Readers’ beefs: I’m a “New Atheist embedded in the political right”

July 23, 2015 • 12:00 pm

A few weeks ago, Neil Godfrey, who writes the website Vridar and has criticized New Atheists for being Islamophobes who consistently misrepresent the roots of Muslim terrorism, sent in the following comment on my post “A Muslim-basher becomes an atheist-basher“:

Jerry, what concerns me about the various statements made by yourself along with Dawkins and Harris is that they are not informed by specialist scholarship — sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists et al — in Islamic and terrorist studies. Rather, they seem to be fueled by visceral reactions without the benefit of broader understanding and knowledge that comes from scholarly investigations into these phenomena.

It almost appears to some of us that your criticisms are willfully ignorant of the scholarship. I find these visceral responses coming from trained scientists difficult to understand.

What “scholarship” that people like Godfrey and Robert Pape have mentioned or produced has completely ignored what the terrorists say about their own motivations in favor of blaming colonialism—something that self-flagellating liberals in the West love to do. (Not, of course, that the U.S. is completely blameless in oppressing and attacking the Middle East, but neither are we the sole cause of extreme Islamic terrorism.) As I once asked one of these blame-the-West apologists, “What would it take to convince you that some Muslim terrorists are actually motivated by religion?” Clearly the terrorists’ own words don’t count: the “scholars” claim to know better. This unfounded psychologizing clearly shows their motivations.

Quoting Robert Pape’s discredited conclusions about the colonialist sources of Islamic terrorism, Godfrey has argued that “all suicide bombing can be attributed to political causes.” (For a few critiques of Pape’s widely-accepted but fallacious claims, go herehere, and here).

I would maintain that this “scholarship” we ignore (and, in fact, I’ve read it) is tendentious and ideologically motivated, and that Godfrey is pulling the credentials card here.

A few days ago, reader Robert C called my attention to another post by Godfrey at Vridar that makes the logical (and unfounded) extension of the argument above: New Atheists who pin Islamic terrorism on Islam are members of the political right:

Hector Avalos does identify himself with the New Atheists and it is true, as Robert Myles notes, that the likes of Dawkins, Harris, Coyne, the later Chris Hitchens, are all embedded in the political Right. I don’t know whether Avalos does likewise.

Clearly Godfrey has found a truth universally acknowledged!

As Robert noted, “I guess that Godfrey might perceive that any atheist who doesn’t osculate Islam’s rump would be among the political right.”

Indeed.  It’s simply invidious to claim that because we agree with conservatives on one issue—the religious motivation of Islamic terrorism—that we’re “embedded in the political Right.” Yes, I am uncomfortable with my conservative bedfellows, but even conservatives can be right sometimes, although I suspect that their emphasis on religiously-inspired terrorism is meant to buttress Christianity, while ours is to point out the dangers of faith.

More important, what kind of “scholarship” tries to discredit New Atheists’ criticisms by simply saying that we’re right-wingers? Only a moron who ignores everything we’ve written would claim that those of us named above are “embedded in the political right.” That’s not scholarship, but smearing—a form of Manichaeism that sees any agreement with any claim by a right-winger as a form of heresy. Such is left-wing identify politics.

By the way, Myles, a Marxist, wrote this:

Avalos self-identifies as a a New Atheist. This perspective holds that theism is generally destructive and unethical. It is embodied for example in the writings of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. What Avalos doesn’t explore is how this movement has also tended to form strong associations with a neoconservative political ideology, perhaps expressed most triumphantly by the late Christopher Hitchens.

179 thoughts on “Readers’ beefs: I’m a “New Atheist embedded in the political right”

    1. Labeling someone as “right”(wing) is no refutation of their arguments or evidence. And sometimes the “Right” may be right.

  1. “Indeed. It’s simply invidious to claim that because we agree with conservatives on one issue—the religious motivation of Islamic terrorism—that we’re “embedded in the political Right.” Yes, I am uncomfortable with my conservative bedfellows, but even conservatives can be right sometimes, although I suspect that their emphasis on religiously-inspired terrorism is meant to buttress Christianity, while ours is to point out the dangers of faith.” – That was beautiful and I agree completely.

    1. And I think the fact that most Muslims have skin that is darker than white feeds the racist tendencies of the right.

      1. It also, imo, feeds the far left narrative that they’re victims that need their protection.

      1. I’m not sure creationists would agree. That’s why they append “Science” after the word “Creation”.

      2. The argument that gnu atheists and creationists ARE working from the same playbook — or at least acting as equivalent “flip side” versions of each other — is one of the most common and annoying tropes of our critics.

        The similarity — and yes, there are always going to be shared features between any two groups — is that both science-based atheists and Bible-based creationists would agree that truth matters. We can and at least ought to try to figure it out. This is of course in opposition to the accomodationist clenched-smile insistence that we drop the topic of who’s right when it comes to religious belief and endlessly focus instead on some other issue, any other issue — preferably one in which we can happily discover that we’re all really on the same side.

        But go beyond the mutual interest in discovering the nature of reality and the resemblance between the gnu atheists and the fundamentalists no longer exists. Method, method, method. Method matters.

        1. It strikes me that there’s also a bit of the gray fallacy at play here. “If these guys are complete opposites of each other, then clearly they’re both wrong!”

          1. I think it’s more like “both sides argue for their position — therefore they’re equivalent.” This might make sense if the alternative position is “we must never argue about this.”

            A New Age friend of mine recently defined “fundamentalism” as “telling people you’re right and they’re wrong.” About anything, apparently. You’re only allowed to admit that you “think differently.” If that’s the definition they’re working off of, it’s no wonder they equate opposite sides.

          2. Thinking wrongly about something is unquestionably a way of thinking differently. Therefore, New Agers are fundamentalists.

            Am I doing it* right?

            * for certain values of “it”

    2. The prediction of Islam taking the place of Communism as a means to keep stoking the fear and feeding the empire over seas back in 1992 was correct. (A president of Turkey) I had already started seen Hollywood doing so.

      With the millions killed, more millions wounded and infrastructure destroyed, creation of violent groups willing to murder was directly and indirectly as well by our own illegal bloody actions. Several of whom are on par with the invasion of Poland and Pearl Harbor attack. Only no one can touch the USA, no one, so they are scott free, except in their post govt. travel restrictions. (There are those who are ready to take them into custody to put them on trial for WAR CRIMES if they could.) I can imagine what the US would do to protect them.

      Their motivations doesn’t give them a pass to murder those who have no direct connexion to their large enemy.

      Considering that empires love to have and make enemies, it feeds into their on going National Security State mentality and a constant curtailing of democratic Republican govt. A self feeding monster that makes its own food. Only humans can’t be controlled especially these very angry violent people and will go their own way.

