Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Egypt ‘n’ Libya ‘n’ Yemen

September 14, 2012 • 4:51 am

UPDATE: In the meantime, there has been no violence and rioting in response to this image published in The Onion (warning: NSFW), although it simultaneously denigrates Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism.


Today’s Jesus and Mo echoes Aretha, and it’s absolutely spot on:

When I posted in June (title: “Egypt is doomed”) that I was worried about Egypt becoming an Islamic state under the leadership of President Mohamed Morsi, I was told by several commenters that I was wrong—that Morsi had little power and Egypt would become a fine secular state.  One commenter, for instance, assured me:

Jerry, calm down. The office of president in Egypt has very little real authority, and Moursi does not have a mandate from the people, so you can forget about Egypt becoming Iran-lite.

Well, Morsi isn’t exactly hustling to condemn the violence in his country, and the Egyptian army was notably slow in responding to the assault on the American embassy.  Yesterday President Obama declared Egypt neither an ally nor an enemy, which is a noticeably tepid endorsement of Egypt’s new government.  Remember, it’s called “The Muslim Brotherhood”: there’s nothing about in there about “sisterhood.”

Four people are dead, with surely more to come, because of Islamic demonization of infidels, the same kind of demonization causing riots about “Innocence of Muslims,” the movie that supposedly insults the Prophet (I haven’t seen it yet, but I will).  But no matter what the movie said—and it may well be offensive to Muslims and others—there is no excuse, including “religious offense,” to riot, attack, and threaten those who had no connection to the movie. There is no right to shed blood because you’re perturbed by what someone said about your faith. Condemn the Jews all you will, say that we are moneygrubbing villains who make our matzos with the blood of Christian babies, and I will defend your right to say it, though I will oppose you in speech and writing with every fact at hand. And I won’t harm a hair on your head.

Meanwhile, Americans are jumping all over each other (viz., Obama and Clinton) to condemn the film, and NBC news was so cowardly that they refused to show a clip of the movie during last night’s report on the Egyptian violence (they announced this explicitly).  That reminds me of the craven fear of newspapers to publish the Danish cartoons mocking Mohamed. For fear of the epithet “Islamophobia,” and of the ensuing violence if you offend the tender feeling of radical Muslims, nobody will assert that Americans have every right to say whatever they want about any religion.

Islam is a toxic faith—the most toxic in the world at present—and people are dying over fictional books. Can anyone say with honesty that Islam is on the whole a positive force in our world?  The world would be a better place without this religion—indeed, virtually every religion (I don’t mind Quakers so much).

h/t: several readers who sent me the cartoon

119 thoughts on “Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Egypt ‘n’ Libya ‘n’ Yemen

  1. I agree with you Jerry. There can be no justification whatsoever for killing anyone just because they have [mis]represented a prophet in a way they don’t like.
    If they believe on the power of prayer or that their god is the ultimate judge, why act on her behalf in the first place?

  2. Sam Harris said in 2004: “It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” I agree !!

    1. Islam has codified the mistreatment or execution of infidels and apostates. One can of course find similar calls for violent retribution in the Bible (e.g., Leviticus) but fortunately nobody believes that a woman should be stoned to death if she is not a virgin when she marries. Much of Islam (but not all) still clings to infantile barbarism. It is also disturbing to find some people concentrating on the movie – as if that matters, in the same way that major religious leaders around the world astoundingly condemned Salman Rushdie’s book more than the death sentence proclaimed by the Ayatollah! As Hitchens wisely noted, the barbarians are not at the gate, they are well inside, and the gate was held open by co-religionists who spout this nonsense that all religions deserve respect.

      1. Frank, I agree with what you said, except for this:

        “One can of course find similar calls for violent retribution in the Bible (e.g., Leviticus) but fortunately nobody believes that a woman should be stoned to death if she is not a virgin when she marries.”

        Whether any christian actually carries out such a stoning or not, I think that there are some who ‘believe’ that such things should be done, or at least wouldn’t complain if such things were done.

  3. Islam is no more a “toxic faith” than any other religion. The film was deliberately provocative, not difficult in the current climate of Islamophobia, where there actions of a minority as presented as representative of muslims in general.

    You can’t analyse what happened at the US embassy without reference to the invasion of muslim countries by the West led by the US, the killing of civilians in Pakistan by US drones or indeed the decades long interference in the Middle East. Anti-American and anti-western feeling in the Middle East is a response to this. It only takes a small minority to turn a demonstration into bloody attack.

    To single out Islam as the most toxic is to ignore the millions of muslims who peacefully practice their faith peacefully whilst harbouring a strong sense of injustice at the crimes of imperialism.

    1. Compare the response to this barely-known film to that of the release of “The Life Of Brian” in the UK. A lot of fuss was stirred up, some town councils refused to allow it to be shown, there was a bit of “harumphing”.

      Number of deaths as a result of the film: 0

    2. Islam is no more a “toxic faith” than any other religion.

      Yes it is. Islamic countries are among the worst human rights abusers in the world, and Islam is the primary inspiration for terrorism in the world today.

