonging in this country;
            and, fourthly, where an individual perceives a grievance (real, imagined
            or exaggerated) to which there seems to be no suitable response. These
            four factors, which interact with one another and are mutually
            reinforcing, help to explain why some individuals are more at risk from
            radicalisation than others.’

          • Thanks – good quote. I am considering trying to interview someone from Quilliam.

  • Gandolf

    “Why do I mention this all? Well, I am interested in the causality of this all. Whilst I do not want to stir up anti-Islamic hatred here or anywhere, I also do not want to needlessly ignore problems where they exist. I take it we all, readers here, want this horror to stop. So is this just men with a lust for power and control?”

    Its all been allowed to morph into one bloody great huge tangled mess,in my opinion.Who really knows? exactly where it might have all “first began”. Im inclined to believe that so many of these sort of troublesome issues that come to pass, are often interconnected, in some way, somewhere along the line.

    Ive become pretty interested in the “causality of this all” too. Lets face it, now days it also happens to be effecting all of us,now, to some extent.Long gone are the days, when we can afford to just shrug these matters off,with indifference, in considering them as merely just being about someone else s problem.Maybe our countries , should have tried to do more in times past,so as to try to help retain more peace and harmony.

    I think all aspects must need to be considered in depth. I mean even some simple aspects ,like how? the hell were certain groups of Christian, even allowed the “freedom” to have gotten so out of hand, that their business was busy involved in merrily printing bible verses onto rifle scopes

    Not that i blame the general American population for this. Because lets not forget, how religious tyranny has gotten so out of control, that many American are still even somewhat afraid to declare themselves as atheist.So we must first consider that, before questioning why someone didnt question why bible verses were being “freely allowed” to be printed on rifle scope. Even American folk dont necessarily always have the kind of freedom, to be able to question such things. Without possibility of facing some form of repercussion

    I cant help feeling that this whole scenario has been slowly simmering, for very many generations now. And more than one religion has played some part.

    Religion needs to be regulated. “Freedom of religion” is an idea that was always an untenable dream . I mean ,even when considering the fact that the idea of upholding right of freedom of religion , will thus also allow the space for types of religious tyranny to evolve.

    “Total freedom” of religion is an impossibility

    As a new zealander.My hope would simply be, that some how,some day, both Muslim and American alike, might find a way,so as to not need to be continually dealing with this problem

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