Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ the “no true Muslim” fallacy

September 17, 2014 • 6:45 am

Today’s Jesus and Mo is particularly relevant in view of our discussions (and the apologists’ denials) about whether ISIS represents “true” Islam.  That denial is bunk, of course: one can make a case that ISIS is one of the truer forms of Islam. Regardless, it’s certainly representing the principles of one form of Islam. The J&M cartoonist’s note says this: “Jesus is reading this article.”

The article is by James Brandon at the site Left Foot Forward, and is called “By denouncing ISIS as ‘not Muslims,” moderate Muslims are making things worse.” A quote from Brandon’s piece:

Just as non-Muslims who try to tackle Islamism through defining moderate interpretations of Islam as the sole ‘true Islam’ actually undermine liberal Muslim attempts to develop a pluralist understanding of religion, so moderate Muslims’ use of takfir – the process of denouncing rival Muslims as apostates or non-Muslims – reinforces the ideological underpinnings of the very movements they are seeking to tackle.

Takfirism is the root and enabler of all modern jihadism; takfirist doctrine enables any ‘true’ Muslim to label those with a rival interpretation of Islam as no longer Muslim.

This, combined with traditional Islamic jurisprudence that mandates death for apostates, is taken by jihadists as an open license to denounce and then kill their enemies.

When moderate Muslim groups use takfirism to tackle extremism, this dangerous and intrinsically intolerant doctrine is therefore not challenged but is instead reaffirmed. Illustrating this, one British fighter in Syria, explaining why he regarded the MCB as his enemies, said: ‘The Muslim Council of Britain, they are apostates, they are not Muslims”, ironically the same argument that the MCB itself makes against ISIS.

A better approach is to accept that Islamist extremists, however distasteful their view of Islam, remain Muslims, however much other Muslims, and non-Muslims, might dislike their version of Islam.

AGREED!  But of course neither the U.S. nor moderate Muslims will go that route, for it seems to tar all religion. My one quibble with Brandon is that he thinks the way to eliminate extremist Islam is to “de-fang” the poisonous verses in the Qur’an:

Take, for example, militants’ fondness for beheading captives; jihadists typically justify this practice through referencing the Quranic verse 47:4 ‘when you meet those who disbelieve, strike at their necks’ (and variants of this, according to different translations), often supported by many centuries of warlike, and literally medieval, interpretations.

Rather than seeking to effectively re-contextualise and de-fang this verse for the modern era, a blunt rejection of those who cite it as non-Muslims removes all scope for critically engaging – and dismantling – their arguments. This ostrich approach that extremists’ actions ‘have nothing to do with Islam’ not only fails to recognise how deep-rooted some hardline jihadist interpretations are, but it also effectively cedes such key theological battlefields to the extremists.

By “re-contextualise and de-fang this verse for the modern era,” Brandon means to say either that it no longer applies (which is anathema for most Muslims, who see the Qur’an as the literal and eternal word of God), or that the verse, and others like them, were meant as metaphor. The latter won’t wash either, for the verse in question sure doesn’t look metaphorical! And, in truth, there are few Muslims who read the words of the Qur’an as being a metaphor for something else.

No, the way to de-fang Islam is the way to de-fang all religions: show that they are man-made, that there is no evidence for their deity or their God-given moral strictures, and then try to inculcate believers with Enlightenment values. That will take a long time—decades for Islam—but it’s the only way to rid religion of its malevolence.

But I fulminate; on to the cartoon:


BTW, Sean Hannity asked me to be on his Fox News show this week to discuss my contention that ISIS was indeed Muslim, but of course he’d also want to go after me for my remarks about Catholicism. I declined politely, saying that I prefer civil discussion to having my viscera gnawed by the host. In other words, I’d prefer to be interviewed rather than mocked, interrupted, or yelled at.


60 thoughts on “Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ the “no true Muslim” fallacy

  1. My GOD (no pun intended), I’m so glad I came upon your blog! LOVE your entries! I live in Turkey (Muslim) for six months a year and Washington, DC, the other six. So on one side of the ocean I’m blasted by Muslims, the other side by “highly religious persons” of the Christian persuasion. You help me stand up against the derision this atheist gets…mainly because I can’t keep my mouth shut when I hear nonsense.