    3. “The film was deliberately provocative…”


      To me, religion is deliberately provocative, especially when it’s shoved in my face and into my life. Virtually everywhere I turn there is religion of some sort, telling me what to do or trying to. It’s even on my money.

      And how many religious films do you suppose have been made? All those films could be considered “deliberately provocative” by non-religious people.

      One of my neighbors is a jehovas witness and he regularly brings up his religious beliefs even though I’ve told him that I’m not religious. Should I be allowed to kill him and anyone else who provokes me with their religious spewage?

    1. As usual, this article blames the west for people in the middle east acting like barbarians and killing innocent people. It is wrong- headed stupid journalism and the idea it expresses is also wrong.

  4. Meanwhile, Americans are jumping all over each other…to condemn the film…
    Islam is a toxic faith

    The US’s main concern is to maintain a non-hostile relationship with the 99% of the Muslim world that isn’t violent, which is why condemning Islam as a whole isn’t a viable solution and why apologizing for the film is a good idea, even though it doesn’t play well here.

    Also, our government must pay lip service to the idea that religion is good, because our first Amendment places a great deal of importance on it.

    The biggest problem, though, is our ability to criticize Islam is strictly limited because we can’t say what the real problem is: your religion is false. We can’t say that because our religion is false, too, and we don’t want to go THERE.

    It’s not clear to me that Islam is any more intrinsically toxic than Christianity; Christianity was defanged through a number of historical accidents that haven’t come to pass in the Islamic world, and I can certainly see a number of pathways whereby the US at least could turn into the equivalent of an Iran.

    But I agree that the Islamic world is doomed and hope it doesn’t take the rest of us down with it.

      1. 99% of most populations is accommodationist towards extremists. It isn’t desirable, but it’s better than being an extremist.

    1. A couple of points of disagreement, Greg. 1) The fact that the Constitution has something to say about keeping religion and government separate is not an endorsement. It does not mean that “religion is good”. 2) The fact that Christianity has been substantially (and incompletely) defanged almost by definition leaves the role of “most toxic religion” to Islam.

      I agree that from an international relations point of view the US government’s main obligation is to maintain stable relations with that part of the Muslim world that doesn’t throw bombs. But given the core principles of Islam this almost a no-win proposition and I can’t disagree with your final sentence.

      1. to say about keeping religion and government separate is not an endorsement. It does not mean that “religion is good”.

        True, but the amendment was sold on the basis that religion was good and that government could only taint religion by its nasty influence.

        The fact that Christianity has been substantially (and incompletely) defanged almost by definition leaves the role of “most toxic religion” to Islam.

        Well, it depends of your definition of “toxic”. I view cyanide in a bottle as still toxic, even though the glass has temporarily defanged the poison. But I would agree that cyanide in someone’s coffee cup is more dangerous than the stuff in the bottle.

        1. My definition of toxic includes threats of violence and real violence in response to perceived disrespect to a fictional being. Much as I despise Xtianity, and not to minimize the horrors of bombings of women’s health clinics, There is only one mainline religion in the world today where one can expect multi-national rioting and death to follow publication of cartoons or existence of YouTube videos.

          Is your definition of toxic that much different?

          1. “Is your definition of toxic that much different?”

            I’m only saying that being constrained by other forces doesn’t reduce the inherent toxicity of a belief system. You maintain that it does, and I can see your point of view.

              1. That’s close to the phrase that I quote sometimes, not sure where it came from:

                There’s no such thing as toxic substances, only toxic quantities.

  5. I’d have to agree that I don’t see Islam as any more toxic than other religions. If it weren’t for secular law here in the US, all evidence points to Chrisitanity being just as toxic, the death threats, bombings, etc. IMO, its the “official religion” nonsense in so many of these countries that have inept governments that cause much of the violence.

    1. Ummm. . are you serious? You don’t see Islam as more toxic, than, say, the faith of the Quakers or Unitarian Universalists or Amish? It would be hard to maintain that position without looking very foolish!

      1. Jerry, you’re highlighting a few notoriously non-violent sects of Christianity. Consider instead the Christian Reconstructionists.

        1. And you’re highlight one sect of Christianity. The claim I took issue with is that “Islam is not any more toxic than other religions”. Really, I can’t see anyone being able to defend that claim. To dispel it all you have to do is name a few religions that are less toxic. And there are a fair few, I think.

          1. This is really the nature/nurture equivalent. Although Islamic societies are now violence prone, how much of the violence is due to the religion and how much to the socio/political environment in which the religion typically exists?

            The only close analog in the Christian world was Northern Ireland, and we can see that Christians seem able to rationalize terrorism with their theology.

          2. I take your point Jerry, but it does seem to me that The Abrahamic Faiths in essence and untrammeled by modern thought and secular law are all equally toxic. They all share the fundamental view that heresy and unbelief merit death.

          3. This is really the nature/nurture equivalent. Although Islamic societies are now violence prone, how much of the violence is due to the religion and how much to the socio/political environment in which the religion typically exists?

