Whence moderate Islam?

December 12, 2011 • 6:34 am

I keep looking for the “moderate” form of Islam in the Middle East, but have trouble finding it. I guess its main home is elsewhere. But I’ve recently come across four items that bear witness to the hatred of Muslims for Jews (I’m not claiming it’s not reciprocal), and to the fact that religion poisons everything.

Here, from Memri (Middle East Media Project) TV, is a clip of a supposedly moderate Islamic preacher, Sheikh Nayef Hajjaj Al-Ajami, from the moderate Islamic state of Kuwait, talking about the Jews on November 25:

“Servants of Allah, let us be aware that our struggle with the Jews is one of faith, identity, and existence. Read the Koran, where Allah says: “Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with you until you follow their creed,” so that you may know what the Jews conceal within their hearts. . . and so you may know that the Jews of the past were evil, and the Jews of today are even worse.  . the enemies of the divine prophesies, the scum of mankind, who incurred the curse and wrath of Allah, and whom Allah transformed into apes and pigs and taghut worshippers [worshippers of any divinity except Allah].”

Here’s a twelfth-grade textbook from Saudi Arabia:

Among the topics are these:

The struggle with the Jews is not political but religious. From p. 91:

“Whoever studies the nature of the conflict between the Muslims and the Jews understands an important fact, [namely that] this is a religious conflict, not a dispute about politics or nationality, or a conflict between races or tribes, or a fight over land or country, as some describe it. This is a deeply rooted enmity, a conflict between truth and falsehood, between monotheism and polytheism, between heresy and faith.”

So much for the common assertion that the Muslim/Jewish animosity, suicide bombings, are purely civil and political, and never about religion. Remember, this is what the kids are being taught.

The Jews spread corruption and fitna [chaos and internecine rancor].  From pp. 91-92

“In modern times, Jewish influence has cut deeply into several Western countries, and [the Jews] have taken control of their economies and media. These countries were exploited for the Jews’ benefit, and the two sides [i.e., the Jews and the West joined forces and] combined their interests in order to wipe out Islam.  . . .”[After] the Jews strayed from the correct religion brought [to them] by Moussa [Moses], peace be upon him, they did not take root in any land, nor did they legally own any land. They wandered in [various] regions, for wandering from place to place and being divided is in their nature. The Jews lived as oppressed minorities throughout the world, and caused corruption in every land they entered. In every country where they settled, they were a source of trouble and fitna. They build up their confidence by frightening others, which is why the peoples hated them and why they came to be known for their deceit and cunning.”

The Qur’an describes the corruption of the Jews.  From pp. 92-94:

“The noble Koran is the best source to acquaint us with the [Jews’] personality and psychological makeup. The expressions ‘Jews’ and ‘Children of Israel’ appear more than 63 times in the book of Allah, may He be exalted. They were the nation charged with ruling the earth, but Allah took their [role of] leadership away from them due to their corruption and destructiveness, and because they killed the prophets. The following are a few brief descriptions of some of their traits, as they appear in the noble Koran:”

JAC:  These traits (read the link) include attacking Allah, killing prophets, lying, deception, sinning, racism, cheating, cowardice, envy, and “lust for life,” which I take to mean avoidance of a glorious death.

Jihad will force the Jews out of Palestine.  from p. 112:

“Jihad for the sake of Allah is the only path to liberating Palestine. Only through jihad did the Muslims conquer Jerusalem, and only through jihad did the Crusaders leave Palestine. Likewise, only through jihad will the Jews leave Palestine.

“The only point of departure in our handling of the issue of Palestine [should be] absolute faith in Islam and in the fact that all rulings related to this issue must be derived from [Islam].”

If this stuff is drilled into you at age twelve, what are you going to believe?  And it further shows, as I’ve argued before, that a huge element of radical Islam is based not on politics, disaffection, or dispossesion, but simple religion-based emnity.  Do we deny that these people believe what they say?

Next we have the ravings of Sheik Yusaf al-Qaradhawi, an influential Muslim scholar a prolific figure on Al Jazeera television, and a spiritual leader of Muslim Brotherhood (he is Egyptian), which claims to have won the recent elections for the Egyptian parliament. He has characterized his own views as “moderate Islam.”  Note, though, that according to Wikipedia al-Qaradhawi has been denounced by Muslim scholars in the Middle East for giving Islam a bad name.  Indeed he has!

This video doesn’t look so moderate: he argues that Hitler was a punishment that Allah imposed upon the Jews for corruption, and “put them in their place.”  The Holocaust was “divine punishment,” and was exaggerated anyway. And he longs to go to Palestine, shoot the Jews himself, and thereby achieve martyrdom.

Finally, to round things out, and show that Islamic viciousness is not limited to the Middle East, here’s a report by Andreew Gilligan from the Telegraph that Sheikh Saad al-Beraik spoke at the East London Mosque (apparently regarded as a haven for “moderate” Islam), and called for Muslims to abduct and enslave Jewish women:

“Muslim brothers in Palestine, do not have any mercy neither compassion on the Jews, their blood, their money, their flesh. Their women are yours to take, legitimately. God made them yours. Why don’t you enslave their women? Why don’t you wage jihad? Why don’t you pillage them?”

I thought this kind of stuff went out with the Old Testament.

Is there anyone who doubts that, considering all major religions, Islam is the most pernicious.  Of course Catholicism gives it a run for its money.

h/t: Malgorzata

141 thoughts on “Whence moderate Islam?

  1. Is there anyone who doubts that, considering all major religions, Islam is the most pernicious.

    well, if you say that you’ll get called an islamophobe. in fact i was amusingly told by a liberal multiculturalist interlocutor that i obviously didn’t know any muslims judging by the way i talked (i was raised in a muslim family.

    1. The moderate moslems are those – same in christianity – that do not really think much of their religion (mostly just for cultural heritage, daily routines, social standing); those who regard their religion as a social cultural issues. In my experience, those who really learn their holy books seriously either lost their faith or not-moderate at all.

      Plus one note, Islam at current situation is similar to Catholicism 400-500 years ago, when Catholic was still a political force as most Islamic countries are now.
      The only future is for Islam to become less strident, more and more metaphorical interpretations of their books(these groups are called Liberal Islam, mostly disparagingly). I don’t see these to happen soon with most moslem societies though .. what currently happens in Egyptian politics is interesting.

  2. In looking for the moderate Muslim, it’s probably better to approach the ‘man on the street’, and not Islam’s religious leaders.

    Just like looking for moderate views on, say, abortion or same-sex marriage in Christianity: you probably get a distorted view if you only ask priests and ministers.

    But overall, I agree, the prognosis about ‘moderate Islam’ doesn’t look too promising.

    1. That’s true of Catholicism, but it’s not true of Christianity in general. The Episcopals have openly lesbian bishops and oppose government restrictions on abortion, for example — and that’s from-the-top official revealed dogma, no less. And there’s a local UCC church I’ve gigged at where I suspect the minister cribs heavily from ACLU newsletters for his sermons (though I have no idea what their position on abortion is).

      Actually, if that minister could just let go of all the batshit crazy woo-pedalling, he’d fit right in in any civilized society. I tell you, it’s utterly bizarre to hear somebody one moment railing against the injustices heaped upon those with built-in suntans and the next telling his audience to put their trust in Old Testament tales of talking trees.



    2. Jerry, you’re a scientist — do you really think your examples are a representative sample of what could reasonably be called “moderate” Islam? Or are they just four items that caught your eye, precisely because they are not “moderate”?

      I have no love of Islam or any religion, but cherry-picked news items are hardly a way to determine whether there is a moderate form of a belief system.

      And as for pernicious religions, I think your focus on Islam and Catholicism is a somewhat Western bias. For example, Hinduism certainly has its own extremists, comes with similar baggage regarding women, and also has the cultural issues of the caste system, but in North America generally don’t have much contact with Hinduism.

      1. So are you saying that there’s nothing problematic about the prevalence of anti-Jewish sentiment among followers of Islam?

        Incidentally, I have plenty of contact with Hinduism but it’s invariably the watered-down, intellectualized Hinduism of American immigrants. The really nasty forms of Hinduism seem to mostly exist in rural villages and maybe the slums of Indian cities. And if you’re going to mention the caste system you should be fair and mention that it has no legal importance in India and that its social importance mainly applies to rural areas as well.

        Of course, compare this to Christianity or Islam in rural areas. Consider the rabid strains of Christian evangelicalism in Africa or some of the scarier dominionist groups in rural America. Consider the Islam of the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fact is that small, remote, insular communities have the most oppressive forms of religion no matter which religion they nominally follow. I’m sure this is as true for Buddhism and Shinto as it is for the three I’ve talked about already.

