Is Religious Freedom Intolerable? (The Consequences of Sam Harris’s Arguments)

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by Neil Godfrey

If beliefs determine what we do it follows that no society can allow people freedom of religion or conscience. If religious beliefs cause some people to perpetrate terrorist carnage then we have to say good-bye to the West’s short-lived experiment with secular Enlightenment ideals. That is the conclusion (and I think it is correct) of Marek Sullivan in The New (Anti-) Secularism: Belief Determinism and the Twilight of Religious Liberty.

According to Harris, ‘Belief is a lever that, once pulled, determines almost everything else in a person’s life’ (12). This is why he thinks religious profiling may be a good idea (see below), that the ‘war on terror’ is fundamentally a ‘war of ideas’ (152), and that ‘Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them’ (52-3). Since what people believe determines what they do, the battle against religious violence is fundamentally a matter of doctrine, not guns or bombs (though guns or bombs are handy if the belief is dangerous enough). Rather than struggle with a torrent of violence, it is more effective to challenge the spring of belief before it metastasises into action. [Page numbers refer to Harris’s The End of Faith.]

Harris does indeed acknowledge (sometimes at least) the implications of such views:

If belief really does determine behaviour as a lever triggers a mechanism, then absolute liberty of conscience makes no ethical sense. Second, anyone familiar with Harris’s writings will know he does not always talk about the necessity that freedom of speech and thought be safeguarded. In fact he often seems to be talking about the opposite, as, for example, when he claims ’the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss’ (2005: 15).

It follows that the principles of liberty of conscience and religious equality have to go.

And it’s less easy today to hide forbidden thoughts than it has ever been before. The internet is potentially storing all the things we have been thinking about whenever we have browsed the web or communicated online.

Philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers once coined the term ‘extended mind’ (1998) to describe the way technologies of information production and circulation (paper, pen, books, computers, the internet) blur the boundaries between self and world by extending human consciousness into the external domain. For them, our cognitive dependency on these technologies (e.g. as problem solvers or memory supports) makes it hard to tell where humans end and technology begins; this technology becomes, quite literally, us.

What are the implications for human freedom of an extended subjectivity, grafted onto personhood through the prostheses of email accounts, internet histories, and Facebook, and accessible to state powers? Can liberty of conscience and the invulnerability of the private sphere survive a situation where not only is belief ‘not simply in the head’ (Clark and Chalmers 1998: 14), but the government can peer into the extended self at the click of button?

Why not take Islamist terrorists at their word?

Sullivan poses the question:

At the crux of Harris’s anti-secularism is a simplistic and reductive conception of human agency. For him, jihadist terrorists do what they do because of their consciously-held and publicly-articulated beliefs—beliefs we know about because these have been communicated to us ‘ad nauseum’ in propaganda material and pre-detonation cries of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ Harris simply takes the jihadists at their word. And why not?

Any serious discussion about the nature of human agency must surely, at a bare minimum, deal with Freud’s unconscious, theories of self-deception and rationalization, and could even touch on Latourian or ‘New Materialist’ conceptions of human/technological ‘distributed agency’ (Latour 1994; Bennett 2010). What we do and why we do it often has very little to do with consciously-articulated beliefs, no matter how vigorously we may wish to defend these in public. I will take this as a given—a comprehensive analysis of human agency is beyond the scope of this essay.

I do believe we should take the words of any criminal seriously but I also believe that it does not necessarily follow that their words offer the best, simplest or comprehensive explanation for their acts. Of course the principle applies to us all, not just our criminal element.

Are New Atheists paving the way for the end of free society?

Our modern secular societies have been built upon the view that people can and do make clear distinctions between their personal (private) beliefs and how they choose to act in society at large”

[T]he public/private divide makes no sense unless one accepts the possibility—indeed, utter normality—of a disconnect or dissonance between belief and behaviour. The dualism or aporetic censure surrounding belief and behaviour inscribed in traditional secularism is what enables secularists to punish external (public) action without punishing the internal (private) belief that may or may not have led to the action in the first place, thereby avoiding charges of hypocrisy (e.g. intolerance of intolerance) and remaining broadly ‘liberal’. Implicit here is the possibility that beliefs do not determine behaviour. Otherwise freedom of conscience would be indifferentiable from freedom of action and equally inapplicable in civil society. (My own bolded emphasis as always.)

Marek Sullivan comes across to me as more pessimistic (or realistic) than I think is healthy when he writes:

The more belief and behaviour merge in the minds of policy drafters and radical atheists, the more liberty of conscience becomes ethically untenable. Just as liberty of conscience is floundering, new surveillance technologies and neuroscientific discoveries are making thought-legislation a realistic prospect. Writers like Harris are sketching out the necessary ethics for this to happen; Republican candidates seek the political clout to make it happen. The question is, are we ready?

Maybe I’m just too old to keep up with the changing times but old-fashioned as a I am I really do like to think that fighting to preserve the secular and rationalist values of the Enlightenment is a most worthy cause.

Example: I have expressed my strongest opposition to Islamist views that lay at the heart of terrorist beliefs even though the people expressing those views publicly denounce and deplore violence. They want to replace our secular democratic ways of life with Islamism. I think these ideas are dangerous and need to be opposed. One regular commenter on Vridar was regularly taking the opportunity to espouse the same Islamist propaganda (its non-violent form) and after we exchanged views at length I did eventually ask him to desist from using my blog as a platform for his evangelism. I need to trust that ongoing efforts to share ideas and knowledge will eventually result in enough people acknowledging the value of a society based on secular principles so that religion is kept in the private domain. Let the Islamists share their ideas in the market place using their own platforms and let others use their platforms to refute them. Let mutual exchanges occur for the public benefit on both platforms. As for those Islamists who plot violence let the secular authorities who are accountable to the public take quick action.

The alternative is surrender our secular societies built on freedom of conscience and beliefs and crush dissent the way military dictators do — in the name of and for the benefit of the people, of course.

If that happens then we have let the terrorists destroy our freedoms. They may not have won, but we will have lost.

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Neil Godfrey

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42 thoughts on “Is Religious Freedom Intolerable? (The Consequences of Sam Harris’s Arguments)”

  1. I believe it was Christianity that transformed religious identification from a matter of actions (e.g. animal sacrifice, abstaining from certain foods, fasting and other ritual activities at certain “holy” time, circumcision) to a matter of internal states of mind (unless you believe…, salvation by faith, guilt for having impermissible thoughts, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him). Is Sam Harris, a secret disciple of St. Augustine?

    1. Actually that view of Christianity is a myth. It is founded on the face-value reading of the gospels themselves that for their own self-serving interests portray the religion of the Jews as legalistic, mechanistic etc while Christianity is spiritual, superior etc.

      1. Well, like the myths regarding Jesus himself, the Christian emphasis that belief, rather than ritualistic behaviors, is the key element of the religion, has had a lot of staying power. It was the central creed of the Luther rebellion: Salvation by Faith alone. Controlling behavior is not enough, the mind must be controlled as well. Sam Harris is doing no more than seizing on a well used formula in asserting that belief determines action. Thus the need for mind control.

  2. If you think that Harris is anti-secular and/or trying to overturn Enlightenment ideals you have missed the boat. It never ceases to amaze me just how darn dedicated people are in their deliberate misinterpretation of the man.

    And it takes a lot of dedication – Harris writes very clearly.

    1. I’m not sure if you read through the post or the article it was based upon or only skimmed. If Harris has been misrepresented at any point then I would appreciate a clear identification of how and where this has happened since the argument is based on the very clear writings/quotations of Harris himself.

      The original article also very clearly says Harris clearly asserts he is for complete freedoms of conscience etc etc. But there are very clear contradictions in Harris’s writings.

      If the logical consequences of Harris’s argument as I have attempted point out here are in error then I would appreciate an identification of where the reasoning, the logic, and what I have quoted as Sam Harris’s argument, are in error.

      Do you agree that beliefs are the inevitable trigger of behaviour? If so, do you accept the implications of that premise as set out in the post?

