2016-03-14

Barack Obama and Donald Trump are both wrong about Islam

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by Neil Godfrey

Donald Trump is certain that “Islam hates us,” as he said in an interview with CNN host Anderson Cooper and repeated in Miami’s debate. “There’s tremendous hatred.” President Obama is certain that “Islam is a religion that preaches peace.”

Both men are equally wrong. Islam neither hates nor preaches — its followers do. Islam is what people make of it, and they have made it many different things.

I found William McCants’ The ISIS apocalypse : the history, strategy, and doomsday vision of the Islamic State very informative so I was interested to read his latest article:

Barack Obama and Donald Trump are both wrong about Islam: For better and worse, the faith is what people make of it

McCants begins with two contrasting historical illustrations:

Wine drinking is the “work of Satan” and should be avoided, says the Koran. During the reign of the caliph al-Mahdi in the 8th century A.D., government officials would burst into the homes of unsuspecting revelers to smash their jugs of wine. “Vintage wine is waiting, like a virgin, to be touched,” wrote Abu Nuwas, the favorite poet of al-Mahdi’s son Harun al-Rashid, Islam’s greatest caliph memorialized in “A Thousand and One Nights.” Muslims abstain and Muslims drink.

Followed by:

“Monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques” would have been destroyed had God’s people not defended them, reminds the Koran. God’s people defended Christian churches from rioters during Egypt’s recent uprising. God’s people also demolished St. Elijah’s Monastery, the oldest in Iraq, to further the cause of the Islamic State. Muslims defend and Muslims demolish.

And then by another:

“Kill the polytheists wherever you find them,” proclaims the Koran. Aurangzeb, who ruled India’s Mughul Empire from 1658 to 1707, purged Hindus from his imperial service and forced their coreligionists to pay a protection tax or face death. His great-grandfather Akbar the Great abolished the protection tax and treated Hindus as colleagues and fellow monotheists. Muslims kill and Muslims tolerate.

And then one with a contemporary sting:

Gaze on the ruins of past civilizations and contemplate the “fate of those who were before (you),” counsels the Koran. The 8th century poet al-Buhturi wrote the following lines as he gazed on the ruins of Ctesiphon, the fallen capital of the Sasanian Empire conquered by the Arabs: “Built to delight for a time, their quarters / Now belong to grief and mourning. / So it behooves me to aid them with tears / Inalienably bequeathed to them through love.”

Another ancient Iraqi palace, built by Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud, was detonated by the Islamic State to obliterate Iraq’s cultural connection with its pre-Islamic heritage. Muslims contemplate and Muslims obliterate.

And one more to settle the point:

“Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies,” orders the Koran. The kingdom of Tripoli was one of the first nations to war with the fledgling United States. The kingdom of Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the United States in 1778 and sought a peace treaty with it. Egypt and Israel are at peace. Muslims war and Muslims ally.

We will quickly empty the dictionary of verbs if Islam is defined by the actions of its followers.

I wish more people would understand the point Will McCants is making:

When we attribute human beliefs and behaviors to ancient, immutable scripture, we can’t explain change over time. Religiously justified wars once ravaged Christian Europe in the Middle Ages during a time of relative calm in the Middle East; today the reverse is true. Christian intellectuals once fled to Muslim lands to escape the persecution of the Church; today Muslim intellectuals flee to Christian lands to escape the persecution of the State.

The Arabian Peninsula was once home to mystics and music; today it is governed by an austere form of Islam that frowns on religious rapture and playing instruments. Turning to scripture to explain these reversals won’t get you very far.

Changes. McCants points out Pew polls informing us that in 2000 most people in Turkey liked the United States; now they don’t. In 2005 most Indonesians did not like the United States; now they do.

The message, of course, is the need to focus on what people do and to explain people’s actions and to evaluate appropriate responses. Simply putting all the blame on ancient writings and a single belief won’t get us very far.

.

H/T http://intelwire.egoplex.com/

Also linked on the same site: ‘Death to the infidels!’ Why it’s time to fix Hollywood’s problem with Muslims

 

24 Comments

  • 2016-03-14 22:15:42 UTC - 22:15 | Permalink

    Hello Neil:

    Absolutely CORRECT! Both men are equally wrong. Islam neither hates nor preaches — its followers do. Islam is what people make of it, and they have made it many different things.

