Harris v. Greenwald II: Is Islam Worse Than Other Religions?

Crusades1

Commenting on my previous post, adpr wrote:

[M]y simple question is: Does Islam at this moment constitute a greater threat compared to other religion for peace. This question was brought up by Harris in his lengthy response on his blog. The key question being, should we consider Islam a greater threat to peace than Jainism, a religion that strictly adheres to non-violence?This question set be back because initially I was agreeing with Greenwald. But Jainism, although still a religion that believes in supernatural deity, has a lot less that I criticize than Islam, Christianity or Zionism?

So, if we were equally critical of all these religions, are we not saying we consider each of these religions equally detrimental to the state of society that we want to change.

This is what Harris wrote on his blog, the passage adpr is referring to (emphasis in the original):

My criticism of faith-based religion focuses on what I consider to be bad ideas, held for bad reasons, leading to bad behavior. Because I am concerned about the logical and behavioral consequences of specific beliefs, I do not treat all religions the same. Not all religious doctrines are mistaken to the same degree, intellectually or ethically, and it would be dishonest and ultimately dangerous to pretend otherwise. People in every tradition can be seen making the same errors, of course—e.g. relying on faith instead of evidence in matters of great personal and public concern—but the doctrines and authorities in which they place their faith run the gamut from the quaint to the psychopathic. For instance, a dogmatic belief in the spiritual and ethical necessity of complete nonviolence lies at the very core of Jainism, whereas an equally dogmatic commitment to using violence to defend one’s faith, both from within and without, is similarly central to the doctrine of Islam. These beliefs, though held for identical reasons (faith) and in varying degrees by individual practitioners of these religions, could not be more different. And this difference has consequences in the real world. (Let that be the first barrier to entry into this conversation: If you will not concede this point, you will not understand anything I say about Islam. Unfortunately, many of my most voluble critics cannot clear this bar—and no amount of quotation from the Koran, the hadith, the ravings of modern Islamists, or from the plaints of their victims, makes a bit of difference.)

If you’re interested, you can read a sort of Muslim rebuttal to Harris here. [On edit: If you follow this link you may or may not be shocked by the Truther headline, which I don’t endorse. However you react to that, the thrust of the discussion below this is on the question of the Quran’s edicts on the murder of a non-Muslim. You and Sam Harris might also be shocked by what the author of this page has to say on that subject, but it won’t be the cheap sort of shock you get with a gratuitous anti-Muslim slur from Ann Coulter.]

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to try to explain my own position on this question redacting my responses to adpr’s comments and replies to my comments, following the jump. Continue reading

#TeaParty Patriot Founder: “Why do the politicians and media figures want us to hate each other?”

Mark Meckler, one of the founders of Tea Party Patriots, spoke to a crowd of leftists at Seattle’s Citizen University conference recently (hat tip to Upworthy), and what he said resonates in a way with what I was arguing in my debate  with partisan Democrat Milt Shook yesterday on Twitter:

Meckler’s answer to the question above, if you haven’t watched this brief video, is that it profits politicians and others at the center of the DC power structure to maintain the false divide between left and right: the strategy is called Divide and Conquer. I’m thrilled to hear that Meckler is apparently refusing to play along. Imagine if all of us who were inspired by the occupy movement and all of those who were fired up by the Tea Party came to the same conclusion: our enemies are not among the people. Our enemies are the ones who think we owe them votes and viewership, who manufacture our opinions and sell them retail as the stuff of our national politics.

Here’s hoping this is another sign of a new phase of revolution, one that will enable us to take  back the democracy and make it work for people again.

Tortured Argument from a Straight Talker: On Democrats, Progressives and Centrists

I’m in the middle (or hopefully, at the end) of a much more involved debate than I was expecting on Twitter with a fellow named Milt Shook, who operates a blog called, colorfully enough, Please…Cut the Crap. It’s on a topic that is bound to get a reaction from me: the question of whether progressives harm Democrats’ chances with centrists and other purported persuadables by criticizing the party’s standard bearers. He puts his case in a nutshell in the last graph of an article he calls “Stop Complaining About Dems. In 2014, Voters Will Still Only Have 2 Choices: Them or Disaster“:

Voters have two choices every November, and these days, the choice is between competence and disaster. When you trash “the Democrats” mercilessly, the Republicans gain. And if you don’t think we lose when Republicans gain, then you haven’t been paying attention. And we cannot allow 2014 to become just like 2010. We really can’t afford it.