      1. It would be more profitable here if you would identify the specific flaws in reasoning and basic logic in the post (or his article).

        Do you agree that beliefs are an inevitable trigger of behaviour and if so, what are the consequences for our traditional secular society based on freedom and equality of religious and political beliefs and freedom of conscience?

  3. Marek: “When we think of ‘secularism’ in the twenty-first century two basic ideas usually come to mind: the constitutional separation of church and state, and a general scepticism towards religious truth claims and institutions.”

    The first part is secularism. The second isn’t. Religious people can be secularists, and many are. It is more likely that the ‘general scepticism’ Marek is referring to is that of the atheists – atheists are sceptical towards religious truth claims.

    I had to draw a Venn diagram for the hapless Marek. It seems he needs another.

    It is not inconsistent with secular democratic liberalism not to be tolerant to some ideas. Thomas Paine’s key point against the people choosing to submit to the rule of a monarch was that they were inflicting that choice on future generations. The same applies to Islam. The game played here is that this is about freedom of religion. It isn’t. Islam isn’t merely a theological belief system, it’s a political one, with very specific statements about how only Muslims can hold positions of state. It is the express intent of Islam, and it demands it of Muslims, that Islam should be the one theocratic system, for everyone. Islam is anti-democratic. To support main stream Islam is to permit the overthrow of secular liberal democracy – and there can’t be much that’s liberal, secular, or democratic about that.

    The one key limitation for liberalism is the least restriction that prevents harm. Islam is a direct harm and it is legitimate to oppose it. Even so, there’s nothing in what Harris says (Sullivan’s real target here) that shows him willing to oppose Islam with anything other than liberal democratic means. The same isn’t true of Islamic extremist terrorism – attacking it without giving Jihadists the liberty to kill us first is not inconsistent with liberalism.

    There’s a confusion over thought, belief, expression and action.

    If a thought leads to a belief, and that belief is that you should take a specific action, such as killing apostates, then there is a deterministic connection between them.

    On belief determinism:

    Sullivan is doing no more than regurgitating the line that Reza Aslan takes – and he has been debunked on this so many times you’d think Marek would have received the memo by now.

    If beliefs don’t determine action, then why do people religious people claim they do? Why do many religious claim that you need to believe in God to be good?

    If beliefs don’t determine action, why do Muslims not attend the local Christian church? Because they do not believe the Christian religion. The beliefs of Muslims make them want a mosque.

    Why did Marek write what he did in this article? Was it because he believes Harris is correct on all these points? No. Ironically, what caused Marek to write what he did about Harris is his belief that Harris is wrong in this matter of beliefs causing actions.

    If beliefs don’t drive actions, can you explain why a pious Muslim girl Farkhunda was beaten to death, her body stoned and burnt, when she was accused of damaging the ages of the Quran? The motivation of the man that lied about what she did wasn’t Islamic, sure, but as far as those that killed her were concerned she had committed a grievous religious crime.

    Marek: “First, from a certain perspective, taking the jihadists at their word is a tacit recognition of the validity of their worldview and hence a duplication the same ideology Harris, Nawaz, and Cameron are trying to fight…”

    This really is as stupid as saying the Nazis killed Jews because we mentioned that fact that they did. It isn’t validating their world view. It’s acknowledging that they hold it. To do otherwise is denialism. No wonder Gad Saad calls them the Ostrich Brigade.

    By the way, is Marek validating what he perceives as Harris’s views? Is that how Marek logic works? So, not only is Marek misunderstanding Harris, he’s validating the misunderstandings too?

    Marek: “At the crux of Harris’s anti-secularism is a simplistic and reductive conception of human agency. For him, jihadist terrorists do what they do because of their consciously-held and publicly-articulated beliefs—beliefs we know about because these have been communicated to us ‘ad nauseum’ in propaganda material and pre-detonation cries of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ Harris simply takes the jihadists at their word. And why not?”

    Are we not to take Marek at his word? Is all this a ruse? Is he really a Harris acolyte? I mean, just because he’s writing a screed on Harris doesn’t mean he did so because he believed it.

    Another counter example. It seems that often we find that people that are drifting in life or are troubled will turn to simplistic explanatory systems to tell them why they are like they are, and what they need to do to get out of it. Religion does this often. Whether you’re a loner young white British man that converted to Islam, a young British Muslim that has identity issues, a Muslim doctor that sees the suffering of fellow Muslims in ‘Muslim lands’, …, the common ground these people find themselves in is one in which a book and support material tell them to go to war with infidels and to martyr themselves in the process. Is this Humanism telling them to do this? Christianity? Or Islam. Islam is the common thread.

    Does Islam infect all minds this way? No. That does not mean it is not causal in this regard. Does everyone that gets the flu die? No, but some do. Infections affect different people in different ways. You can get the infection by direct contact with an aggressive strain, or you can be weak and susceptible. This is the infectious nature of Islam and all religions to varying degrees.

    … there was a lot more wrong with the article. I would need another post on that, and then I’d come here and post a link to it, and you’d respond in the same way. When there’s so much wrong a comment here doesn’t seem to do Marek’s biased incompetence justice.

    1. What are the “liberal democratic means” which Harris and you believe we should use to oppose “Islam”?

      Does the same necessary intolerance of certain ideas apply to communism and nazism? Should political parties promoting communism and nazism be banned? Should the religion of Islam be banned?

      Have you heard of Islamism as distinct from Islam? If so, what does the difference mean to you?

      1. The means of persuading people that such idealogies as Islam, and communism and Nazism, are bad ideas. That’s all Harris does.

        When proponents of such systems resort to violent means, the law has the means to deal with them. The law may need changing to adapt to new circumstances when dealing with problems within a single state. Wider co-operation of police and scurity services have to deal with trans-state, global, organisations.

        Should any of these systems be banned? When they so categorically and completely endorse violence, then yes. Plotting the overthrow of a democratic state? Why shouldn’t such groups be banned? Why shouldn’t the state take steps to protect the very democratic process that tries to provide a liberal secular democracy for its citizens? A democratic state is its citizens; it’s a tool of it’s citizens. Extremes of right and left forget this often. Currently we have a left that demonises everything the Conservative government does. It is not at all clear (history tells us this with every government) that their choice would be any better. But what they forget is that the government generally is what the majority have elected. But the left make it sound as if we’ve been taken over by a dictatorship. Political rhetoric turned up to eleven, as usual.

        Should Islam be banned? No. I have no problem with Amahdi Muslims, the many reformist Muslims, or the many Muslims that just want to pray and get on with life. But many of those that elect themselves as spokesmen for Islam, many of the Islamic organisations, are funded and manipulated by more radical and extreme political Islam from outside. We have, and with good reason, banned many Islamic groups.

        Another irony of Islam – or is it a politically convenient ploy? So many Muslims denounce each other. So many Islamic states are enemies of each other. And yet, let a non-Muslims say anything about Islam, or worse, set a military foot on ‘Muslim lands’, and all of a sudden young British men with Pakistani origins are keen to join their Arab brothers … All of a sudeen there’s one Islam.

        Funnily, Islam is very much like the Holy Trinity in this regard. Is it one, or is it separate entities acting as one. No sure why Muslims have so much difficulty with the Trinity – except of course the divine prophet Jesus would trump the prophet Mohammed, and we can’t have that.

        Some specific points here, for a wider context.

        It would be nice, if naive, to hope for a global democarcy or federation of democracies, and that every one could just get along. But they don’t. Humans are a mixed lot, and there are plenty with bad intent and eagreness for power (and some use the holy scriptures of religions to persuade the gullible and the indoctrinated to submit to that authority). The real world is messy, and for now it is not the least bit contrary to the internal operation of a secular liberal democracy to limit what it thinks are acceptable new members – i.e. immargants. In the global scheme of things that may seem less than fair. But the world isn’t fair and we can’t make it fair so easily. Allowing our democraciess to fall through various means, such as over population that elads to social breakdown from the inability to provide services fairly, isn’t doing our democracies any good, and if they fail there’s less of a hope for helping nacient democratic allies around the world. Who cares about the Raif Badawis of the world when we are struggling to meet our own political needs.

