Islam apparently behind Boston bombing

April 22, 2013 • 6:52 pm

Virtually all godless bloggers held their tongues after the Boston bombing, despite the fact that all the accommodationists and criers of “Islamophobia” wanted us to blame Islam from the get-go.  But that was simply not rational given the attacks of people like Timothy McVeigh, the Unaibomber, and Eric Rudolph, the guy who set off the bombs at the 1996 Olympics. We withheld judgement.

Yes, most of us suspected that extremist Islam might be behind the bombings, a suspicion buttressed by yesterday’s revelation that two Canadian residents were arrested in an Al-Qaeda-linked plot to blow up trains running between Toronto and New York City.

Well, Islam now seems to really be behind what happened in Boston. According to my news feed from CNN:

Boston bombings suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev conveyed to investigators that no international terrorist groups were behind the attacks, a U.S. government source told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev indicated his older brother, Tamerlan, was the driving force behind the attacks and wanted to defend Islam from attack, the source said.

The 19-year-old was “alert, mentally competent and lucid,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler found during a brief initial court appearance in Tsarnaev’s hospital room. During the hearing, he communicated mostly by nodding his head.

How many times do we have to learn this lesson? By all accounts the Tsarnaev brothers were creditable students, good athletes, and seemingly nice people.  That is, of course, until they fell into the grips of Islam. As Steve Weinberg says, “For good people to do evil things—that takes religion.”

It’s only a matter of time before the faitheists and apologists start clamoring that what was really behind the attacks was politics and Western imperialism—anything but faith.  We should start taking these terrorists at their word instead of confecting soothing reasons why religion wasn’t to blame.

211 thoughts on “Islam apparently behind Boston bombing

  1. By all accounts the Tsarnaev brothers were creditable students, good athletes, and seemingly nice people.

    the older brother is not depicted as nice. in fact he seems to have had some sort of antisocial personality disorder. obviously islam is implicated, but i don’t think it was a sufficient condition.

      1. Not sufficient, perhaps, but instrumental.

        Islam – as he was able to discover it -encouraged big brother to take that antisocial nature and transform it into violent action, fired with the zeal of monotheistic rage and the rationalizations of an implacable ideology. I’d prefer the lone sociopath without the grandiose religious encouragements, all things considered.

    1. The elder brother was also arrested (though the charges were later dropped) for domestic violence. Not a good person in my book.

    2. The point is that religion generally is an enabler of extreme views. It is dogmatic and requires faith, in opposition to reason if necessary. It persuades and indoctrinates with an affirmative purpose instead of being sceptical and questioning. Islam is currently the worst of all religions in this respect, and carries within its scripture both the requirement to take the scriptures literally and the imposition of the death penalty.

      Have the brothers given any indication of a solely political motivation for attacking the US and specifically the public bystanders at a public event?

      While the older brother might be unhinged enough to be turned to violent religious extremism the really telling part is that an otherwise ‘all American’ decent kid could be too. There’s a lot more to uncover, but which would turn you to terrorism? Love for an unhinged older brother? Political problems back in your parents homeland, when you already consider yourself an American? Or religious indoctrination from the older brother?

      It seems really hard to excuse Islam’s part in this as an easily applied indoctrinating ideological cult with violent tendencies built in.

      Can you describe a reasonably likely alternative scenario, where the whole Boston bombing and follow up happens with both brothers showing no interest in Islam, where Islam plays no part whatsoever?

      1. The younger brother conceivably may have been merely following his big brother’s lead without any real conviction for the defense of Islam. All accounts so far point to him being a well-adjusted kid. The problem it seems is that he was not mature or independent-thinking enough to judge for himself and resist the influence of his brother.

    3. The question is, would he have planted a bomb on the street, intending to kill as many people as possible, if it weren’t for his religious beliefs?

      Regardless of how much of a bastard he was, no honest and reasonable person could answer that question in the affirmative.

  2. Don’t these people realize that all they are accomplishing is to generate MORE negative opinions about Islam? If they want to promote their religion they are going about it in exactly the wrong way. If they keep it up, a lot of good Muslim people are going to die because of a radical few as the general population gets sick of their agression.

    1. Obviously, any muslim not happy to die in Allahs service isn’t really a muslim.

      Are you really trying to inject logic into the thinking of religious extremists? I’m not saying there are no salvageable extremists, but most of them have long passed any hope of return to reality.

        1. “alert, mentally competent and lucid”

          Judge Marianne Bowler seems to have an extremely generous and broad definition of lucidity and mental competence.

          1. Actually, I’m wondering just how the “defend Islam” intent was obtained, if he was limited to head nods. I believe I had read somewhere that he shot himself in the throat and was unable to speak.

            Sounds as if he must have been asked a lot of leading questions.

            At any rate, reading “alert, mentally competent, and lucid” into a bunch of head nods seems like quite a stretch.

            (I’m not doubting that Islam was the motivating factor here; too much other information supports it.)

    2. “If they keep it up, a lot of good Muslim people are going to die because of a radical few as the general population gets sick of their aggression”

      And imagine the donations that pour into terrorist groups as a result. If Islamists didn’t have to dig up obscure internet videos or complain about teddy bears named “Mohamed” because they had something legitimate to incite hatred with, it would make their jobs much easier.

    3. I think rational and irrational people have different ideas of what “defend” or “promote” means.

    4. Tom wrote:

      Don’t these people realize that all they are accomplishing is to generate MORE negative opinions about Islam?

      “Negative” from what perspective, though? From the secular perspective. The belief that the purpose of life is to renounce the shallow, wicked, impure pleasures of the world in favor of the deep, perfect, pure union with God runs through many religions. Islam pushes it particularly hard, but it’s certainly not unique. The more you reject the flesh, the more you elevate the soul. Renounce pleasure.

      If you are anti-humanist then the condemnation of people who are attached to physical reality are only going to encourage you. My guess is that both the brothers would routinely simmer and stew over “materialism” in both its definitions. Cell phones, computer games, short skirts, feminism, education, science, liberty, achievements — wicked distractions from their purpose. From purity and the only achievement worth striving for. They were both falling for materialism’s temptations. Time to take a stand against the enemy.

      They wanted us to hate them. They wanted us to hate Islam. We are the wicked.

  3. “For good people to do evil things—that takes religion.”

    I always wish that what Weinberg said had included “and believe that they’re good things.” Because of course good people and bad people do bad things, but it takes religion to make people think that the evil that they do is actually good.

    1. I’ve thought this too. People can be made to do anything if you can convince them it’s for a higher good (and that their ETERNITY is at stake.)

      1. Or political legacy, or for patriotic reasons, money works well too. It’s not just religion. What makes people turn to religion anyway? Usually something is not going very well before the opium is reached for.

      2. Well, that’s exactly the point isn’t it…life after death is the reward (plus the possibility of access to innumerable virgins)- by being a martyr for islam.
        What really amazes me is the apparent lack of concern expressed by Muslims for the many thousands of dead, injured and displaced citizens of Syria, whilst any negative developments in the Israeli Palestinian saga immediately brings vitriol to the editorial pages of our local newspapers…

        1. Or the Iran-Iraq war? Apparently, Muslims being killed, or persecuted, is okay as long as it’s being done by other Muslims, even if they are from a different sect. The men are all going to get their virgins and the women, well they are ‘only’ women, so what’s the problem and why care?

    2. If you live in a world where good people do bad things, you may want to take a close look at how you define “good people”. One big thing that makes a person a good person is that he doesn’t do bad things. A person can only be judged by what he or she does. If a man does bad things, he is a bad man. How else can you know? We are what we do. It’s a crazy mixed up world in which the bad things are done by the good people. Maybe you forgive before you get an apology because you refuse to think something bad about a person you thought was “good”.

        1. The effect is the same. I don’t have the time nor am I qualified to determine motive. And usually we are presented with more than one act when trying to decide what kind of person somebody is. Perhaps it’s better to say that a person who does bad things is a bad person. I get tired of hearing excuses made for behavior that shouldn’t be excused no matter what the person was meaning to do.

      1. I like your existential definition 🙂 It is often mine too. Who knows how accurate people’s impressions were. I’m sure they only knew these guys superficially. I think what is interesting is we struggle with the fact that a lot of these guys are well educated, smart people but what we forget is really believing in a god is so much more appealing to them. This is something that took me a long time to understand, having been godless all my life (and not learning that people really did believe in hell until I was in my 30s – in my 20s I thought only mediaeval people believed in hell thanks to Chaucer and co :))

    1. McVeigh grew up a practising Catholic. He wrote a letter to the Buffalo News the day before his death stating that he was an agnostic. In his biography he claimed not to believe in Hell, and that science was his religion. In earlier interviews he claimed a belief in God, and to have maintained “core beliefs” while having lost contact with Catholicism. He took a Catholic sacrament prior to his death.

