How Terrorists Convince Themselves to Kill

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by Neil Godfrey

H/t J.M. Berger‘s intelwire.com, a new article on time.com by William McCants (author of The ISIS Apocalypse),

How Terrorists Convince Themselves to Kill

McCants begins

Although I have studied jihadist culture for a decade, I am still astounded and dismayed by its ability to inspire individuals to take innocent life. The husband and wife team who slaughtered 14 and wounded 21 in San Bernardino were just the latest in a long line of killers who have embraced a violent version of ultraconservative Sunni Islam.

He notes that we can understand States killing innocents since the people at the top aren’t usually the ones doing the actual killing, and the more remote, the easier it is to do. And those who do do the executions generally undergo long-term training to overcome their natural aversion to killing.

But how did sane people like the San Bernardino assassins, independent of experience in a militia and without years of organized training, manage to overcome this natural aversion on their own? How did they convince themselves that the slaughter of innocents was necessary and right?

The answer, in brief:

Culture. Our brain may be wired to love our own group and dislike outsiders, but culture is the software that helps us determine who’s in and who’s out. The less we empathize with someone, the easier it is to kill them.

Jihadist culture is exceptionally good at decreasing empathy for outsiders, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, as the Norwegian political scientist Thomas Hegghammer shows in a forthcoming volume. Jihadists use scripture, stories, songs, art, and poetry to foster group solidarity and encourage violence against a wide circle of enemies. Individuals who adopt the culture make sense of the world through its prism and seek to convince others of its truth. Even the most isolated can connect over social media to find likeminded people who will encourage them and goad them to action.

Is it going to get any better if/when the Islamic State is destroyed? The State is “teaching its vile ideology to children on an industrial scale and ordering them to carry out attacks and execute prisoners” — and those children will be with us a long time to come.

And what of our reactions? It’s not a long article. It can be read very quickly: How Terrorists Convince Themselves to Kill

“Who is William McCants?” you ask. From the time.com site:

William McCants directs the project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution, and the author of The ISIS Apocalypse. He is adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University and a former U.S. State Department senior adviser for countering violent extremism.

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77 thoughts on “How Terrorists Convince Themselves to Kill”

  1. Is there a “natural human aversion to killing unarmed people”? If there is, it is culture, and not biology. So jihadi culture is opposed to other culture, not nature.

    McCants isn’t a deep thinker, and this is thin gruel even for a short piece in Time. “Industrial scale” brainwashing of children that will haunt us for decades? More appropriate for a Presidential candidate than a so-called expert.

  2. Neil,
    I recommend Saudi Arabia Exposed by John R. Bradley. It is an eyewitness account mixed with historical backdrop.

    ” …He only bought it [Al-Majalla magazine], however, because it regularly published e-mails it claimed were from leading Al-Qaeda operatives, which typically detailed their strategies, gave warnings of further attacks, or just ranted in order to play up or legitimize their call for a global jihad. Whether or not the letters were really from Al-Qaeda mattered little; the friction, the excitement of the forbidden, was a selling point, and the kingdom’s youth were hooked.” (p. 88)

    This from his chapter 5 Ticking Time Bombs: Saudi Youth

    There are many observations and arguments that he makes which for the most part align with some of your recent posts.

    Also following up a with scholar that McCants mentions above “Thomas Hegghammer”

    He seems to have a book on Saudi Arabia also: “Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979 “, which I intend to follow up on.

  3. McCain’s is partially right. People justify killing others by demonizing them. Thinking of them as not human. But his short article misses the other major factor: training as soldiers. These terrorists are not just stateless individuals as he seems to think.

    Many terrorists literally trained in armies. Trained to dehumanize opposing people. Seeing them not as people, but as “the enemy.”

    Pakistanis in particular were trained as soldiers to fight a Muslim religious war. First, in Pakistan’s breakaway from anti Muslim, Hindu India.

    The idea of fighting for an IS or “Islamic ” State” therefore, is not so alien to terrorists. In their own minds, in part, they are just guerilla soldiers.

    Pakistan by the way, gave women weapons training, in fighting non Muslims.

    So military training, by organized states, is part of the problem.

    No doubt our “State” Department author wants to minimize that. But the history is clear.

    1. Generally people don’t think of killing others unless they feel threatened. The biological imperative is to put concern first for those immediately related to us (e.g. our own children) or those on whom we depend, but this can be negatively distorted by individual brain disorders, experiences, education or ideology. A minor exception has been community cannibalism, for reasons of hunger and/or ritual. There have also been those who have engaged in sadism and murder for sexual gratification.

      The moral principle is this: we have a right (if we wish to exercise it) to defend our own lives, and those whom we love, from murder, and our own homes from destruction. Likewise, we have a right to defend our own communities, homelands and essential supplies from aggressive destruction. This makes the basic case for a police force and a defence system, but historically, of course, this simple principle is lost in a complex tangle.

    2. Technically, the Koran authorizes only defensive wars. And Mohammed tells us to never be angry. Which would seem to slow down Muslim aggression.

      However, various Hadith and nationalist traditions allow more aggression. Even as the definition of “defensive” and when we should feel threatened, is somewhat subjective.

  4. >Generally people don’t think of killing others unless they feel threatened

    The history of the human race, religion or not, is killing others to take what the others have, whether they need it or not.

    1. The history of the human race(s) is about many other things than killing people to acquire their property. Although sweeping, Mr Gartner however makes an interesting observation, and qualification of mine, which deserves discussion, including the insights particularly of “sociobiologists” like E.O.Wilson, Garrett Hardin, Paul Colinvaux, &c. The problems of climate change, world hunger, weapon technology, overpopulation and migration make a comprehensive and – so far as possible objective – analysis imperative, but unfortunately this might be like trying to get gallons into a pint pot on Vridar.

  5. “Culture. Our brain may be wired to love our own group and dislike outsiders, but culture is the software that helps us determine who’s in and who’s out. The less we empathize with someone, the easier it is to kill them.”

    Where is the word “religion” in McCants’ statement, or indeed in any part of this posting? Why does it seem to be avoided like the plague, here and elsewhere? Probably the most essential element of any “culture” is religion, the mostly deeply imbedded element in which people see themselves as distinct from others. Is there an essential difference between the cultures of Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims other than their different religious beliefs and traditions? In Northern Ireland, was there any essential difference between the cultures of Catholics and Protestants other than their religious sectarianism? (Don’t kid yourself that it was all political.) Yet Muslims can slaughter fellow Muslims, and Protestants and Catholics could cheerfully bomb the hell out of each other and assassinate their opponents even in front of the latter’s own children.

    It is precisely because the religion element of culture is so unconnected to reality, so tied to things which cannot be shared and seen as common experience and expression to foster a sense of connectedness, that it can lead otherwise sane people to commit atrocities against others. If my God is the only true one, then you who believe in a different God are rendered alien, and much more easily killed. (In fact, it’s often required.) If my prophet is the one true voice of God, then yours is false and demonization results for those who believe in him. In a spiritually interpreted universe, as opposed to the observable mundane one we live and interact in every day, any crazy idea can take root and any atrocity can become permissible.