            That’s a false dichotomy. Religion is a primary *cause* of the “socio/political environment” and hence of the level of violence. Laws, policies and customs in Islamic countries — including ones that claim to claim to have “secular” government — are often explicitly based on the traditions and sacred writings of the religion.

    2. There are I think a few special elements in Islam which make it more resistant to enlightenment re-interpretation than the other Abrahamic religions. One of them is that the main prophet of Islam, Muhammad, presumably literally went around with a sword and an army conquering other nations in the name of God.

      In Christianity, the holy war is all to take place in the nebulous future of the End Times. The Jesus character just walks around in sandals snarling about what’s going to happen one day, but not doing much of anything himself. The forced conversions and retribution will be (or can easily be interpreted to be) supernatural. This allows Christians to pretend that Jesus was a pacifist, if they want.

      You can’t really do that with Muhammad. The “peace” always comes with submission after conquest and the Quran details specifics on earthly war. Unlike OT Judaism, it’s more recent.

      1. There are two related points.

        Firstly, Jerry is very clearly saying that Islam is the worst *at the moment*, given the current political etc environment, which is not the same as claiming that it is intrinsically the worst.

        Secondly, but separately, there are the reasons Sastra notes above why Islam may be particularly prone to exhibiting the worst elements of religion.

    3. There’s a better way to express the sentiment I think you’re going for: “A pox on both their houses!”

      That writ, whatever the underlying causes, whatever the sociopolitical forces behind or ahead of the religions…

      …Islam in the Islamic world is clearly more toxic than Christianity in the Western world.

      Christianity is toxic, no doubt. But while Christianity is a black widow spider, Islam is a puff adder.



      1. Indeed, a pox on both their houses since they are both toxic. One just happens to be in an environment where it cannot do what it wants. To claim that Christianity is less toxic, ignores what it does in western world. It may be less outwardly violent, but by no means is it any better. That black widow spider can be even more dangerous since people ignore it. in favor of something supposedly worse.

        1. “To claim that Christianity is less toxic, ignores what it does in western world.”

          No, it does not. It simply recognizes that toxicity is not a binary phenomenon. There are relative degrees of toxicity. It is preposterous to claim that Islam represents no more of a threat than, say, Vodoun.

      2. Just last month, another extremely high ranking US military member went on camera, in uiniform, apparently to officially, on behalf othe US government, support and shamelessly shill for a Christian evangelical organization which targets soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines. (Google MajGen Umbarger and Indiana). The first of such videos to come to light was about six years ago. It was taken inside the Pentagon, with generals, colonels, and their equally high ranking civilian counterparts inside the DoD, shilling for converts and money and such, on behalf of The Christian Embassy.

        Think this doesn’t mean anything? Who holds the controls over our nuclear weapons? And who are they going to listen to, when some chaplain says, “Jesus came to me in a vision and said you are chosen to start Armageddon.” Think he’ll as Obama’s permission as Commander in Chief? What would Mitt Romney do, in the same role?

        History has demonstrated that, when Christian extremists go violent, they do so in a big way. Only the confused among them try to go it in the style of Hamas, Hezbolla, Al Qaeda before 9/11, et al.

    4. I’d have to agree that I don’t see Islam as any more toxic than other religions. If it weren’t for secular law here in the US, all evidence points to Chrisitanity being just as toxic, the death threats, bombings, etc.

      I don’t think this makes much sense. An overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christian. We have secular laws that constrain Christianity only because there is broad support for such laws among Christians themselves. Those laws are an expression of secular values that western Christians have largely embraced as a result of the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the rise of science and liberal democracy. Muslims simply don’t accept these secular values, or at least not to anything like the same extent as Christians do. So I don’t think it makes much sense to claim that Islam is no more “intrinsically” violent or “toxic” or whatever than Christianity. As a practical matter, as a matter of the way the religions are understood and practised by their adherents in the real world today, Islam is simply far worse than Christianity. Efforts to draw a false equivalence between Christianity and Islam distract attention from this crucial fact.

  6. I like the response from the Onion.

    Those diplomats who encourage people to use different standards on Islam due to the special “sensitivity” of Muslims are treating Muslims like children who can’t be expected to know better — or improve.

    1. Sure, but imagine the environments in which the two religions reside are traded. Muslims in a superpower and mixed culture environment and christians in a mainly christian only environment with christianity as the state religion and a position of positional subservience to the strength of the superpower. My suspicion is that the tactics of violence would be traded also.

      If you were in a muslim country and the USA was dropping bombs all around you would you be terrorized? If you were an abortion doctor in the United States would you be terrorized by the christians?

      1. Sure, but imagine the environments in which the two religions reside are traded.

        No, there’s no point to it. The world we have to deal with is the one that actually exists, not some hypothetical alternate world in which Christianity and Islam traded “environments.” Not that a thought experiment in which you change one major variable and assume that all the others would be the same is a meaningful exercise anyway. If the world were such that Islam was the dominant religion in the west and Christianity in the middle-east, it would be such a radically different place from the world we actually live in that making predictions about what that world would be like in other respects is a waste of time.