      Even if the US stopped today murdering people with drones, it would take maybe 50 years or more before all the built of violence etc. would stop. It isn’t stopping tomorrow as the ‘moderate’ Pres. Obama stopped the illegal abductions and cranked it up to illegal assassinations.

  2. I identify with the right on several issues, none of which come up very often on sites like this.

    Mostly I dis-identify with political tribes. I think I’m politically closest to someone like Michael Shermer, although I’ve never paid close attention to his politics.

    1. Same here. From reading his books and blog, Shermer seems to fall along the lines of a Cato Institute libertarian. I only mention Cato specifically to differentiate that type from the liberty for corporations only Heritage Foundation types.

      1. I would like to be a libertarian, but I haven’t seen any expression of the idea that would cause me to support a political movement.

        My political philosophy is that I am a drop in the bucket. On any specific issue I will say what I think, but mostly I just hope that things don’t get hopelessly screwed up for my grandkids.

    2. Any excessive focus of whether a person’s stance is “left” or “right” is a sure sign that the observer is carefully avoiding the specific issue itself. Godfrey’s claims merely show that folks that self-identify as “left” or “right” can adopt the same high level of tribalism and the same “us vs. them” stance that we commonly see among the highly religious.
      In this case, “left” and “right” are meaningless – the questions should be framed as: What exactly is in the Hadith? What is in the Q’uran, and how are these writings explicitly used to foster despicable, religiously motivated behavior?

      1. Agree completely.

        Re the beliefs and activities of “Muslims”, the basis for a militant (lesser) Jihad against opponents in or from the House of Conflict can be found in un-abrogated sections of the Qur’an, traditions and historical precedent.

        This is not to say that the establishment of Israel, and the support from the USA (including “Christian Zionists” – who also happen to be “creationists” – has not been a provocation.

        There are two causal factors here, not just one or the other. Their objective examination should not be ruled out because one is called “racist” and the other called “antisemitic”, especially if we are ever going to achieve some kind of modus vivendi in the Middle East, assuming of course that could be possible this side of Armageddon (nuclear, not scriptural).

  3. All they are proving really is that – If they can make one mistake concerning Atheists, new or old, they can also make another one. To consider any or all of us conservatives or anything close to say, the republican party, is a bad joke. I don’t think they would know a duck if it quacked.

    1. Exactly. Anybody wants to accuse me of being a right-winger, I’ll be more than happy to show them my Green card. No, nothing to do with immigration…my Maricopa County voter identification card with “GRN” as the party.


    2. “All they are proving really is that – If they can make one mistake concerning Atheists, new or old, they can also make another one.”

      Excellent point. Assuming you mean the mistake of dismissing religious motivations for extremism. That mistake not only gives lie to the claim they are somehow blessed with specialist scholarship, but exposes their ideological motivations.

  4. Minor point re: Myles. Hitchens never stopped identifying himself as a Marxist, but dropped the ‘socialist’ moniker, basically post-1989. Every time I ever saw him accused of being a neo-con he shrugged it off as unworthy of comment. I could have missed something there but I’d be amazed if he accepted the description. I’ll regard it as a smear until someone proves otherwise. x

    1. Despite his early formal association with socialist political parties, it is to Hitchens’s credit that he never fell lockstep into any particular ideology, especially in his later years. He thought deeply and, most importantly, independently about every issue, and so it was inevitable that everyone could find at least one issue for which they disagreed with him (e.g., many atheists loved his skewering of organized religion but departed strongly from his views on the Iraq war). Years after his death, it is still pointless to try to pigeonhole him into a certain ideology. It is also still unfortunate that some might dismiss his argument on one issue simply because they disagree with him on another. The world sorely needs more independent thinkers like him.

      1. Agreed. ‘Left’ or ‘right’ are at best sweeping generalisations and often quite misleading when it comes to specific issues.
        And certainly so when it comes to a determinedly independent thinker like Hitchens.


      2. The great thing about Hitchens was, that whatever the issue, you could be absolutely sure that he had a well thought out cogent rationale for the opinion that he was espousing. In every case you could also be sure that towing the party line expected of him had NOTHING to do with his particular view on the subject.
        Isn’t he then a truly outstanding example for us all on how to reach our own views on any matter.

  5. Seems like I should reprise what I just wrote in the JayMo thread.

    It is beyond ludicrous to claim that the religious extremists aren’t extremely motivated by religion. These people eat, breathe, sleep, and shit religion 24/7/365. In the case of the Muslims, they’re stopping several times a day to pray at a Saudi Arabian archaeological site. Their food and clothing decisions are significantly restricted to those dictated by the religion. For many, the only things they read are ancient holy texts and modern analyses of the same. Their entire legal framework is derived from careful study of those same texts. And, to the point that bothers people the most, they are not merely willing but eager to sacrifice their own lives and the lives of others in ways they sincerely believe have been dictated to them by their religion.

    Now, you could perhaps make an argument that the ultimate source of all of that is a cynical perversion of the true religion by the elite leadership…but that does you no good whatsoever. First, of course, is the problem that the religion’s holy texts — and, remember, large swaths of the laity have memorized the holy texts, so it’s not like they’re ignorant of them — lends itself so perfectly to such perversion. But, even if we grant that, it still remains the fact that one can dedicate and submit one’s very life, one’s soul and essence and being, to Islam and come away with the conclusion that horrifically perverted brutality is the only reasonable course of action.

    So, again, there are only two possible conclusions. Either Islam (and, to be sure, the rest of the religions as well) really is as evil as the overwhelming majority of Muslims (see numerous polls) demonstrates, or belief in Islam not only isn’t a way to avoid evil but, perversely enough, drives good people in droves to become evil despite whatever good we’re supposed to believe exists in Islam.

    You can be a good Muslim or you can be a good human. You can’t be both.

    (And, again, freely substitute, “Christian,” “Jew,” “Hindu,” or whatever for “Muslim” in the sentence above.)


    1. I haven’t been to the JayMo post yet, but I agree with Ben here. It’s a bit like the Sophisticated Theology argument for True Christianity. The problem with it is that,most Christians actually do see their god as an actual person that they have a relationship with.

      Further, as I see it, the only reason Christianity isn’t these days producing terrorists at quite the same rate as Islam is that the Enlightenment has had such a big effect on Western society, and many of its principles have become a part of Christianity. There is a greater tradition of questioning in Christian than in Muslim societies, and Muslim leaders are doing all they can to maintain this and thus retain their power. Most of us know about, for example, the constant efforts to make blasphemy against Muhammad and Islam international law via the United Nations.

      We, as a society, almost never question a person when they say their motivations are religious EXCEPT when that person is an Islamist. That is what I was going to say to the current post, but it relates to what Ben is saying too. As always, there is a logical inconsistency in the argument of religion.