    The San Bernardino couple, at least the male half, not only lived in a common American culture with his fellow citizens, they were co-workers, sharing the common culture of their workplace. And yet he could turn his guns on them all. What was the one non-sharing element that could make that possible? What else but religion? An element which the female half, from Pakistan and a jihadist disposition, only helped accentuate. What other basis in that setting could create a “who’s in and who’s out” mentality that could enable such barbarity?

    Any effort to downplay the role of religion is self-deceptive folly. Religion has been the curse of mankind. At root, no religion is ever “a religion of peace.” It is by nature and definition more divisive and injurious than any other human expression since we crawled out of the slime.

    1. There is more to religion than divisive hostility to other peoples’ deities. At root, religion has been about the existential predicament of the human condition, the placation of imagined powers for agricultural and other benefits, and the satisfaction of a sense of the numinous. There is something but not enough in Marxist explanations of this phenomenon.

      Socially, various faiths have expressed the Golden Rule, although this is notably absent from the Qur’an. A significant difference exists between the Islamic “proof texts”, in character and number, and those of e.g NT Christianity, Buddhism or Jainism, although all have sinned and fallen short of the “love of God” as regards violence. Crucifying infidels wherever you find them is nevertheless different from turning the other cheek, doing good to your enemies, &c.

      1. The San Bernardino couple, at least the male half, not only lived in a common American culture with his fellow citizens, they were co-workers, sharing the common culture of their workplace. And yet he could turn his guns on them all. What was the one non-sharing element that could make that possible? What else but religion?

        This is nonsense. Complete and utter nonsense.

        I work in IT, and I dislike a lot of the people I work with. A lot of them will backstab abd trample on others just to get ahead with their careers. A lot of them are employed not on merit but because of their contacts. A lot of them shouldn’t even be working in IT – they don’t have the knowledge and there are much better employees out there not in work who should have these jobs.
        I always behave with them in a cordial manner with my colleagues, because I have manners, and am professional, but I don’t really like them.

        How do you know what this guy’s relationship with his colleagues really was like? How do you know that he didn’t really like them? Maybe he had suffered discrimination in the past and did not really like his colleagues.

        Therefore, it could very well be possible that his wife was angry at American wars and the killing of Muslims, she influenced him, and because he didn’t like his colleagues, they decided to kill them instead of shooting random people in some other place. Religion might not have been the driving factor, no matter how much you want it to be.

        1. And did you ever have the urge, let alone one you acted upon, to open fire on your co-workers? My point was not that the killer’s relationship with his co-workers was all sweetness and light, but that it was at least part of a culture of cooperation and common activity/sharing of duties, etc. To go as far as to ignore all that and actually murder them required an extraordinary element far beyond having personal dislikes or disagreements with them. I offered religion, however you want to apply it, as that element.

          To be sure, it sometimes happens that a co-worker will “go postal” (as they used to say) because of a serious grievance or firing perceived as unjust, which unhinges the worker. In rare cases, (as in Montreal a few decades ago), the perpetrator can actually be seen as mentally ill or suffering from a serious personality disorder.

          None of these factors was present, as far as we can tell, in the San Bernardino case. And the circumstances we DO know point strongly to religion as “the driving factor”, no matter how much you might like to deny that possibility.

          My post’s objective was to call attention to and criticize the quite clear tendency these days to absolve religion of any responsibility in such matters, and your objection, which I would label “complete and utter nonsense” (to use your own words) only points that up.

          1. What I find a great shame is that there is no dialogue here, no engagement with the alternative explanations apart from outright denunciation.

            None of the arguments, evidence, logic and research raised in posts or comments that address in depth the points you have made have been addressed, leaving one to wonder if there has been no interest to bother reading them. And if there is no willingness to even listen or understand . . . . On the contrary, the same blatantly false innuendo and accusations against the other viewpoint and those espousing it are being repeated. That’s a shame.

            1. I hope, Neil, that your comment is at least intended to apply to both sides of this exchange.

              And I am sorry, but I found it difficult to address “evidence, logic and research” in the postings of someone who began by labeling my remarks “complete and utter nonsense” and more or less offered “he didn’t like his co-workers” as sufficient explanation for the San Bernardino murders.

              His subsequent attempt to flesh that out was not only laced with quite lame and immature ad hominem (I lack intelligence, my conclusions are weird and nonsensical, I am a simpleton, etc.), he then did an about face and admitted that religious beliefs and attitudes were indeed at the heart of the killer’s actions!

              Quite frankly, AU’s kind of response is not only often typical of the affronted religious mind which takes any criticism of religion as though it were on the level of the rape of his own grandmother, it should be severely reprimanded on a DB like this. Yet I don’t see any objection of that kind being expressed by you. (And I’m not sure where my “blatantly false innuendo” was to be found, in either of my postings.)

              AU’s belittling language and pugnacious personal attacks is simply too juvenile to engage with on the mature “dialogue” basis which you are advocating. (He makes Bart Ehrman’s tone and approach to mythicism–which you used to roundly criticize–look like a Yale debating society!)

              1. Earl, I was not following your exchange with AU. I was referring more particularly to the exchanges with me — I thought the second paragraph made it clear what I was referring to. (I am in disagreement with David and AU as well as you.)

                I have had my own disagreements with AU in the broad area of this topic and was leaving the conversation between you and him — I did not realize the extent of his insults in his exchange with you.

                I certainly do relegate to the trash/spam bin and put on moderation or ban outright both those who agree with my views in other ways because of their abusive tone.

                I take enough abuse myself and as a rule I try to respond with the moral high ground by refraining from responding in kind. When you first appeared online on Crosstalk you set a stellar example by doing just that and your manner won a lot of admiration from me.

                I do put people on moderation for persistent abuse and presumably AU is reading this and he can take this as a request for an apology to you.

                “Blatantly false innuendo”? I’m tired of the suggestion that anyone I quote or cite in this question is “trying to let religion off the hook”. Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne repeat that claim often enough and it’s a blatant falsehood. None of the researchers they accuse of it — Pape, Atran come to mind just now — are guilty as charged. Very much the opposite. And the article I referenced even stated at the end that the author wrote something called “ISIS Apocalypse” — suggesting even there that he does not try to avoid faulting religion in any way.

              2. Hi Neil,

                So, why should I apologise to him?

                If I see a post that is nonsense, why should I not be allowed to say that is nonsense? If I see someone acting simple-minded, why should I not be allowed to say they are a simpleton?

                You see, only a simpleton would think that just because someone is saying that the killings were not driven by religion they somehow do not like criticisms of religion.