  7. That reminds me of the craven fear of newspapers to publish the Danish cartoons mocking Mohamed.

    BTW, speaking only for what I know (France), the newspapers that reprinted the cartoons at the time, in solidarity, weren’t accused of Islamophobia or attacked.
    I’m sure some people complained that it wasn’t helpful or some other BS (apparently killing people was helpful) but if you believe in free speech as a newspaper, I think it was the right thing to do.

  8. I remember when the Monty Python team made a very irreverent movie about Jesus, called “The life Of Brian “I didn’t see any radical Christians blowing up British Embassies around the World did you? Islam is a faith rife with violence in all it’s aspects.

  9. And I won’t harm a hair on your head.

    Techically, isn’t the posting of cat videos considered a form of harm?

  10. Four people are dead, with surely more to come, because someone made a movie

    The news that was coming out last night is that there was no protest of the movie in Libya. An armed force arrived in four vehicles and attacked the embassy. Presumably, this was because the date was 9/11. The movie protests were in Egypt.

    1. Yes, you’re absolutely right given the nature of the Libya attack. I’ve modified what I said above to reflect that. Thanks!

      1. First things first.
        An Ambassador has been murdered. Embassies and consulates, no longer only American ones, have been and are being stormed and set on fire.

        It is an almost universal convention among civilised human entities that emissaries are immune and must be respected and protected. It has been so for as long as written records are available. It has been seen to be so in most cultures that did not possess writing, nor any but the most rudimentary political structures. Even gangland hoodlums are known to abide by this convention, out of sheer self-interest. It might well be considered an anthropological constant: the person and function of the ambassador are deemed sacrosanct. Embassies are sanctuaries.
        (I’m usually wary of using vocables tinged with religion, but in this case they convey an unambiguous message.)

        Breaches of this code of conduct have been considered grievous provocations in all epochs, everywhere. Such a casus belli is not incurred, except with the clearest determination to provoke a conflagration or to cause intolerable humiliation.

        Therefore, Islam or no Islam, toxic or not, the power structures under whose authority these intolerable acts have been and are being perpetrated must be taken to task and face the consequences. These power structures may be formed as states, failed or not, or as any other organised congregation. If it were averred — which I severely doubt — that the acts of violence have been perpetrated out of irrepressible religious outrage beyond the control of any power structure, then this must be clearly stated. It would mean, in final analysis, that adherents of Islam are fundamentally incapable of sharing a world with people of other persuasions. In other words, Terrestrial Krikkitmen, aligned for the “simple and absolute annihilation of all alien life forms,” unless they convert to the creed.

        This, again, I doubt. The toxicity is evident; it is also banal, and historically less than unique. It cannot be remedied in any short-term time frame, lest a Krikkit-like “Slo-Time envelope” be devised, allowing adherents of Islam to live unperturbed after the end of all other civilisations. No less evident is the calculated orchestration and leveraging of this homicidal outrage. Cui bono? Who benefits from these crimes? It is there that an intelligent, effective projection of condign power must be applied, in order to minimise the risk of recurrence for the foreseeable future.

  11. Democracy without constitutional legal rights of equality for all (and enforced by the organs of state) is another name for mob rule. The values of islamic law (revealed in sharia) are antithetical to enlightenment values of personal autonomy. And this tension is not resolvable when one is either a good muslim – one who adheres faithfully to the koran – or a poor muslim – one who does not adhere faithfully to the koran. Note that there is no middle ground, no spectrum of liberal to fundamentalist believer similar to other religions. This strict incompatibility of the very values necessary to make democracy legitimate is why the Arab Spring is doomed to failure, while islam itself remains the value source of its defeat. And we don’t make islam any more compatible and respectful of rights and freedoms by pretending nice muslims make any difference.

  12. NPR featured an interview with an Islamic intellectual who again claimed that Islam is a religion of peace. The interviewer did not challenge this assertion.

    If Islam is a religion of peace, why aren’t Islamic leaders around the Muslim world vociferously condemning each act of violence and working ceaselessly against the violent element among their flocks? They’ve had decades to create organizations to oppose the senseless violence perpetrated by their followers, and yet I’m aware of nothing of significance in any Islamic country. The facts suggest that Islam is perfectly OK with violence.

  13. All religions are toxic, IMO. All religions have people that are extremely theocratical, and those are the people who seem most ready to die for, or kill others who disrespect their beliefs. If not kill, then disenfranchise.

    First, I’ll say I’ve tried to be tolerant of Islam and to believe what many Muslims say, “that their religion is one of peace”. Well, I guess it is, but many people who practice the religion are ready and willing to act like maniacal Muslims. When the protests begin they stop thinking as individuals and act as a mob unit. My guess is that it delves far deeper than the religion itself. It is a combination of religion, deep seated culture that we Westerners have a difficult time grasping, and sects within Islam that are extreme extremists.