      1. Chicken or egg?

        Turn the other cheek, do unto others, resist not evil, love thy neighbor, shall die by the sword, walk the extra mile – these sentiments of Jesus are not those of Muhammad.

        1. Jesus’s sentiments are every bit as violently repugnant as Muhammad’s; you just don’t hear them preached that often from the pulpit. For starters, there’s Luke 19:17, which is an unambiguously explicit call to slaughter each and every last non-Christian…and is set in an allegory about Armageddon in which Jesus will do exactly that, and then have the dead infinitely tortured just for good measure. And there’s “bring not peace but a sword,” the ruckus outside the Temple, the cursing of the Fig tree (an ancient symbol of Torah study), “brood of vipers,” and on and on. Non-stop, really.

          Even the examples you gave are out of context…in context, they tend to the abhorrent. “Turn the other cheek,” for example, doesn’t refer to a King-style civil disobedience as it’s so often portrayed in modern times. Rather, it’s an exhortation to the oppressed to be happy with their lot in this life for they’ll soon die, and that’s when they’ll get their just desserts.

          You can find practically-indistinguishable examples of pleasing aphorisms in the Q’ran, too. I’m nowhere near as familiar with it as I am the Bible, but, if you want any, just find your friendly neighborhood Muslim apologist and you’ll get plenty an earful.

          And, for that matter…you’ll find them in Mein Kampf, too.


    2. You can be a good Muslim or you can be a good human. You can’t be both.

      No, I think the incredible variety of interpretations of Islam (or Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism, etc.) counts against this hasty generalization.

      Given the nature of special revelations, nobody can rationally determine which version of any religion is the “good” or “right” one. That means that there will be plenty of people we’d gladly count as “good humans” who honestly, sincerely believe that their faith has allowed them to understand the correct rules of Muslim Calvinball and gosh, these rules are different than what the majority of Muslims apparently think they are.

      Keep in mind that in religion — as in science — the majority is not necessarily automatically granted the right to be Right. Or even the best representative.

      That said, this same argument cuts against anyone who insists that ISIS et al are completely misunderstanding religion because they’re both neglecting Allah’s humanist side and merging it inextricably with politics. And doing the latter doesn’t mean that we’re now no longer dealing with religion.

      1. Given the nature of special revelations, nobody can rationally determine which version of any religion is the “good” or “right” one.

        Were we talking about inconsequential subtleties here, such as whether the Ark had exactly two of every animal or two of most and seven of the clean, I’d grant you that.

        But this is about the ultimate foundational aspects of these religions.

        Take Christianity. The whole point about Christianity is that Jesus made a short cameo a couple millennia ago in order to prepare humanity for his glorious triumphant return at the battle of Armageddon. Everything about his initial appearance was just to get people ready for his Second Coming…

        …and that Second Coming is going to be the most horrific calamity imaginable, far worse than when his father orchestrated the Plagues, worse even than when his father Flooded the Earth.

        There’re Christians who downplay those passages, sure. But that’s like Neo-Nazis downplaying the Holocaust. Other than that, Mrs., Lincoln, what did you think of the play?

        If Nazism gets reinterpreted to mean Nazis should never miss an opportunity to join a synagogue with a predominantly black and gay congregation for a nice brisket dinner during Passover, in what possible sense can that still be considered Nazism, and its adherents good Nazis?

        Modern Christians are to be commended for so thoroughly and emphatically rejecting so much of the very heart and soul of Christianity, but that makes them good people, not good Christians.


        1. I think nothing’s black-and-white in the arena of religion and its heavy reliance on interpretation. The “ultimate foundational aspects of these religions” can and are stretched miiiiiighty thin by practitioners — particularly if they’re members of the “humanism-comes-from-God” versions. Dividing lines from our standpoint as atheists are definitional and therefore usually end up being pretty inclusive.

          The “heart and soul” of modern religion mixes theology with actual hearts (though no souls.)
          So sincerity and some VERY basic foundations do allow people who belong to what were no doubt intended and created as nasty doctrines to dance and move around and manipulate texts with not a hell of a lot of rational recourse — or point in arguing with them. It’s not so much that they’re wrong as that the “extremists” are NOT wrong. Everyone is legitimate until it gets just too damn silly even for them.

          Need I point out that this is going to be a very high bar.

          1. I’m reminded of yesterday’s (?) discussion of cladistics.

            From an evolutionary perspective, there is no question but that we humans are fish.

            However, from any other perspective, we are so far removed from that which is essential to fishiness that it makes no sense to even pretend that we’re fish — we can’t swim very well nor for long, we’re nearly blind under water, and many of us never or hardly ever immerse ourselves in a body of water with a volume much bigger than our own. How can you can an animal that never swims a fish?

            And, of course, our own defining characteristics are antithetical to fishiness. We’re superb at running across the land, climbing trees, making fire, throwing things, and so on. And almost anything that would enhance any sort of latent fishiness we might have would be detrimental to that which makes us human — if you could see better under water, you’d be blind as a bat on land, for example.

            Such it is with religion. Most modern Western Christians, to their credit, have shed pretty much everything that defines Christendom. All they’re left with is a few vestiges, not unlike our own inner ear bones that were once part of the jaw, or the recurrent pharyngeal nerve whose original geometry was much more direct.

            The problems come when they try to become more Christian, when they hew to their roots — exactly as it would be for an human with a mermaid-like fused leg with flippers.

            So, when you claim that the modern heart and soul of Christianity excludes things like Genesis and Armageddon yet really is really Christian, that’s equivalent to claiming that hummingbirds and horses and humans really are real fish. Maybe in certain (important!) abstract academic evolutionary contexts, but emphatically not in the actual context at hand.



          2. Yes agreed BUT – since they self-identify as Christians – do we really want to tell them that, in order to be the ‘true’ Xtians they think they are, they need to go back closer to the more barbaric practices mandated in the Bible?

            If fooling themselves makes them better people then I for one will go along with the pretence.


          3. You’re assuming that, when faced with the choice between Christianity and humanity, they’ll choose Christianity. And, yet, the whole point of the discussion is that they’ve already significantly chosen humanity and are just clinging to the last symbolic remnants of Christianity.


          4. So, why push them into making a choice unnecessarily, where some of them may choose the wrong alternative?

            Most of them self-identify as Christians. Chances are they won’t give that up, if you point out they’re not following the Bible properly then a significant number of them are likely to try harder (i.e. worse, from our point of view).

            (And exactly the same point applies to moderate Muslims etc, of course).