      1. OPPS! Thank you, Timothy! I’m rushing to leave for Italy and trying to read all I can here before I go. Came by accident to this website and now I’m staying….thanks so much!

    1. Yeah, Jerry doesn’t like his site being called a blog (Not sure why he considers it derogatory. Wikipedia: a truncation of the expression weblog . . . a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web and consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order).

      Anyway, good for you for speaking up.

      1. Thanks for the info, Ploubere. I apologise to Jerry. Ignorance on my part. So glad I have been corrected. I’m throwing things into my suitcase as I try to read this website and thus I slipped up. Once back to Istanbul on Oct. 10, I’ll be very careful! Thanks, again.

              1. Yes – brusketta!!! Everyone around here seems to say it wrong. It is confusing with the sch and sc being the opposite in Englush and German.


              2. Ant– you’re helping me stand proud in Italy! And Merilee–between the two of you I’ll order my brusketta properly. In Bologna today, heading to Florence on Saturday. Thanks!

              3. Will you have a chance to visit Pisa? With all it’s Galilean history? I hope you have time to go into the cathedral; tickets are free but they’re timed and we missed out because we left it too late.


              4. Yes, Ant, Pisa is on my list–will visit the cathedral–thank you. And Merilee–will no doubt consume great quantities of the Perche No in Florence–thanks for the tip! Today–off to see museums/art in Bologna. (Of course I’ve had Bologna’s signature ragu)

      2. I think the bl*g reference is really a running joke that had a convoluted origin from the fact that our host really likes cats. A lot.

    1. I don’t know for sure why he wanted me except they mentioned the ISIS stuff, but of course if they wanted to go after me for my anti-Catholicism, or anti-religious stuff, they wouldn’t tell me. I just don’t trust the guy not to sandbag me. He is to television what Freethought Blogs is to freethinking.

      1. I wish people would look back at Sean Hannity’s statements to see how they pan out.
        For example, he said that waterboarding is not torture and that he would be willing to undergo it if it could raise money for the troops (Sean Hannity,Fox News, 4/22/2009).
        It now has been over 5 years since he was offered $1000 a second he tolerated it. His words mean nothing.
        He is an entertainer, not someone to have a serious discussion with.

      2. “He is to television what Freethought Blogs is to freethinking.”

        Great line. There’s very little freethinking at that site.

    2. When atheists rationally criticize Islam and the phobic reaction to it, conservatives, like Sean’s viewers, can be sidestepped by the idea that they might actually agree with atheists, but probably for different reasons. The whole issue has margin for interest for conservative Christians, particularly those issues regarding dislike of Obama’s ideas and dislike of Islam.

    3. It’s also probably just as much that Jerry’s critical of Islam.

      But based on my experience with conservatives, their critical attitude of Islam comes from a completely different place than our critical attitude. Theirs is rooted not in skepticism and the acknowledgement that believing irrational and violent nonsense leads to real-world awfulness, but in plain old xenophobia.

        1. Actually, the more I think about it the more I think it might not be a horrible idea to appear on Hannity’s show. I’m not sure the above distinction is often seen it heard by your average conservative. If my guess as to why Sean extended the invitation is accurate, it would seem even Sean thinks he and Jerry are on common ground.

          Of course, once he understands that Jerry’s not there to function as an anti-Muslim yes-man, the interview would likely turn into a hatchet job, but it could still be good to get it out there that atheists like Sam and Jerry are not coming from the same place.

          1. What would Professor Ceiling Cat stand to gain by accepting Hannity’s offer? That’s the real question that should be answered before agreeing to appear on his show.

            At present, I don’t see how our host stands to gain anything.

              1. Especially that venue! Get the dittoheads properly riled up, and they’ll buy it just to feed their five-minute hate. And a few of them will realize that, just possibly perhaps, they’ve bitten off a bit more than Jesus can chew for them….