        1. are you saying that there’s nothing problematic about the prevalence of anti-Jewish sentiment among followers of Islam?

          Um, no I’m not, and didn’t, as you can read above. What I said was that one cannot judge how “moderate” a religion is by taking a few non-randomly-chosen examples, examples that draw attention precisely because of the radicalism. Yes, there is horrible anti-semitism (and anti-feminism, and anti-science, and anti-liberalism) spouted by many adherents of Islam. And yes, it is possible that Islam is indeed the most pernicious extant religion. But that doesn’t mean that there are not moderate strains, which is the titular question of Jerry’s post. (Whether such “moderates” actually serve to moderate the radicals is another question, one that is probably answerable in the negative, just as with Christian moderates and fundies.)

          1. OK, sorry. The structure of your comment suggested that you were saying something like “Islam’s not so bad, let’s bash Hindus instead.” I know several moderate Muslims and moderate Hindus so I guess I mostly agree.

            I’ve yet to see an actual Muslim preacher who could be described as “moderate” though. Do you know of any?

            1. The structure of your comment suggested that you were saying something like “Islam’s not so bad, let’s bash Hindus instead.”

              No, it was intended to be more of “a pox on all their houses, and don’t use bad evidence to make empirical claims”.

              As for the existence of moderate Muslim preachers, I have to presume that not every mosque in North America is teaching jihad, or demanding that women not drive. (To be accurate, however, Jerry did specify he was looking for moderate Islam “in the Middle East”.)

              1. Good points. Actually, that reminds me a whole lot of Catholicism. There seem to be a lot of Catholic priests who pay lip service to the hard-line Catholic dogma without seeming to personally buy into it. I think I remember hearing about a mass in NH where a dog walked into the church and up to the altar so the priest gave the dog communion. Probably a pretty serious no-no from the pope’s point of view.

              2. While I’m certainly doubtful about just how moderate ‘moderate’ Islam might be, I have to ask how you know what you claim. A quick Wikipedia search revealed a trove of info on interpreting the Koran, and it appears there’s a long history of doing just that, as well as some detailed rules for going about it. Is that different from what you’re saying? If so, how?

              3. Only when passages directly contradict other passages is there acceptable room for interpretation, but the general guideline is that the latter passages ‘correct’ the earlier passages in the same way that the Koran ‘corrects’ the bible and the New Testament ‘corrects’ the Old. Most of the Koran’s passages about peace and love and respect for others we hear quoted in response to the latest religiously inspired act of barbarism – as if these acts were against the spirit of the religion of peace and carried out by some ‘fringe’ element – come early in the text.

              4. Rather convenient, isn’t that? That the early Koran can be quoted to mislead infidels while the later Koran is acted upon suggests the Koran actually provides misdirection to be used in war, along with the Religion of Peace being always at war until there are no more religions.

          2. Yours is a very typical misunderstanding of Islam. Ask any muslim if the Koran is the perfect word of god open (like the bible is) to interpretation and moderation. You will find that answer divides muslims into two and only two groups: good muslims and bad. There is no middle ground, meaning that there is no such beastie as ‘moderate’ Islam. Those who moderate the perfect word of god are not justified in Islamic terms to be members of the ‘good’ camp you presume them to be, but the ones in need of correction. This is why adherence to Islam stands contrary to and incompatible with western liberal secular values.

            1. Ask any muslim if the Koran is the perfect word of god open (like the bible is) to interpretation and moderation. You will find that answer divides muslims into two and only two groups: good muslims and bad.

              Yes, and fundamentalist Christians have the same view, as do orthodox Jews. Does that mean that there are no “moderate” Christians or Jews?

            2. I appreciate your response to my question above, but you didn’t answer all of it. How did you come to know what you claim to know about Islam. Did you grow up in it? Did you study it? If so, where?

              I don’t personally know any Muslims, though I’ve met a few through work and travel who seemed to be pretty Americanized to me. The people I have met seem

              1. My advice, Observer, is not to take my word for it but to go ask muslims themselves what they believe as I have done. Of course, you run the risk of being told what individuals actually say they believe, but the more liberal and deep thinking cultural apologists here in the West will tell you that you can’t lend too much credence to that… until they actually do what Julian Baggini has just done and also dare to ask.

                I know! Whodathunk?

  3. I would submit that the extremism of a religion is generally a function of the societal advancement of that religion’s adherents, far more than the religion’s dogma. At one time, Bible-believing Christians conducted crusades and inquisitions, and Israel wiped out whole cities, sometimes down to the last baby, sometimes killing all but the virgins. The Bible hasn’t changed, but Christian and Jewish society have. Why? I’ve read a few theories. My favorite comes from “The Empathic Civilization,” in which Jeremy Rifkin asserts that behavioral progress flows from society’s effective use of energy, and the great strides in compassion in the West can be attributed to the energy that came from, in turn, agriculture, water, wind, wood, water, fossil fuel etc. Yes, the Middle East has tremendous stores of energy, but they don’t use them effectively, selling it off and using the money to enrich the few. It’s all debatable of course, but bottom line, I would caution against branding any religion as worse than any other. They’re all based on unquestioned revelation, thus all ripe for misuse, and the horrors they inflict are very possibly a product of something other than theology.

    1. What the ME has in energy, it lacks in fresh water, the competition for which is intense, particularly in Israel and Palestine. The hope for empathic civilization there is slim.

      1. Neil: Technology has rescued many a culture/faith from abject barbarism, including the Christianity of the Middle Ages. Maybe new desalinization techs would help the Middle East.

        docatheist: Speaking of “submission,” Xians still into that game too. Southern Baptists, a huge denomination in the US, reaffirmed a few years back the primitive dogma that wives must “submit graciously” to their husbands.

  4. I know I’m likely to bring down some flack on myself for noting this–but I can’t help thinking if these views had been aired by any fundamentalist xtian, anywhere, they’d be deemed as wholly rancorous and unacceptable (with good reason, since they are). But substitute ‘Islam’ for ‘Fundie Xtian’, and the apologias, to some notable extent, begin…while I can agree that courting the possibility of dangerous religio-racial profiling is always very real in any attempt to point out the failings of even moderate Islamic teaching–particularly in the US, nowadays increasingly in many Western nations–the fact remains that if we cannot face or are overly fearful of confronting the inherently predjudicial reality that exists in Islam in even its non-radical forms, as an innate facet of belief, it will not be possible to combat the poison that such views inevitably bring to Muslim societies and their dealings with the surrounding world. To an atheist, there simply can’t be any fine division between more or less ‘acceptable’ religious views, when those views are rooted in spreading the ideology of bigotry, separatism and hatred–be the disseminator of those ideas Muslim, Xtian, Jew (or other); there is no hope for eradicating the long-term framework of sectarian hatred that adherence to these principles invariably brings if we can’t allow ourselves to somehow find our way through the minefields of current paradigms regarding which religious groups are more deserving of being shown attitudes of ‘political correctness’ towards their bigotry.

  5. Incidentally, I just found this video in which a Muslim apostate completely demolishes the questions of some interviewer on live TV.


    I wonder how many Muslim ‘moderates’ would agree with him. Perhaps,Irshad Manji would, but then again, she’s a ‘reformed’ Muslim.

  6. “I thought this kind of stuff went out with the Old Testament.”

    There is no caducity clause to the Old Testament, and even the most liberal theologians are far from declaring its obsolescence. There are even, I’m told, some presidential candidates of at least one major American political party still quoting from the O.T. Why should clerics in the Middle East (on either side of the divide) not abide by the time-honoured tradition of stirring resentment and hatred? It’s worked rather well for the past couple of millennia. Your concluding remark, Jerry, can be recursively generalised:religion is the most pernicious religion.

    To deflate all-too premature notions of hope and progress (pace Steven Pinker), let’s read again this passage from Salman Rushdie’s “Shame”:
    All this happened in the fourteenth century. I’m using the Hegiran calendar, naturally: don’t imagine that stories of this type can always take place longlong ago. Time cannot be homogenized as easily as milk, and in those parts, until quite recently, the thirteen-hundreds were still in full swing.

  7. I would hardly call Kuwait’s established Islam moderate.

    As a counterpoint, I note at the local university at least some of the Muslim and Jewish students meet some Fridays for a meal and discussion and the Muslim community turned out in support of the Jewish community when Fred Phelps’ church picketed the university Hillel center.

    BTW I would be careful in evaluating a study that says 81% of US Mosques preach ‘jihad violence’. I suspect at least that many Christian churches preach ‘just war’ though what justifies war will have a wide range and a fair number will try to justify the crusades (or more recent wars of ‘good’ Christians against ‘bad’ non-Christians [or the wrong type of Christian]). The same exists for Muslims (and for Jews) for their respective ‘holy wars’.

