Monthly Archives: October 2015

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan

ISIS-Inside-the-Army-of-TerrorThere was a time I needed to read Marx and Mao to orient myself to the essential thought of the ideologies challenging the West. Never did I imagine that in my lifetime those works would be gathering dust and I’d be seeking out the likes of al-Maqdisi’s Democracy a Religion and Naji’s The Management of Savagery (and more recently, al-Suri’s – original name Nasur – Call for a Global Islamic Resistance)  to get a handle on contemporary threats.

Not long ago I devoured a cluster of works on Islam and terrorism and posted on snippets of that reading; the last few weeks I’ve been trying to catch up with Islamism (as distinct from Islam the religion and even “terrorism” per se — though there are obvious overlaps, of course). So most recently I’ve read Islam and the Future of Tolerance: a dialogue (by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz), Maajid Nawaz’s experience as a leader in a group with a long-term strategy of establishing Islamist regimes, Radical: my journey from Islamist extremism to a democratic awakening, Ed Husain’s The Islamist : why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left, and Isis: inside the army of terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. (Still on my to-read list are three other very recent works on ISIS — by Stern & Berger, Cockburn and Burke.

I recommend Radical and The Islamist to anyone who thinks all Muslims are by the nature of their religion somewhat medieval in their values. Nawaz’s upbringing was not particularly religious but Hasain’s certainly was. Reading the lives of these two, especially that of Ed Husain, is an eye-opener to the stark difference between the religion of Islam and the ideology of Islamism.

ISIS: inside the army of terror is a depressing yet informative study of the group’s origins, its brutal nature and strikingly sudden emergence. Michael Weiss (Twitter) and Hassan Hassan (Facebook Community) interviewed many persons closely associated with terrorist organisations and others among the military and political establishments that have been directly involved with events connected to the rise of Islamic State.

The roots of ISIS appear to go right back to Saddam Hussein’s preparations for an American led invasion of his country. Well before the occupation he had prepared safe-houses, secret arms storages and underground economic machinations that would help sustain their secret networks and ongoing armed struggle against the occupiers. Much of Iraq’s army melted into this underground network after March-April 2003 and became the backbone of the various resistance and terrorist movements that followed. read more »

Celebrate at the Biblical Studies Carnival

The float of the King carnival parading in Pat...

The float of the King carnival parading in Patras, Greece in Georgiou I square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over at the Reading Acts blogPhillip J. Long has announced the Last Call for Biblical Studies Carnival Links for October 2015.

I invite you to email me suggested links (plong42 at gmail.com) or a direct message via twitter (@plong42). What have you read this month that was challenging, simulating, or maybe even a bit strange? This is a good time to promote a less well-known blog you enjoy, or you can send a link to your own work. Sometimes you just need to flog your own blog to get it noticed.

If you read anything on Vridar this October that struck your fancy, why not drop Phillip a line and let him know about it? Neil and I would appreciate it very much. And thanks again for reading Vridar.

The Conflict between Islamism and Islam

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 9.11.15 pmThe following passages in Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening by Maajid Nawaz caught my attention: I thought it made a few points worthy of wider attention. Maajid Nawaz was once a leader in a radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and is now the chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think-tank.  Radical is his biographical account of how he become involved in an Islamist extremist movement and what led to his leaving extremism behind. Formatting and bolding are my own.

Islam and Islamism: the difference

Important to grasp is how Islamism differs from Islam. Islam is a religion, and its Shari’ah can be compared to Talmudic or Canon law. As a religion, Islam contains all the usual creedal, methodological, juristic and devotional schisms of any other faith. . . . 

Superseding all these religious disagreements, and influencing many of them politically, is the ideology of Islamism.

Simply defined, Islamism is the desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam over society as law. Understood this way, Islamism is not another religious schism, but an ideological thought that seeks to develop a coherent political system that can house all these schisms, without necessarily doing away with them.

Whereas disputes within Islam deal with a person’s approach to religion, Islamism seeks to deal with a person’s approach to society. (Kindle, loc 1034)

Is there a problem if Islamism remains non-violent?

If the dangers of racism are apparent, even in a non-violent form, then it was the same for Islamism.

