Islam and Violence

July 23, 2006

Welcome to post #1363, in which the author pisses off absolutely everyone on all sides of the issue. Please remember nobody endorses this message except me. Not my employer, nor my family, nor any of the good citizens of my city, state or nation. I speak for myself only. Finally, if I’m wrong tell me. That’s what comments are for!

Some hawkish American righties would have us believe that Islam differs markedly from Christianity in it’s bloodthirstiness and violence. Some dovish American lefties would have us believe that Islam is a religion of peace, and that if we westerners to stop wrecking their world with our self-serving colonialism our Muslim brothers and sisters would go forth to live in peace and harmony with all the other poeple’s of the world. I don’t agree with either view.

First of all, it’s hard to admit this without feeling like a racist, but it has to be admitted: as a worldwide group contemporary Muslims tend to hold more extreme and violent-leaning views than their Jewish or Christian (or Buddhist or Hindu) counterparts. I can’t think, for example, the last time I heard about women accused of adultery being stoned to death on the streets of Tel Aviv or Rome, nor can I recall when I have heard Jewish or Christian clergy advising their flocks to kill themselves in an effort to murder civilians of another faith. But if there is a difference in the amount of extremism and violence between Muslims and other “people of the book,” where does that difference come from?

Not from the books themselves. If you really look at the canonical texts that form the core of each of these traditions you will find in each countless examples of shockingly immoral behavior, many accounts of the faithful (or God himself) murdering infidels for no defensible reason, and dozens of calls for followers to do likewise. The Hebrew and Christian bibles are every bit as bloodthirsty and barbaric as anything Islam has to offer. So is Islam a religion of peace,” as some say? Clearly not. But by this standard neither is Christianity or Judaism – not when one judges by their inherited writings as opposed to the behavior of their contemporary adherents.

The difference is that most contemporary Jews and Christians have learned to moderate the more extreme passages of their sacred writings. In some cases we have come to look at them as merely metaphorical, in other cases we rationalize to ourselves that the kinder, gentler passages supersede the nastier ones. I have sincere doubts as to the soundness of the theology at work here, but I certainly am glad that we have mostly learned to ignore our forbearers calls to kill nonbelievers.

So why is it that so many Muslims haven’t learned to do likewise? I don’t have a concrete answer for that. The lack of democracy and freedom of speech both serve to insulate people from modern, liberal ideas–ideas that have such appeal as to cause many to moderate their religious views into something more palatable and less violent. Perhaps this lack is just an accident of history. Or maybe the dovish lefties have something correct here; it could be that historical colonialism has helped keep many of these regions of the world backward.

It’s time for the left to admit there’s a problem with some of the predominately Muslim regions of the world: too many of them are stuck in the 14th century. Their morality amounts to little better than Old Testament barbarism. At the same time, the right might want to actually try to understand what the problem is before nuking the desert into a sheet of glass; the problem is not their name for god, nor the scriptures which they read. The problem is in their society’s profound lack of modernism, and efforts to bring it to them using only military might will ultimately fail.

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  1. Scotty,

    Nice post. Very thought provoking and there are a lot of thoughts that I could add here, but this is one that stands out to me from what you wrote:

    “The Hebrew and Christian bibles are every bit as bloodthirsty and barbaric as anything Islam has to offer. ” I think you’d be well-served to provide examples of equal/proportional barbarism and intent for malice. I personally would like to see it.

    Secondly… Christian and traditional God-centered religions believe in the ten commandments: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Believers follow that because God said it, and believers know not to rebuff God’s wishes.

    Third. Most areas of the world that ascribe to Islam/Islamist beliefs and views believe in the *destruction* of infidel and especially Judaic civilizations. They simply don’t believe they should exist and that it’s their duty to do away with them. It’s taught at a very young age. I wish this wasn’t fact, but it is. It’s not a issue of whether or not colonialism has kept them unmodernized – their beliefs and values have kept them unmodernized.