        How’s Merkel doing with her open bordeer policy? How are these poor immigranst doing that are at various borders? Only the women and children seem to be left behind and an awful lot of healthy young men are striving to get in. This isn’t a common refugee crisis – most see the old, the sick and women and children. The young men demonstrate at Europe’s borders with such an energy onw wonders why they don’t dedicate such energy to their won state.

        We can understand why. It’s not a simple two or three factioned civil war. The beginnings in Syria in opposition to the regime came hot on the heels of other disruptions in the region, and the many factions are split by all sorts of ethnic and religious political divisions – so many that it must be difficult to decide where to align oneself. Islam contributes massively to this problem. It’s not just the people versuse and oppressive state. Everyone has Allah on their side. It is a terrible thing to have to admit, but the only thing keeping a lid on this religious political hell hole of the middle east has been the power of dictators and monarchs. This really is a medieval world thrust into the 20th and 21st centuries.

        It isn’t helped by the inherent Takfir mentality within Islam. All but the reformers are dishonest about their religion. At the extreme view of every variation of Islam but one’s own is that it’s bad Islam at best, but uni-Islamic typically – all those other Muslims are non-Muslims, apostates by virtue of they perversion of Islam. The moderates say it of the extremists and the extremists say it of the moderates – and they all say it of the reformers. While intellectually I still think reformist Muslims are wrong (no evidence of Allah, and a plagiarised and adapted religion) they at least put secular liberal democracy first.

        The categories we use are way too simplistic. I find most ‘moderate’ Muslims to fit into many overlapping categories. I’ve had self-declared moderates by so evasive on death for apostasy that they refuse to discuss it and go off in a huff if pressed; or they eventually admit, “If it’s the will of Allah … (pregnant pause for you to fill in the conclusion because they still won’t say it)”; or they claim context of a legitimate Caliphate – as if that makes the barbarism any better. I’ve had them tell me how Islam is far more liberal than the west in allowing multiple wives – until you suggest that perhaps wives could have multiple husbands … “That’s disgusting! What man would want to dip his nib into the same well as another?” – seriously, this was the conversation piece of someone that considers Islam a reasonable system. And of course many think Islam comes before everything else and Sharia should reign – “Once enabled by democratically removing democracy of course. How uncivilised do you think we are?” (a parody of some actual conversations).

        Harris supports the reformers. The ultimate ‘inter-faith’ co-operation, believers and un-believers, discussing their differences, looking to get along. And look how that is met. Maajid Nawaz is a ‘porch monkey’ and ‘uncle Tom’. Harris is still called a racist – the dishonesty of that charge, given his co-operation and support for reformist Muslims and ex-Muslims of all shades and ethnicities. The very act that the religious and the regressive left have been demanding – why can’t we get along – and it’s met with total rejection.

        So, with all that, it seems pretty reasonable to me to oppose Islam by the democratic means of public debate, and living of to the democratic process. It the majority of US citizens want to close their borders to Muslims, or at least put up with such an extreme measure until they achieve a hoped for better integration process, then that’s up to their democracy. This in that democracy that don’t like that better start coming up with better arguments than they have been doing: “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.” is a failed lie.

        Conveniently pushing a lot of this on critics of Islam like Harris is just … what’s the term … virtue signalling: “We don’t know what to do about Islam. We can’t demonise ordinary Muslims (they make themselves to be such fine victims). We can’t even bring ourselves to condemn their treatment of minorities in their own cultures.” – I have a few friends in the ‘social (pseudo) science’ industry that just love victims. They are very quick to point out when some thug spits on a woman wearing a hijab, but haven’t mentioned the death of Asad Shah, the Scottish Ahmedi Muslim. They never mention Farkhunda. They only mention Malala to accuse Harris of using her for his political ends (they irony of their use of her in that accusation being lost on them). Their social media is full of support for Palestine and denouncement of Zionist Israel, but they never mention the hatred for Jews throughout the Islamic word -or the fact that more than one western publisher omitted Israel from the maps when selling books in the Islamic world, or the Hamas charter that wants to wipe Israel from the world.

        Marek is in this crowd. He’s just another apologist for Islam. A professional victim pointer outer – like Mehdi Hasan and Reza Aslan. And like them, he has an atrocious grasp of logic, because logic must be bent to the service of Islam.

        “Have you heard of Islamism as distinct from Islam?”

        Yes. I support Maajid Nawaz, despite disagreeing with him on much.

        “If so, what does the difference mean to you?””

        In the context of the above, not a whole lot, though it is a simplistic distinction that helps a little. Hirsi Ali’s Medina v Mecca Muslims seems to be another useful distinction, in the context of some discussions.

        As I suggested above, the complexity is that an ‘Islamist’ intent on the political overthrow of the west to form an Islamic Caliphate might actually oppose death for apostasy and employ all the (laughable) scholarly skills to explain why it should not be used (e.g. punishment for treason is a common one – but then what’s treason to Islam?). On the other hand you might get a ‘moderate’ Muslim of ‘Islam’ who does not consider himself to be an Islamist, and who is happy in the secular liberal west, but who has this sticking point that apostates from Islam should be killed (again, the laughable no-compulsion nonsense comes to mind) and that Sharia law for Muslims should be the one exception to the provision of multiple legal systems.

        Islam is a mess. I’d say most Muslims don’t know what to do with it. This isn’t strange for religions because it’s all made up stuff, fantasy – so oc course making stuff up without the need to check against reality gives one the freedom to invent all sorts of theologies and scholarly deviations from a basic starting point.

        We in the west have just become accustomed to the mostly peaceful co-existence of the Christian sects. We’ve learned to do tolerance – aided by the Enlightenment and secular liberal democracy. The trouble is we’ve been suckered into tolerating the intolerant that would demolish that secular liberal democracy.

        Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, they got the ball rolling on standing up to intolerance from religion – helped a great deal by the fact that social media really took off at the same time (the internet was still a bit flaky pre-9/11). They have been demonised by other emerging atheist factions, as well as by the religious – caused to a great extent by the new wave of feminism that makes enemies of older white hetro men – which made at least three of the ‘Four Horsemen’ their targets (Dennett kept his head down).

        But a small group with mixed ethnicities and religious backgrounds (that helps protect them a little in the victimhood v priviledge stakes) are emerging and many are flocking to their more open and inclusive position: Gad Saad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Lalo Dagesh, Dave Rubin, Ali A Rizvi, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Sarah Haider, Christina Hoff Sommers, … and others. They actually talk to people they think they might disagree with – people on the left and the right – and they find they have more in common than at first thought, that the demonisation of these ‘others’ is misplaced. They don’t agree with them, but they debate them. compare this with the atrocious way in which Noima Chumpsky responds to Harris’s genuine attempt to work through their differences.

        (sorry this is long, but this is why it needs a post. This is why I linked to my other post so you could get a feel for how off base Marek is)

        1. 1. If we are persuaded by Harris and you to believe that “the ideology of Islam” is a bad idea what action(s) will follow from that belief?

          2 Should we continue to support the Middle East dictators to the hilt in order to keep the lid on what you seem to suggest is the Islamic hell-hole that would otherwise break out? (We need to encourage and assist them to follow through like el-Sisi did to get squash the Muslim Brotherhood?)

          3. Should we be prepared to use the same tactics el-Sisi used in Egypt against Islamists in our Western democracies to protect our freedoms?

          1. 1 – Depends who the ‘you’ is. For me, and Harris, and Dawkins, etc.: persuading fellow citizens of how bad Islam is as a political ideology. This has become a greater focus during the last decade. Christianity was of more local interest in the US/UK – particularly in the US, regarding separation of church and state and the impact on education, the opposition of religions to more liberalism generally, but homosexuality, abortion specifically. In the UK Dawkins was the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science 1995 – 2008 and that played a big part in his public agenda, especially in how religious schools often taught Creationism and rejected Evolution, and how that became more apparent in Islamic and Jewish schools as much as if not more than Christian ones.