    Christianity has its extremists. All we have to do is look at some of the Christians who’ve made the news in politics and general American life over the last couple of years. We have politicians writing laws that target womens’ rights as citizens, such as the Mississippi law that didn’t pass that would have forced a woman that had had a miscarriage to prove she didn’t cause the miscarriage or face murder charges. AZ passed a law where an employer can fire a woman for using birth control as birth control if it offends his religious beliefs! That is extreme religion, and these people are dangerous. If it weren’t for America’s history supposedly being based on freedom for all (I’M a Native American woman, so I have many arguments on that point, but not today) we could very well have women being stoned to death right here if some of these extremely theocratical people had a little more power.

    All religions have the power of peace in their doctrine, but factor in the simple human mind and that peaceful doctrine goes awry. We will always have religions with doctrine that benefit the midguided beliefs of a few (most often men)that harm many.

    I think the question we should be asking is why do we find religion in all cultures? What is it with the human genome and mind that has driven us to seek some higher power that controls our ethics? Why do so many humans have a driving need to have an invisible diety with laws to direct their behavior for those people to behave ethically? Why do they need the promise of heaven or the threat of hell for them to behave ethically and respect other living creatures? My opinion is there is something in our evolutionary history that drives the need for religion in humans. I sure wish we could evolve it out soon, because religion is killing us.

    1. The answer to why religion is so ubiquitous is no doubt many-pronged, with explanations ranging from the human mind’s tendency to see human characteristics in inanimate things to the human group’s tendency to blind themselves to human characteristics in outside groups. I wonder sometimes if a strong part of the drive might lie in our natural propensity to want to fit in to our niche — to find out what we’re supposed to do and do it. Not just as a matter of safety and security, but in order to have security in our identity. Look at how small children will go through a stage where they are all obssessed with rules, following the rules, and being and doing what you are supposed to do. “Boys don’t wear pink.” Why? Just because they just don’t. Case not just closed — case never made.

      Most religions seem to focus a lot on this hierarchal type of thinking, where there are perfect essences of what things really are and purity and discovering where your own essence “belongs” in the cosmic chain and universal social scale is paramount. You know who you are, what place you fit in — not just in your immediate family orgroup but for EVERYTHING.

      Even New-Agey religions which are supposed to be so open and free will wax on about finding out “what you were MEANT to do. Take a tradition-laden religion like Islam and you’ve got the recipe for rigid roles and duties that can’t ever be questioned — because they are structured into the very fabric and foundation of reality.

      1. Prior to our children being born my wife and I had many discussions about just this kind of thing. We both felt that it would be a disservice to our children to inflict our conditioned cultural rules and hang ups on them. We decided to make a conscious effort to avoid that and to police each other.

        It is very interesting how tricky it can be. Some of these cultural rules and hang ups are rather stealthy. It is also interesting to see some of the reactions from other adults that occur from time to time when they observe our children ignoring culturally mandated rules.

        1. I’m curious how you distinguish “conditioned cultural rules and hang ups” from the rest of social life. Are “conditioned” rules different from “unconditioned” ones? And if a cultural rule isn’t “mandated”, is it even a rule?

          I think it is tricky because it is impossible to raise children, or to live life as a human, in the absence of cultural rules.

          1. Your right, I was pretty sloppy there. Just too impatient to take the time to explain more thoroughly or think of a more accurate way to say what I mean.

            I mean cultural rules that have the effect of constraining behavior based on gender, social status, age, etc. when those behaviors are not damaging to society or the individual, and which quite often cause damage to individuals who are constrained by them. Sastra’s example of “Boys don’t wear pink,” for instance.

            No that is not why it is tricky, though it is obviously true that you can’t exist as a human in the absence of cultural rules. What can be tricky is being aware of when your behavior is enforcing the bad hang up type cultural rules you wish to avoid passing on to your children, because the behavior is so ingrained in you that sometimes you are not even aware you are doing it unless it is pointed out to you by someone else.

  14. >> Remember, it’s called “The Egyptian Brotherhood”: there’s nothing about in there about “sisterhood.”

    In some languages the word for “sibling”-hood is gender-neutral. It becomes gender-specific only when translated to English. I’m not sure if that is the case here; can anyone confirm – what was the original Egyptian word that got translated to “Brotherhood” and was it gender-neutral?

    1. My point was really not the name specifically, but that Islam systematically makes women into second-class citizens.

      1. That’s a valid point by itself. But their choice of name is not reflective of that sexism. In fact, I did a bit of research, and the Arabic script gets translated by translator as “association, company, band, group, …”, which confirms my suspicion that the offical English translation is the one that made the name gender specific.

        1. The sexism may be so entrenched that it is simply assumed without being specified. All associations, companies, bands and groups may be male dominant and or male only.

          1. That could be possible. The language could be gender-neutral, but it is also interesting why the translation is not “Muslim Association”. Who actually picked “Muslim Brotherhood”?

    2. Jerry, it’s the “Muslim Brotherhood”, not “Egyptian Brotherhood”. This is at lot worse, as it shows that the ruling group in Egypt is focused on religion and not on the good of the country as a whole.