          5. Because we need to make painfully clear that religion is synonymous with evil — exactly the same way that Nazism is. Nobody tries to salvage Nazism. We all accept that, if you’re a good Nazi, you’re a bad person. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any Nazis left, of course; just that they’re distilled down to just the people who really are evil, and nobody who is or has aspirations of being a good person wants to go anywhere near that toxic brand.

            In stark contrast, if you tell people that you can be a good person by worshipping at Jesus’s altar, you’re telling them that good people bring Jesus’s opponents to the slaughter at that same altar. Is that really what you want to encourage?


          6. “if you tell people that you can be a good person by worshipping at Jesus’s altar, you’re telling them that good people bring Jesus’s opponents to the slaughter at that same altar. Is that really what you want to encourage?”

            You know perfectly well it isn’t.

            I believe in encouraging moderation. And if a Xtian shows signs of moderation (as most do, in civilised countries), why discourage them by pointing out they’re straying from their faith and being ‘bad’ Xtians in doing so? If their version of Xtianity is sufficiently watered-down and euphemised (is that a word?) that there’s nothing injurious about it, and in some cases yes it does inspire them to do good works, then I see no practical advantage in nit-picking it. (Same goes, obviously, for Muslims).


          7. “if you tell people that you can be a good person by worshipping at Jesus’s altar, you’re telling them that good people bring Jesus’s opponents to the slaughter at that same altar. Is that really what you want to encourage?”

            You know perfectly well it isn’t.

            So, you’re claiming that, not only are you a superior authority on the desires and dictates of Jesus than the Gospels, but that you expect Christians to believe your revelation rather than the Bible’s?

            Jesus said, in no uncertain terms, that those who do not follow him are his enemies and his followers should slaughter them at his altar. And verse after verse after bloody fucking verse confirms that he’s going to do the same come Judgement day and that that’s the whole reason why he came to Earth to prepare his followers for. And, for millennia, his followers have done exactly that — the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Conquistadors, the Holocaust…

            …but we needn’t worry! cr the atheist has just had a new revelation that it all really is sweetness and light after all!


          8. @Ben

            You know perfectly well that (your straw-man example) isn’t what I want to encourage and you can cut the sarcasm.

            I don’t think your black-and-white good-religious-can’t-be-good-people approach is ever going to do anything but alienate the very people we want to persuade.


          9. On the contrary.

            The religious believe they have an unquestioned and unquestionable monopoly on being good, with the source of goodness being their imaginary friends.

            Nobody — not even you, it seems — is willing to even consider challenging that assumption by pointing out the obvious: the whole point of the religion (after-death accommodations) is profoundly evil not just in principle but in its commanded implementation.

            The top reason given by Christians for being Christian is so they’ll be one of the sheep, not one of the goats, come Armageddon. If it’s a straw man to point out what Jesus tells them to do to us goats, then permit me to give you an intelligent song and dance.


    3. As I’ve said repeatedly – of course they are motivated by religion.

      But to claim that this entails they are not thereby also motivated by the horrendous foreign policy of great powers (or regional powers) as well as domestic policies of their own governments is a false tricotomy.

      What makes the religions attractive? Enemy of my enemy is my friend – which seems very potent psychologically to humans – is one. There are others: many of these organizations have social programs and such that are sorely needed, for example. If refugees need food and clothing, and “group designated terrorist X” is the way to get the family to eat, don’t be surprised if people want to join to get the help they need.

      None of these 3-4 other alternatives are mutually exclusive either, needless to say.

      1. Fair point.

        But, at least in recent times, we tend to see violence driven by religious motivation rather than ideological. During the Cold War, we had lots of brush fires motivated by ideology, but since then it’s religion that tends to be the common denominator.


  6. I suppose you could make some sort of roundabout argument that colonialism caused a deepening fundamentalism in that individuals, stripped of their rights and dignity and what have you, clung more tightly to fundamental versions of their own religion. Overtime, perhaps, these fundamentalist insticts became more and more radicalized and became a tool for throwing off the colonial invaders and all memory of their invasion. I suppose you could…

    But, as Jerry points out, this ignores what the current Islamic (and really all fundies) actually say about their motivations and their actions. They are pretty unequivacol about the fact that they do what they do in the name of God and in support of their faith. I mean, Sayyid Qutb came to dislike the US not because of their invasion of Egypt or whatever but because, according to his religious beliefs, we were a nation of violent, horny, materialistic sinners. There’s a pretty straight line from Qutb to bin Laden.

    I would never argue that the West has treated other areas of the world well, and that the West has a lot to answer for and apologize for, but arguing that religion has absolutely nothing to do with violent fundamentalist organizations is willfully stupidity.

    1. > I suppose you could make some sort of roundabout argument that colonialism caused a deepening fundamentalism in that individuals, stripped of their rights and dignity and what have you, clung more tightly to fundamental versions of their own religion.

      I’ve seen this suggested as a reason why Poland, a state occupied and denied its dignity (even its existence) for the whole of the 19. century, is now so deeply religious.

    2. If the causes of increased fervor in anything must always take priority over whatever it is which has gotten stronger, then there’s no point in talking about politics either. We can always go back and discover the line of events that lead to an marked increase in the power of something like fascism, the Tea Party, constitutional democracy, or Communism. So do we now say that the Nazis and their ideology weren’t in any significant way responsible for the Holocaust — it was all the fault of the Treaty of Versailles? Stop saying otherwise, that’s so unscholarly.

      1. “So do we now say that the Nazis and their ideology weren’t in any significant way responsible for the Holocaust — it was all the fault of the Treaty of Versailles?”

        No, BUT – as I understand it – it was the undue harshness of the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles that helped to make Hitler’s nationalism attractive to the German people. It’s just possible that, had the Treaty been more generous to a defeated Germany, the Nazis might not have got off the ground.

        That doesn’t absolve the Nazis from what they did when they came to power, at all.

        Modern equivalent – would ISIS have got off the ground without the massively destabilising effect of the Iraq invasion? They are entirely responsible for their own spectacular nastiness, but who let them out of the bottle? There’s more than enough blame to go around. In any country, there are quite a lot of mental sickos who will take advantage of circumstances if someone else creates a favourable climate for them.

        1. Great phrasing “who let them out of the bottle”. That is a good way to see how both past and present actions/motivations have effects.

          If a state governor for example, let all mass murderers, rapists, psychopathic criminals etc. out of jail with no restrictions, then they went on to do what they will do, who is “responsible” for their behaviour?

          We would all (most) agree “both” the criminal and the governor are responsible.

          And then there is the whole contra-causal freewill, no contra-causal freewill conundrum to still deal with.

    3. So then one has to ask – why do people join the movements?

      Why is Al Qaeda more popular in countries where the great powers have fooked around and less so in their client states or in more independent ones?