            If ‘you’ is someone not particularly enamoured by democracy then their beliefs might persuade them to direct and violent counter action. This could be a Christian or Jewish theocrat, or perhaps an atheist communist, or a fascist, …

            i.e. One’s political beliefs determine how you respond to a belief that Islam is a bad ideology.

            Many Muslims believe that secular liberal democracy is bad, and their other beliefs, about what they think Islam demands they do about that, will determine how they respond. A jihadist will take direct violent action. An Islamist will attempt to undermine the democracy – as some claim they are successfully doing be making use of the divisiveness that large immigrations can foster. A reformist Muslim will work to make their Islam fit secular liberal democracy and treat it more as a private freedom of belief matter.

            i.e one’s Islamic beliefs detmerine how you respond to a belief that secular liberal democracy is a bad idea.

            This is why Harris makes such a point about Islam and its ‘inerrant’ Quran, and the Hadith and stories of the life of Mohammed. Even a poorly educated unsophisticated ‘bad’ Muslim previously happy to live the sex, drugs and drink lifestyle, can be convinced by the literal content of the Islamic texts. As can an educated Muslim. Religious texts that contain explicit literal violent prescriptions are going to be interpreted that way. It’s not much good requiring the scholarship and context that we are often told should be used if most Muslims don’t use it. Many ex-Muslims that don’t speak Arabic will say clearly how they simply recited the texts and relied on imams to tell them what it meant and how to understand it, and became ex-Muslims when they saw the conflicts, read the texts, and figured out for themselves how bad they are.

            This is why when Harris points t the litera content it’s completely wrong to blame him of ‘literalism’ as Aslan does – shooting the messenger telling you that people do actually take it literally. I really can’t see how Aslan denies this when ISIS read the texts that tell them to throw gays off high places and do so. It must take an awful lot of cognitive confusion to look at that and say, well, they don’t really believe that, and their beliefs don’t cause them to act anyway.

            Marek is totally off base saying Harris is legitimising ISIS by pointing out the obvious. Marek is excusing ISIS by simple denialism.

            1. Ronnie Murphy: “Religious texts that contain explicit literal violent prescriptions are going to be interpreted that way.”

              Have you read the Bible? Far more prescriptions for violence than the Quran. Who has killed more people in war in the last century? Muslims or Christians? Maybe atheists? Why the obsession with Islamic violence while giving others a pass? What’s the kill ratio in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Palestinians fight with knives; Israelis with F-16s.

              Ronnie: ” For me, and Harris, and Dawkins, etc.: persuading fellow citizens of how bad Islam is as a political ideology.”

              And what do you hope to accomplish by this proselytizing against Islam, while ignoring or whitewashing the crimes of the west against Muslims? Do you really think you are persuading Muslims to reform their thinking and renounce their holy book? Or do you think the result just might be to convince your fellow citizens that it is right to support the neo cons and war profiteers who want to carpet bomb or even nuke any Muslims who resist our omnipotent will. Harris seems to me to have a fascist mentality, and his vitriol against Muslims encourages fascist solutions.

          2. 2 – We have to get away from this eternal guilt for past mistakes and instead focus on what needs to be dome to make things better.

            It’s no good pointing to the colonial past that led to wars that resulted in the creation of Israel. It’s not an excuse, when Jews were driven from Palestine in the first place. Was the drawing of the lines that created the Middle Eastern states a bad idea? Yes. Could it have been done better, at the time? Well, yes.

            It’s no good pointing out the crusades, when they were a direct response to the conquests by Muslims that took far more land in far more battles.

            Would it have been better had the US not sided with and armed the Taliban to fight Russia in Afghanistan? Maybe, maybe not. Who has the predictive power to say what the world would be like had that and other cases of Russian expansionism, like Cuba, not been faced down.

            Would it have been better to not have built such a close relationship with Saudi, or at least not give into their demands not to oppose their religious extremism? Hard to tell again, because had the House of Saud not been supported perhaps an even more virulent cohesive Islam might be in place now.

            We cannot tell. Outside some glaringly bad ideas it’s always hard to tell what else might have happened – and hindsight is the favourite tool of the ideologues that always know how bad everyone else is and how everything is always someone else’s fault.

            Leaving Iraq so soon now seems like a mistake. Not using at least some of the less psychopathic Bathists might have made Iraq more stable. Perhaps not shoehorning a divisive Shia government into an Iraq government might have helped. A more stable US supported Iraq might still be suffering attacks – but it is anyway, far more than a few car bombs but the loss of whole areas to butchers. Perhaps a stronger Iraq and a local US presence might have made it easier to bring democracy to Syria, and made Russia less likely to intervene.

            Too many unknowns.

            The Islamic hell hole was pretty much destined to break out. Watching a few translated TV programs from around the Middle East, the history of the demonisation and hatred of the Jews – going back to Mohammed … the Islamic Sunni Shia sectarianism post Mohammed … these are not new phenomena.

            The best potential solution consists of:
            – Independence from oil. That at least removes that as a lever against western support fro dictators.
            – Removal of arms deals. Arming lunatics is never a good ideas as nearly every time they use them back at you or commit atrocities with them. But that’s a big problem within the west for western economies where arms sales are big business. What PM or President is going to start a process that makes part of the arms industry collapse or reduce in size when reducing one’s own forces is already under way and is contributing to the reduction in the first place. Can’t sell arms to our own government, can’t sell abroad? Sell only to our democratic allies, that have their own arms industries to support?

            Difficult though that is, that’s the degree of independence we need to be able to at least look credible in the UN. And then we need a UN that follows through. But China and Russia are not secular liberal democracies, so that’s not so easy. And there are enough internal interests in the US to make it difficult even for Democratic government to contribute reliably by signing up to all the agreements as they should if they followed their proclaimed principles. And Britain’s collusion in getting Saudi onto the human rights council seems either crazy or an igneous attempt to get them involved and on board (but I’m reluctant to attribute such forethought to short term political thinking).

            Not believing Islam is as bad as it is – re Muslim Brotherhood – is what got us where we are now. Though it really seems like a bad idea to support dictators it’s sometimes the only realism that’s available. Assad killing a few thousand of his people is bad, but direct action by targeting his interests directly (coincidentally the Panama documents are relevant here) and a strong UN could prevent or minimise that. But removing him directly – well, been their done that badly with Sadam. And even if that was an option militarily, there’s still the global problem of crazy Islam seeing non-Muslim boots on Muslim lands.

            One possibility is building up democratic oppositions outside a state, preparing it for government and then taking out the dictator. We have a problem with the legitimacy of interfering in other states. And again, Iraq didn’t go so well, because there were plenty of ex-pat Iraqi calling for US help, but many faded away when the Iraq war happened. And still, if these ‘Muslim lands’ are populated by peoples that have had the beliefs about the supremacy of Islam and the evil of the infidels then there is never going to be a popular support for intervention.

            Many opportunities to act, in small ways and bigger ways will come and go. All of them non-optimal. All of them involving conflict. There is no win-win anywhere on the horizon. Trump will cause chaos. But Obama through his inaction in some ways (hindered by crazy stifling politics at home) and his remote action in others (drones) hasn’t been able to do any better.

            What would help, in addition to a better position on oil and arms, would be to focus on a more honest response to Islam in the west. Islamic supremacy has a curious co-existence with Muslim victimhood. “You oppress us when you tell us we can’t kill those that criticise Islam and the prophet!” The messages from Muslims are mixed, and often mixed from the same Muslim.

            Honesty about the political ideology of Islam and explicit support for reformers and integrationists over isolationist traditionalists would be a start. It would be noisy. It would see protests. But there are protests and noise and death anyway. We have been cowards in the face of Islamic noise. Through denialism and ignorance we have given support to Islamist groups claiming to speak for Muslims. We have not protected Muslims from other Muslims in their communities. Isn’t it a little shocking that Britain’s Labour Party has allowed the male domination of political candidates in Islamic communities? This isn’t just the usual failure to promote women candidates, this is an active opposition to them.