                I studied Computing and Logic to a postgraduate level – I am used to intelligent and challenging debate, not debate where people sit there crying.
                In debate, it is perfectly normal to call the other party illogical or simpleton if that is how they are behaving – the other party can then show why they are not illogical or a simpleton. This is the kind of debate I am used to – I am not used to people crying about “name calling”.

                Quite frankly, AU’s kind of response is not only often typical of the affronted religious mind which takes any criticism of religion as though it were on the level of the rape of his own grandmother

                Ah, so, Neil, you think it is acceptable for someone to use language like giving examples of the rape of my grandmother? Especially when it is used in a context which is a clear lie and a strawman (that I do not like the criticism of religion)?
                So, you can either be a fair moderator Neil, and rebuke this dude for the inflammatory comment he made about my grandmother and rape and ask him to apologise to me, or you can take sides based on whatever reason, and if you choose the latter, then that’s your prerogative, and I will then stop visiting this blog.


              3. It’s not rocket (or computer) science, AU. Focus on the arguments, not the person. If you have studied logic as you say then presumably you have heard of ad hominem by now. An argument may be illogical. You may presume a correlation with an idiot. But if you want to be practical and actually hope to engage the person in a person to person relationship then you will draw upon the norms of civility.

                Of course Earl is offensive at times — but you have a track record of being moreso. I have put up with both of you. I expect reasonably thick skins and have let both of you carry on. (I do tend to jump more heavily and quickly on someone who attacks a newcomer I do not know.)

                AU, you DO tend to read far more personal attitude into words (not only Earl’s but mine too) that are seriously unwarranted. I mentioned this point in a recent reply to you — re reading comprehension etc.

                If you don’t want to visit here that’s fine. I bend over backwards to make allowances, I know I am sometimes inconsistent, but at the end of the day this is a place where I vent my views. I welcome difference of views and dialogue, but no-one welcomes breaches of the fundamentals of informal logic, like ad hominem.

                If you think Earl’s remark was over the top and uncalled for then without ad hominem you could explain why and seek a common understanding. You prefer to retaliate instead.

              4. You might want to read the following regading ad hominem – I sent it to a colleague once after he started accusing someone of ad hominem:


                I think I largely stopped debating over the Internet because ad hominem and strawman are two of the most misunderstood (and hence misused) terms on the Internet. I have been in debates where I have been called stupid and hypocrite – I never sat there crying about ad hominem, instead, I asked why I am being called that, and then I attacked the argument to show why I wasn’t what I was called. This is how debate should be.

                I did not respond to your other comment because I realised that there was no point – you didn’t even address the arguments I made in it.

                I think people often tend to behave according to the experiences they have been raised with – I have been raised in a very liberal environment where minorities should be protected, so I would never refer to the niqab as a bag – it isn’t because I am reading too much into “words”, it is because words evoke emotions, and if you start referring to people in non-human terms, such as animals, or “a bag”, it can have a real affect on their life, especially if they are a minority because they already have it hard. You are an intelligent man Neil, I am sure you know this and I do not need to explain this to you.

                The irony is, I am accused of reading far too much into words, yet it is others who are complaining about “name-calling”.

                I have also been raised in an environment where libertarianism prevails – you never ban anything*. So, if I had a blog, I would not be sitting here moderating – everyone would be free to say anything they like on the *condition they did not incite violence or break any other law.

                I do think you have an interesting blog, I think you post some thought-provoking posts, and I think you’re a nice person, but I think it is clear that the type of debate you like at this place isn’t the type of debate I am used to, and therefore, it makes sense if I let you guys carry on with what you do.

                All the best.

              5. From AU’s link:

                >Argumentum ad hominem is the logical fallacy of attempting to undermine a speaker’s argument by attacking the speaker instead of addressing the argument. The mere presence of a personal attack does not indicate ad hominem: the attack must be used for the purpose of undermining the argument, or otherwise the logical fallacy isn’t there. It is not a logical fallacy to attack someone; the fallacy comes from assuming that a personal attack is also necessarily an attack on that person’s arguments.

                I agree with AU that ad hominem is misused greatly in the internet comment society. In most cases we shouldn’t say that, we should just say stop being rude–oh, I see Neil did that.

              6. In most cases we shouldn’t say that, we should just say stop being rude–oh, I see Neil did that.

                Fair enough – rude is subjective, but if someone says to me they find my interaction rude, then I will make an effort to be more diplomatic in how I convey myself. It’s nice to take care of how others feel.

                Anyway, I’m done here, I don’t think this comments section is suitable for the kind of debates I like to engage in, therefore, it’s just best to leave you guys to it.

                Have a great 2016.

          2. You offered nothing but your ignorance.

            People do not absolve religion from such matters if religion played a part – not me, not Neil, not anyone I know of. It isn’t my fault you lack the intelligence to see this and come up with all sorts of weird and nonsensical conclusions in your mind.

            Anyway, seeing you lack the intelligence to think for yourself, let me spell it out to you.

            1) He killed those people because he thinks they are not Muslims and are therefore lesser human beings and God doesn’t like them – religion is the driving factor.
            2) He killed those people because because him and his wife were angry at Western wars that have killed huge numbers of Muslim civilians over the past 30 years and the support for the apartheid regime in Israel by Israel, and as he didn’t really like his colleagues (just like I don’t like many of my colleagues) he thought it would be best to kill them – religion isn’t the driving factor, politics and grievances are.

            It really is that simple, but even this would probably fly straight over the head of a simpleton. I know, scary, huh?

      2. Socially, various faiths have expressed the Golden Rule, although this is notably absent from the Qur’an.

        So you’re now an expert on religion? Which school did you learn about Islam from? Sam Harris Institute?

        Of course, people who acually study religion know that what you are saying is nonsense. This is why Professor Philip Jenkins for example says that the Bible is far more violent than the Quran.


        That isn’t to say that the Quran contains verses that liberals will be at ease with in 2015 – it is to say that the idea that the Quran and Islam are uniquely violent and intolerant is just plain nonsense.

        1. Kindly refer us to the Sura(s) in the Qur’an that quote the Golden Rule or its equivalent. Read what I say carefully and stuff your personal abuse back in your mouth.

          1. I am not playing this game. You can google this for yourself.

            Maybe if you spent less time reading the Daily Mail (yeah, you have quoted from Daily Mail here before), you might actially gain some knowledge about religions and humans and violence, instead of being steeped in your own ignorance.