      I think it is also vital (in addition to what I said above in my previous reply) to divorce, to some degree, the motivations of the founders vs. what the followers did. So Qutb founds a school of thought which only attracts serious followers under bin Laden because of an external enemy. This group then needs a reason to continue to exist (or so they’d say) after the external enemy #1 is no longer a concern and now they pick, with real grievances against them as well, #2. Does this justify any particular action. Of course not. Does it make it understandable to some degree? I would think so.

      1. Oh, and I might add. If we are going on what people *say* their motivations are, we’d better remember that bin Laden (for example) said that his motivations were *both* political and religious, at least with regards to the US.

  7. I’ve not read the ‘liberal scholarship’ on the Islamic terrorism. Is this really what it argues:

    “Just because ISIS says that it is motivated by Islam and just because its actions are entirely consistent with the examples of Mohammed and his immediate successors doesn’t mean that ISIS truly understands why it is doing what it is doing. Clearly,these peoples are too primitive to understand their true motivations: Colonialism!”

    Are they explicit about infantilizing the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other Islamic terrorists? Or it is like the Sophisticated Theologians who simply ignore what real people actually believe? While it is clear that colonialism has helped to set the context for modern conflicts, do they argue that Shiites, Sunnis, and the many tribes across the Middle East, Africa, and SE Asia would be living in peace and harmony if it wasn’t for the colonial past?

    1. I’ve always imagined putting these liberal scholars of Islam in the same room with leaders of ISIS, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and get them try to convince these leaders that they aren’t motivated by religion. Once they hash out their differences and come to the same conclusion, only then I will want to hear what it is.

    2. @ Charles Jones,
      “…do they argue that…the many tribes across the Middle East (etc.) would be living in peace and harmony if it wasn’t for the colonial past?”
      Not quite, but Pape does argue that terrorism occurs where there is an occupying force. His work is one big begging of the question – look, there’s terrorism where there is a foreign occupying force, therefore terrorism is caused by occupying forces. And his data on terrorist attacks is woefully incomplete. But Jerry has provided links to critiques which are worth pursuing.
      Iamgine if Iraq was populated entirely by, say, Jains, Amish, western-style feminists or Modern Quakers. Of course Iraq and Syria wouldn’t be a bloodbath. Mumbles about Orwell’s crack about intellectuals and commonsense….x

      1. If Foreign Occupying forces are the reason for the terrorism, what happened to the people of Okinawa? We occupied their Island completely for 27 years after WWII ended. And then gave it back to Japan in 1972 but still did not leave. We continue to position close to 30 thousand U.S. military on their Island and they do protest all the time that we get the hell off and give back some of the land.

        Approximately 1/3 of the population was killed during the battle of Okinawa in 1945. Where are the Terrorist and suicide bombers. Show me one? Those who continue to think the religion has nothing to do with this need to give me a break.

          1. So you have to be a failed state to have terrorist and suicide bombers? Yet none in Germany or Japan after the War…you don’t call those failed. That is a bit off don’t you think. How about Saudi…does not look like a failed state to me, yet damn near all the 9/11 boys were from there. Maybe some of them failed prep school.

            You have any idea what Okinawa looked like after the Battle. Apparently not.

          2. Not to mention the Kamikaze pilots or the Samurai warlords or even the modern-day Yakuza…it’s not like Japan doesn’t have the cultural and historical background for suicidal terrorism; rather, the Japanese people have overwhelmingly grown up and abandoned their primitive superstitions.


          3. Remember that the US explicitly left much of the political infrastructure in place, especially in Japan. Who knows what might have happened if a corrupt elite had replaced the royal family and (thereby) impoverished Japan after the war?

          4. Thank you Keith. It’s nice to have someone say something who knows a little about history. Domestic terrorism in Japan has been principally nationalist or left-wing (when I arrived in Japan in 1973, two Marxist groups were still clubbing each other to death in the streets)- and it was three members of the Japanese Red Army who were responsible for the Lod Airport Massacre (one of the few times Japanese terrorists have acted outside Japan, if not the only one). It is nice to hear, I suppose, that the Japanese people have ‘overwhelmingly grown up and abandoned their primitive superstitions’, but if by this rather condescending comment, Ben, you are suggesting that the Japanese are no longer religious, then I think you should learn about Japanese religion and about the part it plays in Japanese society. It is very different from the sort of prominent part that the Abrahamic religions play in what I shall call, for the sake of convenience, Western societies, and ideas about the gods and what a god might be are very different, to the extent that Westerners often suppose that the Japanese don’t really have religion. They do.

            There are some very nasty right-wing groups (often connected with yakuza) about, and should Japan descend into some sort of chaos, they would definitely come out of the woodwork. At present, Japan has the most right-wing government in power since the end of the Second World War.

            As to the Battle of Okinawa, Randy S, since I have lived in Japan for 45 years, I do know a little about Japanese history.

  8. Neil Godfrey also believes that Israel is, and has been, for many years conducting a program of “genocide” against the Palestinians. And he isn’t using the term metaphorically.

    Take from that what you will.

  9. I am a sociologist and one of my research areas is Islamic terrorism and radicalization. The social science scholarship on terrorism is largely terrible, and as you said Jerry, driven by a rather transparent agenda. It makes publishing in the area unusually difficult, and if you do somehow manage get your work in a major journal, you’re quickly dismissed for being a closeted conservative.

    1. It’s one of those areas where the left is as intolerant as the far right, and mostly incapable of looking at itself critically. They say they’re for freedom of speech, but they decide who “deserves” freedom of speech, and are frequently incapable of even considering arguments that clash with the world view they’ve already immersed themselves in. They resemble the far right in the religiosity of their views and the extremes of their behaviour.

    2. I am a co-opted sociologist, originally from the public health epidemiology sphere. My close colleagues have pointed out extensively, and for the past decade, flaws in the existing consensus view re: HIV transmission (that it is overwhelmingly transmitted penile-vaginally in the world). We have, through extreme tenacity, sometimes been able to air these views in a few major outlets in the scientific literature.

      For our pains, we have also been labeled as “conservatives” or even worse, Duesbergian denialists (who deny that HIV causes AIDS) — all the while ignoring our plaints and frequently driving competent people from their positions as editors & data analysts. It is not only frustrating, but has eroded my confidence in the larger scientific establishment — in the money-grubbing and information-dissemination mechanisms that exist in my field.

      It really is ideologically… adrenal-cortex-driven nonsense, and it really kills people.

      1. So HIV is NOT overwhelming transmitted by missionary position sex? I thought (having no expertise at all in this area) that HIV was generally transmitted via standard sex in Africa, and via needle sharing and male homosexual practices in the rest of the world; is this not the case? I also vaguely thought there were different strains which were more easily transferred vaginally in Africa. I had no idea that HIV politics got in the way of understanding reality though.