  8. The point is who cares if there are moderate Muslims? How much of an influence are they and how much do they accommodate mentally ill people spouting Muslim ideology as they kill themselves and others.

    However, we still don’t know if this ideology/words are causal of the harmful behavior or just epiphenomenal/post hoc.

    Given what we know of fake-consciousness it is likely not causal.

  9. Isn’t Sufi Islam a moderate form of that religion?
    My favorite guitarist, Richard Thompson, ex of Fairport Convention, is a convert to Sufi Islam – I think at the time plenty of European hippies went to Turkey and converted.

  10. There are moderate Muslims, and the Sufi tradition informs many of them as well as spiritually interested non-Muslims. However, institutional Islam is largely still in the stage, which for Christianity lasted from about the 300s to the 1700s, of murdering its reformers.

    The greatest threat to religious thinkers is always a theocratic government.

  11. Moderate muslims – they’re actually everywhere. Kinda like the silent majority of Christians, you don’t hear much from them though.

  12. Your abhorrence of Catholicism over, say, Southern Baptist churches amuses me. Only one of these is anti death penalty and yet they have all the same flaws in belief, misogyny, rape of children…

  13. It would be nice to know if these guys are the equivalents of Pat Robertson – lots of noise but not much following – or if they’re like your average corner preacher. Last I saw, Fareed Zakharia was still optimistic. For Egypt, how many al-Qaradhawis will wind up in the new parliament? At least, things are changing more rapidly than on an evolutionary time scale, hard as it may sometimes be to be convinced of that.

  14. No. Christians are by far the worst at religion. The fear of hell, the self-hatred, the arrogance and smugness are far worse than anything in Islam. Islam calls for Jihad? Christianity tells you to let Jihad smite you. I really don’t know what’s worse.

  15. Who has been saying these guys are moderates? Just because they live in Kuwait, Egypt, or London doesn’t mean they are moderate, even if those places on average have more moderate Muslims than elsewhere.

    It is a common feature of fundamentalism that particularly virulent forms of it arise in locations where there is high exposure to modernity, and where many religious believers are adapting to modernity. Fundamentalism and radicalism are a dissident reaction against this. E.g. the 9/11 hijackers were mostly educated engineering types from Egypt.

  16. And let’s not forget that a full third of British-born, university educated, muslim students from relatively affluent families think killing in defense of their religion is acceptable. Is this what we mean by ‘moderate’… only a third?

  17. “This video doesn’t look so moderate: he argues that Hitler was a punishment that Allah imposed upon the Jews for corruption, and “put them in their place.” The Holocaust was “divine punishment,” and was exaggerated anyway.”

    I haven’t seen anybody bring up that there is a fringe group of Jews who think the exact same type of thing, so I’ll try to be the first. Now, if I could remember the name of one of them or the particular sect.

    Although, if you want another example of extremist islam, with a smidgen of ignorance, I’d recommend these two articles from the Maldives (not the middle east, but similar mentality)



    1. Here’s the difference, according to Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Islam and its followers view Christians and Jews as dhimmis, which means they are allowed to exist, but only as second class citizens. Israel, being a Jewish nation, gives Jews first class citizenship, such that Israelis of Israel are seen as being on par with Muslims of Saudi Arabia, for example, in the eyes of world governments and the UN. This cannot be allowed. Therefore, Israel must be destroyed. Ditto for USA if seen as a “Christian nation.” See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gD4jYovx__g at the 9:20 mark….

    2. This illustrates Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma, which applies to all the monotheisms:

      Is an action morally good because God commands it? Or does He command it because it is morally good?

      If you are a religionist who accepts the former proposition, then, like Jews killing the Amalekites, like Christians promoting the Inquisition, a Muslim is free to demonise “the People of the Book”, and with perfect theological rationale claim the orthodoxy of his – and it normally is ‘his’ – position.

      The liberal consensus forbids this sort of thinking but it makes perfect sense through the lenses of theology and eschatology. You can view the Nazis as being the instrument with which God judged and condemned the diaspora for straying from Orthodoxy. If God could use the Babylonians and the Assyrians to punish his Chosen People, then he could also employ the Hitlerites as the administering angels of His wrath.

      And you could claim that the Jews did indeed learn their lesson pretty quickly. When was the state of Israel founded? 1948, not long at all after the Second World War. And isn’t the Messiah supposed to come when the Jews have built the Promised Land? Only then would the Second Coming occur, so wouldn’t Christians be absolutely right to support Israel? As Lenin said, `Like a rope supporting a hanged man.´

      If you believe that whatever God commands is by definition good, then you can mould your theology to fit any set of events you want. It has an infinite elasticity. Sooner or later some ‘good’ will turn up; and you can make a gigantic logical leap to say that without evil `A´, good `B´ could never have happened, without the intellectual requirement to prove the one thing from the other.

      Divine command theory is embedded in consistent monotheistic theology. Sooner or later, a representative from one of those religions is bound to pronounce something morally indefensible. For, if God commands it, it must be good. They at least have the merit of being theologically concordant.

  18. Quoting school textbooks does not seem like cherry picking to me. And this is not the only Islamic country with similar textbooks. Qaradhawi has a huge following and is regarded as spiritual leader of Muslim Bratherhood. When he promised that Islam will one day purify Jerusalem from the traced of feet of thos un-pure Jews, he did it on Tahrir Square, during the high days of Arab Spring, and a crowd of over a million cheered. Here is an article by a real liberal from Islamic country, despairing about lack of support from the West: http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/5899.htm

  19. I see three main problems with Islam.

    The first is that most Muslims believe the Koran to be the direct literal and unchangeable word of God. To suggest otherwise is tantamount to blasphemy. For many Muslims this tends to sacralise the violence and the many exhortations to violence and cruelty which are found in the Koran. Any proponent of a kinder symbolic reinterpretation of the Koran risks being ostracised as an innovator and branded an apostate. To innovate in religious matters is contrary to the sharia (which of course expresses the unchanging will of God) whereas the penalty for apostasy is death.

    The second problem is that Islam’s exhortations to violence and Jihad are not necessarily limited to the conquest of a Promised Land. For many Muslims they are geographically unbounded and have for ultimate design world domination. No Jew that I know of preaches open ended religious war in space and time. For all its appalling cruelty much of the Old Testament is concerned with the conquest of a geographically restricted Promised Land.

    The third problem is that the highest example of human moral rectitude in Islam is for all times Muhammad himself. This political and military figure consummated marriage with a nine years old girl and was far from adverse to using violence to reach his ends. From its inception Islam has proposed an all encompassing world view welding the political, the religious and the military.

    Can all this be easily changed?

  20. Holy crap (so to speak) – thanks for the info, I’m afraid I’d largely discounted this view as more anti-reality noise from the right.

    Let’s hope Hempenstein#17’s points/Qs bear fruit.

    Kudos to Erp #11’s community, where
    > at the local university at least some of the Muslim and Jewish students meet some Fridays for a meal and discussion and the Muslim community turned out in support of the Jewish community…

    – the Q we should be asking, as evolutionary ecologists, is how do we feed&grow that interaction, & starve the other?

    …especially given that the web, via Facebook and Google, are (if the pattern holds) contributing to the problem by creating comfy cocoons of conviction –
    (Google, you’re being evil – we need gatekeepers that respect their civic obligations.)

    > despairing about lack of support from the West

    That’s where we-the-U.S. have influence, if we choose to wield it. (Unless of course we’ve poisoned the U.S.-support well so thoroughly by now that any support from us will backfire?)

      1. (Also: my bad, for tossing off “…more anti-reality noise from the right” & then asking “how do we feed&grow that [rapprochement]” w/o considering that characterizations like the former don’t aid the latter, in U.S. intra-party discourse)

  21. Fundies are fundies.

    They use hate as a tribal ingroup outgroup identifier and a motivating force.

    They all do it, especially the US fundie xians.

    This Moslem is just using hate to push his religious agenda. Routine.

    This explains the frequent religious wars that kill millions of people. The last big one was probably the Shia Sunni one in Iraq which killed over 100,000 people.

    1. It’s the rare religious radical who calls him or herself a radical. No, if you ask them they are a moderate.

      They are also very reasonable and the heart of their religion is love, peace, compassion and virtue … properly interpreted in context, of course. You need to understand the Big Picture.

      Everybody is a moderate. We all are. All we have to be able to do is think of someone, anyone — even a hypothetical straw man person — who is too extreme on one side, and a counterpart who is too extreme the other way and voila! — we’re moderates, comfortably ensconced in that wonderful temperate golden middle inhabited both by truth and everyone else.