            1. Some facts for you Mr AU.
              1. I actually READ not only the “Daily Mail” but also REGULARLY “The Guardian”, “The Times”, “The Independent”, “Daily Telegraph”, “The Observer”, “Sunday Times”, “New Statesman”, “New Scientist”, “Economist”, “Standpoint”, “Philosophy Now”, “Anthropology Today”, and much else, in addition of course to internet material.
              2. My private library includes at least two thousand volumes on religious, historical or ethnological subjects.
              3. As an atheist, I was put on to Sam Harris by references to him on Vridar quite some time ago, but stopped subscribing to his website after a short while; I admit I took as much a dislike to his manner as I now do to yours. I do of course read material on atheist, Christian and Muslim sites, and frequently download items of interest.
              4. I agree about intolerance and violence in the “OT” and have never said anything different. My reference solely to the “NT” referred almost entirely to the Gospels which are in one sense intolerant, but do not advocate violence in the same this-world way, or on the scale, that is the case with the Qur’an.
              5. I do not need to quote the large number of academics (including atheists) who more or less share my comparative assessment of Muhammad v Jesus. I need only ask readers here to google more widely than your source.
              6. References to the Golden Rule in other religions on request.

              – David Ashton, MA PGCE FRAI

              1. 1) Don’t care
                2) Who cares – no relevance.
                3) Don’t care
                4) Christianity isn’t just the NT, it is OT + NT. The Christian God of the OT is far more violent than the Islamic God. And anyway, even in the NT, there is talk about war against disbelievers.
                Read Revelations (19:11-19:15). Read Corinthians (15:25-15:25). This Jesus guy isn’t going to be a pacifist who will show his other cheek, he will destroy the infidels. Then again, you’re an expert on religion, so you already know this, right?
                5) Considering you have absolutely no clue about religions, I doubt you are in a position to judge who is and who isn’t a respected academic on religion.
                6) I don’t need references from you about religions – it is clear that I, someone who isn’t even an expert on religion, still know more than you do. The differene between you and I is that I realise I am not an expert, and am therefore always willing to learn, whereas you have read a few books and a few articles at the Mail and Telegraph or Times, all of which are full of rubbish and are not objective, and now think you are an expert.

                PS, Those letters do not impress me in the least, I went to a university which is rated in the top 10 in the world, when you attend such an institution, you get to meet and interact with people who are amongst the most respected in the world in their field, do you really think some letters are going to impress me, or anyone for that matter? (And, no, I am not trying to impress, I am just making a point that I studied and was taught by people who are considered very intelligent.)
                I don’t give a **** what anyone thinks of me, neither should you give a **** what anyone thinhgs of you, why would you waste your time trying to “prove” yourself over the Internet to people? I am sure you are very good and knowledgeable at certain things in your life, religion isn’t one of them. Peace.

              2. Another tirade of bigoted abuse. My eferences to some journal subs and to Sam Harris were just refutations of two groundless specific sneers from you. Similarly, my academic qualifications (Oxford & London Universities) were not attempts to show off (I have never quoted them before on the Internet) but in answer to your assertion that I am “steeped in ignorance”.

                Incidentally, I was well acquainted with Muslims and their views as a teacher in both London and Norwich, and still read literature from various Dawah organizations.

                Now for the minute scraps of relevant argument in your heap of invective. The “violence” in the Gospels refer to divine judgement, which is why I used the qualifier “this-world”. Otherwise, the message
                is largely one of love for enemies, doing good to others, &c. For a detailed account, see e.g. Raymond Belliotti, “Jesus the Radical” (2015).

                In the Qur’an, divine judgement entails some pretty gruesome “violence” for unbelievers, but this-world violent warfare against enemies is also espoused in verses that have not been abrogated. I need hardly quote any passages, or any commentators “respected in their field” – just invite you to re-read your own copy of this work.

                Peace (John 14.27a) – or “Fight in the cause of Allah” (Qur’an, passim)?

              3. If you had actually studied Islam, you would know that the violent “abrogation” verses are not universally accepted as abrogation by Muslims. You would realise that many Muslims believe that those verses relate to a specific incident at a specific time, and so when it sayas to go kill the infidels wherever you find them, it relates to a specific battle, and can only be applied if a similar circumstance arises.

                But of course, you haven’t really studied Islam, I know lots of people like you who read a book or two and then go around acting as if they’reexperts, I mean, when someone like me knows more than you do about Islam, and I haven’t even studied religion, it says a lot about exactly how clueless you are.

              4. Well aware of the battle dates issue in the Qur’an, which I set aside in consideration of the militancy of other texts, accepting of course that innocent civilians, women and children are generally exempt from the “sword”. Oddly enough this latter point was published only yesterday by the “rubbish” Mail on Sunday, which successfully campaigned for the release of Shaker Ameer from Guantanamo.

                Re abrogation, it is usually held that the later verses cancel the earlier ones, not vice-versa. Let readers decide just which of us is “clueless” by Googling all the entries under “Abrogation in Quran” & “What is nasikh & mansukh”.

                For the convenience of those without an acceptable translation, there is TheReligionofPeace.com section listing “Violence”. Unlike me this is pro-Zionist, but the quotes are correct, although there a just a few counter-balancing verses which however do not stretch to the Golden Rule found in other religious texts. I do not read Arabic myself, but studied religion even before I became qualified to teach it at secondary school.

              5. You are clearly clueless – educated in Islam from Sam Harris Institute and thereligionofpeace 🙂

                Only a reader with absolutely no knowledge of religion will take you seriously.

                You seem to have issues that the part of London where you grew up is now almost all Muslims, well, tough – no one cares about you. Incidentally, the area of London where I grew up is now almost exclusively Sikhs, Somalis and Polish, but I don’t sit here crying about it.

                Throwing in random Arab words doesn’t impress me at all – it’s the oldest trick in the book used by clueless people to try and make themselves sound more impressive. I however can see through you and know you have absolutely no idea about religion.

                And you still lack the intelligence to understand what I said regarding abrogation. Yes, the majority of Muslims agree that a later verse can abrogate an earlier one – I am not even debating that. What I am saying is that it a lot of Muslims do not consider the verses of not killing infidels and killing infidels to be conflicting, and therefore, the later verses that say you should kill infidels do not abrogate the earlier verses, because they are not contradictory in the first instance. I guess because to you everything is black and white, you have difficulty understanding this concept.

                Now of course some Muslim scholars do say that they abrogate, especially the fundamentalist ones. However, this is a matter of interpretation, and it is perfectly consistent for Muslims to interpret it differently using the same texts as the fundamentalists.

                Anyway, I am glad I only have time to come here today, I don’t think I could put up with your ignorance for anything more than a day.

                PS, I couldn’t give a **** about that rag you read, so you’re wasting your time.

              6. Just repeated personal insults, plus several blatant misrepresentations.

                As already stated regarding Walthamstow & Leyton, now with one of the largest Muslim communities in England, my complaints were against the terrorists who used my aunt’s old shop as a base in 2006 and more recently those councillors who tried to close the William Morris centre; in fact, the Bangladeshi community backed my efforts to get “survival English” classes for their young arrivals.

                As also stated, I do not follow or like Sam Harris.

                I have promised to send a long list of my sources, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, to Neil Godfrey in the New Year CE, and he is free to reprint them here, in full or edited.

                I have no wish to respond further to your empty name-calling, and doubt if many others want to read it either.