        1. It pretty much did. (Politics got in the way of reality.)
          HIV is essentially a bloodborn (think Hep B, Hep C. It doesn’t behave like a bacterial [gonorrhea, chlamydia] much at all. A wee bit — and there’s a clear signal that co-infection with bacterials will make that person more susceptible to HIV-infection, but it’s orders of magnitude different than the bloodborne routes. Patterns here have not budged one iota in 35 years. We never say we think we know what’s going on… we merely tried to point out when this or that sub-saharan African HIV study (basically nearly all of them) did not properly control for either blood exposures or receptive anal intercourse, You know… the way it was done in the West. It was a long plea for better evidence. A plea that goes unheeded to this day, if one looks at the studies coming out of Africa. We’ve just given up after 10 years, pointing out how their assumptions are killing HIV epidemiology. Oh well. Onward. We have better things to do now.
          I recommend starting at #90 here, and you can skim all the narratives to get a sense for what was going on since 2001. Many of them are html-linked to the papers… if you can’t get any of them, let me know.

        2. One thing about most third-world environments, you do not throw away anything. Esp. your needles, scalpels, sharps of all kinds. Re-use is the norm, esp. out in the sticks. Esp. among self-appointed healers. Who knows what’s going on… people aren’t asking the right questions. After all this time, and people are still not asking the right questions. It’s shameful. A disgrace to the scientific community (and the taxpayer) that HIV epi in Africa sucks so bad.

          1. The thing is… nothing about the issues we raised, or the experiences of clinicians in most of the world – is either surprising, nor rocket science. This is all epi 101 stuff. We have been met with either stiff opposition from the data-free (toy-modeling) crowd, or dead silence from colleagues who know better, based on their experience. It is just too hot a topic to risk careers on, or people don’t want to risk their dwindling funding streams (?). I just don’t know. It is a pisser, in any event.

          2. This is particularly galling considering that it was probably poor infection control that got HIV up and running in Africa in the first place, as I understand it. Very depressing.

          3. Yes. The explosion in SA & the fall of Aparteid were related. (esp. where it concerned the subsequent promotion of all kinds of medical quackery.

  10. Yes, I am uncomfortable with my conservative bedfellows, but even conservatives can be right sometimes,

    I remember how uncomfortable I was when, as a youth in the Animal Rights movement, I had to contend with people pointing out to me that “Hitler was a vegetarian.”

    what the terrorists say about their own motivations in favor of blaming colonialism—something that self-flagellating liberals in the West love to do.

    I sometimes wonder if some of these commentators forget that there are several levels involved in running a terrorist operation. While the “cannon fodder” who learn to fly (but not land) passenger jets and strap on the bomb belts have one set of motivations, there is normally a layered infrastructure of supports behind them, who may have very different motivations to the “cannon fodder”.

    1. Hitler was also a teetotaler and a non-smoker, but you shouldn’t take up smoking and drinking on that score!

      1. As a smoker and a drinker (and someone trying to remember the rest of “The Joker” ‘s lyrics) already, I’m not notably Hitleresque already.

          1. Midnight toking is off limits, I’m afraid. “Please piss in the pot,” at irregular and unpredictable intervals.

    2. I don’t think Hitler was a vegetarian though. I think it’s one of those widely-held myths.

      Having said that, i did hear this on QI, home of tabloid science and bitesize ‘facts’ constructed from thin air, so maybe you’re right.

      1. Wikipedia says he was a vego, and so does “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William Shirer. I think the balance of probabilities is that he was actually a vego, at least for the last years of his life.

  11. He hasn’t done his homework properly. He refers to Christopher Hitchens as ‘Chris’. Hitchens hated being referred to by this short version of his name.

    1. The reason why, Geoff, that Hitchens hated ‘Chris’ was this. In normal speech his name would be pronounced ‘Chris Itchens’: a bit comedy, a bit Dickens, a bit scally. x

  12. So if I disagree with one position of the self-proclaimed liberal leadership, I’m kicked out of the club and labeled a neoconservative? Sounds a bit fascist, frankly.

  13. Mr Godfrey’ argument is like saying the South’s rationale for secession had nothing to do with its right to slave labor ( that would just be too “visceral” ) but was really based on a constitutional right to private property (a far more (“scholarly”) way to put it.

  14. Dawkins, Harris, Coyne, the later Chris Hitchens, are all embedded in the political Right

    Wow. I wouldn’t call that ‘invidious’ so much as ‘laughably wrong’ in Jerry’s case. Equating Jerry Coyne’s philosophy with conservativism is getting into St. Augustine’s-famous-quote territory of ridiculousness.

    1. Or Dawkins… lifelong Lib Dem voter, against the Iraq war, Vietnam war protester at Berkeley in the seventies, opposed to France’s burqa ban…and these are just the conspicuous markers of his liberalism. Any sane inference from his writing and talks would conclude that he’s a staunch liberal. It’s telling that the left, post-Selfish Gene, and headed by the deeply unpleasant Mary Midgeley, tried desperately to paint him as a social conservative and outright Thatcherite and failed because they were motivated by ideological, rule-of-thumb thinking(the same thinking that still motivates much of the left today, as can be seen in Jerry’s post) rather than actual evidence.

      Daniel Dennett, another frequently-cited New Atheist, is a liberal. The same goes for Lawrence Krauss, AC Grayling and quite literally every single prominent gnu-style atheist I can think of with the exception of Sam Harris. Even Shermer is a liberal libertarian, along the lines of Bill Maher, and the only sign of conservatism in Hitchens’s later life were his views on foreign policy. His views on liberal values like equality, free speech, etc. were extremely robust. I’d count that as a maximum of two ‘neo-con’ gnus. Godfrey’s is a cretinous argument, both in its inaccuracy and its ridiculous logic.

      1. Which liberal values is Sam Harris deficient in, such that he is excluded from being called a liberal?

    1. Yes – as both this and someone above pointed out, Sayyid Qutb is a significant figure here. His influence on the early Islamists was huge. Bin Laden is known to have admired him.

    2. “The traditional left has advocated a secular state, the promotion of science, women’s liberation, sexual liberation, artistic creation, etc. The Muslim fundamentalism hates all that.”

      Add fairer and more humane economics conditions and this is the left I consider myself a part of, and it is incredibly frustrating to see the elements of the “left” here in the West that put the values of the left on the backburner in the name of a sort of lazy underdog-ism. Theocratic reaction is practically one of the canonical enemies of the left historically, and a very stark example is staring us right in the face. I’d go so far as to say that we should start talking about the pseudo-left, just like we have pseudoscience.

      I have my hunches concerning the intellectual origins of this nonsense, but they’re mere speculation at this point.