      The SS no doubt thought the death camps were evidence that they were “moderate” because they weren’t setting Jews up against a wall and shooting them directly anymore. They’re more humane. Plus they let a lot of them emigrate beforehand — not like an extremist who wouldn’t.

      I think a Muslim’s own self-assessment of being a “moderate” should be taken with a lump of kosher salt.

  22. I’m not sure that many in the UK regard the East London Mosque (or Al-Qaradawi for that matter) as moderate.

    I note in passing that, like many fundamentalist types, Al-Qaradawi strangely seems to have been too busy actually to go to Palestine and attempt to become a martyr there.

  23. As far as I can see, superstition has done more harm to mankind than anything else. It has and continues to be responsible for hatred, torture, wars and ethnic cleansings. It is the basis for keeping the less fortunate ignorant of birth control, and the spread of AIDS.

    All this, over various forms of superstition…

  24. Al-Qaradhawi really does not seem to be any marginal figure.Financial Times has a recent interview with him entitled: “Outspoken cleric quides Arabs on revolution”.

    He is also a teacher (very admired by the pupil who says though that he does not agree with everything Qaradhawi teaches)of quite famous “moderate” Muslim, Tarik Ramadan.

  25. I’m a former Muslim and I’m a close family member of a well respected Muslim scholar and I am blown away with the Muslim obsession with hating Jews. I have also been deeply hurt and surprised by the few times I have been at the receiving end of unwarranted Jewish hatred toward me. Religion sucks.

  26. The problem with trying to define Muslims as a group is that they aren’t – there is no central Islamic authority, it’s a religion spread across a wide array of cultures from Africa to Indonesia. While within those societies Islam might be used to justify particular attitudes, it’s more often a reflection of that society. It’s not particularly surprising that arabs are resentful of Israel and the West that supports it, that would probably be true regardless of the prevailing religion, or even lack of any religion. The problem is, as usual, lack of education combined with ingrained, repressive social codes (which, of course, religion thrives on, but not just Islam).
    Here is a Pew survey of American Muslims:

  27. Be careful of taking things at face value!

    Firstly, we don’t know if “Shaikh Saad Al-Buraik” or is it “Sheikh Saad al-Beraik” actually said what is reported here. Certainly, he did say this back in 2002 but the Telegraph report does not say he said this at the Mosque in London.

    Secondly, beware of your sources possible biases. MEMRI TV is a US-based organisation founded by an Israeli intelligence officer and an Israeli-born US political ‘scientist’.

    Just exercize a little thought before rushing to condemnation (and step a little bit closer to those you purport to criticize).

    1. So long as MEMRI takes public television video, public school books, and other such main stream materials, translates those materials verbatim, and adds no additional opinion (or, if it does, makes clear what is MEMRI’s opinion, separate from what is literal translation), then I doubt it much matters who is doing the MEMRI work. If Sasquatch translated it, and it was verbatim, I’d still believe it, even if I didn’t believe in Sasquatch.

  28. MEMRI is sometimes accused of bias, but there is really no evidence of this. The items on MEMRI are just translations of material from the Middle Eastern media, including some film clips. If it makes the Arab media look bad it’s because it’s quoting it accurately.

  29. Sally, it’s the selection process that makes the difference. Have you watched Iran’s ‘Press TV’, or ‘Russia Today’ recently?
    If your view of the Muslim Arab world is determined from the output of an organisation founded by an Israeli Intelligence officer, then I’m sure you will see the world as they do – i.e. it will likely be partisan.

    My primary concern with Prof Coyne’s piece, is the lack of any rigour in determining the facts of the case – instead, it seems to merely pander to the existing pre-conceptions of the readers.

    Now, I’m no fan of Islam. I consider the religion as extremely backward and its adherents obsessed with an extremely ‘hard-line’ interpretation of their scripture (To their, and others, detriment). Nonetheless, I dislike the knee-jerk reactions from poorly researched reports and the lack of prior investigation that characterises this particular report.
    Jerry really should have invested in a quick 5-min Google to see if he is reporting things as they really are, rather than assuming they already conform to his pre-conceptions.

  30. Jim, I understand your suspicion but I think it is misplaced here. MEMRI tries to give a representative sampling of the media–speeches and articles by leading figures–and also to give a wider dissemination of pieces by dissenting voices. As for the founder being an ex-Israeli intelligence officer, you wouldn’t expect an Arab Muslim to want outsiders to know what exactly was being said on Arab TV, not if he had any p.r. gumption.

  31. The Ahmadis are the only group I’ve heard of that I would describe as “moderate” Islam, but they’re not considered to be true Muslims by the others. And I guess the Baha’i faith would be like the Unitarian Universalists of the Muslim world?

    1. I’ve sat in the Baha’i Lotus temple in India. A large, hairy, white dude sitting in the pews among droves of Indians. I’ve never felt as comfortable in any American church. All around are posted lines from the Qu’ran amongst the gorgeous architecture. This was just a few months after 9/11. There was no sermon or speech, just silence for all who entered. I was never asked about my theological stance, and was given more information about the passive cooling engineered into the architecture than anything else. It was odd to be in such a peaceful building, yet read the rather violent inflections from the surrounding scripture. Based on this experience, I would say your UU analogy fits quite nicely.

  32. Sally, I don’t want to labour a point somewhat tangential to the overall discussion, but I do have to ask – what evidence do you have that justifies your belief in the ‘representative sampling’ of MEMRI TV?
    I’m not saying that they are not – just that, from their origins, they could well have a particular agenda (for or against) a particular world-view. Until I have convincing evidence to the contrary, I place MEMRI TV in the “Treat with Caution” box.

    1. According to Pew Research from december last year:
      82% of Egyptian Muslims support stoning people who commit adultery. 84% demand death penalty for apostates. 77% wish for whippings and amputation of hands for theft.


      Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a leading intellectual of the Muslim Brotherhood, which, combined with the even more radical Al Nour party, is about to get >66% of the Muslim vote in Egypt.

      To simply show what he says, is at least as representative as to show and translate Putin, Obama or Lula da Silva.


      Anytime anybody links to MEMRI, some commenters will inevitably raise the question of how representative it is. I don’t get this concern.

      Any newspaper or TV station chooses to report on what it believes to be a relevant subset of what is going on. MEMRI can’t be assumed to be any worse from the outset.

      Reporting is atrocious when it has to cross language barriers. I see even basic fact claims, the order of events, names and locations being mixed up and confused all the time. Assessment and interpretation, both ubiquitous in journalism, are obviously even more problematic. The mainstream reporting on the Arab Spring has so far been incorrect time and time again on key questions.

      So what is the standard of representativity we are supposed to compare MEMRI against? The NYT?

      1. Based on the historical research and book/documentary of James Carroll, a former Jesuit priest, it appears to me that the suspicion of deliberate misdirection by MEMRI, as opposed to other sources like you mentioned, is due to its clear and obvious connection to Jews. Antisemitism was a deliberately calculated political tactic of the Christian church, in its aim toward creating a single Christian empire of the entire world (as it was then known). That concept of antisemitism continues to be indoctrinated in western civilization so subtly and subconsciously in some cases, that the biased cannot see the forest for the trees. Insight is difficult, when all your significant others, family, friends, coworkers, and social interactors unknowingly share the same bias.
        I highly recommend James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword. The video is even available from NetFlix.
        Want to undermine and erase the damages done by religion in this world? Then, don’t miss this. It’s a critical bit of research.

        1. P.S. Yesterday, I saw the 1% had continued this political use of Jews as scapegoat by making a counterfit Anonymous video, posting it on YouTube, and 3/4 of the way in, showing picture after picture of Jews. The idea is to make the 99% go after the Jews (in their midst, by the way, included in the 99) rather than the 1%. So, this tactic is still in use, today.

  33. Moderate Islam I’m not sure about, can there even be a moderate religion at all. Though we all (atheists and secularists) like to point out the cherry picking theists, without them we would all be dead or at least a persecuted minority. Atheists, secularists and rationalists fight on the battlefield of words, education and the enlightenment, on a true battlefield we would have been defeated long ago, just look at the history of free thought. That doesn’t make the theists right of course but their brutality has to be fought on the inside as well as the outside. My Turkish friends say they have never been to a mosque but they have god in their heart. I don’t have the ability to peer into peoples hearts (even if I did I would find a pumping mechanism) but the amount of alcohol they drink then this god isn’t allah.

    My point is, well there is no such thing as moderate religion just moderate people. We just have to expose religious beliefs for the nonsense it is and hope the youth get this message and follow it., while the old adherences die out.

    1. Muslim friends of mine explained that Allah did not forbid alcohol. Muhammad did, after seeing too many drunken Muslims doing bad things they wouldnt’ have done sober. He set a standard for all based the actions of a few.