      But I don’t think mainstream religious affiliations had a lot to do with his actions. I think that was driven by his immersion in gun culture, conspiracy theories, and the militia movement. I think he really saw himself as a defender of the American Revolution, protecting the Constitution from the US Government.

      1. “I think that was driven by his immersion in gun culture, conspiracy theories, and the militia movement. I think he really saw himself as a defender of the American Revolution, protecting the Constitution from the US Government.”

        So he just had a different religion by that point.

        1. “So he just had a different religion by that point.”

          If you like. He shows all the signs of being driven by an internally coherent, but ultimately irrational belief system. He seems to have invested a lot of thought in this system, without looking closely at his basic assumptions. There’s a lot of similarities there.

            1. McVeigh’s attack imitated a fictional bombing in “The Turner Diaries”, a white supremacist fantasy. In the book, the protagonists park a rental truck with a homemade fertilizer bomb in the basement of a federal building. The resultant explosion initiates a race war which overthrows the government.

              Given that McVeigh was captured with the book and that he met with the book’s author, I think we can say with some confidence that he was motivated by white supremacism and some pretty ridiculous fantasies about remaking the government.

    2. People do kill and terrorize for political motives, and for no reason other than to satisfy their own blood lust as well. So? That has no bearing on whether the Boston bombings were motivated by religion.

      Anyone would be foolish to suggest that all violence, all terrorism, is motivated by religion. You’d be even more foolish to suggest that none of it is.

  4. There is some cognitive dissonance going on in my head. Anti-Islam sentiment is common among the Republicans and Christians in the US. There is no greater evidence of Islamophobia writ large than the rightwing’s use of “Barack HUSSEIN Obama”. In my state which attempted to establish a state religion earlier this month, one of its proponents equated Islamic prayer with terrorism:

    … but somehow atheists are being criticized as islamophobic? And this argument has been going on for far longer than the six seconds to pick up one’s jaw, point and yell “j’accuse”?

    My brain shuts down due to this overlap whenever I try to pause and reflect. With whom are you engaging in this controversy and how are they so quiet on the religious and political front here in the US?

    1. I think most of the people who are accusing the gnu atheists of “islamophobia” ALSO hate the religious right. They are drawing what to them is an insulting comparison. And of course they are also placing themselves in the middle between the Islamophobic Extremes.

  5. I applauded the uncle who said something like, “You have brought shame to the Tsarnaev family and you have brought shame the Chechen people.”

    But if he also said, “You have brought shame to Islam,” it was edited out of any clips I saw. Assuming that not to be the case, and since it seems that Tamerlan’s espousal of jihad was well known to the family, was the uncle unable to bring himself to make that statement, afraid to make it, or just too numbed at the time?

    Will someone in the media now ask him a leading question that might bring that response?

    1. I think there was a family feud going on (sorry, I can’t remember where I read that) and Uncle Ruslan seized the opportunity to get some digs in.

    2. The comment I heard him make about religion that was repeated on the channels I was watching was.

      “Anything else, anything else to do with religion, with Islam, is a fraud, is a fake,”

      I assume his reason for saying this was not to say that they weren’t Muslim, but this.

      “Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves — these are the only reasons I can imagine.”

      Meaning he believes their motivation was that they were losers who hated everyone. I can certainly see that with the older kid, but everything i’ve read on the younger one suggests otherwise. People do change a lot around 18 years old though, and if you look up to the wrong people you may go down the wrong path.

      1. I couldn’t figure out whether he meant that the brothers were misrepresenting or misunderstanding Islam and so were making a ‘fake’ use of it, or that any press suggestions it might be about Islam are ‘fake’ Islamophobic inferences.

    3. It’s probably rather non-PC but when I heard “You have brought shame to the Tsarnaev family” my immediate thought was that this is the type of thinking that’s responsible for honour killings.

      1. Shame may be the necessary condition, but not sufficient condition for honor killing. Most people who get shamed by their relatives just simply denounce them using words.

  6. “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev indicated his older brother, Tamerlan, was the driving force behind the attacks and wanted to defend Islam from attack”

    So he bombed innocent people and told himself it was a defensive move? Well damn, its too bad he wasnt born in Texas. He could have been a two-term president.

      1. Thanks. I knew I’d get comments about the birth place, but saying,

        “its too bad he wasnt born in Connecticut and later moved to Texas. He could have been a two-term president.”

        just didnt have the same ring to it.

          1. Hmm – small enclaves of the incredibly wealthy (a small percentage of whom are quite liberal), significant population of people getting screwed by Republican policies but voicing vigorous support for same…

            I suppose the image could work.

            1. As a Connecticut Yankee who has spent some time in Texas, the idea that CT is the Texas of anything is laughably ridiculous. Even if you just mean the part about enclaves of incredibly wealth. The rich folk here keep more of their ‘old money’ in their front pockets than new money Texans hide in their oil wells. Since the horrendous Newtown shootings, this state has passed the strictest gun law in the country and Linda McMahon, conservative Republican wife of Vince McMahon of fake wrestling fame, couldn’t buy the Senate seat vacated by Joe Lieberman with $25 million of her own money running against a liberal Democrat with very little to spend. The two states don’t have enough in common to compare them.

  7. I don’t understand most terrorists. If I were going to take up terrorism, I would do it in the service of a well understood cause. I would only do things which would clearly advance my cause. This does not seem to be the case here, or in many other terrorist acts.

    1. > I would only do things which would clearly advance my cause.

      The bombings _do_ advance their collective cause. More and more people are scared by Islam, which is the extremists’ goal. In the long term, they do not plan to cohabitate, but to dominate.

      The scheme is set up so that while you can not blame them collectively for the bombings, because they collectively claim to be moderates, the same collective you can not blame is an efficient breeding ground for the “extremist” which carry out executions in the name of the moderate collective, but you can not pinpoint which one of them is the extremist because the moderates are hiding them until they attack.

      Now every time westerners get into conflicts with the increasing moderate Muslim population, they will have in the back of their heads that if the do not appease the Muslims and make concessions to their demands, any random average Muslim can quickly radicalize and promote himself to the military arm of the collective and start blow up people “to defend Islam”. This randomness is the scary part.

      The key thing to recognize here is that the so called moderate Islam is _still_ the main breeding ground for the extremists. The extremists do not start from scratch when they decide to become extremists, they build upon what they have been taught by the moderates. It is still the same books, the same teachings, the same rules, the difference between moderate and extremist Muslims being simply that the latter decide to follow the teachings and rules to the letter.

    2. I think Sastra nails one reason for this above. Their aim is more to achieve a kind of metaphysical purity in the eyes of God. The world is just a stage on which they are tested. Fixing the world is not part of the equation.

      The other reason is, of course, that those attracted to terrorism are messed up somehow and not thinking clearly to start with. 9/11 is the freak exception, a plan that was as brilliant as it was wicked. Most terrorist attacks are patently stupid, and that’s probably no coincidence.

    1. I suppose some people are. But why do some religions contribute more than their share of violent believers?

    2. Yes.

      Religion is a kind of accelerant, like gasoline one can add to an already smoldering fire. It gives you an excuse to see your violence not as a grave failing but as a positive good which may be all that is needed to flip a lot of people over into violent action. There is no mystery that the more your religion calls you to violence, the more effectively it will fan these smoldering flames.

      1. There is a bit of mystery, in my mind, how religions are tamed. Judging from the Old Testament, I’d expect Judiasm to be a fairly violent religion, but it is not for the most part. Christianity sprang out of 1st century CE Judiasm, so I think that the mellower tone of the New Testament (the idea of Hell and positive nod to the OT notwithstanding) may have it’s roots in an already mellowed Judiasm. How did that come to be?

        I suspect a role for technology and timing. The militant phase of Judiasm and Christianity predates explosives and easy communication, and so may have been relatively impotent compared to secular authorities, whereas a chunk of Islam may still be in a relatively untamed stage in an era with explosives and easy communication, which changes the dynamic considerably.

        1. For Judaism, I think it’s because it lost political control of its main territory during the Roman period, and spent much of the next two millenia existing precariously on the margins of European Christendom, where it had to play nice and inoffensive to obtain any degree of toleration from the dominant culture. That necessity has for many Jews become a virtue in the modern era. How tame and peaceable Judaism intrinsically is can be gauged by what happens in those locales where it has again obtained the upper hand, such as the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods in Israel (and to some extent, even in the US). (Note that I’m discussing Judaism-as-religion here, not the “culture only” Judaism of people like Jerry).