      1. Now how in tarnation did I make THAT mistake? Geez, I knew better. Chalk it up to lack of coffee, and I’ve fixed it. Thanks.

  15. There is nothing preventing Islam from getting the same de-fanging process as Christianity and Judiasm did. If Christians can look at a book that says nothing about slavery except for “This is the proper way to do it,” and say that slavery is against their religion, there is nothing people can’t rationalize away about their faith.

    It may be more difficult for Islam for whatever reasons, but there’s nothing preventing it from happening.

    In the meantime, however, Islam goes extremely far in the whole ‘violent murder’ thing. Compare this to abortion clinic bombers. First off, the bomber is a singular individual, who could be written off as nuts or not indicative of the group. Second, the abortion clinic bomber is bombing the supposed offender. He is killing only the people who are, in his opinion, responsible for murdering children. He’s wrong of course, but if you believe a fertilized egg is a human being, there is a reasonable train of thought that can lead you the rest of the way.

    Now, the random Islamic violence? Well it can’t be said to not be indicative of the group, because it’s so often in groups. Second, there is no reasonable chain of causation. Someone said mean things, so they go and kill someone else who is completely unrelated. Even if you take blasphemy as a legitimate concern, what makes them think it is just to kill someone other than the blasphemer?

    How much is the religion, and how much is the culture? I don’t really know. They’re kind of difficult to seperate at this point. To say that Islam doesn’t play it’s part (it’s easier to go about killing people if you think dying while killing infidels assures you a place in eternal paradise, amongst other things) is utterly foolish though. Perhaps I could stand to be more familiar with the Koran, but I doubt it’s any nicer than the Bible, and that any decent muslims are following the same double-think that allows a kind old woman to look at the story of the binding of Isaac without flinching.

    1. “How much is the religion, and how much is the culture?”

      This is a false choice since religion is an artifact of culture. (Which makes your inability to answer it the sensible response.)

      As for Islam’s ability to be defanged, I hope that this is the case. But I don’t relish five hundred years of reformation to complete the transformation to a somewhat-defanged religion equivalent to Xtianity.

      1. I wouldn’t say it’s a false choice, there are very distinct aspects that would defang the culture if the religion fell away. For example, the culture may deem insulting important enough people worthy of death. However, without the religion, god is not a person at all, there would be no-one to insult.

        Second, no matter what else, it’s a lot harder to convince someone to sacrifice themselves if they don’t believe in eternal paradise after death. You’ll find a lot fewer people willing to die for honor if ‘death’ actually means death, rather than ‘free ticket to Disney land’.

        The religion is part of the culture, but you can seperate the two somewhat. After all, what happens when you take Christ out of Christmas? Well, amongst other things, you get atheists celebrating peace and goodwill and enjoying festivities, using Santa if they want a ‘person’ to have the festivities centered around.

        We’ve seen what happens when you remove religious belief from a culture, so it’s not like we don’t have some precedent to help make an educated guess. I just think I’d have to know a lot more about Arabic culture and Islam to make any real progress beyond “Well, they won’t believe in Allah any more.”

        1. My point was just that talking about religion as something other than a cultural artifact doesn’t make sense. You can’t modify/eliminate religion without changing the culture of which it is a part any more than you can put a tattoo on your arm without modifying your body.

          As an aside: Islam is found in many cultural contexts, not just Arabic cultures. It is poisonous in Indonesia, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, just as much as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

          1. Well, I know it exists outside Arab cultures, but I didn’t want to list each and every single one.

            Also, while it’s not possible to get a tattoo without modifying your body, the tattoo is distinct from the body. It’s ink, rather than flesh. Religion is similar, it’s an important part of a culture, but it’s still not the same thing.

            Culture is how people interact with each other. Religion is how people ‘interact’ with the supernatural. That this interaction results in interactions with the natural (as that’s the only thing there to interact with) doesn’t change that some behaviors would go away if you removed or altered their supernatural beliefs.

            People will act differently if they believe in universally harmony (…man…) than if they believe in a violent vengeful monster who rewards murder. Either way, it’ll go through the lens of their culture, but it’d be a big change.

            1. Jeepers. Are you really disagreeing? There are parts of culture that are not religious. There are no parts of religion that are not cultural. One is a subset of the other. You can not alter the subset without altering the superset.

              1. If the christian science religion or I think any other religion except maybe christianity was removed from the United States there would be no culture change for the United States. If christianity were removed I don’t think the United States culture would necessarily change but, it would depend on the circumstances surrounding the removal. The overall culture in the United States isn’t dependent on christianity, all of our structural culture functions without religion. It’s just that christians are always trying to change things so that the culture does depend on christianity and the odor of christianity is mostly everywhere in the United States. Some air freshener I think would fix the superset if the subet were removed.

              2. That is patently untrue. Definitionally false, even. If Christian Science were to evaporate the culture would be altered, for example, by the elimination of that part of our shared history involving the nonsense advocated by Mary Baker Eddy. IMO that would be a good thing. If it didn’t alter culture it would be no thing at all.