  34. Jim, have you looked at MEMRI? It is a monitoring organization and translates a vast number of articles, etc. from all over the Middle East and is an extremely valuable source of information. If it chose only a few here and there you might have a point, but the sheer volume of the material they process suggests that they are not cherry-picking only the examples that will fulfill some “agenda”. If it has any agenda it is to show what is being talked about in the Middle East and what the movers and shakers are saying to their public. The translations themselves are painstaking and accurate and from Arabic, Farsi, Urdu (because there is a section on Pakistan), Turkish, and no doubt some other languages. It is actually an incredible resource for anyone wanting to know what is being said in the public arena in that part of the world.

  35. Jim, apologies–I did say “representative sampling” and that sounds sketchier than the material really is. That could sound like “cherry-picking”, but it is much broader than that.

  36. I’d concur with you, Jim. One could post a bunch of statements from Pat Robertson or Jim Bakker and from that conclude that all christians are intolerant evangelicals who hate gays – and muslims. In fact, that is what forms most muslims’ view of the U.S. and why they are just as quick to condemn and fear us.

    There are 1.5 billion muslims spread across a range of cultures (Arabs only account for 20 percent). Of them, somewhere between 6-20 million are radical. Of that group, a still smaller percentage actually engage in terrorism or militant activities or do stupid things like try to kill cartoonists. The vast majority are probably about as committed to their faith as christians are to theirs, ie, they identify with it but tend to ignore or rationalize the sticky parts, and just want to get on with their lives. In other words, they’re just like people anywhere.

    There are a number of groups in the U.S., however, that actively promote anti-muslim sentiment and fan the fear of a sharia-law takeover. They make good money doing this. Here’s a good story:

  37. “So much for the common assertion that the Muslim/Jewish animosity, suicide bombings, are purely civil and political, and never about religion . . . as I’ve argued before . . . a huge element of radical Islam is based not on politics, disaffection, or dispossesion, but simple religion-based emnity.

    Do we deny that these people believe what they say?’

    It seems that Paris-based anthropologist Scott Atran vigorously makes such a denial.

    From his Wikipedia entry:

    “Atran’s debates with Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and others during the Beyond Belief symposium on the limits of reason and the role of religion in modern society have sparked considerable controversy.”

    On Beyond Belief video there was a lengthy encounter between Atran and Harris. More precisely I found it a very vexing and wearisome attack by the former on the latter. (I assume that the video is still available for viewing by the determined searcher.)

    If I correctly recall, Atran’s parting shot at Harris was words to the effect that any competence to analyze and evaluate the causes (political versus religious) of terrorism were “not to be found here” (among Atran’s opponents at the Beyond Belief event). I’m not sure I’ve seen a more striking example of self-assurance (to use a rather more civil euphemism).

    To view some more Atran debates on this subject is on my long To do list.

    1. Yup,

      Beyond belief 2006 is the search; stellar intellectuals. V.S. Ramachandran brings the house down – the neuroscientist’s demolition of the God hypothesis.

  38. I try very hard to hope for a moderate Islam, and I’ve almost given up. I divide peoples into preEnlightment and postEnlightment. The only Jews who are preEnlightenment are some of the fundies in Israel who don’t believe in evolution (a small number). I read too much Ayaan Hirsi Ali to maintain a hope. The Catholics have a terrible history, and whilst assisting the spreading of AIDS, are not currently bombing people. And my other problems is that ‘moderate Islam’ are not chastising their fundies. Israel made an error by not ensuring that all schools had the same science based curriculum, and hopefully they will rectify same. However, it appears that much of Islam is driven by their version of the ‘Old testament Koran’. Scary and sad.

  39. Is there anyone who doubts that, considering all major religions, Islam is the most pernicious.  Of course Catholicism gives it a run for its money.

    It’s not a contest, and implying it is plays into the hands of precisely those who argue that “it’s only those crazy extremists who are the problem, most theists don’t actually believe” what they clearly state they believe anymore.

    ALL religions are pernicious, because of the very nature of religious belief. I know you know this, Jerry, which is why I am puzzled you highlight Muslim extremism, implying, seemingly, that other religions are, perhaps, more “OK”.

    This line of argument plays right into the religious apologist’s rhetorical frame.

    1. You are mixing 2 debates – and the most important one in today’s is about violence. Lots of deluded theists, go about their lives in a live-and-let-live world and I have no problem with them, except when they interfere with science classes.

    2. And yet, I believe I’ve heard (on video) Sam Harris saying similar things, applying logic and reason to support what he says.
      I believe in truth, honesty, and reality, which means I do not put my faith in the supernatural. That said, I see different religions and religious subgroups as having different levels of danger for others. Historical reality provides factual basis for seeing differences, and the newer the history, the closer the reality.

  40. Islam is dangerous. Here in the West, it seems that most people are incapable of appreciating the seriousness of that threat. It is as though centuries of religious tolerance, secularism and even outright disbelief have rendered many incapable of a true appreciation of the motive power of belief.

    I have attempted to address this issue before. But it seems that many cannot understand that when Muslims take to the streets demanding the beheading of all infidels, when suicide bombers murder innocents, when women are stoned to death for being raped that these are not the actions of a few deranged fundamentalists, not some perversion of the religion, but the true and genuine face of Islam. I will therefore in this post simply point out and briefly explain the basic tenets of Islam.

    Islam is written down in the Koran. It cannot be changed, up-dated, re-interpreted or modernized. It is the unchangeable Word of God. To try to change the Koran is punishable by death. And it contains clear instructions for its spread, making it a holy duty to convert the entire world.

    Islam demands that Muslims create a state that enforces it. No other religion has ever required, as a religious duty, that the government enforce the religion. It even has it own system of law to facilitate this duty. It is called Sharia and it is barbarous.

    The Koran further requires that Islam be spread by the use of war. Whilst members of other religious faiths have attempted to impose their religion by force, they have struggled to reconcile such behaviour with their own doctrines. In Islam it is a holy duty. It helps to save the poor infidels from their sin. This is the only way to bring submission to the Will of God on Earth. The Prophet provides the perfect example. Whilst he tried to convert people by persuasion, he gained after thirteen years a mere one hundred and fifty followers. When he took the path of violence, within ten years he had tens of thousands of converts. His followers added millions by the same methods; and now it stands at over a billion.

    Islam holds that contraction is bad and expansion good. So any lands lost such as Spain and Israel must be re-conquered. Moreover, any lands that do not follow the laws of Allah must be conquered and Sharia imposed. It is a sin not to do so.

    In order to ensure as many children, new Muslims, as possible, a Muslim man may have up to four wives and have sex with as many slave (ie, infidel) girls as he wishes.

    It is a punishable offence, punishable by death, to criticise Islam. Just to spell this out: no freedom of speech and without freedom of speech there is no means to defend any freedom.

    Furthermore, you are not allowed to leave Islam. So contrary to international law or any sense of morality, if you even for a moment profess a belief in Islam you can be legitimately murdered should you subsequently change your mind. This means anyone who is not following Islam to the letter is an apostate and should be punished by death; a major reason why there are no moderate Muslims. Anytime someone wishes to up-date Islam and, for instance, give women equal rights, they are labelled apostate and subject to murder.

    Next it is imperative that your first allegiance as a Muslim is to other Muslims. This means that your loyalty is not to yourself, your family, your tribe or your nation: it is to Islam alone. This creates unity across borders.

    If you are a man, the only way to ensure you will go to Paradise is to die fighting for the cause. No matter how good a Muslim you are, the only sure way of getting to Heaven is to fight.

    The Koran must be read in Arabic. Thus all believers are tied together by a common language. No matter what you do, you cannot go to Paradise unless you pray in Arabic. This shared language makes it much easier to plot and conspire.

    And that prayer must be conducted five times each day. In Islamic states the practice is even enforced by law, as it ensures that daily life is dominated with the ideas of Islam. It is of course impossible to forget something that you are bowing down to five times a day, day in and day out. It requires no great insight to see that the more time and effort a person expends on something, the more he will value it. Thus, mere outward observance can eventually create believers.

    Further, the practice of prayer is highly ritualized, involving washing first, the reciting of verses, the movement in time with others. All this creates a bond between the participants and Muslims believe that all Muslims are performing these actions in precisely the same way at the same moment right across the whole world.

    The subordinate position of women is far from accidental. It is integral to Islam’s violent mission. Women tend to strongly object to seeing their sons and husbands going off to fight. So women are not allowed to leave the house unless accompanied by a male relative. A woman is not allowed to be a head of state or a judge. She may only inherit up to half of what a man may. Her testimony is only worth half of a man’s. She is not allowed to choose who she may be married to, and her husband cannot be a non-Muslim. She cannot divorce her husband, but he may divorce her at will and he may and indeed should beat her if she is disobedient to his will. Her only certain way into Paradise is if her husband is happy with her.