          Christianity got tamed (somewhat) by the Enlightenment, but to call my grasp of the history sketchy would probably be an insult to sketches, so I’ll shut up now.

  8. I had a Facebook friend warn she would defriend anybody that bashed Islam in the wake of this event.

    I’m not sure what she deems bashing, whether it includes any kind of criticism or not. She and I aren’t good enough friends for me to follow through on my impulse to ask.

    She also said she hated the novel the Great Gatsby. So that’s strike two this week.

  9. I loved Sam Harris’ recent tweet apropos of this finding:

    “If nothing else, I hope we can all agree that the U.S. must stop its brutal occupation of Chechnya.#soulsearching”

      1. They used to say that war was God’s way of teaching Americans geography, now apparently it’s terrorism that does the job. Seems a high price to pay to learn about an obscure Russian Republic though, God must really want y’all to know about it!

      2. The Czech people are luck W. isn’t in charge or maybe he would’ve retaliated vs them 🙂

  10. How many innocent lives have to be taken before ppl realize Islam is behind these attacks, not politics or imperialism?

  11. I got that wrong. Before they found the suspects, I would have put my money on white right wing terrorists.

    What I really don’t get is how the minds of these terrorists work. So they wanted to “wanted to defend Islam from attack”, how exactly? To paraphrase a well-known South Park episode,

    1. Kill and main several innocent people who wish you no harm.
    2. ????
    3. Islam is defended from attack (whatever that even means).

    The same for non-Islamist terrorists, of course, like Anders Breivik:

    1. Massacre participants in a youth camp of the social democratic party.
    2. ????
    3. Multiculturalism and feminism are defeated.

    I guess I am just not bright enough to understand the second step in either case.

    1. The Western world is the enemy of extreme Islam because that ideology is threatened by our freedom and relative gender equality. These attacks are meant as attacks on our way of life more than attacks on our people.

      1. …except that the “Eastern world” (for example, India) is a much bigger victim of Islamic terrorism.

      2. And they work, taking a plane is now a major headache which people do their best to avoid. No doubt marathons and other sporting gatherings will now ramp up security to try and prevent this from happening again. Our way of life is getting more difficult to support.

  12. Same with the young guys from London, ON, who got themselves killed in the Algerian gas field attack: disaffected youth converted to Islam (they weren’t even ethnically Muslim), got radicalized, and took off to Africa to study Koran and cause mayhem. It’s not (or not always, anyway) the religion in isolation, it’s the religion taking advantage of someone’s vulnerabilities.

  13. I would agree that religious belief alone is generally not sufficient to incite someone to violence. The person has to have some aggressive antisocial traits, be influenced by mentors and peers, or be fervently moved by some cause (which may occur in the absence of religion).

    That said, the current incarnation of fundamentalist Islam appears to be worse than fundamentalist Judaism or fundie Christianity for inciting specific acts of terror. That isn’t to say that the influence of the latter forms of fundamentalism on aggressive actions by the right wing elements in Israel and the US don’t also contribute to loss of innocent life.

    It all sucks. I’m drinking Del Maguey Vida mezcal, which may explain something. You?

    1. Combine a mob and a shared religious conviction, and individuals from the mob will kill a person that they don’t know.

      Poor guy in the Maldives had the temerity to stand up in a public place, and declare he no longer was a Moslem, he had become an atheist.

      Never heard if he lived or died. But the mob was ready to terminate him, then and there.

  14. We need to accept that there is this disease called Islam and that it can be deadly and that it is spreading like a plague … Those who deny its existence or think that it is not dangerous enough are contributing to the problem.

    Worse than being called an islamophobe is defending a belief system that destroys lives every day.

  15. Whew! Am I glad I held back my bias and did not blame the Buddhists! Who could have imagined such acts from members of the Rel. O’ Peace?

    1. Buddhist monks with the support of the Burmese army are busy exterminating Muslims in one part of the country.

    1. I initially speculated that it was some aggrieved person from Iraq, where deadly bombings go on and on and on. I thought someone came over for some sort of payback, such as “Here, enjoy some senseless slaughter yourself! We lose 200,000 Iraqis after Saddam is deposed, how do you think you helped us?”

      Sounds as if there was not even THAT amount of logic to it.

  16. I only have my ‘perennial’ question whenever another Jihadist attack occurs: WTF are they trying to achieve, what do they want, what is their goal?

    I have no doubt that the ultimate goal of the forces behind is the Global Islamic Kalifatic Theocrazy (sic) that enjoy sending innocent kids on their first and ultimate mission with a bomb belt.

    They are stupid enough to believe they are on the right track and will be rewarded with 72 virgins in the next life.

  17. It is right, and reasonable to point out that terrorist acts are ‘inspired’, if that’s the words, by particular ideologies, and that in this case the ideology seems to have been derived from Islam.

    It is right, and reasonable, to point out, for instance that these kinds of acts are not simply negative reactions to US (or British, or whatever) foreign policy (vis Sam Harris’ comment about US occupation of Chechnya).

    It is also right and reasonable to criticise Islam as a religion like we would criticise other religions.

    But can you not see that when you say ‘Islam’ is responsible for this atrocity, *Muslims* will feel an absolutely unreasonable accusation is being levelled at *them*. There are how many Muslims in the world? And how many people planted these bombs?

    The headline, for instance, here may not be ‘Islamophobic’, which is a term in any case, in my view, which has many problems. But it is not, I submit, terribly sensitive.

    1. But can you not see that when you say ‘Islam’ is responsible for this atrocity, *Muslims* will feel an absolutely unreasonable accusation is being levelled at *them*.

      No. This is the divide between atheists and accommodationists of course, where accommodationists absolutely refuse to see that atheists analysis comes down to:

      a) It is the religion to blame.
      b) It is reasonable here as elsewhere to level criticism against the religion
      c) If religionists feel “an absolutely unreasonable accusation is being levelled at *them*”, it is only because they want to use special privilege and that is just another case of a).

      As an analogy, to note that smoking is a major killer in the world does not mean that an individual smoker is a mass killer and/or responsible for all the unneccessary deaths – it is not Smokerphobia. It means coming to the conclusion that smoking is an especially bad idea among similar bad ideas of drugs, and that a smoker or non-smoker that tries to defend smoking is plain nuts.

      1. Or it might be because they have other experience of unreasonable ‘criticism’ of them, ie racism. That seems to me – I am talking, for instance, about most Muslims in the UK – is part of the dynamic. These are people who *have* experienced and *do* experience racism; so they interpret undifferentiated criticism of their religion through that experience. It’s not special privileges, it’s social context.

        I am not arguing for not criticising Islam. I am arguing for:

        a) making a distinction between criticising political movements which draw inspiration from Islam from ‘Islam’ as some generalised thing;

        b) when criticising the religion as a religion, as an ideology, doing so with some sensitivity to how Muslims might experience what you say.

        This is not accommodationism; I am not an accommodationist. But I think some of the posts in this thread, for instance, are not helpful.

          1. I’m afraid your point’s lost on me.

            I feel there’s a rather strange contradiction in some of the contributions here. In the name of a rigorously materialist/scientific critique of religion, it seems to me religious ideology is often treated simply as ideas, without trying to understand – sociologically, I suppose I mean – where those ideas come from, or how this set of ideas called ‘Islam’ might differ through history and in different social contexts, etc.

            The Islam of some friends of mine (including people who consider themselves atheists but ‘culturally Muslim’ in some sense) is not the same Islam as a jihadist bomber.

            I still think they’re *wrong* (to believe in God, or whatever else it is) – and that, too, is an argument worth having. But there are ways of posing things, surely.

            1. No, it really was a question. If the title of Jerry’s post put the focus on the dangerous feelings about the religion — loving Islam above everything else in the world — instead of on the religion itself, I wondered if this would bother you less. Islamic fanaticism.

              1. ‘Jihadis behind bombing’ would seem to me the best way to pose it – ie the unarguable truth. And there’s then a reasonable argument about how far mainstream Islam – imams, particular mosques and so on – encourage jihadism, or provide a kind of meta-narrative which allows jihadis to recruit, etc.

                But the phenomenon of people – mainly young men (on the whole quite educated young men) wanting to murder other people (and sometimes themselves – it is of course notable that these guys weren’t ‘suicide bombers’) – in the name of a variety of political projects, is quite new, historically, and requires more of an explanation than just ‘Islam is a particularly nasty version of belief in God’.

    2. An excellent term to adapt from below, is that being against smoking on an empiricla basis is not “Smokerphobia”. It is Smokerdigust.