                The concept of a “culture being dependent” on this or that bit of the culture is muddled. A culture is a dynamic social construct. It is the sum of all the common bits of our shared social existence. Bits come and go all the time and cultures change as a result. (Our culture now includes all kinds of elements derived from technology developed in the last 30 years. Meanwhile, the importance of William Dean Howells’ 1894 utopian novel A Traveler from Altruria has considerably diminished.

              3. gbjames, in saying

                There are no parts of religion that are not cultural.

                I think you’re allowing abstractions to interfere with apprehension of complex realities.

                “Pure Islam” is an abstraction, and does not exist in reality (the claims of various mad mullahs notwithstanding). Like other Abrahamisms, Islam has speciated over time as biogeography changed, aggressive cliques mounted campaigns of conquest, etc. As with all religions, Islam is opportunistically re-interpreted for the circumstances. Some parts of the religion are ignored or played down and become culturally invisible.

                Many Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries flirted with secularism in decades past, your lifetime: some tolerance of artistic works (western movies and music), styles of dress (esp. female), etc.

                Political economy, the goals of elites, frustration on the street, religion: all are wrapped up in complex feedback loops. Culture acts on religious interpretation and practice, and, “pure” religious tenets act on culture.

              4. Honestly, Neil Schipper, I don’t know what your point is. I’m having trouble parsing the accusation that I’m letting abstractions interfere with apprehension. Did I say something to the effect that culture isn’t complex, with all manner of intricate relations between elements that comprise it? I don’t recall saying anything of the sort.

                Every thing you list, music, political economy, dress, goals of elites, and a gazillion other social constructs comprise the complex webs that we refer to as “culture”. Religion is one bit of it. Or, more correctly, religions are webs of constructs that form part of larger cultural webs.

                To argue that you can change part of this web without having affecting the rest of the web is bizarre. And wrong.

              5. gbjames, perhaps my prior comment is something of a mess.

                Your claim that “How much is the religion, and how much is the culture?” is “a false choice since religion is an artifact of culture” is what I have a problem with. It too quickly tries to shut down a conversation that can bear fruit.

                I usually dislike definitional spats, but if we distinguish religion-as-practiced (in some time and place) from religion-as-encoded-, your claim has superficial merit using the former def’n (since that def’n is a synonym to “religious culture”), and even less with the latter.

                Sure it’s hard to separate the two, but consider the history of xtianity in the west. All kinds of reasonable things can be said about competing influences of messages from various pulpits and messages from various scientific and literary works in various times and places. What I get from your claim is a reaction against the usefulness of such conversations in principle.

              6. My use of angle brackets caused an error.


                should be

                “religion-as-encoded- claims + social engineering blueprints”

              7. I guess I’d prefer to have enough conceptual clarity to figure out what is actually being said. At this point I sense that you think I’m quibbling over definitions in order to block some conversation. I am not. But if the basic terms are so poorly understood that religion (or music or dance or… pick among a million things) aren’t part of culture then I don’t see where the conversation can go. It is the old Anthropologist in me coming out, I guess.

                Perhaps I’m losing it in the angle bracket and hyphen snafu, but I don’t understand what difference “religion-as-this” vs “religion-as-that” makes. I’d welcome some of those reasonable things about competing messages. Have at it, please!

              8. I don’t think I can do better than my last comment without writing something of inappropriate length. I have to assume you reread it in good faith with the missing text inserted.

                In short: I see the “false choice” claim as simultaneously (1) plausible, given some definitions, and (2) unhelpful. And I say this even though, a thousand times yes, religion is part of culture.

                (And now I’m gone for the day.)

              9. Neil,

                Your argument isn’t remotely clear to me either.

                As far as I can tell, you’re trying to excuse the religion of Islam from the bad things Muslims do in the name of their religion on the grounds that these bad acts are not caused by the religion itself but by something else. If this indeed what you’re trying to say, please explain, as clearly as you can, what that something else is, and what evidence you think supports your claim.

                BTW, if you want to be understood, it’s probably best try and express yourself in plain and concise English and void the use of weird neologisms like “religion-as-encoded.”

  16. the movie that supposedly insults the Prophet (I haven’t seen it yet, but I will)

    There is some doubt as to whether or not this movie actually exists. There is a 14 minute trailer on YouTube:

    While I will agree with the right for people to make whatever movies they want, this is absolutely terrible to the point of being unwatchable. If you make it through the whole trailer without quitting I will be impressed.
    There also appears to be more than a little dishonesty about the production of the “film”:

    Not that any of this justifies even a tiny bit of the Islamist response. I suspect this “movie” is mostly a scam to incite radical Muslims in order to help demonize them. Unfortunately the fanatics played right into the hands of those who wanted to incite them, costing people their lives.

    1. There’s also the aspect of the rightwing xtians who want to facilitate/promote/instigate a holy war to fulfill idiotic Armageddon prophecies. I gather the people behind the video are rightwind xtians. How much of this motivates them is I guess an open question at present.

