Suis-je #CharlieHebdo?

kissing_hebdoMy basic feeling about Charlie Hebdo: The crime was committed by a clique of criminals who self-identify as Muslims and identify this crime as being part of a holy war. But the crime is not holy, it’s murder of people for offending with cartoons, which is about as pathetic an excuse to commit murder as can be imagined. So the murderers deserve to be caught and shown only the mercy inherent in the criminal justice system in France and no more. That should be the scope of the discussions around this crime.

Instead, we are being treated to the spectacle–the same-idiotic-old-shit of a spectacle–of incensed white people, mostly, wanting to spread the blame for this murder away from the murderers and all over Islam and believers in Islam. To me, the idiocy of Islam is another discussion, and this red herring of Islam’s “blame” for this murder is just an excuse for incensed white people to behave badly and give full vent to their worst, most bigoted impulses. It’s all beside the point. It accomplishes nothing but spleen venting. It’s tiresome to have to fight it, but I just can’t stand stupidity from any quarter.

I just wonder, what am *I* missing? I have a knee-jerk need to fight the prevailing idiocy. What makes me so smart that I’m immune to it all, though? What am I missing? I don’t know…

I don’t listen to talking heads. I just want the basic facts, not all the bullshit that always comes with them, all the gas spewing out of idiots’ gas holes on TV about them. Of course I found this story irresistible, like everyone else in the world. I was also curious how Twitter was talking about it, so I saw that #killallMuslims had been trending worldwide. Then I saw what the general feel for the story was on Twitter, and it was basically ultramorons over here wanting to #killallMuslims, Muslims and bleeding hearts over here claiming the killers weren’t “true” Muslims because “Islam is a religion of peace” (with a bunch of both types criticizing CH for “provoking” the attacks), and atheists over here jumping on the Bill Maher/Christopher Hitchens (praise be to his name) bandwagon using this as an excuse to piss all over their favorite most-hated sky pixie worshippers of the moment. All so predictable and beside the point.

It’s not that I have any great love for Islam. It’s that I have low tolerance for snap judgments about the meaning of news events. I mean, what is the justice issue here for me? It’s not that innocent Muslims are being smeared by careless Westerners. It’s that careless Westerners are smearing the discourse with irrelevancies. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Dawkinses and Mahers and Harrises, by pointing  their fingers at Islam are contributing to a global intellectual environment in which ultimately fewer adults will choose Islam as an ideology, which would be a good thing. On the other hand, maybe they’re contributing to a global intellectual environment in which borderline Muslims get knee-jerked back to Islam because Islam’s enemies say it’s bad so it must be good.
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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

Harris v. Greenwald: Is there an Anti-Islam Bias in New Atheism?

In any war

A few weeks ago, a fight broke out between two heavyweights of the blogosphere: Sam Harris and Glenn Greenwald. I respect both of them so didn’t want to have to choose sides. Harris, author of The End of Faith, etc., is one of the most formidable defenders of secularism and atheism, and Greenwald, formerly of Salon and now blogging for the Guardian, is a ferocious advocate for civil liberties in the wake of 9/11.  They’ve been friendly en0ugh in the past to have each other’s private email addresses, apparently, which is where the fight began.

It started over a series of articles in the media claiming the “New Atheists” exhibit bigotry in their attacks on Islam. The first salvo in this attack came from Nathan Lean at Salon:

Until 9/11, Islam didn’t figure in the New Atheists’ attacks in a prominent way. As a phenomenon with its roots in Europe, atheism has traditionally been the archenemy of Christianity, though Jews and Judaism have also slipped into the mix. But emboldened by their newfound fervor in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the New Atheists joined a growing chorus of Muslim-haters, mixing their abhorrence of religion in general with a specific distaste for Islam (In 2009, Hitchens published a book called “God Is Not Great,” a direct smack at Muslims who commonly recite the Arabic refrain Allah Akbar, meaning “God is great”). Conversations about the practical impossibility of God’s existence and the science-based irrationality of an afterlife slid seamlessly into xenophobia over Muslim immigration or the practice of veiling. The New Atheists became the new Islamophobes, their invectives against Muslims resembling the rowdy, uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect, rationality and reason. “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death,” writes Harris, whose nonprofit foundation Project Reason ironically aims to “erode the influence of bigotry in our world.”

Frankly, this strikes me as revisionist history if not an outright slur. It’s true that Harris’s The End of Faith was inspired by his revulsion against the religion (and religiosity) of the 9/11 attackers,  and it’s also true that the appearance of his bestselling book in 2004 often marks the opening of the American mind (and media and bookstore shelves) to atheism. In fact, by 9/11/01, the new, more aggressive atheism had already been bubbling up to the sunlight from various backwaters of the Internet, particularly on Usenet groups like talk.origins, sci.skeptic and alt.atheism, since before 1995 when I first came into contact with it. Most of those atheists rose in response to Christian evangelicalism and creationism of the 1970s and 1980s, and I think it’s a virtual certainty that Christianity remains by far the most frequent target of most American atheists’ critiques, if only because, like most Americans in general, they still lack more than a rudimentary understanding of Islam.