But what was the problem with Islamism so long as it remained non-violent? Was it not the right of Muslims to adopt whatever ideology they chose? Of course, it was the right of Muslims to believe that one version of Islam must be imposed as law over their societies, just as it was the right of racists to believe that all non-white people should be deported from Europe. But the spread of either of these ideas would achieve nothing but the division and Balkanisation of societies. If the dangers of racism are apparent, even in a non-violent form, then it was the same for Islamism. Communalist identity politics, self-segregation and group-think are far more damaging to societies in the long run than the odd bomb going off here or there, because it is such a milieu that keeps breeding bomb-makers. . . . .

Maajid Nawaz spent four years in an Egyptian prison and began to piece past and recent experiences together anew: read more »

The Disappearances of the Bodies of Jesus and Other Heroes

The disappearance of the body of Jesus from the tomb presents likenesses to certain pagan traditions.
Hercules_on_the_pyre_by_Luca_Giordano.jpg

Hercules_on_the_pyre_by_Luca_Giordano.jpg

No, those words are not from a mythicist but from a professor of Classics, Arthur Stanley Pease, in an article in the Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 1942, Vol. 53, pages 1-36 — “Some Aspects of Invisibility“. 1942 may seem like ancient history but the article was referenced more recently in 2010 by Richard C. Miller, an adjunct professor at Chapman University in the Department of Religious Studies, in “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity” in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 129, No. 4. More recently still, 2015, Miller has published Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity which I am looking forward to reading and writing about. (It won’t be for at least some months before I can get to it, unfortunately.) Before I begin on the more recent works, however, I do like to track down their sources and that’s what led me back to 1942. So here we go…..

Noteworthy is the case of Aristeas, a poet and wonder-worker of uncertain date, who, Herodotus tells us, went into a fuller’s shop at Proconnesus on the Propontis and there died. The fuller shut up his shop and went to tell the dead man’s kinsmen, but the report of the death of Aristeas, now noised through the city, was disputed by a man of Cyzicus, who had come from the seaport of Cyzicus and said that he had met Aristeas going toward the town and had spoken with him.

While he so spoke, the kinsmen of the dead man came to the fuller’s shop with all that was needful for the burial, but when the shop was opened no Aristeas was there, either dead or alive.

Seven years later Aristeas appeared at Proconnesus and made that poem which the Greeks later called the Arimaspea, after which he again vanished. (p. 29)

You can read a translation of Herodotus’s account on the Perseus Tufts site.

Pease then refers to a similar story told about Cleomedes by Plutarch in his biography of Romulus. I quote here a translation of Plutarch: read more »

What the Grand Mufti and Hitler Talked About – November 28, 1941

2014-07-26-MuftiandHitlerThe Prime Minister of Israel used the World Zionist Conference to break the news to the world, unknown or suppressed by all historians till now, that it was a Palestinian Arab leader who gave Hitler the idea of exterminating all the Jews.

Here is the record of the Palestinian Grand Mufti’s conversation with Hitler according to the Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918-45, Series D, Vol. XIII, London, 1964, pp. 881 ff. as printed in The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict: Seventh Revised and Updated E . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (2008-04-29).

I have highlighted sections for easier quick skimming of the main points.

German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini: Zionism and the Arab Cause

(November 28, 1941)  

Haj Amin al-Husseini, the most influential leader of Palestinian Arabs, lived in Germany during the Second World War. He met Hitler, Ribbentrop and other Nazi leaders on various occasions and attempted to coordinate Nazi and Arab policies in the Middle East.