    Good stuff – very thought provoking. Even at 6:45 a.m……

  2. 1. a) “Take all the heads of the [24,000 massacred people] and hang them up before the Lord against the sun.” (Numbers 25:4-9) But more to the point, I refer you to the entire book of Revelations and to the subject of Christian eschatology in general. Sometimes it scares me even more than the Islamicists in that it seems to be leading people not just to kill other people, but to destroy the world in its entirety.

    2. The admonition not to kill seems to have had, as John Stewart puts it, “a little wiggle room.” In the Bible killing is necessary when: a) someone disrespects their mother (Ex. 21:17), b) someone is a stubborn son (Deut. 21:18-21), c) if someone works on a Saturday (Numbers 15:32-35), d) children mock God’s prophet (2 Kings 2:23-24). I’m tempted to go even further, especially with the children theme (the Bible is rife with examples of killing children) but I think you get the point.

    But wait! What about Jesus? Surely the New Testament never said anything so barbaric as that nasty Old Testament, right? Wrong. “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.” (Luke 19:27) “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6) “The Son of man [Jesus himself] shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:41-42)

    3. Please see my comments on Christian eschatology above. I worry a great deal that this kind of frightening end of the world shit is somehow “informing” United States policy in the middle-east – and deliberately hastening a global conflict which will result in their hoped-for end of the world.

    their beliefs and values have kept them unmodernized.

    This is a common belief, but I think it is backward. I believe their unmodernized culture has kept their interpretation of their religious documents un-softened.

    I refer everyone curious about this post to check out the recent book by Sam Harris called The End of Faith. http://www.samharris.org/

  3. You have three apostrophes in your first paragraph; the third is correctly used. The first apostrophe shouldn’t be there at all; the second is place incorrectly. “it’s” is correctly used at the beginning of the second paragraph, which should explain why it is incorrect in the first paragraph.

    Well, none of it is as bad as the Funeral Home that advertises “Services for all Faith’s.”

  4. These responses are really thought provoking. From a political point of view, the extremist Islamic countries are effectively religious dictatorships. If you focus an underclass with very little hope in life on a common enemy (real or perceived), you can control the minds of the people. Hitler did this in Germany at a time when the country was still in economic ruin and humiliation from the previous war. He made the Jews the root of the economic evil. Keep the country unenlightened and backwards, create oppression and stifle discourse through strict enforcement of the religious laws and the many of people will comply for safety and security. Reinforce the extremists beliefs through religious leaders and the media spin and many will begin to believe and join the crowd. The west (including Israel) is portrayed for political reasons, as the cause of the past and current problems in these countries and the potential corruptor of Islamic religion. These leaders want to stay in power by using a political cause very effectively wrapped in a religious blanket. As an example of hope, there is a growing, younger middle class in Iran that do not subscribe the fundamentalist views of their government. This group is educated, wealthy and poses a growing problem to Iran’s government.

    As long as there is a government disguised as religious leadership filling their minds with hate through extremist interpretation of their writings, rekindling 2000 years of underlying hate and wars, while suppressing opposing opinions, this conflict will continue. If you believe in the Bible’s Book of Revelations, the 2000 year reign of the Christian Church is close to the end and all this should soon come to a final solution with the Battle of Armageddon.

    With respect to suicide terrorists, Golda Mier once said “the conflict will not stop until the Arabs love their children more than they hate the Jews”.

  5. A very thoughtful (and may I say moderate?) post. Far from pissing me off anyway, some of the things you mention are things I struggle with even as a so-called fundamentalist or evangelical Christian.

    All I can say is that knowing God and believing Him to be good, I take on faith (a key item in any religion) that those things described brought about good in the overall scheme of things.

    As far as Christian eschatology informing US foreign policy, there is certainly a danger in that. My response to those who try to do so, is that if God is indeed all-powerful, He does not need my help in bringing about the end of the world. I believe my part is to live and minister as much as possible as though the end of the world is not going to happen.