    3. They probably do because it’s only natural to feel that way. Christians don’t like it when you criticize their religion either and they take it personally and yes there is probably a point to be taken about rascism which I’m sure Muslims experience in the West more than Christians. You’re right in that we should be clear that we are criticizing the belief vs the person but that doesn’t mean the nuance will be understood or that they are going to like hearing what we have to say. We can’t be held accountable for how our message is interpreted or if it is liked.

      1. True. But we should still do everything in our power to make sure any misunderstanding isn’t our fault.

        1. Really, so if I tell someone they are fired for doing a bad job and they shoot me in the face, that’s my fault because I’m accountable for how they react to the news that they are incompetent and should be fired? Or if someone rapes me for wearing a short skirt that’s my fault too? Slippery slope maybe?

          1. As Clive pointed out, one should make efforts to prevent misunderstanding. There is a difference between misinterpretation and reaction with regards to you getting shot for firing someone.

            Further, there is something completely wrong with confusing a short skirt on a woman with a “free sample – take one” sign— that’s not misinterpretation at all, that’s some profound eisegesis.

            1. I thought I made it clear that we should make sure that we are being clear in that we disagree with the belief not the person. However, if that person still doesn’t get it and cries “islamophobe” well I can’t control that and I shouldn’t be held accountable just like I couldn’t be held accountable if I advised someone to look both ways before crossing the street, they didn’t heed my advice and got hit by a car. Perhaps you didn’t read my original post where I say. “You’re right in that we should be clear that we are criticizing the belief vs the person”?

  18. I’ve lived in Belfast for two years, being from a souther Irish family and I can assure you that Christianity does not have a better history than Islam.

    Religeon is a marker for DIFFERENCE and IDENTITY, behind it there are often socio-political, economic, ethnic, historical, territorial mechanisms.
    The ‘Christian’ world might be seen by other parts of the world as dominating, invasive, controlling, greedy for resourses. There may be simple jealousy. Religeon can be a marker for those issues, which religeon probably doesn’t matter.
    If you swapped Chistianity for Islam in the world (or any combination of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduisn, Confucianism, Zorastrianism or even Atheism or Agnosticism), in my opinion, it would not change the issue an iota. Man has a capacity to bicker over ‘territory’. Religeon is territory.

    1. Religion is territory which cannot be negotiated. It is also territory which has no test in reality.

      Political and social ideologies have an inherent weakness: they’re supposed to make sense. They’re supposed to work and show their benefits to the entire world. But there’s only so much lying you can do, only so much spinning, only so much excusing before it eventually becomes apparent to both outsiders AND insiders that you are full of shit. No, the crops did not double: they failed. People starved. You can’t continue and continue and continue to cover up that the ideology got it wrong.

      But this doesn’t apply to religion. The reasoning behind the ubiquitous, smug, self-righteous and blindly idiotic chant that “well, you can’t prove that God DOESN’T exist, can you?” goes down and down and down all the way. Faith is never wrong; it is the ultimate spin.

      The most toxic and disfunctional culture in the world can insist with bland immunity that it is closer to God — and who can prove them wrong? Who can give any one of them good reason to doubt it if the test for spirituality is an unconcern with the material world?

  19. “We withheld judgement”

    Yes, I didn’t start seriously thinking it was radical Islam at work here until I heard “Chechen.” As more and more info was released in the news, it became obvious.

    About the motivation:

    Most Americans don’t understand people who are motivated by their chosen philosophy. They study it in detail and, naturally, want to live according to its tenants. The Nazis thought of themselves as idealists, as did the Communists. Don’t think that Kim Jong-Un is any different. As I recall, the Communists made lying a virtue–truth was what was needed by the party. I think Islam is the same way although I’ve forgotten the name of this policy. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to think everyone is motivated mainly by money. They think that spreading some money around can solve anything; it can’t, and a head full of false ideas is going to have pernicious consequences. You can’t drive with a tank full of water or a head full of nonsense. This is why religion needs to be fought.

  20. I hoped it wasn’t Islam actually, but when I read their names I figured they were from Chechnya, and that indeed the religion of peace was at it again. I feel very sorry for their mother. The older son seems to have been a nasty piece of work, but the younger one appeared to have a bright future if Islam and his older brother hadn’t fucked it up for him.

  21. We hear the term “Islamaphobe” bandied about. Surely it sometimes is – but there is always “Islamadisgust” that recognizes Islam as yet another intolerant faith, much like Christianity.

    1. Apart from the maiming & murder of people, I find two things that are distasteful & shocking to me about this episode –
      the triumphalist partying on the streets afterwards, “USA, USA”, & the fact that innocent bomb victims do not get free healthcare or compensation.

      1. I see nothing wrong with the “triumphalist partying on the streets afterwards”. They were stopped— in fact, he was captured alive, after one terrible week for the country.

        Had they took to the streets clamoring for his blood to be spilled or that we invade or retaliate in some form against some other country, then I would have a concern.

        And I totally agree with you regarding healthcare/compensation, but we seriously should have long since had a single-payer healthcare system anyway.

      2. What country do you live in? The city of Boston had just been terrorized and American authorities, with the help of the citizens of the Boston area, had done excellent work in finding the perpetrators. A cop was shot when he happened across them. The people in the streets felt great relief from the threat of terror and pride that they live in a country where people stand together against terrorists. What is wrong with that? And how do you know the government won’t help the victims? How do you know they won’t win lawsuits against the city and state that pay them millions? And don’t you know we live in a free enterprise system that doesn’t guarantee free healthcare? If you oppose that you aren’t alone, but there are plenty forums for you to express that opinion.

  22. I’m disgusted by Coyne’s bigotry. It’s all right for him to be all rah-rah I’m an atheist.

    But it is UNSCIENTIFIC to overgeneralize. He wants to obtain a general rule from a few data points, then turn that general rule into a theory of causation. But to get to causation, he needs a plausible mechanism.

    To get to the desired conclusion “Islam made these brothers kill” he must overgeneralize. This is faulty induction without a plausible mechanism. If MOST Muslims in his community in America didn’t kill, and moreover rejected these brothers because MOST of the Muslims in their community thought they were offensive, then you have to work harder to prove a mechanism of causation.

    Who, specifically, inspired these guys? Specifically, verifiably– not just overgeneralization and begging the question.

    This is the way the fundies treat atheists. Overgeneralization.

    If it’s wrong for them to do it to atheists, why is it OK for atheists to treat religious believers like that?

    I’m not an “accomodationist” nor a “faitheist.” I insist we treat others the way we wish to be treated.

    This bigotry is unscientific. If you overgeneralize, you obliterate any subsetting that could be informative and your model can’t predict behavior.

    If you’re lumping together Wahhabis and Sufis, Tunisians and Uighurs, you’re an idiot. That is not scientific. I don’t care if you’re Lord God King Atheist, that’s not not scientific and not right.

    Scientifically: I’m not saying we can’t search for a causative mechanism. But to find a causative mechanism we must subdivide Muslims into different subsets. The question is: which method of subsetting is most informative re: behavior– that is, has the most predictive power, where behavior is concerned.

    This bigotry is unscientific, uninformative, has no predictive power, and it is NOT how we wish others to treat us.

    Jerry should APOLOGIZE.

      1. That’s not the point. He’s generalising from the particular by using the terrible actions of two fanatics to mount a blanket attack on the the beliefs of nearly 25% of the world’s population, including many people living in the US and the UK whose views he knows little or nothing about.

        That’s stoking prejudice and does nothing at all to help built a tolerant society.

        1. It’s not *just* the actions of two fanatics, since this is just another data point in a very large number of atrocities committed by Moslems in the name of Islam.

          If you are brought up as a Moslem in today’s world there is a greater probability of you committing an atrocity than if you had some other upbringing. That’s not a generalization, it’s just a fact. And no one needs to apologize for bringing it to our attention.

          1. I didn’t say “just”. That’s your addition. I live in London and we have had our fair share of atrocities committed in the name of Islam, as well as in the name of Irish Republicanism.

            It was a fact 20 years ago that, using your phrasing “if you were brought up as an Irish person there was a greater probability of you committing an atrocity than if you had some other upbringing”. Following your logic, all British people should therefore be prejudiced against Irish people too. It’s the sort of logic that stokes bigotry rather than fighting against it.

            Yes, many terrorists are Muslims, but hardly any Muslims are terrorists.

            1. But Coyne isn’t blaming “an Islamist person”, he is blaming islam.

              It isn’t that all terrorists are islamist, or all islamists are terrorists. It is that many terrorists are islamists, and the religion specifically promotes that.

              If you don’t criticize religion for that it is because it is religion, that is bigotry.