      1. I’ll speculate. I see it as an offshoot of the same mindset that had otherwise highly intelligent people singing the praises of Stalin in the 30s and even through the 50s, after Khrushchev was plainly revealing Stalin’s murderous excesses. Underneath it all is a commie cookie-cutter approach to reality — that we’re all the same (when any competent cultural anthropologist could tell you how completely unalike various factions of humanity really are).

        1. For more on the influence of Qutb, see ‘Frère Tariq’ – Brother Tariq – by Caroline Fourest, ex of Charlie Hebdo. She traces Qutb’s ideas through Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Banna’s son-in-law and down to his grandson Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born Islamist whom Sarkozy, no less, once eviscerated on French TV. She analyses his ‘double discours’, double-speak, saying one thing to a western audience and another to a Muslim group.

          Briefly, it shows how particular items of vocabulary, such as ‘values’, religious freedom’, can mean 2 opposite things to different members of an audience. Ramadan is an expert at that.

          Qutb’s influence extends eastwards into the Islamo-fascist sectarian butcher groups who spread under post-Saddam Iraq and to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s brain. He it was in 2013 to whom the future ISIS and the Syrian terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra looked for arbitration when it came to carving up Syria and Iraq.

          In defence of at least some members of the European left, among whom Fourest is one, I observe that Dennis McShane, the left Labour MP provided Fourest’s forward. Ann Cryer, the ex-Labour MP also deserves an honourable mention in this regard.

          On the other hand, we were subjected earlier this year to the disgusting sight of John Rees, ex of the far left groupuscule the Socialist Workers Party and former RESPECT Party candidate – a front for George Galloway’s project to osculate the rump of, and lick the crumbs from the table of, every Islamic dictator he can find – introducing in useful idiot fashion the crypto-Islamist Asim Qureshi of CAGE in their car-crash of a press conference about Jihadi John: which led to their exposure and the withdrawal of financial support from the duped Rowntree Trust (a Quaker charity, I believe).

          Yes, there are parallels with the 30s when whole sections of the left intelligentsia cosied up to Stalin at some point and polluted the general atmosphere with appeasement: H.G. Wells, Gide, Sartre, G.B. Shaw, the Cambridge British spy ring. Nevertheless, there were leftists, isolated at the time, who planted the flag of left-wing anti-Stalinism, Orwell, Trotsky, Victor Serge, Diego Rivera. An admirable place to be. x

          1. Yes there were and it was one reason Hitch counted himself a Trotskyist. Me too for a while.

          2. Had there been communications systems then, as there are today, things may have been different.

    3. The link to the Bali Bombing in that article is a bit long to glean the actual point of why they bombed clubs in Bali, ostensibly for Australia’s part in helping the Timorese.

      They bombed clubs because as I had reason to mention elsewhere just yesterday, because they would rather blow women up rather than see them dancing or showing a bit of skin.

  15. If he can’t even get the political affiliations of atheists right, why would I think he has anything insightful to say about Islamic terrorism?

  16. We’ve all heard people decry partisan politics in the past. We’ve all read column after column deploring groupthink, wishing that people could draw their conclusions based on issues and facts, rather than partisan allegiance.
    Speaking as a staunch liberal with socialist tendencies, an ardent anti-theist and a withering critic of radical feminism, I can attest that people ABSOLUTELY HATE IT when you form policy positions on an issue by issue basis, based on the facts.
    Most people really prefer to have politics fit into nice, neat little boxes where everyone around them is in total agreement on every issue.

    1. ” . . . radical feminism . . . .”

      No doubt, most anything can get sufficiently radical that it deserves withering criticism.

      Does there exist such a thing as (what one might reasonably name) “radical masculinism”? The term “masculinism” is not used in discourse (Spellcheck doesn’t recognize it), though the sentence “It’s a man’s world” has been heard uttered frequently (by women) over the years. “Paternalism” is so used. Possibly “Patriarchalism”? (Not recognized by Spellcheck, but “patriarch” is.)

      1. I suspect “masculinism” isn’t used because it’s considered the normal state. Females are the “other” unfortunately. My hope is we stop seeing things this way.

        I also suspect that “a man’s world” was uttered mostly by men at first – it has a rather “60s business man” ring to it.

      2. Find some equivalent person with a similarly equivalent notion that Isaac Newton’s ‘Principia’ was a rape manual and we’ll take it from there.

      3. Radical masculinism, certainly exists.
        It’s not the “ism”, it’s the radical with which I have compunction and critical thought is critical thought, even if it means making politically uncomfortable, if however wholly justified, criticisms.
        I identified as a feminist for over 20 years, it is the aggressive and SJW tinged brand of feminism sweeping college campuses, and the social media accounts of vapid celebrities with which I have a problem. I still agree with feminists on a great many issues, it’s “listen and believe” rather than “listen and objectively evaluate the facts of the case” that I cannot support.
        I’ve never had, and will never have any criticism, for earnest, factually evinced, feminist theory.
        What I’m criticizing would be Amanda Marcotte’s odious new article in Slate in which she crassly co-opts the tragic shooting in Louisiana, among others, to service her, statistically ignorant narrative, and in doing so, distort the perception of whom are the victims of violence in society.

        Given the fact that young Black and Latino men are far more likely to be the victims of violence than any group of women and the fact that Elliot Roger, whom she cited, did not specifically target women and the fact even with those statistics, we have passed legislation that specifically protects women from violence while we do precious little to avoid or condemn violence against young, minority men, we send the message that violence against women is a grievous ill within our society, but violence against young minority men is business as usual, if not the evening’s entertainment.
        When feminists like Marcotte ignore the facts about whom is truly more likely to be a murder victim and insist that violence against women be taken more seriously, then they make themselves part of the long, shameful tradition of being indifferent to the welfare of young Black and Latino men in society.
        I’m not protesting anyone whom wishes to stop violence against women, I’m protesting the idea that violence against women counts more than violence against men, particularly young Black and Latino men, since it is they whom are most plagued y a cycle of violence, poverty and incarceration.

    2. Socialist tendencies.
      Are you as dismayed and puzzled as I how Socialist who’s philosophical underpinnings, that from which they derive their theory and practice, philosophical materialism, is the exact opposite of those they ally with.
      Theocracy is the philosophical mortal enemy of materialism.

      1. Those rare and desperate moments in which I try to make heads or tails of political philosophy usually lead to protracted headaches, cheap wine and copious amounts of cursing.

  17. “[M]any Shias in Syria continued to be killed during this period for their faith. One of these was Muhammad Ibn Makki, called Shahid-i Awwal (the First Martyr), one of the great figures in Shia jurisprudence, who was killed in Damascus in 1384.”

