Saturday, January 20, 2007

Islam and terrorism postscript

In response to my post on The "new atheism" and Islamic terrorists last week, Paul recently commented:
Damn, I wish I'd found this post earlier... now I'm relegated to making mostly unnoticed comments.
So they don't go unnoticed, here are those comments quoted in a new post:
Are there certain "Islamic" beliefs that enable suicide bombings? Short answer - yes. Most suicide bombers in the most recent campaigns (Iraq, Afghanistan, the Second Intifada, and Al Qaeda's jihad) really are motivated in crucial part by visions of a glorious afterlife. And the virgins thing, though almost certainly mistranslated, actually counts - the fools in the martyrdom videos are often damn near salivating over the prospect.

But it's ludicrous to say that this makes suicide bombing a uniquely Muslim phenomenon, or even a uniquely religious one. The now-marginal Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade subset of Fatah, for example, didn't claim explicit religious sanction for its bommbings like Hamas or Al Qaeda do. A far starker example would be the Tamil Tigers, who have never promised their human missiles a bountiful afterlife but have fielded (at last count) nearly 150 suicide bombers in Sri Lanka. For other examples, see the Japanese kamikaze pilots, the Jewish Zealots of the 1st century AD, or the Sikh bodyguards who assassinated Indira Gandhi. Or (shameless plug coming up) just peruse my M.A. thesis, when I get around to posting it on my blog.

That's not to say there aren't serious problems in Islam right now; there are. Chief among them is a disturbing legitimacy conferred, even by many 'moderate' Muslims, upon those who respond to perceived heresy with violence and collective punishment. But that's an argument for another day. In the meantime, speaking as a proud atheist, I've lost most of my once-substantial respect for Richard Dawkins, who now pursues his atheism with the characteristic snark and lack of intellectual rigour one typically expects from the most ardent religious fundamentalists.

One more thing: "'There are no atheists in foxholes' isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes." - James Morrow
I'm pretty much in agreement with all of that. Here are a couple of points in response, to make clear how very much I agree with all of that.

I hope the first paragraph there wasn't intended as a criticism, because I do of course recognize that a lot of Muslim terrorists think of their activities in terms of the concept of martyrdom (and also jihad). My point was that functional equivalents of those concepts aren't particularly difficult to come by. (I figure ideals of nationalism and generic heroism do just fine. The Tamil Tigers probably illustrate that.)

And as for other "serious problems in Islam", there are plenty of those: responses to heresy, responses to apostasy, the treatment of women, and so on. I take it there's a question here whether these are genuinely intrinsic to Islam, but I don't know enough about Islamic theology to comment on that. In any case, these problems (while far from trivial) are beside the point when it comes to the most hysterical fear-mongering about Islam (such as we find in Dawkins and Harris, and other bigots across the political and religious spectra), which declares that Islam could very well be responsible for the end of civilization, or whatever.

6 comments:

Paul said...

Thanks for the post facto reference. For the record, the first paragraph wasn't intended as criticism, merely as backdrop to the second paragraph - which is, of course, a loud criticism of those who think suicide bombing is a uniquely Islamic behaviour. Richard Dawkins, thy stock has plummeted.

Anonymous said...

Toby? Why Christianity and not Islam for yourself? Arguably you "know" a lot more about Christianity because you spent so long living in a Judeo-Christian society and studying it. Do you acknowledge that your conversion in that sense is a function of your proximal familiarity? and that your "theistic" or religious propensity however acquired) could have/would have been equally served by converting to Islam given a similarly parallel exposure?

your pal Jesus from the Study (that would be Atheist Jesus for those of your following at home).

Toby said...

Hey Jesus,

Do you acknowledge that your conversion in that sense is a function of your proximal familiarity?

No. For example, my familiarity with Christianity might have convinced me that Christianity was a bad religion, in which case I would have looked elsewhere.

and that your "theistic" or religious propensity however acquired) could have/would have been equally served by converting to Islam given a similarly parallel exposure?

No. I am a religious pluralist, to an extent. I do think that any number of religions can be ways of genuinely relating to the divine. But that doesn't mean that all religions are equivalent. They are not.

Anonymous said...

[i]No. For example, my familiarity with Christianity might have convinced me that Christianity was a bad religion, in which case I would have looked elsewhere.[/i]
Well, for a time, you did indeed conclude just that... that in the end you did embrace religion is where we're at. You can only come accept (as a process) that which you are or have become familiar enough with to accept. I'm interested in the process (when you strip away the personal particulars). How do you differentiate the event of your "acceptance" from any other generic "acceptance process"?

Jesus again...

Toby said...

Jesus: Well, for a time, you did indeed conclude just that...

I once concluded that Christianity was a bad religion? Possibly, but as far as I can recall, that's not true. I remember thinking (towards the beginning of my tenure as an atheist) that religion, in general, was bad - so Christianity would be bad in the same way that all religion is bad. I don't recall ever thinking that Christianity was a particularly bad way of being religious, compared to other ways of being religious. But maybe you remember my opinions better than I do.

As for your question, I must apologize: I'm getting slow in my old age, and your question seems to me to be very abstract, so I have no idea what it's getting at.

John said...

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This site gives comprehensive details of applied USA foreign policy.

1. www.thirdworldtraveler.com