              “It’s the sort of logic that stokes bigotry rather than fighting against it.”

              Claim in need of reference. If you are against smoking, are you stoking bigotry against smokers?

            2. You make the totally unjustified leap from “Irish republicanism” to “Irish”. Criticising some of the doctrines behind the Irish republican movement is obviously totally different to criticising people because they are Irish. You’ve put your finger firmly on the exact reason why these criticisms of Jerry, Harris, Dawkins and others, in the case of Islam, is so wide of the mark.

              Certainly it’s possible to be indoctrinated into Islam and to gloss over the militant parts of the Quran. But what recent events suggest is that, for some, their faith is a good foundation for extremist behaviour. That’s particularly the case for young people who may have other grievances against society, as young people often do, or those sufficiently impressionable to be incited to violence by others.

              1. Thanks for making my point for me. Jerry makes “the totally unjustified leap” from “violent Jihadism” to “Islam” as a generality. Not only is it unjustified, but it feeds precisely the “war on Islam” narrative that the violent Jihadis want to promote.

              2. No, what they want is lots of people like you bending over to appease them. And it’s very naive to imagine that militant Islam is some tiny cult wholly unrelated to a mainstream “religion of peace”, just as it was to imagine that the IRA were some fringe group with no external support.

              3. Who is appeasing terrorists? They should be condemned without hesitation. What I’m criticising is the illogicality of generalising (Islam is evil) from the particular (Jihadi terrorists are evil). Not only is this illogical and not fact-based, but it’s also entirely unhelpful is addressing the problem.

                The extremists want people to attack Islam in general. That way they can claim their warped narrative of the West fighting a war against Islam is justified, and that way they can recruit more impressionable young Muslims to their cause.

                Pointing out that this is a dumb thing to do is not appeasement.

    1. Are you sure about what you’re saying? The Koran has at least 109 passages that call for Muslims to engage in violence with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule.
      From a logical perspective that means that the Muslims who are non-violent are not practicing their religion ‘properly’.
      Technically, that makes Islam a violent religion.

      1. So an outsider decides what the religion of a people is by ignoring what the overwhelming majority of people who profess adherence to that faith say on the one hand, and by setting up his own definition of the faith according to his own interpretation of a sacred book on the other.

        1. We’re not talking about cracking the Enigma code or mapping the human genome. Language means what it means.

          Koran (3:151) – “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”.

          Koran (2:216) – “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you.

          I guess next you’ll tell us that Cum Nimis Absurdum is open to interpretation too and Catholic Popes never promoted anti-semitism.

          1. So I pick out some verses in the Bible about killing Canaanites and I can tell you exactly what Judaism is all about, because that’s what not a few Jews have done — and those who don’t are obviously not faithful to their religion or are enablers of those who do.

            Christianity is all about hating parents and splitting up families because that’s what’s in the New Testament and that’s what a lot of Christians do. Any CHristian who doesn’t is not a real Christian.

            1. Actually, if any of the monotheistic ‘holy books’ are followed to the letter, we have barbarism. That’s not an opinion, it’s verifiable. History proves it.

              1. Actually it is an opinion, since the holy books, as far as I am aware, have a deity telling a person defined by a time and place to kill everybody, etc.

                As for “history proving” anything in a holy book, I would need more than your say-so to convince me.

              2. I’m a historian, so my suggestion is that you study history. My personal say-so is entirely unnecessary for those who do.
                You evidently don’t seem to comprehend the difference between an opinion and a fact, and it’s not my responsibility to remediate the failures of whichever educational system you were a victim of.
                Islam is a violent religion based on its own scriptures whether they’re read in Arabic, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian (or any other language)- your refusal to recognize that tells its own story.

              3. This seems rather a rude reply, and an incorrect point. On this basis Judaism and Christianity (insofar as it considers the Old Testament holy scripture, which it does) are also violent religions. But by and large the evidence is that, in 2013, they’re not.

                The reason is that what a religion is at any time is a combination of its underlying scriptures and the accumulated interpretations its adherents put on them, which are of course, varied and disputed. Religions are, after all, human creations. Most Muslims (and Jews and Christians) do not consider their religion to be violent and don’t behave as if it were.

                (When I read some of these prejudiced posts, I always wonder how many Muslims the writers have actually met or talked to. I suspect often the answer is zero.)

              4. But they are violent. No matter how much people dance around the issue. I’m Southern European, so I know the nefarious effects of ‘Nacionalcatolicismo’ first hand.
                Here in Spain babies were stolen from their mothers if the mothers didn’t conform to appropriate right wing Catholic standards. We had concentration camps. Special laws were designed to exclude and persecute gays.
                Islam takes all of that to new heights. I’m a 30 minute ferry ride away from Morocco, I can see the consequences of their beliefs with my own eyes. Your presumption that I’ve had no contact with the culture is rather ridiculous, unfounded and entirely inaccurate.

              5. “But by and large the evidence is that, in 2013, they’re not. ”

                Jeremy, that’s really moving the goalposts. This discussion was obviously about history.

          1. Whatever majority you need to be able to say that that is, say, the Anglican religion, the Catholic religion, the Hindu religion. For some reason it’s only Islam that we like to label the whole by what we see in the minority.

            1. No, we’re atheists (and agnostics) here. We see problems with ALL religious belief. Catholicism is a problem, Hinduism is a problem, Anglicanism is a problem, Islam is a problem. Islam, in this century at least, is particularly virulent in terms of violence and backwards societal values. This does not mean that all Muslims are violent, in the sense of carrying out terrorism personally, but that Islam is an inherently dangerous ideology.

              It is the content of Islam, the beliefs and narrative of it that we think are the fundamental problem. Particular acts of violence (and suppression and bigotry and ignorance, etc. etc.) are symptoms. In the same way that racism is an inherently problematic ideology, whether or not you know some racists who have personally never carried out a hate crime.

    2. Jerry recently posted another sweeping generalized diatribe against “Islam and its ahdherents” in which the need for rational and civilized debate was called for. I have addressed the specific claims of Jerry Coyne in posts and comments but his response was to say anyone who disagreed with his unscientific and anything but rigorous approach to this question could kiss his ass.

      I would love Jerry to actually seriously engage in rational, civilized debate, as I called for again recently:

    3. To get to the desired conclusion “Islam made these brothers kill” he must overgeneralize.

      Ahem Coyne quotes:

      Dzhokhar Tsarnaev indicated his older brother, Tamerlan, was the driving force behind the attacks and wanted to defend Islam from attack, the source said.

      From which he concludes:

      We should start taking these terrorists at their word instead of confecting soothing reasons why religion wasn’t to blame.

      So, not it isn’t based on some overgeneralization, it is the word of one of the attackers.

      You might get further if you actually read the OP.

    4. Did you read the article, where religion at large is blamed? Or the nearby articles where islamims, but also catholocism, are discussed as especially autricious, in that they promote violence, bigotry et cetera?

      Where is the bigotry in this?

      If you think that we need to establish causation from correlation and the promotion mechanism, religion is on record for establishing its vile wars, inquistions, bigotry et cetera. But I think socially it is enough to promote all of it in texts and practice, it should be condoned already there, no social groups should go uncriticized for bad practices.

      Finally, on the suggestion of these two brothers being motivated by the older’s wish “to defend Islam from attack” as the US government claims, I am going to punt. It may or may not be factual, but if not the analysis just moves to the next islamism motivated terrorism.They are frequent, which is why we have this discussion.

      As for claiming that Coyne should apologize, you are clearly nuts (or “an idiot”, if you prefer strident language). Nowhere does it follow from your analysis, assuming it would be true, that there is something or someone to apologize for or to. Honestly, it looks like some religious non sequitur.

    5. Diogenes wrote:

      To get to the desired conclusion “Islam made these brothers kill” he must overgeneralize.

      But that’s not the conclusion. Religion doesn’t MAKE anyone do anything. It only provides the rationale. Any rationale. It’s not limited by secular humanism OR common sense.

      By its very nature religion is in opposition to the secular world. The line between Extremist Islam and Reasonable Islam isn’t set by nonbelievers. We can never say that someone “distorted” the true meaning of Islam.

      You may see this as a mitigating circumstance: Islam means whatever you want it to mean so we can’t condemn it. But Jerry’s pointing out that this inherent ability to shape-shift around the need to have a test in reality is a bug, not a feature.

  23. Facts:
    1. Islam exists and has over a billion adherents spread right across the world. There is no evidence to suggest that it will cease to exist in the next 100 years +.
    2. Like all major faiths it encompasses a huge spectrum of views and practices.
    3. Violent Islamism is at one extreme. It seems to feed on fear and one of its objectives is to create division and a narrative of “a war against Muslims”.