    With some degree of trepidation I will offer a partial response. Please do not shoot the messenger…

    Why then do “SOME” Muslims to quote Donald Trump believe that “Islam hates us.” [I presume Donald is talking primarily about the U.S.] Much ink has been spent on this controversial topic. Possible reasons that “SOME” Muslims hold this view include:

    1. Read Usama Bin Laden’s lengthy, declaration of war against the U.S. This is an ABSOLUTE MUST read although it may make you feel uncomfortable! [KNOW YOUR ENEMY] He constantly rails against the “Crusaders”… and the “Zionist/Crusader alliance… Many of his arguments are seen below:
    2. The U.S. supports Israel: that land is sacred to Islam: THE DOME OF THE ROCK where Muhammad ascended to heaven is in the hands of purported infidels, the Jews. [yet they are still “people of the Book”]
    3. In the eyes of “SOME” Muslims, the U.S. is an infidel nation. Our nation, being primarily Christian in composition, commits TWO sins that CANNOT be forgiven [SHIRK]: Christians believe that Jesus is God and that God exits as a trinity. Compounding matters, Christians evangelize [missionaries, TV, radio, the Internet, print] that presumable false theology…
    4. Christians deny/refute the Koran, deny that Muhammad is the last prophet, and call God by a perverted name.
    5. Christians believe that Jesus literally died on the cross.
    6. The U.S. supports illegal governments in the Arabian peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc) and elsewhere [Egypt]
    7. The U.S. has soldiers on the Arabian peninsula polluting their holy land.
    8. The U.S. is presumably responsible for the death of thousands of Muslims [Palestinians, Iraqis, etc…
    9. The West’s purported exploitation and degradation of women (lack of modesty).
    10. The West’s movie, television, and print industries (shades of conservative, evangelical Christian fundamentalists) pervert the world’s population: immodesty, degrading women, alcohol, sex, drugs, materialism, etc

    And, the list could go one…

    These are just a few reasons why “SOME” Muslims (and others) have issues with the U.S. and the West [including me]. Of course, one could do a word/subject search of the Koran via a search engine to find explicit verses that presumably justify their beliefs taken out of context or without clarification by Muslim scholars.

    Absolutely CORRECT! Both men are equally wrong. Islam neither hates nor preaches — its followers do. Islam is what people make of it, and they have made it many different things.

    Knowledge is power… It is important to know BOTH sides of an issue: the good, the bad, and the ugly [whether it be Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Atheism, or any other religious, economic, political, or social system.] EDUCATION IS THE KEY. Only through knowledge and “truth” can we strive to make this a better world. TOGETHER WE BUILD!

  • John MacDonald
    2016-03-14 23:03:12 UTC - 23:03 | Permalink

    Good post!

  • John MacDonald
    2016-03-14 23:07:40 UTC - 23:07 | Permalink

    It’s a funny thing being agnostic. I have to, at the same time, both be horrified by Isis chopping off people’s heads, while accepting that the 9’11 terrorists “might” be in paradise now with their 40 virgins each. When you don’t know (a-gnosis), you really don’t know.

  • Geoff
    2016-03-15 00:22:19 UTC - 00:22 | Permalink

    I don’t know how you can think you know more about Islam than a native born Muslim. ;).

  • 2016-03-15 03:47:25 UTC - 03:47 | Permalink

    There is some kind of fallacy being created/promoted here, and I wish I knew the technical term for it. (Perhaps there isn’t one and I’ll have to invent my own.) Let’s see if I can encapsulate my objection.

    Islam has produced good people who do good things; Islam has also produced evil people who do evil things. However, THIS DOES NOT ABSOLVE ISLAM OF EQUAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR PRODUCING AND ENABLING THE EVIL PEOPLE WHO DO EVIL THINGS. It does not whitewash it for containing within itself the seeds of evil actions.