      But it all points to the wisdom of dumping the scriptural crap and getting with the historical/biological concept backed by DNA that we all emerged from Africa some n * 10^4 yrs ago. I find that eminently more satisfying.

    1. Thanks for posting this, even though I don’t know what to make of it. Is it primarily evidence of a genuine “larger worldview” by people in lands we generally expect to have very narrow views, or, an expression of solidarity driven by economic interest?

      1. Well, I see no reason to think that these people gathered together because they were thinking about money. That seems unnecessarily cynical to me. Politicians surely do think that way, but these are just ordinary people. Presumably you would grant that there are at least SOME Muslims who are opposed to violence without it being merely because they’re worried about U.S. aid or tourism dollars…?

        1. I have no need to grant what you suggest as I know such Muslims and count some as friends. (I live in a soon-to-be-formerly-rich society where “The Muslim” is often enough an energetic family- and work- oriented immigrant.)

          The larger point is that Libya has an oil industry (and presumably some other “western-looking” industries, like telecom, etc.), and these entities have staffs including engineers, technicians, clerks and what not, and, these folks likely live relatively comfortably, and they will feel a pull towards a more kindly attitude to the west.

          Cynical? I’d say this is evidently the human condition in the large.

  17. 1. The violence was planned and organized too far in advance to actually have resulted from offense over this movie.
    2. The movie was a “false flag” paramilitary operation. That is, it was advertised as having been directed by an Israeli inside America, so as to direct violence at both, and cause both to direct retaliation at the sources of violence, with hpoe of escalation thruogh collateral damage.
    3. It now appears the fake name of the so-called Israeli director goes to a Coptic Christian who has aligned with other extremist/terrorist-style Christians (a.k.a. “Dominionists”).
    4. The insanity of this action is based on the belief that igniting Armageddon will hasten the second coming of Christ, and all involved in making this happen so fast will, of course, expect to earn special places in Heaven.
    5. Did I mention insanity? I really should include mention of insanity, here. Delusional, dehumanizing, ignorance-promoting, magical-thinking-filled, disgusting insanity.

    1. In the United States a smallish but influential number of people make big money from the effects of violence and unrest. They have a vested interest in supporting what you’ve outlined. I’m not suggesting any connection in this specific case but there are people that are made wealthier in correlation to violence and unrest, they at best probably have a difficult time with mixed emotions when violence occurs.

      I suspect that somehow ought to fit into the insanity category for a society that allows a profit motive for violence.

  18. A large newspaper here went with the “most religious are not violent” accommodationist line. Coincidentally no critique from the “moderate” muslims have been heard.

    If it is like the danish cartoons there will be some sporadic criticism months after the fact. Religion truly poisons, and murder, anything.

  19. I agree with the Coyne position on the issue of free will, so I would have expected a somewhat different analysis of the circumstances. These folks are Muslim by birth and have lived all their lives under an authoritarian regime. When they see an American-made video demeaning Islam, they have a hard time understanding how it could have been allowed to circulate if it wasn’t something the American government was okay with. Yesterday, a person discussing the issue on TV (maybe MSNBC) suggested that the conspiracy theorists among them will even believe that the video had the backing of the American government in what they have been led to believe is America’s war against Islam.

      1. After sending the wording “born Muslim” I realized that it might be objected to, and I concede your point. In practical terms, however, there really isn’t much difference.

        1. Fetuses in the womb are not deaf… MEMRI has or had videos regarding women in the middle east beginning the lives of their as-yet unborn children by telling them to become martyrs and kill many Jews and Infidels…

            1. I only suggest that the learning is started early, even before birth. Vocal intonations have meaning; words used during those vocal intonations must gradually become clear well after birth.

  20. The recent global proliferation of video images via technology (such as smart phones and laptops) is rapidly changing the world. Memes are now cheaper, and more readily disseminated, than ever before.

    When uneducated people in impoverished nations can see the enviable lifestyles of people in wealthier nations, and can also see in graphic detail how their own lives will likely play out, it should come as no surprise that some choose to express their frustration with violence.

    The violence is by no means justified — in fact it’s abhorrent, but it is certainly understandable. Religion, of course, just further poisons an already tragic situation.

  21. I asked myself, why Libya? Why was the attack there so murderous, while the attacks in other countries more flame and destructive show? Reading about Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and then Glen Doherty, the State Department’s computer guy at the embassy and a former Navy SEAL, a picture begins to emerge.

    The Ambassador and his staff were charismatic in their efforts to reach out to the common people and lift them out of their fright-filled sense of powerlessness, including through advanced education at US colleges, so they could rationally and resaonably take over their lives and their government.

    What greater threat can there be, to those who use religion as a weapon and ignorance to control the masses?

    1. Common Libyans rushed to the Embassy, trying to save those inside, a heroic move particularly in the face of co-religionists’ deadly violence. That, to me, was key.

  22. “Muslim Brotherhood”,ever heard of the Muslim Sisterhood” nope, because women are nothing but man-fodder in Islam.

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