    On this basis, Islam will only be reformed from within. And that means that the many moderate Muslims – by far the majority of those living in the UK or the US as far as we know – need to feel supported.

    They’re now being told that, on the basis of the crazy actions of people who they don’t agree with, their personal religion is to blame.

    How exactly is that going to help?

    1. By helping them to see the problems with their personal religion and hence the need to reform it from within?

      1. My own hope is that criticism of religion will induce more people to just abandon their cult — forget about “reforming” it. This may seem like Mission Impossible sometimes, but the gradual erosion of nonsensical beliefs can result in large long-term changes (hmmm… evolution might be an example?)

        1. The criticism itself elicits a knee-jerk reaction to defend their religion, because no one likes to be told they are wrong. They cling to their religion not from a rational conclusion, like say how scientists reach scientific conclusions, but because of irrational/emotional/traditional means typically because they grew up being told that this is the way it is. Therefore, they have no steps to retrace to see where they erred in accepting their religion and lack of education, poor education, or propaganda leaves for their perspective no viable alternative.

          And somehow you assume piling on against these folk’s religion is somehow going to induce mass conversions away from this religion. You are… new to this planet? Is this your first day as a human?

          I agree with your mission objective. I just don’t see how your method is effective. Perhaps targeted attacks on overt irrational/harmful religious actions will do better to plant the seeds of doubt in the faithful than indiscriminate bludgeoning of the whole religion.

          1. I’ll ignore the snarky comment about being “new to this planet” and simply observe that you have chosen to morph my “criticism of religion” into “piling on” and “indiscriminate bludgeoning”. I’m well aware that there are people who are so sensitive that they will perceive any criticism of their beliefs as “bludgeoning”, and that there are places in the world where that will get you the unwelcome attention of a lynch mob. But there are people who do begin to question their beliefs and ultimately abandon them due in part at least to the criticism in books by the NAs (take a look at Converts’ Corner on Richard Dawkins website, or the Clergy project). Percentage-wise such successes may seem like a mere trickle, but it is an important trickle that is becoming more like a stream already and may become a torrent as young people increasingly reject foolish beliefs. Apparently you think there is a better way of criticizing — or not criticizing — religion. So what’s your approach?

            1. I was just curious about your perspective on the issue, so I repackaged a criticism I’ve heard and volleyed it your way.

              My approach? Stupidity deserves mockery, regardless of the source. I don’t really go out of my way to convert anyone. I typically just lurk here.

              Thanks, btw!

              1. Then why not label it as repackaged in the first place? Pretty rude way to carry on a conversation, IMO.

              2. Diane G, I can’t be held accountable for how my message is interpreted or if it is liked.


    2. In the same way that all quantifiable criticism (eg “many terrorists – bad religion”) that comes out of empirical analysis does?

  24. On a website that stresses the importance of facts and data in discussing evolution, it’s a little distressing to see the blame for this bombing laid at the feet of Islam before we even know what happened with either brother. It’s a bit like pointing to the WBC and saying “Christianity apparently behind homophobia.”

    It’s okay to not care for religion, not want it in your life, or think it’s silly, or even dangerous. I don’t think that it’s okay to make a sweeping generalization about anyone’s faith in this context, though.

    This coming from a lapsed Catholic who hated other people defining his religion for him.

    It seems like from the information coming in, the older brother was a guy who was angry, and could have just as easy gotten into World of Warcraft or Call of Duty as a radical form of Islam.

    1. The ideology of Islam is toxic. Even when practiced by moderates, it is oppressive to women (as is true of several Orthodox faiths, including Judaism, but these faiths are, at least, limiting themselves to the control of women’s sexuality, and not also flying airplanes into buildings).

      I’m absolutely comfortable with yours, or anyone’s, accusation of overgeneralizing.

      Islam has a “brand” problem, and it’s huge.

    1. We don’t know that, and from the preliminary descriptions I doubt that. They seem to have been confused, with one becoming “bad” and the other “good” until corrupted.

  25. For good people to do evil things requires a fanatical belief system. Religion is one such system, but only one. Many ‘good’ people defended Stalin and Mao, even after their disastrous effects were known, on the principle that ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’.

    1. Marxism and its churches of party systems looks efficiently religions to me. There seems to be a continuous scale, with religions at its bad core.

  26. I was surprised by your restraint, and at first I thought right wing nutcases like McVeigh were responsible. What these guys did is nuts even by Islamic standards.

  27. I remember watching a program on I believe Animal Planet where people were rehabilitating abused dogs so they could be adopted. They had a method for testing whether the dogs were safe to be introduced to a family or whether they were too dangerous that surprised and impressed me with its simplicity and common sense: while the dog is eating, they push its bowl around with a rubber hand, and if it leaves the hand alone, it’s safe enough to adopt.

    Common sense supports doing a similar test with Muslims applying for a visa, residency, citizenship, etc to determine whether they are safe or present a danger to Americans. It seems simple enough: just require applicants to have a conversation with a woman in a bikini, two gay men who occasionally make out, and a fundamentalist Christian preacher who ends by burning\tearing up a Koran, and if the applicant gets through it without becoming violent or incoherent, they pass. Those are all things someone may encounter in the US and anyone who can’t accept that shouldn’t be in the US. It would be a much more useful test than quizzing people about American history or law.

    1. Except for the bit about burning/tearing up a Koran, seems to me that most Americans would fail that test.

    2. The women don’t even have to be in bikinis. Trust me, I experienced really nasty looks of hate from extreme Muslims just by speaking to them. Those guys think all Western women are whores and they don’t like whores (which isn’t very nice – what did whores ever do to them that was mean) 🙂

  28. There are many good examples of Muslims in America (and elsewhere) who have humanized their religion, incorporating elements of the Enlightenment into it and assimilating Islam harmoniously into a modern culture.

    That this is undoubtably true does not seem to me like much of a defense of Islam. If the best thing you can say about it is “it can be watered down” then that’s not much of a testimonial.

    If we’re dealing with matters of faith, who gets to decide what is or isn’t “extreme?” Not us. Not people using reason in the world. We are, by definition, excluded. When it gets right down to it people of faith believe they answer and negotiate only with God. All we seculars can do is hope they flip that coin so that it lands in our favor.

    1. I agree with almost everything you’ve written in these comments, but I think it is more hopeful than you seem to.

      It is not a defense of Islam, or Christianity, or any other belief, that it can be watered down by humanist reasoning, but it is a cause for a glimmer of hope. I think the very existence of that watering down speaks to the fact that we are not totally excluded in the decision of what is and isn’t legitimate belief. The opinions of the non-religious world do soak in to believers, albeit slowly and indirectly, and influence the way they interpret their texts. The rest of the world is a source of cognitive dissonance for them, and while that dissonance that can sometimes prompt them to lash out, it can also prompt them to adopt softer views as a way to lower the dissonance. Also, secular authority has it’s own taming effects by limiting the scope of religious influence and by exacting costs on extreme interpretations. Many religions do have a contempt for the present world of reality in favor of an imaginary alternate universe as part of their fundamental teachings, but in practice most religious people are quite enamored with the present world as well and want to navigate it with a degree of comfort.

      1. Religious obsession is also a mark of piety. So how the hell do we parse out the difference if there is a large GROUP of people with religious obsession and most of them are not clinically insane?

        I had a Mormon friend whose husband was a diagnosed schizophrenic. Mormon men are supposed to hear messages from God which the family is then supposed to obey — even if they don’t seem to make much sense. Trust God. This made it very hard for her on several levels. She told me there were so many times she just couldn’t be sure.

        The people can be fine but the religion can be crazy.

  29. There is nothing like religion to corrupt the mind and fill it with hate.
    As Hitch said, “Religion poisons everything.”

  30. Jeremy Rodell says:

    Like all major faiths [Islam] encompasses a huge spectrum of views and practices.
    Violent Islamism is at one extreme.

    “Violent Islamism” does not seem to be an extreme. Data from numerous polls of Muslim public opinion indicate widespread support among ordinary Muslims for terrorist acts, both in the west and (even more so) in Islamic nations.

    There is also widespread support among Muslims for censorship of criticism of Islam, for imprisoning (or executing) people who leave Islam, for the subjugation of women, and for other odious laws and practises.

    1. This is what I actually said:
      “Islam exists and has over a billion adherents spread right across the world. There is no evidence to suggest that it will cease to exist in the next 100 years +. Like all major faiths it encompasses a huge spectrum of views and practices. Violent Islamism is at one extreme. It seems to feed on fear and one of its objectives is to create division and a narrative of “a war against Muslims”.”