    You can’t choose only the one side you like, the one result, and claim that Islam is in no way responsible for the other, that it cannot be held accountable for results like ISIS. Naturally Islam is not a sentient entity like its followers are. It is a set of writings and beliefs. But that observation serves no logical purpose. Because it is not, this does not mean that Islam itself, as a set of writings and beliefs which are open to multiple interpretation or responses by its followers, can simply be set aside as something that can’t be evaluated and judged. In any case, those writings and beliefs have been produced by sentient beings, succeeded by other sentient beings who have followed and made use of them in different ways, some of them harmful. It is all intertwined.

    I’m reminded of the NRA’s cop-out claim: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” But guns are a paramount means made available to the people who kill people, and there would be far less murders if guns were not so readily available. (Look at the result of tough gun restrictions in Australia which, as I understand it, eliminated mass killings at one stroke.) So even if guns themselves are not sentient, they cannot be removed from the equation, as the NRA seeks to do. Moreover, guns have been made by people for the express purpose of killing other people, and the NRA is hardly blameless for defending the unrestricted availability of automatic weapons which do that job so well.

    Christian history presents a similar analogy. Much good charity has been done in the name of Christianity. Much evil (religious wars, persecutions, inquisitions, witch hunts, the list is endless) has also been done in the name of Christianity. Does the former absolve Christianity of the latter? Can the fault for the evil side of things not be seen in Christian writings and beliefs themselves? Should we claim that Christianity is in no way responsible, but is some kind of neutral entity, much less a “good” one? Does the admonition to love one’s enemies simply erase “compel them to come in” or the scriptural exhortation to hate one’s father and mother?

    Both Christianity and Islam contain the seeds of both good and evil and they should be accountable for both. Just because some of their followers choose to reflect their own personal character by focusing on the good stuff and pretending that the evil stuff doesn’t exist or can be ignored, or has been misinterpreted, does not give us the logical right to evaluate the religion itself solely according to one side of it—or to remove it entirely from the need to be evaluated at all.

    And, most controversial of all, what does this do to the accusation that by supporting such a religion in its good and positive aspects, one is at the same time “enabling” the less desirable and outright evil elements? Legitimizing it by focusing on the good side may help to let the bad side in by the same open door. The unrestricted gun show that lets the law-abiding purchase guns for self-defense also allows the sociopath and deranged killer to get his hands on the same or more destructive weapons.

    • Scot Griffin
      2016-03-15 05:39:38 UTC - 05:39 | Permalink

      The fallacy that is being created/promoted here is yours.

      Let’s look to your own words, shall we?

      “Islam has produced good people who do good things; Islam has also produced evil people who do evil things. However, THIS DOES NOT ABSOLVE ISLAM OF EQUAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR PRODUCING AND ENABLING THE EVIL PEOPLE WHO DO EVIL THINGS. It does not whitewash it for containing within itself the seeds of evil actions.”

      To be clear, then, the belief system cannot be what is at issue. Why? Because your words apply equally if we replace “Islam” with “Judaism” or “Christianity” or “rational atheism.” Moreover, as you admit, a belief system can yield both good people and evil people.

      The only thing that matters, then, is a person’s actions, and, in spite of what Sam Harris asserts, a person’s beliefs does not dictate her actions, and you admit as much.

      Unfortunately, portraying Islam itself as evil permits us to believe that all Muslims are evil, regardless of their actions. It allows us to support ultimately genocidal policies in the name of preventing the seeds of evil actions from finding purchase. Fear overcomes rationality and renders atheists no better than the evil-doing adherents of Abrahamic religions, past and present, we all deplore.

      Well done.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-03-15 06:03:59 UTC - 06:03 | Permalink

      Earl, you have missed the point entirely. No-one is trying to “legitimize” Islam. No one is interested here in “supporting such a religion in its good and positive aspects”. No one is trying to “focus on the good side” of Islam here.

      I would have hoped that would have been very clear by now to anyone who has followed my posts on terrorism, radicalisation and Islam.

      Will McCants is arguing that Obama’s (and by extension many other well-intended but misinformed political and community leaders’) attempts to present Islam as a religion of peace misses the point and is misdirected.