Shook’s central point, it seems to me, is that the system may be severely flawed, but it’s the only one we have, therefore, progressives need to make peace with that and work with the one of only two (face it) parties most closely resembling (vaguely) a progressive one. Here’s how he puts it himself a the beginning of this post:

I know many of the people who read this blog would love to see a “third party” pop up. Unfortunately, our system is built in such a way that all a third party does is weaken one of the other two. This is why the progressive movement keeps failing; we keep hoping for things that can’t happen, and we look down on those things that can happen.

It’s important for everyone to realize that elections are the most important element in a democratic republic. They are the linchpin for everything. Marching and occupying is not, in itself, an expression of democracy. If such activism is not followed by effective campaign strategy that puts the best available people in office every single time, then it’s pretty much worthless.

That phrase is key. The BEST AVAILABLE candidate. In a democracy as diverse as ours, the best available candidate will almost never be far left, unless he or she represents a full-on left district. Sorry.

We might call Shook a “good-enough” progressive (since he identifies himself as a progressive and not a moderate–we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt). He sees the same rickety representative democracy we all see, the same crappy candidates, the same ineffectual institutions; but unlike his fellow lefties, he knows there’s no use breathing even a word of complaint against any of it (except the part to the left of him, perhaps). You might as well complain against the weather or our impending deaths. It’s written before we’re here. It’ll be here after we go. Roll with it, Henry.

It seems reasonable to ask Shook why he bothers to complain about progressives complaining about Democrats. Hasn’t that been going on (in some form or other) since the dawn of American political time as well? I think our friend Shook is concerned that we’re due for a repeat of 2010, which, I’ve just had confirmed by him on Twitter, he believes was “100%” the  fault of progressives rather than of any given Democrat:

I was a progressive working for a Dem in GOP district. I blame progs 100% for 2010.— Milt Shook (@MiltShook) April 16, 2013

Continue reading

Pre-Iraq War Flashback: Ron Rosenbaum’s Red Herring (October 2002)

Did anyone ever actually trust this man?

Did anyone ever actually trust this man?

I wrote the article that follows in response to a cutting dismissal of the brand new anti-war movement that sprung to life in the fall of 2002, just as it became clear what the Bush-Cheney administration was up to with its pot-stirring war preparations. It was intended as a letter to the editor for the New York Observer, where the offending article I was responding to was published,  but became too long for that purpose. I tried to place it at DemocraticUnderground.com, but they passed on it.

In any case, reading old  pablum from George Packer  and Bill Keller in the “liberal hawk” organ of record (Judy Miller‘s New York Times), I thought of this piece which expressed my disgust with the useful idiots of the center left pundit class lending aid and comfort to the Bushist program. Truly nauseating stuff, these guys wrote, if you can stomach it.

Anyway, without further ado, my response to “all that.” Continue reading

Another blast from the past

“[M]odern democracy is at the service of global capitalism. We will not be voting our way toward a more humanist redistribution of resources, least of all if the market does not require it. Similarly, when we voted for Obama in 2008, we did not really vote for what we had the audacity to hope we were voting for, nor for change we really could believe in. We were voting, simply, for the choice the Democratic Party, through its intricate, arduous and obscenely expensive vetting process, presented to Democrats and Americans as the titular head of its party. We were not voting for any ideas other than the usual handful that get talked about endlessly in media that also owe their existence and wealth to global capitalism. We get what global capitalism pays for and wants and needs in that office to further its aims and agenda (of enriching the rich and distributing resources toward that end).”

Tragic Farce

I call myself a Democrat because that’s how I’ve been registered all of my voting life. In fact, the older I get, the more disconnected I feel from that label. I don’t want to register as an independent because, Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, I can’t get over the prejudice that American independents are all right-wing at heart. Was it George Wallace’s American Independent Party that instilled this in me? Who knows? It’s beginning to feel, however, that the correct radical stance in this disintegrating context is to not register or vote at all. A vote begins to feel like acquiescence to the corruption.

Did Democrats or any other Obama supporter vote for the fiasco of the last month, culminating in the supreme surrender by our audacious leader last night to the anti-democrats of the Republican Party, bypassing the leaders of his own party to give the (fictional) partisanship-loathing centrists of the…

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Blast from the past, but it seems relevant still

 

“It appears that the inequality gap in the US has been caused by a combination of legalized looting of public resources by the financial class and tax policies that have favored them above all other classes in the society. This is, in effect, a government underwritten redistribution of wealth away from the bottom 99% toward the top 1% and, therefore, it would seem to violate the Paulist principle that starts this article.”