            The ‘British Values’ slogan was a bad one. It was clear what it meant, but it was too xenophobic. We should be stating clearly what secular liberal democratic principles are.

            But that’s a tough ask when the current government has many members that are fighting secularism directly – e.g. the support for faith schools, the opposition to the BHA’s criticism of policy on that score. The stupidity of it is that secularism would protect Christianity in Britain – because nothing else will. The religious privilege given to Christianity will be overtaken by Islam in all but state pageantry. As Christianity declines – as it is bound to do, as Islam would without it’s oppressive coercive compulsion to remain Islamic – noisy Islam will take its place, and it will be a race between very low birth rate secularists and a growing birth rate of Muslims.

            It’s also a problem with regard to liberalism. We are a liberal democracy, if not yet a fully secular one. The Conservative party is still a liberal party in its politics. Democracy alone is not enough, because without liberalism it’s easy to favour factions so that it is not fully democratic. Getting a Conservative government to support same sex marriage is a massive liberal step; as is having more women and ethnicities – the conservationism in the Conservatives is becoming ever more an economic factor rather than a class, race or gender one.

            But try getting Cameron to say he wants a secular liberal democracy in straight talking terms that removes religious privilege and won’t stand for pussy-footing around religious sensibilities.

            Religions are theological ideas (bad philosophical metaphysical ideas), wrapped up in ever more social control, until you get to political religious theocracy, in power or in waiting.

            Religious belief deserves no special respect. Telling me Jesus will save us has less credibility than telling me with certainty that George Osborne will turn the economy round in two terms. They are claims to truth claims without credibility – the former zero, the latter the slightest of chances with a lot of good luck and no external events like wars, bank failures, steel works to bail out, … (i.e very unlikely).

            Telling me that insulting the name of Jesus offends you carries not more weight than telling me insulting Osborne offends you – and that’s another trick my leftist friends play: they’l use the most outrageous vitriol against the government, as good as anything Charlie Hebdo can dish out, but won’t have Islam insulted (Christianity? Meh.)

            1. Ronnie: “It’s no good pointing to the colonial past that led to wars that resulted in the creation of Israel. It’s not an excuse, when Jews were driven from Palestine in the first place. ” “It’s no good pointing out the crusades, when they were a direct response to the conquests by Muslims that took far more land in far more battles.”

              Is it no good to talk about Israel’s ongoing imprisonment of Palestinians and colonization of the west bank? Is it no good to talk about the justification for the US/UK invasion of Iraq in 2003? Is it no good to talk about our ongoing arms shipments to Israel and Saudi Arabia, arms that are used to slaughter Muslims? Then the conclusion must be that it’s no good to talk about the 9/11 attacks. Forget the past; concentrate on the present. But if the present approach is just to repeat the past mistakes, might it not be good to review what those mistakes were rather than scapegoating Muslims for all the problems.

              I agree that the distant past is irrelevant to today’s problems. Israel has a right to appropriate Muslim land because the Romans expelled them from it 2000 years ago? Well, then the Celts have a right to recover your country also. And your history is ill-informed. It is generally agreed that there was no Roman expulsion of Jews from Palestine. From Jerusalem maybe, but not the whole country. And the Muslim conquests that you claim were the cause of the crusades, took place over 400 years earlier. Maybe the Brits should launch a crusade to retake their lost territories in France.

              The bottom line is that there is no reason to regard Islam as inherently more dangerous than any other religion, whether it be Christianity, Buddhism (look at Myanmar), or atheistic Communism. It’s not the creed; it’s the circumstances that determine how the creed will be used. As far as I can see the New Atheists have added nothing to the arguments against superstitions and supernatural beings that the old atheists had not already spelled out. Their agitation against cultural traditions like displaying the ten commandments just makes them look irascible. But their vilification of Islam, which seems to be the main target of their anti-religious ire, has and continues to support the right wing military imperialism that has sowed chaos in the middle east and elsewhere.

          3. 3 – It depends. At home, we have every right to defend our democracy against its dissolution by non-democratic forces – Paine again is a good reason.

            Rebelling against a Fascist or Islamic government that removes democracy is no different from establishing it in the first place – sometimes you have to fight, because others will beat you down if you don’t.

            Again, this isn’t justified by the anarchists and leftists that want to remove a Conservative government – unless they rig the voting system to ensure their continued undemocratic power. Anarchy is anti-democratic. It’s a small group deciding they want to remove democracy for what they perceive as a better system – either some controlling ideology, or full anarchy of no government and everyone for themselves. I’m not sure self-governed statelessness is fully thought through.

            Looking abroad, we can support our democratic allies without worrying too much about whether we’re interfering.

            Should we support el-Sisi in states trying to become democratic? I don’t have an easy answer and would have to make it a judgement call. The biggest problem is knowing the facts:
            – Would the MB really have removed all democratic processes, or corrupted them so much that they weren’t democratic? Had they already done that? Are they really a democracy worth supporting?
            – What would be the long term plan for a return to democracy by el-Sisi? Is it a power grab again?
            – Even if el-Sisi looked legit, will he be able to carry out the democratisation plan, or will his return to power free up other actors that then prevent the process completing.

            We’re back into unknowns. We can only support what looks like the best option. On top of that, our own government’s agenda may be complicated – they are charged with protecting our interests, and that’s a messy obligation in its own right.

            We have to learn to accept non-optimal decisions, and they won’t lead to short term democracy for everyone. We are entitled to look to our own interests as well as those of others.

            Supporting factions in Syria is difficult because every choice looks like a bad one, and a do-nothing is just as bad as do-something (and how the pious like their “Something must be done! It’s inhumane do do nothing!” – “What should we do, then?” – “Errr … something!”).

            Again, start at home. Stop the BS. Criticising Islam is not racism and the hatred of Muslims. Islam or any other religion deserves no special respect – they are ideas. Protecting minorities against racism and persecution does not mean giving closed communities a free pass to oppress their own members. No special privilege for any idea. Secularism, liberalism, democracy – implement them, stop apologising for actively supporting them.

            Forcing the maintenance of democracy is not anti-democratic, it is often required for the maintenance of democracy. Not defending democracy against its antitheses is giving up on it and is anti-democratic.

        2. Ronnie, why do you focus exclusively on Muslim violence and ignore the western violence against Muslims? Why did the US/UK invade Iraq, killing a hundred thousand or so and setting off the chaos that still continues? Was that because of the evils of Islam, or because of the apocalyptic visions of born again Christians Bush and Blair? We know it wasn’t greed for oil, because our leaders told us it was not. Egypt had a democratic election and the government was promptly overthrown by another in a long line of military dictators the US has supported. Why are we still supporting al-Sistani with a billion or so of aid a year? Why are we still in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan bombing and droning, when our interventions have been so disastrous? Why are we selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, which is using them to slaughter Shia Houthis in Yemen?

          Why is the US still giving Israel $3-4 billion in military aid per year when they use it to slaughter defenseless Gazans, such as the 2,000 killed in 2014, half of them civilians? Why do anti-religionists such as Harris, never raise an outcry about religious Jews steadily appropriating the west bank because their God promised it to them 3,000 years ago?

          While we like to blame the chaos in the middle east on Islam and its factions, the fact is, it is mostly due to western meddling. Even before the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Britain and France connived to divide the middle east among themselves in the Sykes Picot agreement of 1916. They created the modern indefensible partition of Syria and Iraq, and ruled by setting sunni and shia factions against one another, and brutally repressing independence efforts. It was the west that arrogated to itself the right to carve out the state of Israel for the Jews, and defend it militarily. The west helped Israel develop a nuclear weapons capability, which it still denies it has, yet thinks it has a right to prevent any other state in the region from developing. When Iranian Prime minister Mossedegh threatened the western control over Iranian oil, the CIA and Brits overthrew him and subjected Iran to the brutal rule of the shah. We helped put Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq, supplied him with anthrax and winked when he used chamical weapons on the Iranians and Kurds. We helped establish Osama bun Laden in Afghanistan to fight the Russians.