              7. What a pathetic response.

                I am not calling you “names”. If I call you clueless, it is because you are … clueless. This isn’t “name-calling”. This is stating a fact. If I calla a terrorist a terrorist, it isn’t name-calling, it is stating a fact. You seriously need to do some growing up.

                I am not misrepresenting you – it is clear, from you lack of knowledge, that your knowledge of Islam is based around the things said by the likes of Sam Harris, TROP, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Times. Even I know more about Islam than you.

                And what you mean is, you don’t really have a list of sources, but are in the process of making them up to try and sound knowledgeable – gotcha. You have the time to respond to me, but you don’t have an hour to list all your sources from the supposed many many books on Islam you have read – yeah, ok, we all believe that!

                You see, I used to spend a lot of time before debating things like climate change and Imperialism with people at FOX News and Telegraph, and so I know a clueless person when I see one, as you are just like they used to be.
                One lesson I learnt is that it’s a waste of time debating with such people, and therefore I have no interest in continuing this conversation with you, I just had time to kill yesterday and today and so I just thought I would expose your nonsense. That’s all.

                Have a great 2016!

              8. Mr AU now describes me as a pretentious liar as well as a clueless ignoramus. This is a serious libel.

                Sorry to claim more space on Vridar, but I shall therefore post here tomorrow (Allah volente) a premature and incomplete draft, without the promised comments, of many books on Islam and/or Palestine, among those on my shelves whose ridiculous large number I have been trying to catalog and also rearrange to make room for Christmas guests.

              9. David,

                I did not refer to as you a clueless ignoramus – please stop putting words into my mouth.

                I said you are clueless when it comes to Islam. I stand by that claim based on your previous posts which denonstrate a very simplistic understanding of Islam. I am not an expert in Islam, but even I understand more about the pluralistic nature of that religion than you do. Your views on Islam are anything but scholarly.

                Just because I say you are clueless about Islam, it doesn’t mean I am saying you are a clueless ignoramus. You might be the most knowledgeable person in other areas. I am sure there are things about which you have a vastly superior knowledge to me. I am simply saying you are clueless about Islam (no matter how many references you provide here) – nothing more, nothing less.

                If I did offend you, I apologise, and I wish you all the best for the future.


              10. “I am sorry IF I offended you” is a false apology and unacceptable. Regularly calling people clueless and then failing to acknowledge the offensiveness is insulting.

                Dig out your Psychology 101 notes. Read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. Remember the lessons you learned in kindergarten.

              11. I have never been interested in winning friends – I am much more interested in speaking up for what I believe is right.

                I also disagree with your comment about offensiveness. You seem to be assuming that just because you might be offended by something, everyone else will be too. This is simply not true.

                As the British comedian Jimmy Carr said, “Offence is taken, not given”. Now I don’t believe this is true in all cases, but the point is that it is in many cases up to the individual how they react to what someone says. If someone called me clueless, I will not be offended – I would instead be interested in exploring why they are calling me clueless, and rebutting their argument logically.

                Therefore, the suggestion that if A calls B clueless, it implies that A was being offensive, is simply untrue. If B did not take offence, then A wasn’t offensive.

                Now David might or might not have been offended. I don’t know David personally, I do not know what goes through his mind, maybe he wasn’t offended but instead felt sorry for me because he thought I was the one who is clueless for thinking he is clueless. He might have been sitting there laughing at me for thinking he is clueless. As I cannot know whether or not David was offended, the natural thing is for me to write that I am sorry if I offended him. This isn’t a false apology as you claim, it’s just a logical thing to write.

              12. A still incomplete list of my books (commentary & articles excluded) on Islam & Palestine, as requested, particularly informative items double-starred. Recent ISIL/Daesh studies (e.g. al-Yaqoubi’s) are too numerous to consider for collection; Burke’s up-to-date bibliography is good.

                MUSLIM WORKS
                Qur’an – Rodwell & Sale trs. (Arberry, Dawood & Pickthall given to student friends.)

                Ali, A. Spirit of Islam (1974 reprint); Bucaille, M. The Bible, the Qur’an & Science (2003 ed); Garaudy, R. Mythical Foundations of Israeli Policy (1997); Hobohm, M. Islam’s Answer to the Racial Problem (1999); Ayatollah Khomeini. Sayings (ed 1980); **Maqsood, R.W. Islam – An Introduction (2010); Qutb, S. Milestones (2009 ed); **Said, E. Question of Palestine (1992 ed); Shams, A.H. [anti-Soviet Afghan] In Cold Blood (1987); Thomson, A. Dajjal – the Antichrist (1997).

                Asbridge, T. The Crusades (2012) esp.pp.657-681; Avineri, S. Arlosoroff (1989); Baddeley, G. & P. Woods, God’s Assassins (2009); **Bostom, A. Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism (2008) [lent out]; Bowker, J. Oxford Dictionary of Religions (1997); **Burke, J. The New Threat…(2015); Carlyle, T. Heroes, and Hero Worship (1891 ed) pp.39-71 (Muhammad); Cattan, H. The Palestine Question (1988); Challis, R. Shadow of a Revolution [Indonesia] (2001); Cohn-Sherbok, D. Anti-Semitism (2002); Deacon, R. Israeli Secret Service (1977/1993); Finkelstein, N.G. The Holocaust Industry (2003); Gilmour, D. Dispossessed (1982); Guillaume, A. Islam (1956); Gurr, N. & B. Cole, New Face of Terrorism (2009).
                **Harkabi, Y. Arab Attitudes to Israel (1972); **Hasan, R. Dangerous Liaisons: The Clash between Islamism & Zionism (2013); Herzl, T. The Jewish State (1934 ed); Hinnells, J.R. (ed) New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions (1998); Hiskett, M. Some Turn to Mecca to Pray (1993); Holmyard, E.J. Alchemy (1957); Honeyford, R. Integration or Disintegration? (1988); Katz, S. Battleground (1973); **Khan, M.A. Islamic Jihad (2011) [temporarily mislaid]; Kiernan, B. The Arabs (1978); **Laqueur, W. The New Terrorism (2002) [with a good bibliographic essay by prolific historian]; Levy, R. Social Structure of Islam (1969); Lewis, B. Emergence of Modern Turkey (1961); Ling, T. History of Religion East & West (1968); Locker, B. “A Stiff-Necked People” [Palestine in Jewish history] (1946); McDowell, D. Palestine & Israel (1990).
                **McTernan, O. Violence in God’s Name (2003); Miller, D.W. & C.D. Moore (eds) The Middle East (1970); Milton, G. White Gold (2005); Muller, J.Z. Capitalism & the Jews (2010); Onfray, M. In Defence of Atheism (2007); Ostrovsky, V. The Other Side of Deception (1995); **Ovendale, R. Origins of the Arab Israeli Wars (2004); Rennap, I, Anti-Semitism & the Jewish Question [CP v Zionism] (1942); Rodinson, M. Islam & Capitalism (1977); Roth, B.M. Perils of Diversity (2013); **Ruthven, M. Islam (2012) [lent out], Islam in the World (2000 ed).
                Segev, T. The Seventh Million (1994); Sinclair, A. Anatomy of Terror (2004); **Sookhdeo, P. Global Jihad (2007); Soros, G. Bubble of American Supremacy [ch.11] (2004); Sox, D. Gospel of Barnabas (1984); Sizer, S. Zion’s Christian Soldiers (2007); Taylor, A.R. The Zionist Mind (1974); **Townsend, P. Questioning Islam [comprehesive critique] (2014); Weizmann, C. Trial & Error (1949); Weir, A. Against Our Better Judgment (2104); **Youssef, M. Revolt against Modernity (1985); Zaehner, R.C. Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Living Faiths (1993).