      You have missed the whole point of juxtaposing the good and evil. The good does not nullify the evil as you seem to think is being argued. Not at all. The focus is entirely misdirected. We have made much progress in understanding the nature of religion and human behaviour and I am trying to do my little bit to share some of those research findings here to counter (with however slight a flickering candle) the almost willful ignorance of public figures who are clearly ignorant of that research and worse, ridicule and misrepresent it and those who publish it.

      Earl, you once mentioned that you thought this a good place to address or discuss such issues. Unfortunately I think too often we only get a fly-by polemic and little interest in engaging with the issues in a constructive way.

      Added later than the above:

      It’s as if you misread the title of the post as “Obama is right about Islam and Trump is wrong!”

  • Neil Godfrey
    2016-03-15 11:29:29 UTC - 11:29 | Permalink

    I do hope for a genuine exchange. Past posts/comments have led me to fear objectors to my posts on such topics do not bother to return to read follow up comments. It appears they drop by merely to troll with a polemic and move on. I do hope I am wrong. Please look again at the title of the post. It does NOT say “Obama is right about Islam while Trump is wrong” — and there’s a very deliberate reason it does not suggest such a thing. We are not playing word-games. Obama’s statement really is as wrong and misguided and ignorant as Trump’s.

  • james
    2016-03-15 22:27:37 UTC - 22:27 | Permalink

    “When we attribute human beliefs and behaviors to ancient, immutable scripture, we can’t explain change over time. Religiously justified wars once ravaged Christian Europe in the Middle Ages…”

    I’m really surprised that you’re quoting this nonsense so uncritically. McCant’s clearly got a political agenda and is trying to con the uneducated, but almost everyone here will know the basic facts about when the various Bible canons were dogmatised. His point isn’t even arguable, it’s just the most blatant ignorance.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-03-15 23:04:43 UTC - 23:04 | Permalink

      What is McCant’s political agenda? Do you really believe he is trying to con the uneducated by writing for scholarly publications that the uneducated would rarely see?

      What “various Bible canons” are you referring to? What do you mean by these various canons “being dogmatized”?

      If scriptures remain unchanged over the ages but people’s beliefs and behaviours change over the same period, how can you justify the claim that the scriptures are responsible for the those ever changing beliefs and behaviours?

      I can understand you saying that there is enough diversity in the scriptures to justify many different beliefs and behaviours. But that leaves open the question as to what led to those beliefs and behaviours in the first place, and that they used those scriptures to justify or rationalize.

      Or is my question merely a sign of “blatant ignorance”?

      • james
        2016-03-16 00:00:27 UTC - 00:00 | Permalink

        Maybe I’ve misunderstood this blog. I’m genuinely not sure if I’m being trolled.

        “What is McCant’s political agenda? Do you really believe he is trying to con the uneducated by writing for scholarly publications that the uneducated would rarely see?”

        He wants to equate xtianity and Islam, and undermine the role of scripture in being responsible for evil.

        The NY Daily News is clearly not a scholarly publication.

        What “various Bible canons” are you referring to? What do you mean by these various canons “being dogmatized”?

        You can look up the basics on wikipedia. I thought you were some sort of bible scholar? (That not rhetorical, I was genuinely under that impression).

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_canon
        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_apocrypha
        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Trent

        “If scriptures remain unchanged over the ages but people’s beliefs and behaviours change over the same period, how can you justify the claim that the scriptures are responsible for the those ever changing beliefs and behaviours?”

        It is absolutely false that xtian scripture has remained unchanged over the ages. (See above). I won’t be arguing that further.

        McCant’s strategy is to set up unchanged xtian scripture as a false comparison, and lever it to get Islam off the hook. But if you know for example that canon was put together after the middle ages, you know it can’t be responsible for wars in the middle ages.

        I can understand you saying that there is enough diversity in the scriptures to justify many different beliefs and behaviours. But that leaves open the question as to what led to those beliefs and behaviours in the first place, and that they used those scriptures to justify or rationalize.