Record of the Conversation Between the Führer and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on November 28, 1941, in the Presence of Reich Foreign Minister and Minister Grobba in Berlin

The Grand Mufti began by thanking the Führer for the great honor he had bestowed by receiving him. He wished to seize the opportunity to convey to the Führer of the Greater German Reich, admired by the entire Arab world, his thanks for the sympathy which he had always shown for the Arab and especially the Palestinian cause, and to which he had given clear expression in his public speeches. The Arab countries were firmly convinced that Germany would win the war and that the Arab cause would then prosper. The Arabs were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies as had Germany, namely the English, the Jews, and the Communists. They were therefore prepared to cooperate with Germany with all their hearts and stood ready to participate in the war, not only negatively by the commission of acts of sabotage and the instigation of revolutions, but also positively by the formation of an Arab Legion. The Arabs could be more useful to Germany as allies than might be apparent at first glance, both for geographical reasons and because of the suffering inflicted upon them by the English and the Jews. Furthermore, they had had close relations with all Moslem nations, of which they could make use in behalf of the common cause. The Arab Legion would be quite easy to raise. An appeal by the Mufti to the Arab countries and the prisoners of Arab, Algerian, Tunisian, and Moroccan nationality in Germany would produce a great number of volunteers eager to fight. Of Germany’s victory the Arab world was firmly convinced, not only because the Reich possessed a large army, brave soldiers, and military leaders of genius, but also because the Almighty could never award the victory to an unjust cause.

In this struggle, the Arabs were striving for the independence and unity of Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. They had the fullest confidence in the Führer and looked to his hand for the balm on their wounds which had been inflicted upon them by the enemies of Germany.

The Mufti then mentioned the letter he had received from Germany, which stated that Germany was holding no Arab territories and understood and recognized the aspirations to independence and freedom of the Arabs, just as she supported the elimination of the Jewish national home. read more »

Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz in Discordant Dialogue

harris-nawazTowards the end of the discussion between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz in Islam and the Future of Tolerance Nawaz says to Harris:

I appreciate your recognition that your wording has often contributed to this “clash of civilizations” narrative. . . . [W]e are duty bound to try and minimize it [i.e. the tendency of many people to hear only what they expect to hear from a given speaker] through careful wording, so thank you. (pp. 115-116, my own bolding in all quotations)

It appears that Maajid Nawaz has just heard Sam Harris admit that he has carelessly fanned the popular myth of the “clash of civilizations” scenario, the popular view that Islam and the West are incompatible and conflict is inevitable when they meet. Unfortunately it seems to me on reading this dialogue that Nawaz himself has at times tended to hear “only what he expected to hear” from Harris in his sincere efforts to establish a constructive dialogue.

But first, note that Harris truly did admit that sometimes he had contributed to that unhelpful “clash of civilizations” narrative:

Another thing I think we should discuss is the tension between honestly confronting the problems of conservative Islam, Islamism, and jihadism and feeding the narrative that “the West is at war with Islam.” I admit that I have often contributed to this narrative myself, and rather explicitly. (p 113)

Perhaps Harris is recollecting what he wrote in The End of Faith on pages 109

quote_begin

We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so. It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has been “hijacked” by extremists. We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. . .

quote_end

.

and 130:

quote_begin

Samuel Huntington has famously described the conflict between Islam and the West as a “clash of civilizations.” Huntington observed that wherever Muslims and non-Muslims share a border, armed conflict tends to arise. Finding a felicitous phrase for an infelicitous fact, he declared that “Islam has bloody borders.” . . . .

One need only read the Koran to know, with something approaching mathematical certainty, that all truly devout Muslims will be “convinced of the superiority of their culture, and obsessed with the inferiority of their power,” just as Huntington alleges. And this is all that his thesis requires.

quote_end

That is an unambiguous assertion that (1) we are at war with effectively the entire Muslim world and (2) bloodshed is (with near mathematical certainty) the inevitable consequence when our Western culture meets a Muslim culture.

But no, that’s not what Sam Harris says he meant when he is talking with Maajid Nawaz — and that raises the question of whether Maajid, with the very best of intentions, was too eager to stop hearing after he heard what he wanted to hear. Here is how Harris followed his remarks in Islam and the Future of Tolerance: read more »

Whence Monogamy?