Tragic Farce

4. Government may not redistribute private wealth or grant special privileges to any individual or group.

–from The Ten Principles of a Free Society

Continuing my gradual critique of Ron Paul’s Ten Principles, the next in line is relevant to what I’ve been talking a lot about these past few weeks, the great impetus behind #OccupyWallStreet: income inequality.

It’s significant that the godfather of the Tea Party movement (the original form of it, anyway) includes wealth redistribution in his principles of liberty. It points up an area where these two movements can either come together or get driven apart.  There’s no question about where #ows stands on this point. Income inequality is a key symptom of the disease #0ws arose in response to, and one of its goals, I would argue,  is to force a correction of what it views this to be: a moral wrong. If Paul is…

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Scrap the Constitution?

Do you consent to being governed by these people?

Do you consent to being governed by these people?

On Huffington Post’s Live channel this afternoon, Georgetown law school professor Louis Michael Seidman took up the case he made in the New York Times last weekend that the US should (as the Times piece title had it) “give up on the Constitution.” In the Times piece, Seidman wrote:

AS the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions….

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination?

Seidman argues  that what he calls “constitutional disobedience” is not radical or new but has been applied over and over in the nation’s history. “No sooner was the Constitution in place than our leaders began ignoring it,” he wrote in the Times. He cites  several big examples, beginning with the writing of the Constitution itself, when national leaders chose expediency over fidelity to the sacred document.

On HuffPo, Seidman the non-radical was met mainly with skepticism from left and right, from defenders of civil liberties as well as from Cato Institute grandee Roger Pilon. The latter said something I actually agree with, that Seidman was getting it “exactly backwards,” suggesting a political solution when our politics is precisely what’s gone wrong. But I think Pilon’s faith in the document is misguided, as I think anyone’s faith in it is. Continue reading

#FreePussyRiot: “Punk Prayer” Translated

To mark the impending ban of Pussy Riot from the Russian Internet for being “extremists” dangerous to the state, I’m reproducing  Carol Rumen’s translation of the Riot’s “Punk Prayer,” the song that gained them a trial for “hooliganism” and world attention in the first place.

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish him, we pray thee!

Congregations genuflect,

Black robes brag gilt epaulettes,

Freedom’s phantom’s gone to heaven,

Gay Pride’s chained and in detention.

KGB’s chief saint descends

To guide the punks to prison vans.

Don’t upset His Saintship, ladies,

Stick to making love and babies.

Crap, crap, this godliness crap!

Crap, crap, this holiness crap!

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

Be a feminist, we pray thee,

Be a feminist, we pray thee.

Bless our festering bastard-boss.

Let black cars parade the Cross.

The Missionary’s in class for cash.

Meet him there, and pay his stash.

Patriarch Gundy believes in Putin.

Better believe in God, you vermin!

Fight for rights, forget the rite –

Join our protest, Holy Virgin.

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, we pray thee, banish him!

Kant and Capital Punishment (Take 2)

In a previous post, I responded to commenter Dudley Sharp‘s citation of a quote purporting to be from Immanuel Kant in support of the death penalty:

“If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death….A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

Not being a philosopher but having read and thought a bit about Kant on my own, I doubted the provenance of the quote. In fact, it turns out it is from Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals. Kant did indeed believe in and argue for the morality of capital punishment.

This in itself, of course, does not solve the matter. Just because Kant thought the death penalty was moral doesn’t mean it is, in fact, so.  But I want to take the argument seriously and consider it in terms of Kant’s ethics as a whole as I understand them. Again, I’m not trained as a philosopher, as is probably apparent to anyone who wondered why I doubted the original quote was from Kant. But bear with me. This is an important and useful line of thought with respect to justice generally. And by all means, if you think my reasoning is wrong, please explain why in the comments section of this post. Continue reading

#Frankenstorm and the Way We Talk About Climate Change

Andrew Revkin, in his Dot Earth blog for the New York Times, has been writing a lot over the past few days about the relation of global warming/climate change to the ferocious late-season appearance of #Frankenstorm Sandy, which flooded lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, tore up the Jersey shore, killed some 40 people in the US and left more than 7 million on the East Coast with no power for several days (not to mention the overlooked damage it wrought in the Caribbean before smashing into Delaware on Sunday). Many of his readers (including climate activist Dan Miller) accuse Revkin (who is a science journalist and not a professional scientist) of taking too cautious a tack on climate change generally and on human responsibility for the increase of North Atlantic storm activity in particular. Continue reading