After reading his article, I criticized Lean on Twitter for his broad brush slander of all new atheists as Islamophobe bigots. He denied the charge. He claimed “I never mention atheists in any general sense. I’m quite specific,” and pointed me to the third paragraph of his Salon piece:

The New Atheists, they are called, offer a departure from the theologically based arguments of the past, which claimed that science wasn’t all that important in disproving the existence of God. Instead, Dawkins and other public intellectuals like Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens suffocate their opponents with scientific hypotheses, statistics and data about the physical universe — their weapons of choice in a battle to settle the scores in a debate that has raged since the days of Aristotle. They’re atheists with attitudes, as polemical as they are passionate, brash as they are brainy, and while they view anyone who does not share their unholier-than-thou worldview with skepticism and scorn, their cogitations on the creation of the universe have piqued the interest of even many believers. With that popularity, they’ve built lucrative empires. Dawkins and Harris are regulars in major publications like the New York Times and the Economist, and their books — “The Selfish Gene” and “The God Delusion” by Dawkins and “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Harris — top bestseller lists and rake in eye-popping royalties.

Maybe I’m being oversensitive, but I don’t see the clear distinction Lean claims he’s making between Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens and atheists at large. It looks like his distinction  is between “New Atheists” and “past” atheists–in other words, like he is, in fact, accusing all Dawkins-Harris-Hitchens–influenced atheists of today (which is virtually all of us) of anti-Muslim bigotry. To me, it looks as though Lean is advancing a bit of a bigotry himself, against New (or new) atheists. If you’re making a charge against someone of thoughtless and unjustified condemnation of a group, shouldn’t you be very careful that your own words don’t render you guilty of the very same charge? Continue reading

A Sufi View on the Proper Islamic Response to “Innocence of Muslims”

Sheik Imran Hosein is an Islamic scholar of the Sufi tradition, born in Trinidad and educated in Pakistan and Europe. He’s been a diplomat in his native Trinidad and Tobago and imam at a Long Island masjid, among many other accomplishments.  His academic specialty is Islamic eschatology, which, like Christian eschatology, concerns the end times. He gives a hint of the flavor of his scholarship at the end of the video posted above, the final segment of a three-part interview with a British vlogger who calls himself 108Morris108.

I’m posting the video here because, in a sense, Sheik Hosein answers a comment from Sreenivas on a previous post marveling at the audacity of Islamic protests against the film Innocence of Muslims in Libya and Pakistan. I have to say I think  Sreenivas’s main point about the irrationality of the attacks is hard to argue against. And in fact, Hosein expresses a similar disdain for what he suggests is a non-Islamic reaction that, without reflection and in pure reflex, lashes out violently at the wrong targets. He suggests the protestors behave like puppets on a string being yanked by their enemies. Protestors should peacefully target their own governments, he says, as the Tunisians and Egyptians did in the spring of 2011. Why? Because their governments are enabling the enemies of Islam.

Oddly, he criticizes governments in the Arab world (namely Saudi Arabia) that are lending moral and other forms of aid to the Syrian rebels. Is it because he thinks the Syrian rebellion is essentially violent and “un-Islamic?” Actually, he implies that it’s because the Syrian government, whatever evils it has done in the past, is a steadfast bulwark against Israel. And here is where the Sheik’s eschatology comes in. Just like George W. Bush, the imam believes end times are nigh.

What a mad world we live in!

Blasphemy, Islam and Free Speech: A Twittersation

This afternoon, I had a very interesting conversation with Shabbir R Hassanally on Twitter about events of the last week in Libya and Egypt.

This raging mess in American relations with the Islamic nations, which has, as Michelle Obama might say, “revealed” more about both candidates’ character and abilities in foreign policy than either may have wished for, was alleged to have begun when a trailer for an intentionally inflammatory anti-Islamic film called “Innocence of the Muslims” made in California in July was translated into Arabic and posted on YoutTube. Thus, it became known to Egyptian Islamists who consequently rioted at the American embassy, starting a chain reaction of anti-American protests around the Middle East and beyond. According to the New York Times, the fatal attack on Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in Benghazi was the premeditated work of a Libyan paramilitary group with links to al-Qaeda that took advantage of the chaos over the riots against the film to execute a planned attack in retaliation for the drone-strike killing of a Libyan-born Qaeda official.

Huffington Post reports that the auteur behind the offensive film is one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Egyptian-born Coptic Christian with a background that includes bank fraud and possibly meth manufacturing among  other enterprises. Though the story is weird and complicated, it seems Nakoula, in cahoots with a group of radical right-wing Christian Islamophobes, hired a bunch of actors to shoot a script they were told was about a fictional character. After the cheapie was shot, Nakoula dubbed in the offending dialogue denigrating Mohammed as a clueless sex maniac, pedophile and with various other Nakoula-like interests. When the story broke on the afternoon of September 11, Nakoula’s identity was not yet known. He was hiding behind the pseudonym “Sam Bacile” and claiming to be an Israeli-born American who was working with contributions from a hundred Israelis. In the Muslim world, word spread quickly that Israel and the US had colluded on the film, that it reflected not just the opinions of a nutty director but official US policy, as dictated to it by Zionist Israel. Why Nakoula tried to implicate Israel in his offense is not known (as far as I know). (Was he trying to give the Apocalypse a little boost? If so, maybe he succeeded better than he expected.) Continue reading