This post offers some explanation for the monogamous societies as a “footnote” to my previous post on the statistical benefits of monogamy for men. Robert Wright (The Moral Animal) points out that most societies have not been strictly monogamous, so it’s not as though we’ve evolved to be monogamous by nature:

A huge majority — 980 of the 1,154 past or present societies for which anthropologists have data — have permitted a man to have more than one wife. And that number includes most of the world’s hunter-gatherer societies, societies that are the closest thing we have to a living example of the context of human evolution. (p. 90)

It’s been a mixed bag:

Actually, there is a sense in which polygynous marriage has not been the historical norm. For 43 percent of the 980 polygynous cultures, polygyny is classified as “occasional.” And even where it is “common,” multiple wives are generally reserved for a relatively few men who can afford them or qualify for them via formal rank. For eons and eons, most marriages have been monogamous, even though most societies haven’t been.

Still, the anthropological record suggests that polygyny is natural in the sense that men given the opportunity to have more than one wife are strongly inclined to seize it. (p. 91)

read more »

Another Biblical Scholar Explains His Interest in Historical Jesus Studies

James D. G.JimmyDunn FBA (born 21 October 1939) is a British New Testament scholar who was for many years the Lightfoot Professor of Divinity in the Department of Theology at the University of Durham, now Emeritus Lightfoot Professor. He has worked broadly within the Protestant tradition. — Wikipedia (12th October 2015)

Other scholars in this series: Dale AllisonRichard BauckhamScot McKnight. To appreciate the coverage of Dunn’s works see a selected list in Wikipedia.

James D.G. Dunn’s view of the historical Jesus was one of five sought for an exchange of views in The Historical Jesus: Five Views, edited by James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy. The others were Robert M. Price, John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson and Darrel L. Bock. Dunn’s earliest forays into the historical Jesus were in response to a controversial 1984 London Weekend Television series Jesus: The Evidence in which doubts were raised against the traditional Christian narrative and even the existence of Jesus. The idea that controversial views should be aired publicly without being simultaneously framed in the condemnation and scorn they find among conventional Christian scholars was too much for Dunn and other critics. Dunn himself reveals his own poor view of the intelligence of the general public in an overwhelmingly Christian nation led by mainstream clergy when he wrote in his preface to his response to the program, The Evidence for Jesus (1985)

From what they saw and heard, viewers who lacked training in biblical studies or theology were unable to distinguish be­tween the weightier and the less weighty opinions. They were given too little advice as to whether what was projected was accepted by the majority of scholars in this field or only by a lone voice resisting the larger consensus. Of course, scholarship does not and should not pro­ceed by majority vote! One scholar in a hundred may be right, and the remaining ninety-nine wrong. But when lay people are being exposed to the claims of scholarship, they at least have a right to know how well these claims have been received by other scholars.

evidenceIn fact there was ample follow up to the original TV program to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind about where mainstream biblical scholars stood. As another scholar, Howard Clark Kee, explains in his Foreword to Dunn’s book,

British television offered a follow-up series in an attempt to give more moderate biblical scholars a chance to present their side of the case and to respond to the radicals. As a result the controversy was, if anything, extended and enlarged. Coming in conjunction with the heated debate that arose when a theologian with controversial views on the virgin birth and resurrection was consecrated a Bishop of the Church of England, thoughtful people—in and out of the churches— raised serious questions: Is the traditional faith of the church obsolete? Is the church not being honest with the public? Have such recent discoveries as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic library in Egypt discredited the Gospel picture of Jesus as we have known it? Is the evidence not being candidly presented and discussed?

In other words, the public was well and truly aware that most scholars did not accept views that radically questioned Christian origins. But what was under threat was public confidence in the intellectual integrity of the bulk of those theologians. Damage control was called for and James Dunn stepped in to do his part to bolster the confidence of the devout.

Fortunately, there were scholarly and churchly leaders across Great Britain who raised serious and responsible challenges to these radical conclusions. Among the latter was James D. G. Dunn, Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham in northern England, an active churchman and a prolific writer. Professor Dunn is personally interested in the daily life and faith aspects of Christianity as well as in its intellectual dimensions. It was appropriate, therefore, that the Durham Council of Churches should ask him to give a series of lectures to an interchurch audience on the same topic, “Jesus: The Evidence” . . . . (Kee, writing in the Foreword about the origin of the book)

Or in Dunn’s own words:

One of the attractive features of Durham was an active Council of Churches, which Meta and I helped to revive . . . as Churches Together in Durham. Initial involvement was a sequence of lectures in response to a London Weekend Television series entitled Jesus: the Evidence (1984), a series which had proved to be very unbalanced.  The puzzlement and distress caused by the series prompted me to offer a four-lecture response, better rooted in the New Testament evidence and more truly reflected of the range of scholarly opinion. These were published as as The Evidence for Jesus. . . .  