      There is no poll anywhere that says that anything other than a tiny minority of Muslims are actually violent Islamists. And in the US and the UK there’s no evidence to suggest that more than a minority are even sympathetic to violent Islamism.

      We have a choice: either play into the hands of the extremists who want to be able to recruit more Muslims to their warped ideology by demonstrating that “the West” is pursuing a war on Islam, or undermine them by supporting the position of Muslims who abhor terrorism.

      It’s pretty obvious which option an article headlined “Islam apparently behind Boston bombings” is going down. It’s just what the angry fanatics want to see.

      1. There is no poll anywhere that says that anything other than a tiny minority of Muslims are actually violent Islamists. And in the US and the UK there’s no evidence to suggest that more than a minority are even sympathetic to violent Islamism.

        Did you even look at the link I posted? A NOP Research poll found that almost 1 in 4 British Muslims say the 2005 London bombings were justified. A Pew Research poll found that 26% of young Muslims in America believe suicide bombings are justified. An al-Arabiya poll found that 36% of Muslims said the 9/11 attacks were morally justified.

        See the link I provided for many, many more examples. The polling data indicates that support for terrorism is not just some tiny, fringe element of Islam. It’s a large part of Islam.

        And then there are all the other idious views that are widespread among Muslims: censorship of criticism, oppression of women, etc.

        1. ” A NOP Research poll found that almost 1 in 4 British Muslims say the 2005 London bombings were justified.”

          On the other hand, another survey from 2006 (also from the link you posted) puts the same number (of those saying the bombings were justified) at 1%, with 75% claiming that they had no sympathy whatsoever with the bombers. When the variance in poll results is this high, I think the results ought to be taken with a grain of salt, and not as some sort of undebatable truth.

          1. I wasn’t suggesting the result of a single poll is undebatable truth. But the link cites numerous polls and other sources regarding Muslim public opinion. The overwhelming finding from the totality of the evidence is high levels of support for terrorist activity — either substantial minorities or in some cases majorities. We’re not talking about just one or two polls here on one or two specific incidents, but a broad set of polling data on terrorism, terrorist organizations, and Osama bin Laden.

        2. Apropos of the claim “A Pew Research poll found that 26% of young Muslims in America believe suicide bombings are justified.”, your link neglects to mention that its source for it also says (last paragraph of page 5):

          Very few Muslim Americans – just
          1% – say that suicide bombings against
          civilian targets are often justified to defend
          Islam; an additional 7% say suicide bombings
          are sometimes justified in these circumstances.

          Now, as far as I am concerned, even a figure of 1% is far from ideal. Ideally, no one should believe that suicide bombing is justified. However, the fact that your link bandies about the 26% figure for young people while keeping mum about the aggregate figure of 1%* does seem to establish very firmly where its biases lie.

          * Notice also that 26% is the percentage of young people who say that bombing is *ever* justified, not those who say it is *often* justified. The corresponding aggregate figures seem to be 1% and 13%. The fact that they vary so much from *ever* justified to *often* justified also suggests that this might be an artifact of the wording of the survey questions.

          1. I didn’t say “often.” A finding that 1 in 4 young American Muslims consider suicide bombing “to defend Islam” to be justified AT ALL is alarming enough.

            And in other countries, the percentage of young Muslims who think some suicide bombings “to defend Islam” are justified is even higher: In Spain, 29%. In Britain, 35%. In France, 42%.

            1. As I said, for the figures on which a breakup is provided, the major contribution seems to come from those you say it is “rarely” (or “sometimes”) “justified”. That is a very different thing from saying that it is justified without any qualifications, though as I said, ideally people should not even have such qualified support.

              On the other hand, I don’t see why the webpage you quoted (and presumably you) do not find it interesting that extreme positions are much less common among Muslims (a) living in relatively prosperous countries (b) as they get older and (c) as they get more educated: all results supported by the survey. Doesn’t that suggest that this extremism is more about prevailing social conditions and/or susceptibility to propaganda than about Islam itself?

              Coming back to the prevalence of weird beliefs coming up in polls, we should also acknowledge that it is not just a feature of Islamic communities. This poll suggests, for example, that 19% of Americans think that torture is always justified, even when it is based only on suspicion. This article suggests that 79% of Americans believed in 2003 that an American invasion of Iraq was justified, with or without evidence that Iraq had WMDs, while by mid 2004, 67% had already come to believe that the assumptions leading to the war were wrong.

              1. On the other hand, I don’t see why the webpage you quoted (and presumably you) do not find it interesting that extreme positions are much less common among Muslims (a) living in relatively prosperous countries (b) as they get older and (c) as they get more educated: all results supported by the survey. Doesn’t that suggest that this extremism is more about prevailing social conditions and/or susceptibility to propaganda than about Islam itself?

                It suggests that living in western nations has a civilizing influence on Muslims and makes them less likely to support terrorism (and other odious practices). It also tells us that young Muslims are more supportive of terrorism than older ones. This isn’t terribly surprising since Islamic terrorists tend to be relatively young.

                It does NOT tell us that their views will moderate as they get older, and it does NOT suggest that their motives are non-religious.

              2. Gary W asserted:

                It suggests that living in western nations has a civilizing influence on Muslims and makes them less likely to support terrorism (and other odious practices).

                This assertion is not based on any evidence: indeed it is contrary to evidence. The table on page 53 in the Pew Survey report (that you yourself cited above) notes that the percentage of Muslims who say that suicide bombing is *never* justified is roughly the same in Indonesia, Pakistan and Great Britain (at about 70%). Now that is far from ideal (ideally, the figure should be 100%), but it nevertheless shows that your claim that Muslims are some kind of savages who need to be civilized by “living in western nations” is unfounded. It is interesting that you find it so convenient to resort to this kind of evidence-free “white-man’s-burden” rhetoric, which is about a century past its sell-by date.

                I also note that you do not address the issue that similar weird views are also held by the general (non-Islamic) public: one of the surveys cited above put the fraction of Americans who thought torture just based on suspicion at 19%, higher than the percentage of American Muslims (13%) in the Pew Survey who said that suicide bombings could sometimes be justified. Perhaps the magical “civilizing influence” you have in mind has escaped these people.

                It also tells us that young Muslims are more supportive of terrorism than older ones. This isn’t terribly surprising since Islamic terrorists tend to be relatively young.

                Not just Islamic terrorists, all terrorists in general tend to be relatively young. The reasons for that seem much less connected to Islam than to susceptibility to propaganda at a young age, and to misguided youthful rebelliousness.

              3. This assertion is not based on any evidence: indeed it is contrary to evidence. The table on page 53 in the Pew Survey report (that you yourself cited above) notes that the percentage of Muslims who say that suicide bombing is *never* justified is roughly the same in Indonesia, Pakistan and Great Britain (at about 70%).

                You’re cherry picking your polls. The totality of the polling data — on support for terrorism, terrorist organizations and Osama bin Laden in general, not just suicide bombings specifically — indicates higher support for terrorism in Islamic countries than in western ones. As I said, the evidence suggests that living in western countries has a civilizing effect on Muslims. But even among western Muslims, support for terrorism is alarmingly high.

                I also note that you do not address the issue that similar weird views are also held by the general (non-Islamic) public

                I ignored it because it’s irrelevant. I’m not really interested in your view of what people think about torture.

              4. As I said, the evidence suggests that living in western countries has a civilizing effect on Muslims. But even among western Muslims, support for terrorism is alarmingly high.”

                I asked you for this “evidence”, and provided you with concrete evidence contradicting your claim. I don’t see any evidence presented in your current post showing either why what I did was “cherry picking”, or that your “white-man’s-burden rhetoric is justified (Note that I picked Indonesia and Pakistan: the two countries with the top two highest Muslim populations in the world, not some outlier like Azerbaijan, which would have contradicted your claim even more soundly). I am sorry, but it is not my job to do your research for you.

                I ignored it because it’s irrelevant. I’m not really interested in your view of what people think about torture.

                You seem to have a reading comprehension issue here. What I presented were not my “views” about “what people think about torture”, but poll data on what they actually think. That data shows that the percentage of the general public in the US that thinks torture is always justified, even when based only on suspicion is higher than the percentage of Muslims who think that suicide bombing is sometimes justified. This is very relevant to the issue at hand, since it shows that weird, “uncivilized” beliefs, although rare, are just as common, if not more, among the general public as among Muslims.

                I am sorry, but it is amply clear that on this issue, you do not seem susceptible to any kind of rational argument or data. In deference to our host’s guidelines, and recognizing that my time is too valuable to be wasted on your preconceived notions, I’ll let this be my last post on the thread.