    Whilst the Koran is unchangeable, Allah has obviously the right to edit it. This rule holds that if one passage of the Koran contradicts another, it is the latter passage that is correct. As the Koran was written over a period of twenty-three years, and during very changing circumstances, such contradictions occur frequently. The effect of this is for the earlier passages that proclaim a message of peace to be over-ridden by later passages that exhort and justify violence.

    Islam aims for the conquest of the whole world. And as everyone knows large ambitions are powerful motivators. This is buttressed by fear of Hell and longing for Paradise. The subordination of the whole world will bring the process of conquest to and end and it is in this sense that Muslims can sincerely say, ‘Islam is the religion of peace.’

    Where Muslims gain control of an area they must impose Sharia. Amongst other things this legalises the collection of a tax on non-Muslims of twenty-five percent of their income and thus supports Islamification and simultaneously provides an economic incentive to convert. This double edged process helps to account to the tiny numbers of non-Muslims who live in Islamic states. Their repression is reinforced by other measures, such as the Sharia prohibition on building non-Islamic places of worship. Nor is it permissible to utter non-Islamic prayers within the hearing of a Muslim or make any public display of any other faith. The Sharia prohibition against non-Muslims having weapons completes the subjection.

    No Muslim is allowed to make friends with a non-Muslim. A Muslim may pretend to be friends. Indeed, the Koran advocates deceit when dealing with infidels (that is, all non-Muslims). This should hardly be surprizing. Attempting to deceive the enemy is a well established tactic and Islam is at war with the whole of the non-Islamic world. Examples of such deceits abound. Islamic leaders will tell the world one thing and then state very different messages in Arabic. Islamic charities collect money ostensibly for orphans and siphon the funds into organisations that are actively engaged in killing infidels.

    The Koran says, ‘War is deceit’ and it encourages the use of any pretext to justify attacks on non-Muslims. Merely not wishing to be a Muslim is sufficient to justify holy war, as it is an attempt to prevent the bringing of the Word of God. And the only certain way for a man to enter Paradise is by fighting in a holy war. So any act of aggression is justified as a defence of Islam. The Koran repeatedly asserts that Muslims should imitate the Prophet and this was his practice.

    In Islam all Muslims are superior to all infidels. The mere presence of infidels in the holy places of Islam is considered sufficient cause for war. Islam makes a virtue of double standards and inequality. For example, Islam must be spread, but other faiths may not attempt to convert Muslims, any such action is an ‘aggression’. Any defamation of Islam must be met with violence, but Muslims are required to incessantly defame all non-Islamic ideas. Muslims are encouraged to build as many mosques and madrases in the non-Islamic world as possible, but no places of non-Muslim worship may be built under Sharia. Another illustration of this double standard and inequality is the value of a human life. It is forbidden to kill a Muslim without ‘just cause’, but it is not forbidden to kill an infidel.

    Islam is a theocracy. In an Islamic state everyone is a practising Muslim, or they are beaten, taxed or killed into extinction. No one may criticise Islam, not even in private. In such a state, it is almost impossible to think outside of the Islamic norms. Islam is a totalitarianism. And its aim is world domination. It cannot be appeased. It sees our values of tolerance and freedom of speech as weaknesses that it can exploit in order to destroy those very values and our civilisation. Islam is a serious threat. A clear and present danger.

      1. We in America already require an oath/affirmation of new citizens and of public officials, including all military members, stating a promise to uphold and defend the Constitution. Anyone breaking that oath, i.e., breaking with the Constitution and Bill of Rights in order to follow their religious tenets, should be brought to secular justice under the Constitution they swore to uphold.

    1. Impressive, especially when Muslims — any Muslims — demonstrate the intent to officially install sharia in a democracy and have that sharia replace the democratically developed rule of law.

  41. Ugh, really?

    Look, Muslims didn’t wake up in the morning, look at their holy book, and go “Hey, this says we’re supposed to hate someone. I wonder who.” and then rationally figure out it was the Jews.

    They hate the Jews because of Israel and western foreign policy. Bin Laden’s stated aim was to bankrupt the US. That he was a religious zealot is really just what determined his exact tactics.

    Obviously like all religions Islam is making things worse, by leading to destructive xenophobia (lumping all jews together) and concepts like martyrdom.

    But the CORE ANGER is not religious, it is political, it is rational. When expressed by demented religious fuckwits, it turns into racist idiocy. But there’s no reason that would be inherent to Islam.

    Just saying, that if the people of the Middle east forced to live under US-backed dictators since WWII (or evicted from their land by Israel) were some other religion, they would probably be a radical form of that religion.

    1. I’m guessing you didn’t know Yassir Arafat was Egyptian, that his uncle was mayor of Jerusalem under the British, and that as mayor, he bonded personally with Hitler over the intent to kill off all Jews. Israel, as a modern state, did not yet exist.

    2. Sam Harris rebuts Abbie’s post no. 50 re; the lack of inherency in Islamists’ response to US imperialism.

      If the Middle East were mainly inhabited by Jains, their reaction to the West’s influence would be less violent, not more. Harris’s point is that the doctrine of the religion makes a big difference to events; and in this situation, the tenets of Islam comprise the variable which changes the outcome.

      Nicolas Perrault’s post no. 24 on what characterises Islam, and Islam alone, in contrast to other monotheisms, is acute and relevant to this point.

      1. if the palestianins were Jainist, I’m almost certain we would see a form of extremist Jainism emerge. Not everyone would be content to sit down and take oppression. Those who fought back would justify their actions through their religion. Eventually there would be a feedback loop between religion and anger and the craziness would go off the scale.

        1. Abbie,

          I don’t particularly think that the extremist-moderate scale you use for political or religious action is especially enlightening. Neither does ‘fundamental-liberal’ hit the mark. I suggest that ‘literal- less literal’ would be a better yard-stick.

          In any case, the point about a literal/fundamental/extremist Jain is that they are more pacific; a Jain who turned to violence would find it, I understand, almost impossible to claim s/he was still Jainist. The same can not be said of most other religions.

          By the way, I ain’t no Jainist.


      2. If all else was the same except the religions were switched, the christians would likely be acting the same as the islamists and the islamists would be acting like the christians. The christians want theocracy they just don’t have any place that will accept it.

        Just prior to the christian invasion of Iraq, I lived in a fundamentalist christian community. The christians were very open about nuking the “rag heads”. The islamists use the most effective weapons at their disposal just as the christians do.

        Why did you pick Jains instead of the obvious choice. I don’t think the Pastafarians would react as violently either.

        1. Well, I’m not sure I agree that the Christians want theocracy. In the context of this thread, which concerns how each religion’s points of doctrine affect the actions of their believers, the you can argue quite convincingly that Christianity has a tradition against the establishment of a theocratic state, embodied in one ruler.

          In the fourth century, Constantine deliberately absented himself from the episcopal debate on the Nicene Creed; a deliberate bi-lateral (temporal and spiritual) power was created in the Roman Empire, the same in the later Byzantine Empire with Orthodoxy. Christianity has from its early days paid some lip service to the idea, however imperfectly achieved, of the two separate spheres of religion and state power; I don’t think the same can be said of Islam, at least from my understanding of the Koran.

          I agree that Christians don’t have any place that would accept it, but I only see the U.S. variety coming anywhere near advocating and achieving a Christian theocratic state.

          As for the ‘Christian invasion of Iraq’, I am unaware of the new government (of individual Muslims) imposing a Christian theocratic constitution on the Iragis, Kurds and Marsh Arabs of Mesopotamia. I think you’ll have to go a long way to paint that as a Christian conspiracy.

          I’m not sure if your Pastafarian joke, and one I chuckled at, is meant to be taken seriously, but I will. I chose Jainism because at least it’s a religion and the subject was how religions differ in their detail.

          1. I’m not sure I agree that the Christians want theocracy. […] Christianity has a tradition against the establishment of a theocratic state

            I give you the Pope. Or Ireland. Or practically any European country (almost all of which have an “official” religion). Or the Christian Dominionists in the US, who are increasingly powerful in politics there.

            …, embodied in one ruler.

            Name one Islamic country where theocratic rule is embodied solely in one ruler. In all cases I know of, religious rules are created and enforced by the religious class, and not solely by the head of state. One can have a theocracy with rule be concentrated in one person. For example, the Taliban perpetrated their horrors on Afghanistan largely in a decentralized fashion — they were not the product of one man.

            1. @ Tulse.