(2015-09-01). I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.   —  (my own bolding and formatting in all quotations)

So Dunn assures readers from reading the gospel narratives themselves that beneath the theological elaboration is indeed “historically reliable” and genuine “historical information” that “clearly” derived from oral traditions going back to the earliest eyewitnesses of Jesus himself. Even the evidence for the resurrection, the “fact” of the empty tomb and the transformation of the disciples after claiming to have witnessed the resurrected Jesus, must leave any well meaning jury with the conclusion that the gospel stories are “attempts to say something which goes beyond human description” and that “there must have been powerful and compelling factors which resulted in the first Christian confession, ‘ God has raised Jesus from the dead’!” (p. 76) read more »

Historians Asking Why — Or Not Why But How

historiansFallaciesWhy did Christianity begin and why did it become the primary religion of the West? Why did Islamic terrorism become a major concern of the West? . . . . In senior high school I was taught that the real interest of historians is to ask why things happened. Memorizing dates and facts missed the point. Some biblical scholars today stress the importance of asking the “why” questions about Christian origins.

But ever since I came across historian Fischer’s Historian’s Fallacies I’ve not been so sure. To some extent I can understand what is meant by the appeal to dig into finding out “why”, but at the same time, and in the interest of clarity, I also find myself reflecting on this passage in Historian’s Fallacies:

In my opinion — and I may be a minority of one — that favorite adverb of historians should be consigned to the semantical rubbish heap. A “why” question tends to become a metaphysical question. It is also an imprecise question, for the adverb “why” is slippery and difficult to define. Sometimes it seeks a cause, sometimes a motive, sometimes a reason, sometimes a description, sometimes a process, sometimes a purpose, sometimes a justification. A “why” question lacks direction and clarity; it dissipates a historian’s energies and interests. “Why did the Civil War happen?” “Why was Lincoln shot?” A working historian receives no clear signals from these woolly interrogatories as to which way to proceed, how to begin, what kinds of evidence will answer the problem, and indeed what kind of problem is raised. There are many more practicable adverbs-who, when, where, what, how-which are more specific and more satisfactory. Questions of this sort can be resolved empirically, and from them a skilled historian can construct a project with much greater sophistication, relevance, accuracy, precision, and utility, instead of wasting his time with metaphysical dilemmas raised by his profound “why” questions, which have often turned out to be about as deep as the River Platte. (p. 14)

Alas, Fischer was not hopeful that his minority view would ripple out to move the entire pond:

It is improbable that this will happen, among historians, in the foreseeable future. “Why” questions are rooted in the literature and institutionalized in the graduate schools. . . .

I do wonder, however, if many modern historians have indeed seen the light — but I am basing this on only a small handful of recent historical works I’ve happened to read. I do see the concern for “why questions” to be at the forefront of inquiry among a handful of biblical scholars investigating Christian origins, however.

 

 

Richard Carrier Interview

Phil Robinson of Nuskeptix interviews Richard Carrier. The first half of the interview covers mythicism. The primary thesis (Carrier refers to it as “the Doherty thesis”) is discussed along with other interesting related questions. One of these is the relationship of the myth of Osiris and its overlaps with the Christian story.

The second half covers the Bible generally, its place in history — e.g. the Holocaust; was Hitler an atheist?, a Christian? — and general discussion comparing modern and ancient values in relation to, say, homosexuality; and the basis of ethical judgments.

 

Monogamy is not so bad (at least for men) after all

robertwrightAnother work I’m finally catching up with is Robert Wright’s Moral Animal: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology (1994). We all know the usual narrative about men being shaped by their genes to want to reproduce with everything in sight while women are always on the shrewd lookout for the best candidate to protect and provide for her children.