                Personal possession can be verified by selecting a couple of titles with page references & inviting me to state what is there.

    2. Where is the word “religion” in McCants’ statement, or indeed in any part of this posting? Why does it seem to be avoided like the plague, here and elsewhere? Probably the most essential element of any “culture” is religion . . .

      I don’t know if you will read this, Earl, but the reason I was attracted to read the article in the first place was because I saw it was written by McCants. The reason for that name being of interest is because I have only recently read one of his scholarly studies on the role of RELIGION in Islamic State terrorism. The book I read was Islamic Apocalypse. He has another that I am about to read titled Founding Gods, Inventing Nations — which has a heavy focus on Islam.

      He might be a mainstream scholar but he’s not ignorant. When he discusses culture he acknowledges the vital role of religion. But he does have an informed understanding of how religion actually works within cultures. If an outsider is going to overthrow the mainstream consensus then the outsider needs first to have some grasp of what the scholarly arguments actually are.

    1. When I hear incendiary garbage like this, which points up all that is divisive and injurious in religion, I can almost sympathize with that idiot Donald Trump. If that is what is spouted within the United States itself, it’s understandably tempting to think of closing the door against any who subscribe to a faith which can twist itself (usually aided by its own scriptures) into this kind of sick mentality. It is this sort of outlook which lies at the heart of every religion, despite the best efforts of those believers who, despite upbringing and indoctrination, have risen above it at the behest of a more humanistic enlightenment. Trouble is, those who can’t do so pose a real and appalling threat to the rest. And from San Bernardino to Paris to the killing grounds of blood soaked Syria, we are daily seeing and suffering the consequences of ignoring or downplaying that threat.

      1. If that is what is spouted within the United States itself, it’s understandably tempting to think of closing the door against any who subscribe to a faith which can twist itself (usually aided by its own scriptures) into this kind of sick mentality.

        I would rather have Syrians coming to the UK, even if some of the might end up being terrorists, then living with cowards whose lack of intelligence to see the world beyond dualistic terms promotes divisivenenss causes danger to all human beings.

        I actually think people who are too stupid to even see how illogical things like banning people based on religion are, are actually mentally ill, and should not be allowed in a power of position – ever.

      2. I can’t help but completely agree with Earl’s many observations here.

        There may be many social and political factors underlying the radicalization of Islamic youth (drone strikes and indiscriminate bombings of ‘nameless’ innocents by the West) but the essential narrative that makes Jihad an acceptable and “reasonable” response is religious. As Earl has noted, the cry on the lips of the suicide bombers or the San Bernardino couple as they commit their murderous deeds is not the motto of their favourite sports team, but Alahu Akbar or some similar declaration of their faithfulness to Allah and their perception of his will.

        It is, IMHO, the perfect storm of legitimate grievances: identifying with those wiped out as ‘collateral damage’ combined with a religious narrative grounded in a literal reading of the Quran and fostered by a leadership fanning the flames with radical exhortations to act on these ideas. One cannot happen without the other.

        Indeed, the violent actions of Jihadis against other Muslims is grounded in the same sort of religious rationalizations. The ‘infidels’ in those cases (Sunni or Shia or whatever) are fair game because they subscribe to some sort of deviant tradition or mistaken interpretation of the holy book. So yes, Islamists hurt their brethren more than anyone else, but this is based on sectarian differences that make their fellow Muslims into heretics worthy of death. This is primarily a religious justification even though the conflicts may have roots in social and political histories. To focus solely on the social or political factors in the radicalization of Islamist youth is a real mistake as it ignores the absolutely essential religious component that energizes and legitimizes this abhorrent behaviour.

        At its heart Jihadism is the poison of Islamic religious fervor being acted on by those who see it as their God-given mission.

        The discussion here trying to make sense of Islamist violence seems to swing between those endorsing the social / political factors vs the religious factors. People seem to be talking past each other but like Gasoline and Oxygen, both components are necessary to make a combustible mixture. Jihadism needs the socio-political narrative and a literalist interpretation of the religious commandments to make it all go up in flames.

        1. One cannot happen without the other.

          So you assert. The problem is this is entirely a correlation equals causation argument with the only supporting evidence being the banner under which they unite. This alone is not sufficient to warrant such certitude on how religion operates within culture.

          Even more problematic, the model of religion Earl presents is completely unfalsifiable. No matter what believers incorporate into their faith or how conditional their tenets might prove, this can only be evidence of how they respond to a religion that “twists itself” to act upon them as an external, malevolent force. There can be no evidence that people hold any influence over their faith and might use it for their own purposes; they either submit or “rise above” it.

          Nobody’s taking past anyone as I can see, we just don’t all subscribe to a black-and-white view of the role of religion which becomes interpreted as ignoring/downplaying it.

          1. Greg,

            I agree that the role of religion isn’t black and white but attempts to understand or explain Jihad while failing to acknowledge its essentially religious and theological underpinnings strikes me as foolish and unreasonable. However nuanced and complex the multiple factors may be that lead to radicalization etc. if you take away the ‘Islam’ component, the phenomenon pretty much disappears.

            So sure, let’s discuss the multiple, sociological, regional and political factors that create adherents to radical Islam, but unless we consistently acknowledge the religious roots of Islamic Jihad and role of mainstream Islam in the care and feeding of this ideology, we will be deluding ourselves.

            1. To elaborate on my higher point, I think you ascribe a power to religion that has not been properly demonstrated. The group dynamics are plainly evident in inculcating those bearing certain predispositions, but the fact that largely religious people have chosen a religious narrative to process anti-West sentiments is not sufficient evidence of the extracultural mechanics you describe.

              It is haphazard to accept a religious narrative at face value just because they do. This isn’t ignoring theological underpinnings, this is bearing in mind that humans are rationalizing creatures.

              Just as Christians cherry-pick teachings to fit their circumstances, the concept of holy war may only resonate with those already interested in reprisal against the foreigners exploiting them and destabilizing their nations and/or regaining a sense of control over their lives.