        It’s not an open question. We know that Christianity pre-dates the bible. We know that in Catholicism, for example, Trent declared that the Bible and Church Tradition as equally authoritative. The question is why McCant is ignoring these known facts and arguing that xtianity and Islam both have “ancient, immutable scripture”. It’s to falsely equate the two religions.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-03-16 00:41:40 UTC - 00:41 | Permalink

          What McCants wrote in the NY Daily is what he writes and elaborates on in his scholarly outputs. Do you really believe he is trying to con uneducated people for a political agenda? Seriously?

          Yes, McCants is questioning your own dogmatic view about the role of scripture and religion as a cause for violence. Religion is an abstraction. Texts are dead letters. I can read a Nazi tract and it does not jump up and grab my mind and make me a Nazi. I can read anti-semitic literature without its words possessing my mind and turning me into an anti-semite. I have read the Bible and found in it justifications to wage war; I have read it at other times and found in it sound rationales for being a pacifist. I have used the Bible to tear down a family and build up a family.

          So what gives here? Is the Bible some manic depressive that sweeps me back and forth according to its own mood swings?

          Would I have done certain terrible things in my past if I had never come across the Bible? Hopefully not. Yes, the Bible has played a very destructive role in my life and how I have affected others. Does that mean the Bible is to blame for my actions? No, I am to blame. I am responsible. I was responsible for my own beliefs and how I used the Bible to rationalize some very ugly behaviour in the past. There was a three-way negotiation going on there between me and others and a text.

          Actually there was a four-way negotiation. Another group in my life were trying to talk me out of going the way of the cult. I chose to resist and argue against them. Why did I do that? Why were they also not swept up by the same ugly interpretation of the Bible that I was entering?

          Now who or what was responsible for the belief system that I chose to follow? If the Bible, then how do we explain most people trying to talk me out of that view of the Bible? They also believed in and loved the Bible but they believed I was missing the spiritual intent of its dominant message.

          Yes, the Bible did play a key role. But other factors led me to open my mind to such a literal and fundamentalist reading of the Bible and they also need to be understood.

          I’ve been posting at length about those factors for over a year now.

          When you say something is not an open question it does sound like you have a closed mind. I don’t follow your assertions about the canon — they come across to me as incoherent and unrelated to anything in the post.

  • David Ashton
    2016-03-15 22:36:20 UTC - 22:36 | Permalink

    The religious texts of both Christianity and Islam contain exhortations and recommendations to their readers, however they have been interpreted or acted (or not) upon by many different people. They do not all consist of only statements or descriptions, but some passages are clearly “instructions”. In Muslim communities the opinions and fatwas of scholars carry considerable weight. Not wishing to be accused of trolling, obsessive repetition or irrelevant polemic, I shall not attempt yet again to substantiate this point with quotations, but an exchange on it, or a refutation, is welcome at this end.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-03-15 22:45:13 UTC - 22:45 | Permalink

      You are engaged in obsessive repetition, David. Now how about engaging with the logic of the post that directly addresses and contradicts your obsessively repetitious point?

      • David Ashton
        2016-03-16 11:13:42 UTC - 11:13 | Permalink

        Non-Nazi Neil Godfrey reading a Nazi tract is not quite the same as a Muslim educated to believe in the Qur’an, or have I missed the “logic” here?

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-03-16 11:42:20 UTC - 11:42 | Permalink

          Good. At last you acknowledge (though without realising it) that one’s social and personal circumstances influence the way one interprets a text. The text itself does not inscribe itself on some blank slate in the head of the reader. Now most Muslims conditioned to North American or Australian culture are going to have a different interpretation, let’s say, from a Muslim brought up in Peshawar or Riyadh.

          You’re making progress.

          • David Ashton
            2016-03-16 15:24:49 UTC - 15:24 | Permalink

            The point about cultural “conditioning” is not something that had never occurred to me before your kind assistance, but have you grasped my separate point that a “text” which describes something differs from one that tells the reader to do something – just as a restaurant menu differs from a cookbook.

            I am however indebted to you for a previous favorable reference to “The Study Quran” (ed. S. H. Nasr) which has proved a valuable addition to my library (despite its delicate pages).