To cut to the chase and speaking in broad evolutionary/social psychological terms, Wright raises an interesting question (at least for me who is shamefully twenty years late in reading his book!):

[W]hereas a polygynous society is often depicted as something men would love and women would hate, there is really no natural consensus on the matter within either sex. Obviously, women who are married to a poor man and would rather have half of a rich one aren’t well served by the institution of monogamy. And, obviously, the poor husband they would gladly desert wouldn’t be well served by polygyny. (p. 96, my formatting and bolding in all quotations)

Wright adds that the males who are advantaged by monogamy are not only those at the bottom of the income scale.

Consider a crude and offensive but analytically useful model of the marital marketplace. One thousand men and one thousand women are ranked in terms of their desirability as mates. Okay, okay: there isn’t, in real life, full agreement on such things. But there are clear patterns. Few women would prefer an unemployed and rudderless man to an ambitious and successful one, all other things being even roughly equal; and few men would choose an obese, unattractive, and dull woman over a shapely, beautiful, sharp one. For the sake of intellectual progress, let’s simplemindedly collapse these and other aspects of attraction into a single dimension.

Suppose these 2,000 people live in a monogamous society and each woman is engaged to marry the man who shares her ranking. She’d like to marry a higher-ranking man, but they’re all taken by competitors who outrank her. The men too would like to marry up, but for the same reason can’t.

Now, before any of these engaged couples gets married, let’s legalize polygyny and magically banish its stigma. read more »

Why they join ISIS — and how deradicalisation works

An interesting account on Indonesians being attracted to ISIS and what the subsequent deradicalisation programs look like appeared yesterday on various ABC site recently: Islamic State training new generation of Indonesian terrorists…. (Not sure if the video segment will be available to anyone outside Australia, though); Young Indonesian jihadists explain who and what lured them to Islamic State; — preceded by an SMH article back in August, Islamic State contagion growing in Indonesia

The program focuses on a group of 500 South East Asian fighters in ISIS. The main recruiter of Indonesians uses social media from within ISIS to recruit other Indonesians.

The following quotations come from a mix of the reporting of Sarah Dingle and presenter Leigh Sales.

The role of networks

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: My dad sent me to an Islamic boarding school when I was 12 in an Islamic boarding school and the school was founded by the founder of Jemaah Islamiyah, so literally, I share room with those Bali bombers when I was 12 for six years.

Why the different paths?

“Because of different trajectories, I missed the chance to get a scholarship to study in Pakistan back then Afghanistan,” he said.

“Because I was tainted, and I took a date with the daughter of the founder of the school, I was considered as not devoted enough to pass that test.”

Noor Huda Ismail made a documentary film showing how ISIS radicalises young men in Indonesia. One of these was Akhbar . . . .

AKHBAR (Jihadi Selfie documentary): When I was six, I had big dreams, really big. I wanted to be an Islamic scholar. I was lucky to get a high school scholarship to study religion and science and social studies in Turkey.

SARAH DINGLE: In Turkey, Akhbar had become aware of another Indonesian student, Yazid, who had gone to Syria to join IS.

AKHBAR (Jihadi Selfie documentary): I wanted to contact him because I wanted to go to Syria too. I felt bored with my life because it was the same every day. Live a glorious life or die a martyr.

SARAH DINGLE: They began to chat and over several months, Yazid became Akhbar’s key advisor on life in the caliphate.

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: Yazid told Akhbar that if you join ISIS, if you come here, you get a lot of fun things to you, you can carry guns, you can running around with horse, you can shoot and the bonus, you get girls, you get laid. You know, that’s basically – that’s such an attractive call for young people like Akhbar. read more »

Glenn Greenwald Responds to Call for Ceasefire with New Atheists

Following completes my notes on the Glenn Greenwald-Kyle Kulinski discussion that was a response to the above points raised by Kyle. Indented paragraphs are direct transcripts; the remainder is generally paraphrase.

I’ve copied the video link again at the end of this post.

The minutes/seconds markers are approximate.

6:00 —

Glenn G refers to the New Atheist’s toxic way of talking about the world. Harris is not just saying Islam is bad but that it is “the worst of all”.

No such thing as an “atheist agenda”?