          Then when Muslims strike back against westerners, people like Harris ignore all the provocation and ascribe it to the inherently violent tendencies in Islam. Perhaps if we butted out and left the middle eastern states to resolve their own problems, they would be less likely to strike back at us? But no, that would mean we attribute their behavior to a stimulus response reaction, rather than their deeply held beliefs in a world-wide Islamic caliphate. Harris may claim that his goal is only to reform Islam by open discussion (that in itself is delusional), but his buddy Hitchens openly and vociferously supported the Iraq invasion. Whether they intend it or not, in the US and UK, the primary result of the anti-Islam rhetoric coming from Harris and other New atheists is to lend support to the neocons and war profiteers who want to double down on the Bush/Blair crusade. Our politicians fearmonger the people by saying our freedom and democracies are in danger from these radical Muslims, when it is we who have invaded their countries, installed and supported dictators, and bought off corrupt politicians for oil. We should be atoning for our own sins rather than joining people like Harris in blaming the victims.

          1. “While we like to blame the chaos in the middle east on Islam and its factions, the fact is, it is mostly due to western meddling.”

            Does Western meddling have an effect? Sure.

            But you have no data that will show that Islamic chaos would not have arisen. All other evidence suggests it would. read the books. They’re full of violence.

            The chaos of Islam has been around since it arose and invaded Africa, Europe, Asia. It was just another empire. But from soon after Mohammed’s death the Sunni Shia split emerged. There is no indication that the differences would have been resolved had the West not been building its own empires some time later.

            It might be the case that the rise of the west is the reason we were not already in an Islamic caliphate centuries ago.

            There is a history of extremist Islam in-fighting that pre-dates the rise of the west. The Khawarij were once the bad guys – the inventers of the terms Takfir that many Muslims like to sue to denounce each other.

            The texts of Islam are very specific, from early times: the Jews and the Christians – well, people of the book and all that, but if they don’t tow the line, kill them. Other non-believers? Just kill them and take their stuff.

            Islam in its texts makes it clear it is a political system based on theological ideas. It is not non-political. It is expressly political. It has very specific outcomes demanded for non-Muslims. It is violent. It seems it is only not violent when there’s a stable Muslim community and everyone else is doing as they are told.

            “It was the west that arrogated to itself the right to carve out the state of Israel for the Jews, and defend it militarily.”

            Had the area been full of some disparate sets of religions the west might well have done the same or similar. But Islamic jihadism would not have arisen.

            You can have western interference without Islam – no radical religion seems to appear.
            You can have Islam with no western interference – violent Islam isn’t far away.

            “While we like to blame the chaos in the middle east on Islam and its factions, the fact is, it is mostly due to western meddling”

            There’s no evidence of that because you can’t say what would have happened in the middle east without western interference. And there’s plenty of reason to think Islam is the core problem.

            I don’t suppose you have any problem attributing the Crusades to Christianity – what interest would the Holy Land be for an atheist Europe? Remove religion and a lot of trouble goes away. It can be supplanted by other ideologies, but they are political ones alone.

            Imagine the whole of the middle east suddenly and unexpectedly rejected Islam and formed democratic states. Tell me it would be just the same, with gays being hung. Even in the west, where’s the main opposition ot homosexuality? Religion – Christian and Islamic.

            You can’t keep using these other excuses for Islam. How about the Henry VIII? A monarch that used religion to get his way, to vie for power in Europe. Sure, his motivations were selfish, for himself and his state. But that religion CAN be used in this way is not a great advert for religion. That religion does provide explicit reasons for killing people makes religion dangerous. Islam specifically so. That there are other factors, such as interference from the west, does not remove the place that Islam in cementing jihad and hanging gays, bagging women.

            Compare Islamic texts to the US Constitution, or to the Humanist Manifesto. No sign in there of killing people for no longer believing in the same god, or the behading of people, or the killing of gays. The texts of Islam are ready made manuals of religious war and persecution. They are based on the inerrant word of Allah or the example of Mohammed, and both are revered and held up as the right way to behave.

            As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, what has the death of Fakhunda at the hands of a mob to do with western interference?

            What changed Iran from a self-styled modern state (all be it under the power of the Shah) where women were free, to one where they are oppressed? Oh, hold on, that was out fault. We supported ayatollah Khomeini. Sorry, we supported an Islamic mad man. But that was ignorance on our part, but Islam in his part.

            Is the west at fault for the hanging of homosexuals in Islamic Iran? Would the Shah have been supported if the current state of Iran had been anticipated?

            What has the west to do with the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims. Islam can do that stuff all on its own.

            Wasn’t it the failure to interfere more in Saudi that deals were made by which the US would NOT interfere with their brand of Islam?

            Look at all the examples around the world of where the west has interfered. Or where non-western nations have interfered. Where is the global jihad for sweat shop workers? Where’s the global jihad for Cubans that have suffered years of enforced isolation by the US? Where’s the global revolution of drug cartels from around the world because the US has been fighting a war on drugs? Why do British young men want to go and join an Arab terrorist army? Islam. There Islam. The way they understand Islam from its texts.

            Look around the world where religions collide. There’s always occasional trouble. But wherever there’s Islam you can expect the most trouble. Occasionally it’s not all the fault of Islam alone – but it is hardly ever not the fault of Islam.

            It’s funny how you bring up all the problems the west has caused but none of those that Islam caused.

            “Perhaps if we butted out and left the middle eastern states to resolve their own problems, they would be less likely to strike back at us?”

            How’s our butting out working out for the Yazidis? What’s the score there? “Those damned Americans. We’ll show them. Get me those Yazidi women.”

            Or for homosexuals? “It says in here that we should throw homosexuals from a high place.” “Well, I’d have done it anyway, just to show those Americans.”

            Sam Harris has said time and again how much the US foreign policy has screwed up and how it may (it’s not certain) have made matters worse. It’s the “Nothing to do with Islam” nonsense that is reason enough to keep pointing out the horrors of Islam.

            Others focus on politics, He has an interest in religion and how it distorts thinking. He specialises in philosophy and neuroscience. He is not a political specialist. But he does not deny the influence of bad foreign policy, it’s just not his area of interest or special knowledge.

            It’s not Harris denying world affairs have nothing to do with US foreign policy that’s the problem, it’s the US president and have the western liberals and most Muslims saying it’s nothing to do with Islam.

            1. Ronnie: “How’s our butting out working out for the Yazidis?”

              How did our butting in work for the Yazidis? ISIS is a creation of our invasion. Most of the military leaders are Saddam’s displaced officers who we dismissed. Saddam was a brutal dictator, but the Yazidis had lived among their neighbors, mostly in peace, for centuries.

              No, we cannot know what would have happened in the middle east if the west had not overthrown governments and terrorized the people, any more than we can know what would have happened to a vase if we had not smashed it with a hammer. But to excuse our act by saying the residents of the house are so clumsy they would have broken it anyway, and to challenge them to provide data showing that would not have happened, as you have done, is profoundly dishonest. I’m not making any excuses for Islam.But we have neither the capability, nor the moral justification for invading countries to make them conform to our standards. Should Britain invade Ireland because it criminalizes abortion? Or should Ireland invade Britain because it allows abortion? All of your hypotheticals are just ways of evading responsibility for your own country’s crimes. You are not responsible for what ISIS does to Yazidi’s and homosexuals, but you and I as citizens of our democracies are partially responsible for the invasion of Iraq which led to ISIS in the first place. And I accept that responsibility even though I actively opposed the invasion. It’s my country and we did wrong. Harris is even more responsible since he is a widely read public intellectual. All this crap about the danger of a world Islamic caliphate is even more absurd than the talk in my youth about the danger of world wide communist domination. So we had to invade Vietnam, at a cost of 58,000 Americans and who knows how many millions of southeast asians.