              1. Sorry, but I can’t let this pass without a question. In what way is ISIS, the majority of whose atrocities have been committed against fellow Muslims, thereby “interested in reprisal against the foreigners exploiting them and destabilizing their nations”?

                And by whom has ISIS been deprived of “control over their own lives”? The last time I looked, Syrian suppression of the aims of those who seek a new Caliphate used to be the province of fellow Muslims like Bashar al-Assad, or the Shia-biased former govt. of Iraq. In other words, a sectarian religious situation. Religion that has been rendered political is still religion, and Evan is right in suggesting that without religion, the whole situation would simply not exist as we have it.

                The need to heap the blame on entirely political factors usually laid at the feet of the evil West (and by extension Israel, in the minds of some) too often leads to arguments which are narrowly one-sided and even clearly inapplicable.

                At the claim that “a power ascribed to religion…has not been properly demonstrated”, I can only shake my head. Such a demonstration has been provided far beyond the confines of this DB or of the Middle East issue surrounding Islam. And what sort of demonstration would be required here? All such demonstrations are too often simply dismissed or ignored, and are difficult to supply to those who seem to be essentially in denial.

        2. As you say we are hearing “an entirely religious justification” (though of course there are other explicit justifications according to the jihadis also) and it is certainly inadequate to deal with social and political factors alone by this stage. It’s surely a truism that there is no simple long-term solution either.

          There is a danger in treating simplistically as just a religious issue, however. That will surely play into the hands of the terrorists if it means deepening the polarisation.

    2. Whatever I read I find myself checking sources, checking citations, finding out who and what. When it comes to anything that is going to support one’s ignorant bigotries the last thing some people want to waste time on is checking the details.

      The byline at the top of the video (preaching rape and murder) is not supported in the excerpt captured in the video; the video text demonstrates a mocking bigotry against people with a certain accent; the provenance of the speaker — apart from one detail — is of no interest.

      Better to ignore all of these facts and then instead of understanding what we are witnessing to use the video as one more incendiary device to rationalise hostility towards an entire people.

      1. Way to stick your head in the sand. My point was he is proclaiming the exact same message as the Jihadis, not in some terrorist training ground, but in a Mosque, in the middle of the USA.

        PS. I notice you didn’t answer my final comment from our other discussion, you know, the one where I eviscerated all of your so called research 😉

        1. I am still waiting for you to demonstrate actually grasping anything I have written. How about testing your comprehension by summing up what you believe my points were in my comment (or any previous one) and checking to see if we really do understand each other?

          I see no indication you are interested in dialogue but only in polemical denunciation.

          1. Nice dodge.

            You are wrong, the facts don’t support you. Every time you’ve “called out” one of my facts you’ve been proven wrong and then ignored it (or capitulated to it) for the rest of the discussion. You said I misquoted one of the suspected terrorists, I hadn’t, you were wrong. You were actually the one who misquoted the terrorist from the London tube, leaving out (possibly not on purpose, as most of the media outlets left it out too) the most important part of his quote, the most damning for your case, implicating religion as the reason for his attack.

            I cannot read the entire body of work you have read just to refute some blog post or comment. I have provided counter-evidence to your view which makes it look dodgy at best, and you have retreated to a position of “you’re too dumb to understand my amazing writings”.

            The explanation of the terror problem that you, and the scholars your are reading, are purporting is inaccurate, and as such it will not help solve the problem.

            I suppose what you really wanted was to cut our conversation off, so I will oblige, at least you’re not surrounded by an echo chamber in here on this issue. When you extract your head from the sand, let me know, and if Western Civilization is still around we can hopefully have a good laugh about the whole thing.

            1. and you have retreated to a position of “you’re too dumb to understand my amazing writings”.

              Well, I don’t know if Neil actually said that, I might have missed parts of the debate, but if he did say that, then he would actually be right.

              You are too dumb. And fearful. This is the worst combination that can possibly exist, as it makes you totally irrational. I am not being insulting here, I am just telling you the truth.

              People like you are very dangerous, one hopes they might be able to talk a Muslim fundamentalist out of having such extreme views, but when it comes to people like you, well, I am not so optimistic as I don’t think one can fix stupid.

  6. Basically, McCants and the State Department here want to attribute terrorism to bad individuals and individual psychology. Not to larger organizations like religions, armies, or states, nations. But clearly McCant is wrong.

      1. To clarify: our authors want at times to suggest it is not military training and so forth that leads some to become terrorists, but jihadi culture. Some might also suggest personal psychology, and workplace grievances. However, I’m noting other factors too. Including the military training that states give their citizens.

        1. All armies (well, I should speak of one that I know — the Australian army, let’s say) train people to kill, and that involves a range of psychological conditioning as much as physical prowess. Is the Pakistani army any different in this respect?

          And certainly many Western jihadis have found basic training with armed forces in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, and before that in Bosnia and Chechnya. Presumably some who travel to join the Islamic State return (having failed to find martyrdom) hoping to utilise the training in how to make bombs, use various weapons, prepare explosives, avoid detection, that they receive.

          1. The situation of the Pakistani army is complex. As one might guess from the fact that Bin Laden was found next to one of their training bases.

            The army retains some ties to the Brits, from collonial days. And even to America, when both sought to contain their neighbor, the USSR. At the same time, Pakistanis fought a war of Islamist secession against India.

    1. As stated above, I was not responding to your exchange with AU.

      I deplore insults and other ad hominem and expect those who stoop to that level to apologise or certainly cease and desist. And yes I am looking directly at AU when I say that. It is not easy moderating one’s own site — but . . .

      . . . I have no intention of doing what Larry Hurtado or Jerry Coyne do on their blogs and ban every comment that they deem the least bit offensive — and thereby ensure that the entire site is nothing but their own echo chambers — and open myself to a perception of justification that I ban comments I do not like.

      I find it interesting that when it comes to this particular discussion topic it is those who are the most emotional and who even express disdain for the informed and specialist research that they have never even read are the ones who walk away from discussions here for reasons that seem quite inconsistent when one looks at the larger pattern of exchanges. (You are the third: one other did so ostensibly because I said comments of one were degenerating into trolling; the other — apparently because I failed to agree with him.)

      Again the parallels with the mythicist debate — I’d really love to engage the other side in a serious discussion; I’m not the one who is walking away from this option.

  7. I am responding here to Earl’s comment above:

    Earl, without speaking or answering for Greg, I cannot let this pass:

    No-one I know has ever suggested ISIS is not a religious or sectarian organisation or that its atrocities are explained in entirely political terms. You repeat that suggestion regularly and ignore my previous protestations (in both comments and email) and posts clearly identifying ISIS as a sectarian organisation.

    Of course ISIS is a religious outfit. It is a Sunni revival and a Caliphate.

    The situation in the Middle East would not exist if it were not for religion, for corrupt politics, for the demise of the Ottoman empire, for human nature, — one cannot single out any one factor as if it were the sufficient cause without which none of the present problems would exist. Such “if” questions in history are meaningless and pointless.