  6. You have three apostrophes in your first paragraph…

    I think it was my web hero David Weinberger who wrote “blogging is the art of writing frequently and badly in public.” Some of us are skilled enough to do pretty well even under circumstances of rapid publishing, the rest of us mortals just chalk it up to sloppiness in the name of immediacy.

    Time for me to bust out Lynn Truss again…

  7. Nice post. It’s a shame that so few others can see how obvious this is. If only 9/11 and everything else going on in the middleeast could have made people start to see the evils of religion, not of one particular religion.

  8. JIJAWM, do you think religion is more evil than good? I mean without some of these Christian organizations buying TV time, how would I get to here the Oak Ridge Boys?

  9. It seems to me that the role of religion in the world today is almost universally thought to be very positive, or at least benign. I don’t agree. There is a huge dark side. Ultimately it cannot benefit us to believe in things for which there is no evidence and which run completely counter to what is empirically known about the universe. I have deep epistemological problems with “faith” as belief in things for which there is insufficient evidence. I have huge problems with making ethical decisions on things other than human compassion and the best empirical facts we can muster.

  10. Good post Scott- I hate to burst your bubble though, I did not upset me in the least. In fact, I would agree with most of your analsys (sp?).

    Religion, in the right hands, can be a very positive part of someone’s life. However, in the wrong hands, can be devistating. What the extremist muslims have been doing for the last 100 years or so, Christians did 7 centuries ago during the crusades. It is all about leadership of the religion.

    What I find disturbing is political leaders bowing down and allowing religion to dictate policy – both in the US and Middle East

  11. It is all about leadership of the religion.

    Hm. I wonder. Perhaps it’s more of a ground-up kind of thing. Perhaps cultural changes lead to more liberal religious leaders and more liberal religious ideas – not the other way around.

  12. It’s interesting to me that people sit around blathering about abuse of religion in this esoteric fashion while the barbarians are at the gate. Trying to understand them while they are going about destroying everything you value seems like a pretty useless waste of energy to me.

    As for Islamic canonical texts, they may be no worse than the Old Testament, but certainly Mohammed was NOT the same sort of role model Jesus was. Mohammed fought with armies and killed right from the start and kept it up throughout his life. Jesus never did. Jesus did the opposite, if you will recall, by allowing himself to be crucified. Maybe that is the REAL lesson in the crucifixion. It was the opposite of everything that was expected in a violent world.

    As for Revelations, when the Bible was put together in about the 4th century or so, there was a lot of debate as to whether or not to include Revelations. Personally I believe it should have been excluded. I dislike that book intensely and I dislike the way it has been interpreted by the fundamentalist contingent. They have taken that book and run with it just as much as Muslims have run with the aberrations in their book. Still in the end, Jesus was a man of peace. Mohammed was NOT, and that’s why Islam will never change and must be brought to its knees.

  13. Trying to understand them while they are going about destroying everything you value seems like a pretty useless waste of energy to me.

    Your point is well taken, but I have another point: trying to fight something you don’t understand is foolish.

    there was a lot of debate as to whether or not to include Revelations. Personally I believe it should have been excluded. I dislike that book intensely…

    Your statement proves my point exactly, Rose. You and lots of other contemporary Christians have developed interpretations that soften the impact of these scriptures on your values and actions. Many in the Islamic world have not done this with their own inherited writings.


  15. Scott

    You are wrong and you know it !
    Read the Koran and count the passages where it exhorts followers to kill unbelievers (also includes Christians and Jews) and where it mentions what Allah has instore for them. Mohommad on his deathbed still ranted about killing Jews and Christians.

    The Koran is the DIRECT word of God. The bible and the New Testament are not. The closest thing in Christianity is the Christ. That is the Christ is God made flesh and the Koran is the word of God.

    The sad fact is the Religion was started by a bloodthirsty bloke who loved the rape pillage and plunder FOR blokes who liked the same thing and it gives the perfect reason to carry it out.

    I am sorry to paraphrase your presidents somewhat but “It’s the book stupid” (no personal offence intended)


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