              I’ve been an athiest, old style, for fifty years. I don’t believe in gods or divine authority, but neither do I blame all the world’s ills on religion as the NAs are inclined to do. I still respect the wisdom that is mixed in with the brutality in the great religious texts. Jesus said something that you and Harris might consider with profit: take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the moat out of your brother’s eye. Or as that English god, Eric Clapton said: “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself”.

    1. I chose “trigger” deliberately.

      What do we do with that Milgram experiment that demonstrated how some people will do things against their belief that they should not harm others? Some sweated in agony because they were doing something they believed they should not be doing. What do we do with the fact that only a few of us give to certain charities even though most of us believe we should give more?

      Beliefs are a factor in why some people refused to continue with the Milgram experiment, and perhaps they are a factor in why some people donate to the needy. (Or maybe it’s just a feeling of compassion and not beliefs as such — in both cases?)

      Everyone rationalises their behaviour. We all do what we believe is the right thing to do. Do we really believe, however, that everyone is truly guided by beliefs alone?

      1. I think you are saying that facts can be triggers. But I wonder if certain facts in our brains might be fungible in a way. As in the phenomenon of our ability/inability to see a single photon. The sensors in the retina can respond to a single photon. However, neural filters only allow a signal to pass to the brain to “trigger” a conscious response when at least about five to nine arrive within less than 100 ms.

        1. The reasons people are attracted to extremist violence are largely understood and they rarely are the simple consequence of a religious belief entering their head. The factors that lead to these behaviours have been the subject of my ongoing posts on “McCauley: Friction”, “terrorism”, “ISIS”, “fundamentalism”, “Islam” ….. as per the Categories archives.

          Obviously religious factors are a part of the process in specific cases of Islamist violence, but equally obviously most people with the same beliefs do not become terrorists and even denounce violence. So there is evidently something more at work than religious beliefs.

          Further, much of the debate is at a visceral fear level, not a rational evidence based one. Witness the confusion of concepts between some ethereal demonic idea of “Islam” and real people on the ground in many of the discussions.

  4. Ronnie Murphy. My post was 1249 words. You have so far posted 5675 words in response. Do you really think anyone has the patience or will to sit through and read and digest everything you have tried to express? You have rambled off on tangents presumably thinking they are necessary to explain your point or to address whatever it is you for some reason seem to think I or others must be thinking.

    You contradict yourself from comment to comment and even within comments — as blatantly as Sam Harris regularly contradicts himself. I get dizzy trying to follow.

    When I come to arguments of yours that bear no relation to what I myself think and you wander off from the points and questions raised, do you really think I want to take the time to register and respond to what you write?

    Please do read our comment policy. Then do feel welcome to try to address the points in the post and the questions I have raised succinctly.

  5. I offered a link. You asked me to comment here with specifics. The questions you and others posed demanded more than simplistic answers.

    By all means point out specific contradictions.

    Do you want me to stop commenting?

    1. I want you to comply with our comment policy. If you want anybody (including me) to read (with care or even at all) every word you write then write fewer words.

      On the one hand you say you understand the difference between Islam and Islamism. On the other you speak about “Islam” as if it is a violent ideology that compels its followers to violence — as if there is no difference between Islamism and Islam. I’m confused.

      1. I’m not surprised your confused. You should be. Muslims are confused. It’s confusing. The contradictions requiring adherents adopt cognitive dissonance behaviours is inherent in the religion.


        Islam is the encompassing set that is defined by the texts of Islam. Everything else, everyone else that claims to be a Muslim is some subset of that.

        It is unified whole, because Muslims say it is. But then the contradictions appear, because various subsets denounce each other, declare each other to be not in the outer set.

        It’s such a refined contradiction they have a tool for it: Takfir – denouncing other Muslims as being so un-Islamic that one can say they have effectively apostatised themselves, so they are now non-Muslims. And some of the subsets think that those apostates deserve death. Takfir even has another trick: if you can muster the power base, you can turn Takfir onto your accusers, declare that they declared Takfir on you unjustly, and that instantly makes them the apostates.

        You asked specifically about the difference between Islam and Islamism. I can address that at the risk of another comment if you wish.

        1. You make many sweeping claims about what Muslims say and think but I’d appreciate some authoritative source for these claims. Is there a universally acknowledged body representing all Islam that makes these things clear and speaks of all Muslims in the way you imply?

          I know what Islamism is. I thought we could agree that that was the anti-social/anti-democratic ideology. But you seem to insist that Islam itself is a danger because of its potential to get any Muslims to act violently. Is there a difference in your view between Islamism and Islam? Briefly.

          1. Which sweeping claims? I can make simple short statements that you can take to be sweeping claims, or I can make more complete statements that are more specific.

            “Briefly” – Perhaps that’s the problem. Brief Islam/Islamism doesn’t work.

            Islam is all things Islamic, but relies on the texts, and since the texts are from or about Mohammed, it’s everything Mohammed. The rest is addenda. You raise the issue of no single authority. Right. So anyone and no one is the authority on Islam. That’s one of the inherent contradictions. You think scholar X has the low down? Sorry, wrong scholar, you should have referred to Y.

            So, your Islam/Islamism dichotomy doesn’t work. Islamism is a subset of Islam, as is Islamic Jihadist terrorism, as is ‘moderate’ Islam, as is reformed Islam, as are all the sects of Islam. If there’s no one true Islam, simply asking about Islam/Islamism misses the many and varied points by a wide margin.

            here’s a more complete but still simplified breakdown that explains why Islam is a violent political religious ideology and what ‘ordinary’ Muslims and others do about it to avoid adhering to it strictly even when the inerrant Quran demands they do:

            1. Tell me again — what, for you, is the difference between Islam and Islamism. Thanks. (I thought after one comment that you subscribed to Nawaz’s explanation but once again I am no longer sure.)

              1. Islam is the totality of what various Muslims say it is, but is essentially the political religious system defined by the Quran, the Hadith and other texts and what various Muslims make of them.

                Islamism is one of the subsets of Islam where by Islamist Muslims actively plan to expand Islam and form a Caliphate, sees Islam as being more important that other political systems, and as such see it as legitimate to use legal methods (or at least perceptually legal) within any system they are operatiing in to usurp the system and eventually form a Caliphate. The details ar far more complex and vary with Islamist groups, but that’s the ‘brief’ description. And, in most cases when outsiders of these groups (including Muslims, like Maajid Nawaz and other reformists that are using the term) label them as Islamist the groups may see themselves as implementing ‘Islam’ – hence the failure of the dichotemy Islam/Islamism – a point I tried to get across to Maajid Nawaz but even in his latest appearance on the Nat. Geo. God program it’s obviously a distinction he’s sticking with.

                The trouble is that every Muslim thinks they are implementing Islam – I’ve never seen or heard of a Muslim saying, no, my Islam isn’t Islam.

                The common use seems to imply Islam = good Muslims, Islamism = sneaky politicised Muslims.

                I probably have little trouble with your description of Islamism, even if we differ on some points.

                I’d really like to know what you think Islam is.

              2. Islam is a term that is as vague and meaningless as “Christianity”. To say any person in the world is a “Christian” won’t tell you very much that is useful about that person. How would you define “Christianity” if you determined that it was to be whatever the totality of “Christians” say it is? That would be a very broad definition the encompasses everyone from pacifists to militants. They all appeal to their holy book as their authority for contradictory teachings.

                I don’t believe I have the right to decide how the Bible should be interpreted and to therefore declare, say, that a Christian who claims to have a different interpretation from mine is not a Christian. As you said, it is the totality of what those who claim to be X say it is.

                What confuses me is that in one comment you seemed to have a lot of sympathy or understanding for ordinary Muslims who would never for a moment show the slightest sympathy for any violence. But then in another comment you seem to be saying Islam is as much a violent danger as Islamism — as if there is no difference.