          2. I see advantages and disadvantages. Hard to say if the net effect would be – positive or negative. If I was asked to appear it would mainly depend on my personal feeling for my ability to hold my own and answer the call. Definitely a risk, but without risk there is no life.

          3. “Actually, the more I think about it the more I think it might not be a horrible idea to appear on Hannity’s show.”

            Ohyesitwould ohyesitwould ohyesitwould!

            Hannity’s show, Hannity’s ulterior motives, Hannity’s framing…

            I do love your point about different reasons for condemning Islam, but it’s got to be done in some other venue. IMO.

  2. Very impressed that you turned down Fox! Great decision!

    Most authors would jump on the ‘free’ publicity that an appearance like that would offer, but it just legitimises that absurd tv channel. I really cant stomach all the yelling on that show. It’s terrible.

    Good call!

  3. Ugh! I wouldn’t want to go on FOX either. Who needs to be abused on TV when you have the Internet for that already. 🙂

  4. Of course you made the right call on Hannity. I’m sure, if you went on, you would get the best of him on actual merit (not volume). His principle audience wouldn’t be persuaded though.

  5. Agree with previous posters, good call on Hannity.

    The Brandon article (and J&M cartoon summary) is interesting, I had not thought about the issue that way before.

    No, the way to de-fang Islam is the way to de-fang all religions: show that they are man-made, that there is no evidence for their deity or their God-given moral strictures, and then try to inculcate believers with Enlightenment values.

    Well, that’s certainly one way. The history of Christianity shows that the Brandon approach can work too.

    I think there’s a third approach, which is basically just westernization. Establish decent education (for women as well as men), a working economy and reasonably fair justice system, job opportunities based resonably on merit, civil rights, free speech. You do that, and religion will become tame. When a people gain peace and prosperity, they’re going to find their own psychological way of justifying why they should remain peaceful and prosperous. You don’t need to bother to come up with a justification for them, they’ll do it themselves. It’s like birth rate stabilization – you don’t need to force it. Just give women education, self-control over their reproduction, and relative equality in the job market, and the birth rate will flatten out on its own.

    1. Muslims living in the UK and other developed western nations already have all the stuff you list in your last paragraph. It doesn’t stop frighteningly large numbers of them demanding stricter interpretations of Islam, holding repulsively misogynistic views, hating Jews, supporting terrorism and all the rest. They reject all the advances and advantages of life in the west and seem hell-bent on turning our societies into replicas of the benighted hellholes their parents or grandparents were glad to escape from.

      1. I suspect the good effects of economic and social advances will be delayed by cultural inertia. Give it another generation.

      2. Their beheading rate, however, is the same as the non-muslims around them: essentially zero.

        I’m not sure what Brandon or Jerry mean when they say “de-fang,” but I’m not talking about changing the sorts of comments they make, I’m talking about changing rates of violent attack. I honestly don’t care what sort of jingoistic bluster they make, so long as they settle their disputes using the ballot boxes and the courts rather than with knives and rockets.
        As an example, I would call the KKK in the US pretty much de-fanged. The jingoistic bluster is still there, but their rate of violence is low. If muslim extremists in Iraq act like the KKK acts in the US, that’s a good enough victory for me. Let them publish all the hate rants they want about infidels, so long as they are peaceful and law-abiding.

    2. I think I agree. If its true, it should not be long before Islam is noticeably tamer. Living standards are rising rapidly throughout the world. Women’s education is increasing, etc. There are pockets where this will take much longer, but for most, this is happening.
      I am concerned that global warming, a major war, or some other disaster could put the breaks on economic and social progress.

  6. “I declined politely, saying that I prefer civil discussion to having my viscera gnawed by the host. In other words, I’d prefer to be interviewed rather than mocked, interrupted, or yelled at.”

    Bravo, mon grand! (though I suspect you would have held your own somehow)

  7. I think you made the right call re Hannity, although I suspect on this occasion he might not have referred to your anti-Catholic stance. Hannity wants as wide a range of people as possible backing his anti-Muslim stance. Going after you for being anti-Catholic would diminish your credibility to his audience so he would ignore it for this interview. Hannity is on a major anti-Islam crusade at the moment and wants supporters for it. (As I’ve mentioned before, I watch Fox quite a lot because I need to keep up to date with what the considerable number of people who see them as an authority are thinking.)