              Yes, indeed, the Vatican is a theocracy, fortunately much smaller now than the Papal States of Dante’s time.

              To call European countries, most of which are liberal democracies, ‘theocratic states’ is pushing it a bit; they may well favour certain forms of Christianity. But a lot have secularised, or at least desacralised, civil societies; these counter-balance, to a greater or lesser degree, the totalitarianism implicit in the term ‘theocratic state’.

              To name an Islamic country where theocratic rule is embodied in one person, I would mention post-1979 Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini (but not now). My previous thread was about the history of religious doctrine on the state. I therefore bring up the concept of the Caliphate under Islam.

              From the Hadith:

              Hadhrat Huzaifa narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: “Prophethood will remain among you as long as Allah wills. Then Caliphate on the lines of Prophethood shall commence, and remain as long as Allah wills. Then corrupt/erosive monarchy would take place, and it will remain as long as Allah wills. After that, despotic kingship would emerge, and it will remain as long as Allah wills. Then, the Caliphate shall come once again based on the precept of Prophethood.”


              “Behold, the Imam (Caliph) is but a shield from behind whom the people fight and by whom they defend themselves.”

              I was trying to point out differences in the core beliefs of diverse religions.

              Christianity has the ‘render unto Caesar…’ tradition. Some Christians do, it seems to me, honestly believe that their own private religious beliefs should not determine the nature of the state. And they can cite their own sacred books to back them up. I notice that Dawkins has roped in a rabbi to argue against the state-funding of British faith schools; it seems that some forms of Judaism concur with those Christians.

              Islam, however, from its inception aimed at the acquisition of state power. Mohammedism dominated, through war, the whole of what is now Saudi Arabia, by the time of the Prophet’s death; whereas the Christ figure concerned himself hardly at all with the Roman state, and indeed was done down by it.

              The Muslim Caliphates therefore represent theocracy embodied in one ruler. Of course you’re right that theocracy usually does rule through a religious class. The interesting notion is that Islam expects the Caliphate to return.

              My point is that it is much less of a stretch for a Muslim (than for a Christian) to propound a theocratic state. Both have done, but the differences matter.


            1. @ Tulse.

              Agreed, Tulse. I’m arguing nuances here. I understand that the early Caliphates subsumed the spirtual and the temporal far more in one ruler or structure than was the case in Christianity.

              It’s late in England; I’ll post something with more content tomorrow if I can work up the energy and if the thread is still weaving.

  42. “…the hatred of Muslims for Jews (I’m not claiming it’s not reciprocal)”

    Well, you SHOULD be claiming that it’s not reciprocal. I’ve lived among Jews my whole life, and I’ve never heard any express hatred for Muslims. Fear of, yes, but never hatred.

    I enjoy reading your blog every day, but if you really think there are rabbis and textbooks used in Jewish day schools encouraging Jews to murder, rape, and pillage Muslim women and children, then you’re quite out of touch.

    There’s a reason why there aren’t any Jewish terrorist attacks against Muslims (except for that one psycho who shot up some Muslims in the Cave of the Patriarchs some 15 years ago).

    Dr. Coyne, if you’re intellectually honest, I would encourage you to remove this parenthetical phrase. There’s no reason to be even-handed when the facts don’t warrant such.

    1. Yes, I suppose I evinced a bit of cowardice here. While I have heard racist statements about Palestinians/Arabs from Jews, I haven’t seen anything coming from Jewish rabbis, spiritual leaders, or textbooks that even comes close to the hatred, racism, and calls for death from Muslims. I just didn’t want to say that Jews are completely free from animus towards their enemies, but I agree that I went too far. The vast bulk of the invective comes from the Muslim side. Such is the power of political correctness. . .

      1. Major kudos, Professor, for your swift response, your humility, and your intellectual honesty.

        It might be good to remove the parenthetical statement from your blog post, for those who won’t see this comment you just posted.

        Thanks a lot for spreading the word on this issue and raising awareness for the safety of our brothers & sisters.

    2. I’ve lived among Jews my whole life, and I’ve never heard any express hatred for Muslims. Fear of, yes, but never hatred

      IDF raps soldiers for images of dead Palestinian babies on t-shirts:
      The IDF’s chief education officer Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister issued a letter to a number of military units Tuesday, commenting on T-shirts printed by soldiers, as exposed by Haaretz two weeks ago. Haaretz found that dead babies, mothers weeping on their children’s grave, a child in the crosshairs of a sniper’s rifle and blown-up mosques are just a few of the images with which IDF soldiers decided to mark their graduation from a training course or tour of duty.


      The Haaretz inquiry brought several examples of such prints: An infantry snipers’ T-shirt with the writing “better use Durex” running alongside a dead Palestinian child, a weeping mother and a teddy bear; another sniper course shirt showing an aim taken at the belly of a pregnant woman, with the slogan “One shot, two kills;” a T-shirt depicting a Palestinian baby becoming an angry youth and then an armed man, with the slogan “no matter how it starts, we’ll end it;” a shirt from the Haruv battalion with the picture of a Samurai and the caption “we won’t chill before we verify the kill,” and many more.

      Some of the captions and images emphasize actions the army vigorously denies, such as coups de grace or deliberate attacks on women, children and religious sites.

      1. Muslim fighters hide and attack from behind their own women and children, have done for decades, and do so because they know westerners, including Israelis, value life more than they. As far as such Muslims go, they figure the women and children will wind up in heaven, anyway, so it doesn’t matter as much as fulfilling the Koran and killing Jews. Israelis, on the other hand, do the opposite, protecting their civilians by putting themselves in harm’s way.

        It appears these t-shirts are a response to the deep anger such assymmetric warfare inspires, i.e., “You insist I kill innocent women and children on your side to prevent you from killing innocent women and children on my side? Then, so be it!”

        I can’t say I blame them for feeling this way, though putting it in print or writing gives propaganda fodder to the enemy, in effect giving the enemy one more win in asymmetric warfare.

        1. It appears these t-shirts are a response to the deep anger

          Contrast with:

          I’ve never heard any express hatred for Muslims. Fear of, yes, but never hatred.

          I think that, whatever the cause and however just the feelings, these T-shirts are clear examples of hatred.

    3. There are no jewish terror attacks against muslims because Israel gets 3 billion dollars a year from the US to fund their ginormous army.

      You don’t need terrorists when you have tanks and guns.

      1. Have you noticed how many billions go from the US to the Palestinians? You’ll believe it better if you look it up, yourself.

        As for myself, I noticed right away that when Israel invaded Hamas’ Gaza to stop the rocket attacks on Israeli cities and civilians, the media claimed Palestinians suffered from lack of food, water, and medical supplies. Days later, they still didn’t suffer from lack of artillery, however.

        It’s all a matter of priorities. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t keep him from defacating in it.

  43. Here we go again. A bunch of alleged atheists arguing over which religion is worst. This adventure in cherry-picking by Jerry is only the latest example.

    They are ALL based on irrational belief systems, and the actual activities of the rank and file believers have virtually nothing to do with what the leaders believe – a point which Jerry made, but in a different context.

    The Palestinian-Israel issue is a political conflict, not a religious conflict. Just because they use religion-based language does not change this fact.

    It’s truly disgusting the way the “Four Horseman” and their admirers are sliding into bigotry – their arguments against the existence of moderate Muslims are virtually indistinguishable from the mobs of bigots commenting on the Lowes’ Facebook thread on the topic of Lowes’ pulling out from advertising on The Learning Channel’s All-American Muslims show:


    It’s clear which side the “Four Horsemen” and friends are on – they don’t believe that moderate Muslims exist, so surely they don’t mind campaigns against what they must see as typical liberal jihandist-loving propoganda.

    The bigotry of these atheists is shocking and appalling and it needs to be better known by liberal atheists. Atheism is no excuse for bigotry.

    1. Although we always run the risk of crossing the line between disbelieving truth claims based on religious faith and vilifying the people who support such claims, the fact of the matter is that the core tenets of Islam themselves stand contrary to secular enlightenment values. This is not bigotry. This is fact.

      Many core tenets of other faiths do not stand contrary to but support the same values (sometimes after evolving to do so with a changing moral zeitgeist). Recognizing this difference is neither bigotry towards the adherent of this incompatible faith nor islamophobia, even if many practitioners of Islam seem to be very moderate. By supporting the core tenets poorly if at all, many of the moderates muslims are not representative of the faith they purport to support but I have very good reasons to think that their continued support is still part of the problem of empowering a faith deserving of contempt.

      In exactly the same way, I haven’t met a fallen Catholic I didn’t like, but that doesn’t make me a bigot for holding Catholicism – like Islam – in contempt. I think I have very good reasons to think that their continued support the Catholic church while refusing to follow its central tenets to be part of the problem.