              5. Good. Glad it’s your last post. You are not aware how annoying and insulting many of us find the term, “white man’s burden”. Or maybe you are aware and you choose to repeat it anyway.

              6. I said that last post was going to be my last post, but I think I need to set the record straight on this one. If you have a problem with my use of the phrase “white man’s burden”, you should probably take it up with Gary W, who was talking about the “living in western countries” having “a civilizing effect on Muslims” (those are exact quotes from his comments). If that’s not what Kipling’s despicable “white-man’s-burden” was all about, then I don’t know what it was about.

                I am sure many right-thinking people find the term “white-man’s-burden” annoying and insulting: it captures all that was wrong with some parts of Western colonialist thinking in the early 1900s. But my criticism was not directed at those people, but specifically at Gary W who still seems to believe in some version of it, at least based on the quotes from his posts that I provided above.

              7. Gary W was referring to polls that indicate Muslims in Europe tend to have more moderate views than those in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan etc. I would have thought that it would be pretty obvious and uncontroversial that the greater educational and cultural opportunities in the western world, combined with the increased contact with other cultures would tend to lead to more moderate views. That’s one of the most valuable roles of education. And why is that a bad thing in your opinion? I would have thought it to be a very good.

              8. If you have a problem with my use of the phrase “white man’s burden”, you should probably take it up with Gary W

                I never said “white man’s burden” or anything like it. You seem to have some bizarre obsession with that phrase, given you many times you keep repeating it.

                What I said, for the third time, is that the polling data suggests that living in western countries has a civilizing effect on Muslims. This is hardly surprising, given that the values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equality for women, tolerance for dissent and so on are much more common in western nations than in the Muslim world.

            2. To add to my last comment, the same article that I quoted above suggests that if you combine the people who say torture based only on suspicion is “often”, “sometime” and “rarely” justified, then you get the figure of 63%. Now, I (and presumably you too) would find it rather disingenuous, perhaps even offensive, if someone cited these figures to make the claim that “63% Americans think that torture based on suspicion is justified”.

              1. It would be accurate, though incomplete. I find it appalling.

                Puttiong together the various poll results mentioned in comments above, a young Muslim who’s a US citizen must be at relatively high risk of being a fuckwit.

            3. LIes, Damned Lies and Muslims — that’s what those who bandy about those figures are about. Look at the source and see how the questions are worded and you get a very different picture. I have posted tables of the relevant stats from the respectable polling finds, along with dishonest or ignorant use of figures one often sees on the net, at Damned Lies, Statistics and Muslims.

        3. In 2005, as far as I can find, 6% of British Muslims fully supported the London bombings, 25% felt some sympathy with them. That means that 94% did not fully support them, and 75% did not feel sympathy for them. It would be complacent not to be concerned about these figures. But there is nothing to indicate that more than a tiny minority are actually terrorists (real or potential). And none of the numbers support the generalisation that this article, and many of the comments, seek to make.

          1. Here is the actual question and results from the 2005 NOP poll of British Muslims:

            “To what extent do you agree that the July bombings were justified because of British support for the war on terror?”

            Strongly agree: 11%
            Tend to agree: 11%

            All agree: 22%

              1. I’d say 22% is more than a “tiny minority.”

                You seem to be desperately trying to trivialize figures (not just from this poll but from many other cited polls) showing that there is widespread support among Muslims, both in the west and (even more so) in Islamic nations, for terrorist acts.

              2. Not at all. I said earlier that it would be a mistake to be complacent about these numbers. I’m arguing two points:

                1. It’s a fact that only a tiny minority of Muslims are terrorists and only a minority support them (albeit far too many). The great majority of Muslims, especially those in the UK and US, abhor terrorism as much as you and I do – probably more as they suffer from the prejudice it creates. (The Boston bomber was thrown out of his mosque for his extreme views.)

                2. It’s also a fact that the extremists want to underline the false narrative of the West’s “war on Islam” (ignoring the fact that in recent conflicts, most Muslims have been killed by other Muslims). That makes it easier for them to recruit fellow members of the ummah to their cause.
                The smart thing to do is not to go along with them, but make it easier for non-violent Muslims to show that playing a harmonious and constructive role in society pays off. The dumb thing to do is to fall for it and paint Islam as a whole/all Muslims with the “terrorist” brush. How would that make you feel if you were a non-violent Muslim simply trying to get on with life?

              3. It’s a fact that only a tiny minority of Muslims are terrorists and only a minority support them

                That’s just irrelevant. Only a tiny minority of the guns in America are used to shoot people. Does that mean gun violence isn’t a serious problem in America? Of course not. What matters is the fraction of terrorism that is committed by Muslims (more specifically, that is motivated by Islamic religious beliefs), not the fraction of Muslims that commit terrorism.

                Also, even if it’s true that “only a minority” of Muslims support terrorism (the polling results on some questions in some countries suggest MAJORITY support for terrorism), they are in many cases very large minorities. Again, in come cases, approaching 50%. The problem is not just the very small number of Muslims who actually commit acts of terrorism, but the many, many additional Muslims who help to enable those terrorist acts by supporting and sympathizing with the people who actually do the bombing and murdering.

          2. Are you even aware of what you are saying? A large proportion of British Muslims *admit* to sympathizing with killing and maiming innocent people in the society in which they live, for vacuous religious reasons. “It would be complacent…” is a massive understatement. What if you were on the bus or your friends or loved ones? How would you feel then about those who sympathize with the people who killed them?

            We, all of us, only have just one life and every death is a tragedy for someone. Don’t try to excuse it just because it hasn’t affected you yet.

            1. My problem is that those who stoke prejudice against all Muslims in the US and the UK, regardless of the fact that the majority are non-violent and don’t support violence, only make terrible atrocities such as the London bombings more likely.

              What’s wrong with being compassionate towards decent people who are Muslims, while condemning those who are violent or support violence?

            2. Nothing at all is wrong with that. But what is wrong is to deny that religion plays a major role in creating a climate where these atrocities are more likely to occur. The dialogue we can have with those who hold their convictions based on unreasonable faith are limited and the environments that those faiths create are the breeding grounds for the dissent that leads to atrocities.

              1. Yes of course it does. These extremists claim they are acting out of religious conviction. And I agree that no amount of debate or dialogue will make much difference to their thinking.

                But religion is a fact of life and isn’t going away any time soon. Whether we think it’s rational or not, it plays an important part in many people’s lives, especially Muslims. And for many people it’s either neutral – just about ritual and tradition – or it inspires them to lead good lives. Those are the people it’s important to talk to, not in order to tell them they’re stupid or supporters of terrorism, but to understand where they’re coming from, and help them understand where those of us who are humanists and atheists are coming from. Neither needs be a threat to the other, and in my experience it becomes pretty apparent that there is a lot of common ground on what a good life looks like.

                Of course, by explaining my Humanism I have a hope that some people will begin to think that it makes sense. But that’s simply about enabling them to make an informed choice.

              2. But religion is a fact of life and isn’t going away any time soon.

                It won’t disappear any time soon. Perhaps it will never disappear entirely. But religion is clearly in decline in the west, and we should promote its demise throughout the world. Part of that is exposing and publicizing the harm caused by religion. Islam appears to be by far the most harmful religion in the world today, not least through its incitement of terrorism.

  31. A statement that his older brother’s motivation was that he “wanted to defend Islam from attack” should be given some weight because the younger brother can reasonably be assumed to have some insight into his brother’s motivations. However, such a statement is only partially revelatory.

    The evidence, discussed elsewhere on this website, that ‘free will’ is an illusion that we experience implies that our rationalizations for our motives are precisely that – rationalizations created as an explanation for the decisions we have already made. Some personalities, under some conditions, may be more likely to behave violently if they have been exposed to some of the more irrational variations of Islam, but their rationalizations for their behavior are unlikely to fully explain their behavior. (As demonstrated by the large number of people in this world who profess to believe some truly awful things, but who somehow manage to generally lead pretty decent lives.)

    If the bombers had been some variety of Christian Fundamentalism and stated that the bombings were intended to ‘defend Christianity’ it would be a pretty accurate, but incomplete, statement that their religion played a role in their decision to bomb. That detail would have been played down in this country, just as the role of “Islamic Beliefs” is being played up.

    Speaking out against religion (and therefore Islam) and other forms of irrational thinking is necessary if we are to improve, but since our decision-making is influenced by many different things we probably need to attend to more issues than convincing people that religion is only story-telling.

    1. Isn’t the real point the concept that if people sought the assistance of medical professionals instead of religion, a number of tragedies could most probably be avoided?

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