7:00 —

GG: New Atheists may say that as atheists they have “no beliefs” as such and therefore plead that they have no “atheist agenda” but someone like Sam Harris clearly does have an identifiable and well-thought out agenda on a whole range of topics, including political ones. 

Very serious radical fundamental differences in world views

8:30 —

GG:

There is this quote from Sam Harris that to me illustrates the crux of the disagreement. He said, Look, liberals think Dick Cheney is a really bad person who did a lot of really bad things, and that’s fine, you can think that. But what liberals need to understand in order for them to be rational is that there are tens of millions of Muslims in the world who are “far scarier than Dick Cheney”. — That world view is very familiar and very common. It is essentially saying, Yes, the United States maybe does some bad things in the world, but they don’t really rise to the level of evil; if you want to know true evil look to the adversaries of the United States — which is not just al Qaeda, which is not just ISIS, but “tens of millions” of human beings who identify as Muslims.  

Credit: Reuters/Majed Jaber/Simon & Schuster/Ray Garcia

Credit: Reuters/Majed Jaber/Simon & Schuster/Ray Garcia

And in the recent exchange Sam Harris had with Noam Chomsky he identified the United States as what he called a “well-intentioned giant” [9:30]. And he said very much the same thing about Israel before. — (saying in effect:) Yes the United States and Israel might do some bad things but we’re morally superior to the adversaries of the United States and Israel. 

So when I look at Sam Harris what I see is a person who is an American, who is a Westerner, who is a self-identified Jew, who runs around making the argument that the United States and Israel are morally superior to its adversaries. And to me this is kind of pure primitive tribalism. It’s the nub of what has driven the “war on terror” the last fifteen years. — the idea that sure, we do some bad acts but we do it by accident, we do it because we’re really well intentioned, but the true evil “is them”.

I think the reason it’s gotten so much negative attention is because unlike, say, Bill Crystal or Dick Cheney or actual hardcore neocons who you can look at and know exactly what they are and what they think — The way that this particular set of beliefs is lending support to this agenda is much more subtle and insidious and kind of disguised. — And I think therefore it is more pernicious, it is more deserving of attention.

Whatever else is true I think there are very serious radical fundamental differences in world views that this debate has largely been about.

read more »

Why the War between New Atheists and Other (“Progressive”) Atheists?

The Kyle Kulinski-Glenn Greenwald exchange arose as a response to Kyle’s earlier video calling for a “cease fire” between New Atheists and other atheists. This post backtracks and looks at that video before resuming the Glenn Greenwald exchange.

During the exchange we were advised to view Kyle’s earlier video, New Atheists Vs Progressives — Proposing A Ceasefire, the one that Glenn Greenwald was responding to specifically. So I dutifully paused to check it out and was glad I did.

I’ll start with Kyle’s proposals in that video before presenting another paraphrase/transcript of Glenn G’s subsequent remarks and commentary.

Kyle wishes that both sides, New Atheists and others he calls Progressives, would

abide

His argument sounds mathematically reasonable. If we agree with someone on a dozen key points that are very important to both of us and disagree on only one other one, then surely we should not be pouring scorn upon each other as if the other is beyond the pale.

Glenn Greenwald’s response demolished that point’s mathematical certainty, however. If I agree with Picklzanjam on feminist issues, gay rights, religion-is-bad, beer-is-good, etc etc etc etc — but after ticking all those check boxes Picklzanjam says he is also a white supremacist racist, then I’m not going to treat him as a good buddy I can get along with just because we agree on all of the other issues.

Kyle appeared to understand this point but later he wanted to push home his belief that people like Sam Harris are not really extremist in any of their views. I will return to that objection later when I cite Glenn G’s views on that view.

Second, Kyle wishes critics of the New Atheists would….

criticize

Here’s where I part company, to some extent, with a number of other atheists who are more activist in their critical stance against religion. Firstly I need to say I wish people did not feel a need for religion. Second, on a personal level I think religion sucks for a whole range of reasons. Third, I particularly deplore fundamentalist type cults and organizations for the particular harms that they can do — people literally die because of their teachings and practices, and some suffer the pain of a living death as a result of other practices and teachings. read more »