  8. I love the JayMo recursion!

    And, of course, you’re wise to avoid Hannity like the plague he is…but it’s also a very good sign that you’re on his radar. That tells me that you belong on the national book interview circuit when The Albatross comes out…and now is the time to get your agent working that up. Might also be a good time to get some coaching from media-savvy people…you’ve got a good foundation for public speaking with your teaching, but national TV is an entirely different sport with its own set of rules. You should be able to pick it up quick, but you’ll need some practice before you’re on the set with Stewart.

    At that point, you may well want to make a token appearance on Fox. It’ll be utterly unproductive as a conversation, but if you’re outrageous enough to their audience, you just might sell enough books to them soak through a few thick skulls.


  9. Going on Fox would be a great waste of time for any reasonable person and there are no reasonable people listening anyway. If given the choice between that and root canal, I’ll see you at the dentist.

  10. Good decision to bypass Hannity. Nothing shows Hannity’s lack of knowledge and narrow mind better than his discussion with Hitchens several years ago. It is readily available on you tube, and enjoyable to watch Hitchens make him look so foolish. I’m not sure, but I think it was the interview following the death of Jerry Falwell.

  11. It’s hard to imagine anything more ludicrous than someone like Hannity trying to explain “true Islam” to a gang of fanatical Muslims. I personally would prefer being water-boarded to going on a TV show with someone who can’t string together more than three words without interjecting the phrase “you know.”

    It’s interesting that this meme that they know more about Islam than the Moslems and are qualified to explain it to them is prevalent among the ideologues on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Do you suppose Hannity has a “Coexist” bumper sticker on his car?

  12. I think Jerry probably did the right thing by not going on Hannity – part of the widespread reluctance in criticising Islam is down to liberal intransigence and the absolute moratorium on criticising ethnic minorities that is an article of faith on the left, but another part of the reluctance is that quite often critics of ethnic minorities HAVE been racist, and prejudiced.
    This reluctance to criticise Islam is reinforced because, in doing so, liberals, the few liberals willing to do so anyway, align themselves, at least in part, with gits like Hannity, O’Reilly, The Daily Mail brigade, etc. It’s not intentional it’s just unavoidable.
    The only consistent criticism of Islam is coming from the right, occasionally intelligent and perceptive criticism by, say, Douglas Murray, but mainly rote criticism of ‘the other’ that, like a stopped clock twice a day, just happens to be right this time around. This is a problem, because a generally useful heuristic for liberals seeking to check if they’re on the correct side of the argument is to make sure that the right disagree. If they don’t it tends to make liberals feel uncomfortable. Mainly though, the people criticising Islam on the right are the same people who support the kind of hawkish, neo-colonialist foreign policy, anti-immigration laws and anti-equality laws that arguably betray a deep-set racism.
    This means that the cries of Islamophobia still carry a certain weight, they are still taken seriously, because it’s quite easy to imagine someone like Hannity having an ulterior motive guided by prejudice against foreigners(look at how many conservatives, in the light of stories from Syria and Iraq under I.S.I.S., seem to have suddenly discovered a passionate belief in equal rights for gays and women. Do they really believe any of that?). The fact that the criticism is coming from arguably already-racist media organisations like Fox News and The Daily Mail makes it easy for people like Mehdi Hasan to immediately dismiss criticism of Islam as racist or racist by association(see his Newsnight appearance alongside Douglas Murray for typical evasive sophistry).
    It’s so crucial that a body of brave liberal figures stand up and at least point out that Islam is not perfect. I’d rather they pointed out that it was deeply, deeply flawed but one step at a time.
    Until the balance of criticism across the political spectrum is restored no muslim organisations will take any of it seriously. There needs to be a lot more criticism from the left and, arguably, a lot less from the right. So Jerry going on Hannity would’ve probably been a waste of time, and would’ve been a sodding unpleasant experience into the bargain.
    Apologies for the length. I’ll try and rein it in next time.

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