            • Neil Godfrey
              2016-03-16 20:42:25 UTC - 20:42 | Permalink

              If you read a cookbook’s recipes do you really feel some obligation or persuasion to go out and follow all of those prescriptions? I certainly don’t. I think, Aghast — well if you’re into that sort of thing and want to go to all that trouble etc.

              A person who feels obliged to follow a recipe is one who has committed to following that recipe for reasons entirely external to the book itself. The book has given them something they were looking for or happen to find appealing for personal reasons.

              Moreover, I suspect that experienced cooks do not feel obligated to keep every rule but are known to make modifications to those instructions according to their own circumstances from time to time.

              What of other texts that tell people what to do? Do you really feel they have a power to persuade on their own? The Code of Hammurabi? Oracles commanding animal sacrifices? A book on etiquette from another age or culture?

              Besides, many religious commands are not directed explicitly at readers today and many of the commands are the result of interpretations of other stories and conversations between others.

              • David Ashton
                2016-03-16 23:54:29 UTC - 23:54 | Permalink

                I agree with all that.

                I know of individuals drawn to the Gospels and the Qur’an for their own private reasons; there are also those of Muslim heritage living in western societies who have reacted violently AGAINST the acculturation they reject (maybe Australia differs from Britain with its substantial, almost self-contained Muslim communities and sharia-law demands).

                Being brought up inside a large religious community is different from independent personal choice, especially when texts regarded as divinely authoritative and therefore socially obligatory are publicly rejected altogether (as opposed to permissible varieties of interpretation). The Freethought Report in 2013 claimed that in 13 Muslim countries outright rejection of this ancient Arabian religion can incur the death penalty.

                I have never claimed that terrorist acts such as suicide bombing or the murder of women and children are explicitly and unequivocally required of Qur’an readers. If I have correctly interpreted your own Vridar texts, my previous offense was to note the relative difference between the predominantly “pacifist ethic” of Jesus and the obvious “warrior ethic” of Muhammad. This was repeated only because it was either denied or dismissed as a total irrelevance.

                I have also said that much modern Muslim hostility to “western crusader” societies has been provoked by the Israel-US partnership; and recommend again Rumy Hasan’s “Dangerous Liaisons: The Clash between Islamism and Zionism” (2013).

  • Neil Godfrey
    2016-03-15 22:55:16 UTC - 22:55 | Permalink

    What still leaves me somewhat nonplussed about some responses to a post like this is the apparent inability of some people to actually comprehend the words they are reading. One person responds as if the post is in some sense “legitimizing” Islam by telling readers to focus on “the good” side of the religion. That, of course, is a bizarre misreading of everything from the title down to the last paragraph. Another tells us that no matter what the post is trying to say, the sacred texts used by Muslims are a great evil responsible for all sorts of mayhem. That is an equally perverse failure to read and comprehend the post. Another person reads an account of historical facts about the immutability of scripture and the variability of beliefs and behaviour and says it is all “blatant ignorance”.

    The common factor seems to me to be that some posts are impossible to understand in cases where they cut to the core of the readers’ preconceived prejudices about religion generally and Islam in particular. I have no time for religion myself. But I at least try to understand religion from scholarly research to augment my own experiences. I don’t rely upon my own interpretation of a religious text to tell me all I need to know. I don’t rely upon a few sound bytes from a mainstream media channel to tell me all I need to know.

    I do believe that if we are going to address religion and terrorism then the first thing we need to do is actually make some effort to understand what we are about to deal with. Why we don’t all agree with what should be so obvious to some extent confuses me.

    • Mark Erickson
      2016-03-16 04:03:54 UTC - 04:03 | Permalink

      Great work, Neil. Keep it up. While these commenters might not grasp the argument, many others will.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2016-03-16 09:39:28 UTC - 09:39 | Permalink

        Thanks, Mark.

        • junego
          2016-03-19 06:40:48 UTC - 06:40 | Permalink

          I’m with Mark, great work, great post. Thank you for challenging implicit and confirmation bias with facts and thoughtful analysis that tries to be as objective as possible.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2016-03-21 00:19:26 UTC - 00:19 | Permalink

            It’s nice to know there are a few sympathetic ears out there. Thanks.

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