      So here’s my question to you, Nancy: if no one can be held accountable for the central tenets of a faith that is incompatible with such enlightenment values as equal gender rights and free speech without being labelled a bigot and islamophobe, then how do you suggest we criticize the local imam for proposing that you should be stoned to death for your apostasy?

      1. Rising to Nancy’s defense here: Every faith has its written creed. Then you have the interpretation of that creed, which is at least as much based on culture, history, economy etc. as on the written creed itself. Europe took centuries to adopt enlightenment values — in spite of Christianity, not because of it. The Bible, after all, is as full of racism, misogyny and atrocity as any other scripture. I predict that, should the Middle East be allowed to conduct the same march of enlightenment the West has enjoyed, Muslims will one day appear as enlightened as any other religious people. In the meantime, picking on one faith because its practitioners are generally less enlightened than other faith followers ignores important data and is, ultimately, a regrettable distraction.

        1. An alternative view is that pretending Islam’s current ‘moderate’ implementation in practice isn’t a problem, or that it’s no worse than any other religion, or hoping the problem will go away of its own accord when there is a distinct intent by non-moderate Islam, as a religious-political movement, to coerce even the most moderate into the cause of spreading Islam, … etc., is burying one’s head in the sand.

          1. There are two approaches we can take to the original question: 1). Condemn and correct misogyny, atrocity, lack of democracy and all the rest wherever they exist, while understanding that these are universals of human experience until the very recent past and aren’t unique to any particular religion, or 2). Conduct a theological and scriptural review of a particular religion in order to point out places where non-enlightened behaviors get support.

            I prefer the first approach and consider the second, at best, a waste of time, at worst, racist. The second is also, I would assert, scientifically invalid. “They are bad because of their religion” is a misguided assertion. Instead, I’d go with “All people have the capacity for badness, but the ease, security and order of modern life seem to produce people who do fewer bad things, regardless of their religion.”

            1. We’ve seen how well the attempt to point out and correct errors in the theology works right here at home among our own fundamentalist xtians. If we have startingly little success in our efforts to combat the evils of religion based misogny and violence on our own cultural turf, what on earth gives us the arrogance to believe we will be any more successful in combatting them in an alien culture about which we know startlingly little?

              The tendency on the part of Americans to make arrogant assumptions that we can ‘fix’ what’s wrong anywhere in the world with just the application of a little good old fashioned commonsense know-how is also racist, extremely naive, and incredibly high-handed, no matter how well-meant the intentions behind it may be.

              1. Ellen, you are absolutely correct. Even if the religious text states to gouge out the eyes of every third born child we have no right to point to the text and arrogantly claim that that is wrong. How dare we be so racist and naive. So what if some children must suffer? At least we are not being high-handed!

              2. Er, I think you’re missing my point; or else I’m missing yours; or something. My point wasn’t to state that ‘hey if the textual interpretation says gouging out the eyes of toddlers is pleasing to god, then it’s only ‘racist’ to object if the text in question pertains to a non-xtain faith’–my point was to make it clear that we have not had notable success in combatting the violent and hateful aspects of xtianity right here in our own nation–where we supposedly have the advantage of at least some common-ground familiarity with the surrounding culture in which these religious manias exist–so it’s rather naive, at the very least (and arrogant at the very worst) to think that we are going to go about combatting the religious manias of sects whose cultural traditions are very different from our own with a shortsighted idea that simple ‘tolerance when it’s appropriate, but some condemnation when it’s not’ is going to be sufficent.

                How you extrapolate from that the idea that I’m somewhichaways supporting the idea of religion-sanctioned child abuse, or religion-sanctioned violence of any stripe, irrespective of the religion in question is a puzzler I assume you’re better equipped to provide an answer to than I am.

              3. @madamX: What if the religious text endorses the mutilation of not every third child, but the murder of every child? I ask because that’s in the Bible of the Christians and Jews. I challenge you to find anything more reprehensible in any scripture.

                Again, singling out Islam for special contempt is missing the point. The problem is religion itself, coupled with the human propensity for atrocity. Asserting that a particular religion is by itself behind all the horror is both simplistic and worse, dangerously misguided in that it doesn’t get at solutions and possibly makes the problem worse.

              4. In defense of MadamX (who seems to really know how to kick ass and needs no defense), lumping all religions into one and treating them all equally may make good legal policy, but reaching the practitioners of a religion means giving them something personal and appropriate to chew on, something from their own frame of reference, and the more currently applied and heinous, the better.

              5. As an atheist I don’t have much interest in participating in ‘contests of degree’ as to which religion has the most reprehensible passages, or greatest number of reprehensible passages per text. They’re all filled with reprehensibility in my view. My point is that we can’t even do much to ameliorate the barbarisms practiced by our own xtian fundamentalists right here in the US.

                I’m not singling out Islam for special contempt–all of it is contemptible and all of it shares in the horror. It seems to me that your dander is up, Kevin, precisely because I *don’t* make special exception for Islamic theological barbarism as opposed to xtian (or Jewish, or any other flavor) theological barbarism.

            2. I have to disagree. The 12 year old who came into our backyard, when I was a kid, to beat up on my brother and me (both many years younger), learned his behavior from his father. He was indoctrinated. Along with the physical attacks came the words, “Damn Jews!” and more. When my mother approached his father, she got more of the same verbal abuse. While I can agree religion as a category may not be the problem, I must disagree by adding religion as a conveyor of indoctrination into false beliefs is most definitely a problem — even in America, where I have lived all my life.

            3. By all means condemn misogyny, atrocity, sexism, and all the ‘rest’ all you want. But when these acts are understood in context in which they are exercised to be fulfilling the wishes of god and tradition, surely you can begin to appreciate that this condemnation is tantamount to verbally treating the symptoms. The root cause remains enshrined and protected by respect and deference for such notions that house them, namely ‘religion’ and ‘culture’, a respect and deference that in practice means a greater respect than supporting individual rights and freedoms and dignity of personhood.

              Too many of us think tolerating intolerance – dressed up as culture or religion – is a sign of worldly sophistication. Well, it’s not; it a sign of abdicating our root enlightenment values and risk losing them to those who think themselves justified to exercise what you wish to condemn. Without enlightenment values of rights and freedoms first and foremost, you have given up the very ground on which you need to stand to justify your condemnation.

              1. I propose we move the conversation to the practical. Regardless what causes a lack of enlightenment among large groups in the Middle East, what can we do about it, if anything? For my part, I would avoid condemning Islam itself while condemning unenlightened behaviors on their own terms. And I would favor continuing commercial engagement with the region and support for democracy wherever it sprouts.

              2. Democracy without legal respect for individual rights is equivalent to mob rule, which is why it shall fail to produce freedom in the Arab Spring but tyranny.

                I realize you would avoid condemning Islam, which is an important part of the problem. By offering to tolerate that which is incompatible with legal respect individual rights and freedoms, you want to keep your cake and eat it, too. In practical terms, your condemnations are meaningless and do no service to promoting the rights and freedoms of others as long as you tolerate that which impedes them.

            4. The ruthless exposure of the horrors, inconsistencies, and absurdities of Biblical texts has certainly contributed to a better morality. People have killed gays, apostates, blasphemers, and adulterers because of Biblical text; and what has changed minds are people who dare to stand up and say: this is some sick shit!

    2. In another apparent attempt to exercise my bigotry to relate the tenets of Islam with incompatibility with secular enlightenment values, the ‘moderate’ Taliban responded to the recent killing of Shia muslims by ‘extremist’ Sunnis allied to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as “a wild and inhuman act.” This pronouncement from those who support the public stoning of women in soccer stadiums.

      Ah yes… when moderate Islam looks exactly like the Taliban, perhaps you can better appreciate what a difficult beast it is to wrestle to the ground.

  44. http://www.npr.org/2011/12/14/143711939/how-much-influence-will-iran-have-in-iraq

    has a photo reflecting the below quote from the news report:

    “As the trumpets sounded in Baghdad’s notorious Shiite slum of Sadr City, boys and men wearing white shrouds brought swords down onto their shaven heads. Thick red blood gushed onto their faces. Hussein [the grandson of Allah] sacrificed for us, the belief goes, and devoted followers are ready to sacrifice for him.”

    Does this reflect “moderate” Islam?

    Just curious (i.e., to ask a stupid question), does “liberal” Islam exist?

  45. I could show clips of Pat Robertson and his ilk saying the vilest things for days and days. Would I be able to use that an argument that Christianity is hate-filled religion and is not ‘moderate’? I could show images of self-immolation from Mexico that rival those from Ashura celebrations. That doesn’t prove anything other than that poverty, ignorance and religion breed each other.

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