              3. I don’t think Islam the religion is vague – it’s very clear what it is. The texts tell us what it is: Quran, but also Hadith, plus others. How they are used, by various Muslims, is complicated, and how some Muslims define Islam is vague – but always within that clear context. There is also vagueness within the texts, but that’s an issue when using the texts, not for defining Islam.

                Regarding your confusion about my comments, you’re mistaking two different things I was describing.

                1 – Islam – as defined by the texts, as descibed above.

                They contain a mixture of love, hate, peace, violence. Starting from a premise that religions are generally supposed to be nice (not a necessary premise, but one that the religious tend to claim of their religion and one the non-religious would generally like religions to be), then a religion with all nice texts would be a nice religion; and a religion with all bad texts would be a bad religion.

                Religions, being behavioural control systems use carrot and stick or nice and bad, and so on balance can be more nice or bad according to the balance of the content. I accept agreeing what’s nice or bad is a problem – a convinced Jihadist thinks he is doing good killing gays.

                If you read the Quran, and the Hadith (I’ve read only parts of the Hadith but I have/do read the Quran) it becomes clear that the focus of the nice bits is with regard to Muslims that are submitting to Islam as required. For non-Muslims and Muslims that step out of line it’s pretty much all bad – from mildly oppressive to down right cruel, and defnitely violent. This is the basis upon which I judge the religion an oppressive violent one.

                Some Muslims, by their own definition of being Muslims, can interpret the violence literally – and there’s nothing you, I or any other Muslims can say that will de-legitimise them or show they are ‘corrupting’ the religion. Mohammed engaged in violent Jihad, so if anything it seems even moderate Muslims are corrupting the religion by not following his example.

                2 – Muslims – are human beings susceptible to indoctrination – as are we all if we don’t guard against it.

                No matter how many heads ‘Jihadi John’ removed I think he was under the spell of the extreme violent Islam of ISIS. He didn’t have to be that way. He was peruaded to believe what he was doing was right, as far as we know.

                No matter how nice most ‘ordinary’ Muslims are, they are still capable of holding (and often do – see Pew polls) some of the pernicious beliefs of Islam – like death for apostasy, blasphemers, and adulters. And at times behaviours can emerge from those beliefs unexpectedly (it seems): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-35976958

                The religion, the texts, are the dangerous weapons that in the hands of the malicious can drive the gullible to become malicious in turn.

              4. texts tell us what it is

                Does the Bible tell you what Christianity is? Of course not. People who identify as Christians tell you what Christianity is and they will use selected passages they interpret in certain ways to justify their description.

                Your idea of indoctrination is a hangover from Korean War propaganda days. People are not “brainwashed” in any sense that you seem to be implying. I invite you to read some more up to date research and explanation of how and why people embrace extremist ideas. I have posted quite a lot from a wide range of those works here.

                You are right about Muslims being capable of holding some horrid and barbaric beliefs. You are just as capable of holding those and even worse beliefs. That’s just a fact of human nature. You seem to be suggesting that Muslims are worse humans because of an ideology that like a demon out there comes down and possesses the unwary. Once that spirit or idea enters the unwary then they are become monsters.

                I thought you said you agreed with Nawaz on the difference between Islam and Islamism. You clearly flatly reject his explanation outright.

              5. The Bible is not the Quran.

                The Bible is many books from many sources over a long history, and much of it is history-like. It’s as if the Quran + Hadith + bigraphies had been presented as one book.

                The Bible also has the OT/NT split. The Quran is a re-write that uses the Bible.

                The Quran is supposed to be a single source – Mohammed – revealed to him by Allah thruogh an angel agent. It is suppose to be dictated by God. The Bible is not. The Quran is supposed to be complete and inerrant. The Bible is not.

                But of course Christines and Muslims will cherry pick. That’s been my point: that Islam is the all inclusive religion as defined by the texts, and both ‘ordinary’ Muslims and ISIS cherry pick while denying that they do. Reformist Muslims cherry pick and acknowledge that and do it with a purpose.

                “Your idea of indoctrination is a hangover from Korean War propaganda days. ”

                No it isn’t. In children it’s indoctrination from birth, in non-Muslims adults it’s persuasion that with enough effort put into closing off criticism become indoctrination.

                “You are right about Muslims being capable of holding some horrid and barbaric beliefs. You are just as capable of holding those and even worse beliefs.”

                Potentially, yes. I’ve said as much. You too.

                “You seem to be suggesting that Muslims are worse humans because of an ideology that like a demon out there comes down and possesses the unwary. Once that spirit or idea enters the unwary then they are become monsters.”

                I said: “2 – Muslims – are human beings susceptible to indoctrination – ***as are we all if we don’t guard against it***.”

                I said: “No matter how many heads ‘Jihadi John’ removed I think he was under the spell of the extreme violent Islam of ISIS. He didn’t have to be that way. He was peruaded to believe what he was doing was right, as far as we know.”

                That doesn’t sound to me as if I’m describing monsters but human beings.

                It seems you have a perception of what I believe that I do not hold myself. I have never described Muslims as monsters, or any more susceptible to indoctrination than anyone else. You won’t find I’ve said that anywhere. I consistently say that Muslims are the main victims of Islam, either through their submission to it, or through the response of other Muslims to their rejection of it. I don’t even have a bad opinion of Mohammed – man of his time.

                I know full well than Islam does not have agency (re your other post). It is a set of ideas. Bad ideas. Dangerous ideas in the hands of the malicious and the gullible.

              6. Jihadi John was troubled and radicalized well before he joined ISIS. There were incidents involving drunken behavior and rowdyism. That didn’t come from Islam.

  6. If “Islam” were quite as meaningless as “Christianity” we wouldn’t be able to identify “an ordinary Muslim”, but if we found one somewhere in all the “vagueness”, from Bradford masjid schools to Barguna nikah centers, he or she or (if transgender) they would have a fair idea of what being a Muslim minimally entailed. It would not include violence against innocent people, but it would mean, at the very least by definition, “submission to God” (see e.g. Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, “Islam: An Introduction” [2010], p.4). In practice, for most self-defined observant Muslims, irrespective of sect, there are “pillars” – Shahada, and if possible, Salat, Zakat, Sawm and Hajj – and they usually read and/or recite parts of the Qur’an.

    1. I know Muslims who don’t even pray and never attend a mosque. I even know Christians who don’t even pray or ever go to Church. People are people first, and some of them identify as certain religious followers. Some make it clear that they are a particular religion by their talk and practice. Others give you no clue unless you specifically asked them. In South East Asia — which has its share of terrorist cells and training camps — I generally have no idea who is a Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu or Christian.

      1. Of course. I’m CofE by christening; my father had been a chorister and vaguely believed in a Supreme Being and my mother thought religion was a “lot of hooey”, but I suppose if polled our family would opt culturally as “Christian” (usually, “kind to people, like Jesus”).

        Many people of Muslim upbringing are no doubt similar re non-observance. But many Muslim groups themselves have a pretty good “idea of who is a Hindu or a Christian”, &c. Hence many riots, persecutions, populist risings, religious regulations, &c.

        I am all for treating people benevolently as people, but people also have mother-tongues, beliefs, community associations, folkways,dress codes, &c which need to be recognized, if not always completely respected; and the “trick”, over time and space, is to secure a realistic basis for peaceful co-existence and voluntary co-operation, especially in the exchange of ideas.

        You already know my views on the difference between the Qur’an and the NT re the use of force. So no more from me on all this.

        1. But many Muslim groups themselves have a pretty good “idea of who is a Hindu or a Christian”, &c. Hence many riots, persecutions, populist risings, religious regulations, &c.

          I’m sure we mean “many Muslim or Christian or other groups” who are historically located in situations that result in, say, a riot, . . . .

  7. Whether I agree with it or not, so much interesting material appears on Vridar that my computer-printer is nearly as overworked as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (who didn’t really exist, of course).

  8. ‘enlightenment’ as a term more confusing than democracy / secular and the tenets of demo secularism have been broken already on occasion in combatting extremism already
    which is a shame but not ‘anti secularist’ or even ‘anti democratic ‘

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