    What we do object to, however, is a blanket “blaming Islam” for ISIS. That’s as useful as blaming Christianity for Jonestown or David Koresh or the bombing of abortion clinics. Of course such things would not have happened without Christianity, but Christianity itself does not explain why such things happened. The reasons are clearly more complex for the simple reason that most Christians deplore and are mystified by those events.

    And of course none of this denies that Islam more generally has many serious problems and practices that anyone interested in human rights deplores. But we need to be clear headed and not lump all problems in the one causal basket, surely. Challenging sexism and homophobia or even the entire irrational foundations and negative side to the history of Christianity would hardly have addressed whatever led to Jonestown.

    1. Earl,

      In what way is ISIS, the majority of whose atrocities have been committed against fellow Muslims, thereby “interested in reprisal against the foreigners exploiting them and destabilizing their nations”?

      ISIS doesn’t see them as fellow Muslims. Think Wahhabism; those who don’t conform to what are deemed the true principles of Islam are no different than enemies. From that standpoint, Muslims outside of the circle are mere imposters, idolators, and quislings who would as readily welcome the destruction of Islam as any Trump.

      The very foundation of the ideology is the idea that political order can only be achieved through strict adherence to the roots of the faith. Foreign influence is considered to pervert and undermine Islamic law. For them, fighting the West and fighting fellow Muslims are very much the same because the latter are often seen as capitulating Islam’s power to the former.

      This isn’t about blame, this is about understanding which often requires that we examine things through perspectives other than our own.

      I’ve already explained above how the points you raised in regards to religion’s mechanics don’t leave very much to engage. I feel that Neil’s reply aptly captures my sentiments as to the rest of your post.

      1. ISIS may not see the sects they persecute and slaughter as fellow Muslims (meaning legitimate Muslims), but that does not mean that you can apply the term “foreigner” to them. That’s a misuse of language which you seem to have appealed to because I called you on your statement which used that word as though external “foreign” influences are entirely or chiefly to blame for the phenomenon.

        What is a “blanket blaming Islam for ISIS”? I have already acknowledged that other factors are involved. What I protest is the attempted whitewashing of Islam the religion as having any responsibility for the development of ISIS. When an organization of any kind is capable of giving rise to something on the level of ISIS, or the medieval Inquisition, or pogroms against the “killers of Christ” in a demonstrably false mythology (whether a Jesus existed or not), it has to bear some responsibility. One can’t take refuge in claiming, Oh that’s others’ misuse of the religion, not mine or an X percentage of its followers. The kernels of the misuse lie within the religion itself, including in its scripture, and cannot simply be absolved away.

        One of my favorite expressions is “a philosophical theory is only as good as it works in practice.” When it works as badly as Islam has in this modern era, it needs to be rethought, reworked, or maybe even abandoned. Of course, I pretty well feel much the same way about all religion. It has not only outlived any usefulness it might have had, it harbors viruses which now threaten the health of us all.

        1. Again just my own thoughts (not Greg’s):

          What interests me is understanding ISIS and what led to its emergence and why it continues to attract some people.

          I want to understand what has enabled the particular form of barbaric religious system that is ISIS to have mobilized others.

          Are you suggesting that the Islamic religion itself is all that is necessary to understand how ISIS has come about?

          Yes, I know you say religion/Islam is not the sole factor but you also appear to suggest it is the sufficient cause and speak of it as if it is the only factor that really matters.

          So insofar as Islam is the major factor (or “organisation” I think you said) behind the rise of ISIS, are you saying that the Muslim religion itself explains the emergence of Islamic terrorism and ISIS, and that to counter ISIS there needs to be (in addition to bombing etc) a wholesale effort to undermine the Islamic religion itself or at least change its beliefs and practices?

          1. I probably have no business contributing to this discussion as it is well outside my area of expertise but your question:

            “Are you suggesting that the Islamic religion itself is all that is necessary to understand how ISIS has come about?”

            prompts me to respond…

            ISIS cannot be explained by simply declaring it to be a fundamentalist movement acting out of the tenets of the Quran. (It’s much more than that and probably just as much a cultural and political movement in response to the post-war chaos and power vacuum in the Levant.) On the other hand, any sort of explanation of how and why it exists cannot be taken seriously without some consistent reference to how ISIS sees itself as acting in accordance with some sort of holy Quran-based manifesto. ISIS defines itself in religious, apocalyptic terms; acting out what it sees as Allah’s sacred directives. To adequately explain ISIS, one necessarily has to reference this religious identification and motivation. To attempt to explain ISIS without referencing these important religious factors strikes me as paternalistic and an attempt to be politically correct at the expense of logic and plain-speaking. (Much like many in the ‘Western Media’ and Governments who, fearing offense, refuse to identify the role of “Islam” in the inspiration of this movement.)

            I don’t believe that this is overly simplistic. There are multiple factors non-religious factors at play here but one cannot leave out the important religious narrative in explaining ISIS.


            1. On the other hand, any sort of explanation of how and why it exists cannot be taken seriously without some consistent reference to how ISIS sees itself as acting in accordance with some sort of holy Quran-based manifesto. ISIS defines itself in religious, apocalyptic terms; acting out what it sees as Allah’s sacred directives. To adequately explain ISIS, one necessarily has to reference this religious identification and motivation.

              Absolutely agree.

              My question was addressing something that is not unique to ISIS, however — Islam. Islam is an abstract idea that describes very little, just like Christianity. However, when people use the word as a explanation and even focus on it as a primary or major factor as a cause of barbaric behaviour, then they cannot help but avoid branding a host of innocents; such a description is worse than unhelpful.

              The religious ideas that ISIS itself appeals to, and its own religiously justified writings, are what needs to be especially understood and addressed. To target Islam as if the teachings of Alwaki (“Call to Jihad” and other sermons) and Naji (“The Management of Savagery”) and the contents of the al Qaeda and ISIS journals Inspire and Dabiq are as much a part of mainstream Islam is to fall into the very response that these writings want.

              The terrorists and ISIS want the world to see them as the true representatives of Islam and their stated aim with attacks in the West is to create the very polarisation that our “blaming Islam” creates.

        2. I never applied the term “foreigner” to Muslims. You’re still not seeing this from their perspective. While you’re correct that ISIS probably doesn’t consider illegitimate Muslims foreigners, they do consider religious deviance to be in large part a foreign influence.

          Consider that Wahhabism was founded as a response to both European modernism and Muslim decline. The basis of the mistrust and rejection of foreigners is the idea that they lead Muslims astray which weakens the power structure. They’re attacked not as foreigners but as agents of foreigners. “You’re either with us, or against us.”

          Xenophobia is certainly not all there is to it, but it’s difficult to ignore how it would factor into the good vs evil framing of the apocalyptic narrative.

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