    Clearly, in some mysterious form of future causality, Western colonialism caused these 14th century murders to occur. When people claim that terrorists own words about their motives cannot under any circumstances be believed, they are building the argument on pure faith, which of course can be dismissed with Hitch’s Razor.

  18. It’s not clear to me why what terrorists or extremists say about their own motivations is good evidence of why they act the way they do if free will and agency are illusions and they are really meat robots. Don’t some of these discussions of free will at least suggest a disconnect between conscious thought and other (true) motivating factors hidden from conscious perception elsewhere in the brain? I also have a recollection of the claim that the conscious mind just makes up explanations that sound good to it regardless of the speaker’s lack of knowledge of the true situation. How does this stuff fit together?

    1. It sounds like you’re implicitly slipping in the criticism of determinism that Jerry had addressed numerous times. Namely, that if determinism is true, there’s no way to evaluate whether you’re wrong because your answer is determined.

      Determinism isn’t loaded with all the problems people like to assign to it. An action is either determined or it isn’t. If it is truly indeterministic, you’ve assigned that action as occurring independently from any causal chain. This doesn’t help us either. If we aren’t “meat robots” and have the ability to be the root cause of an action, how can we trust that the effect isn’t simply random because there’s no way to link the cause to the effect? Surely, that can’t be trusted! Notice, I simply applied the same criticism to indeterminism that’s often directed at determinism.

      The thing is, we do appear to live in a deterministic Universe and this really just tells us what the rules of the game are, it doesn’t tell us anything about what the outcome must be. It’s like asking if three strikes means you’re out, how can we be sure you won’t strike out? The rule has nothing to do with the outcome.

      As with anything that we assign a likelihood to, it’s the entire body of evidence that shows us religion can motivate terrorism. If these people simply declared that their religion is the motivating factor but didn’t say what the religion is or what it says, you’re right, there’s not much to go on. Maybe they’re being intentionally deceptive. But when they cite specific passages about honoring Allah and killing infidels while they continue a centuries long campaign to kill infidels, that’s some good evidence. Additionally, the religion hypothesis can explain the murders that occurred regularly well before the Enlightenment. Western colonialism can’t explain that.

  19. > completely ignored what the terrorists say about their own motivations in favor of blaming colonialism

    I think the problem is an unsophisticated way of blaming colonialism: After all, Professor, you subscribe to the idea that religiosity in a country might be a function of its economic status – a status which colonialism, in its classical or more subtle modern form, has a lot to do with in many cases.

    So the ideology might motivate people like they say it does, without them concealing an ulterior grudge on colonialism or Western Imperialism or whatever, but the spread of ideology might still be caused by these.

    What I don’t get is why this should be hard to grasp for leftists – it’s elementary historical materialism.

    And speaking of it, because I can’t resist:

    The base did speak to superstructure:
    You’ve tanked again, didn’t ya?
    Then superstructure spoke to base:
    As always.

    1. Except it is “Muslim brothers” who pick themselves up to fight for their “Muslim brothers” around the world. They don’t join ISIS to fight colonialism, they fight in solidarity to a single overriding all-encompassing philosophy – Islam.

      Meanwhile, plenty of post-colonial cultures somehow manage to avoid terrorism and to maintain Enlightenment values. And almost all of these are non Muslim.

  20. This Neil Godfrey?

    “My background (chronologically) is in

    secondary school history teaching (ancient and modern history),
    postgraduate educational studies and information science,
    academic librarianship,
    being the metadata specialist with a project building regional university repositories in Australia and New Zealand,
    digital repository management,
    two years as a Principal Librarian and Bibliographic Consultant with National Library Board, Singapore,
    coordinating the digitisation, repository services and digital collections in Australian universities — University of Southern Queensland, RUBRIC Project, Murdoch University, Deakin University, and am currently at Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT. The most exciting project I am involved with here is a national government funded project to digitize, collate and make available for preservation, research and cultural purposes aboriginal languages resource materials,
    and most recently — research data management.

    Specifically, my formal educational qualifications are a BA and post graduate Bachelor of Educational Studies, both at the University of Queensland, and a post graduate Diploma in Arts (Library and Information Science) from Charles Sturt University near Canberra, Australia. I am an associate of the professional library and information services organization of Australia.”

    How odd. Nowhere do I see reference to his advanced credentials in islamic studies or terrorism studies nor even in political economy.

    This man is criticizing everyone else merely for having a fact-based opinion that contradicts his hypothesis-based marxist world view. Oh well then!

    1. Neil Godfrey should be evaluated on his ideas and positions, not his librarian position. He is a very intelligent and well-meant fellow, extremely well-read in his area of interest ( Origins of Christianity and the historicity of Jesus Christ).

      1. Again, JESUS is the name of a putative person, the historicity of whom is dubious. CHRIST is a supernatural attribute of this possible human being, which is ontologically very, very dubious.

  21. “What “scholarship” that people like Godfrey and Robert Pape have mentioned or produced has completely ignored what the terrorists say about their own motivations…”

    Amazing! This is almost (I was tempted to use “exactly” instead of “almost”) perfectly analogous to when I encounter Neo-Confederates claiming that the US Civil War wasn’t about slavery but about “states’ rights.” The way I always handle that is to point them to the writings of the leaders of the secessionist movement. After reading the documents, I’m usually met with silence or denial. I would absolutely love for Godfrey to explain to me how the two situations are different (I’m not going to hold my breath).

    Now, I could forgive Godfrey for not understanding the importance of primary documents if he simply didn’t have a background in historical research. However, when I went to his blog and read his bio… he flippin’ used to teach high school history. Normally, a credentialed teacher of history, not knowing the importance of primary sources would upset me, but not in this case because…

    …Anyone that would say that Dr. Coyne is “…embedded in the political Right,” obviously isn’t even able to use Google. I would encourage Godfrey to dust off his history diploma and try to remember the lessons that I’m sure his research professors taught him.

    1. Those neo-confederates just don’t know how to finish their sentence. It should be about states rights to have slavery.

      1. Excellent point! That’s another of my favorite line of questioning. “Besides slavery, what ‘states’ right’ were they trying to protect?” And then I follow it up by asking, “Why do all the prominent secessionists rail against the union states exercising their ‘states’ right’ to not enforce the Fugitive Slave Act?”

        If the leaders of a movement state the reasons for their actions in clear, concise terms, I tend to believe that those were the reasons for their actions. And even if they were lying to attract followers for other purposes (absolutely no evidence of that in the case of the US Civil War), their followers most certainly believed their rhetoric.

        1. Yes, very sad to say there are many in the south that have their own home spun version of the “Cause” and slavery just does not make it. I am not a teacher of History but wasn’t it true of the Southern Constitution that the only difference between it and ours was a line about none of them every being able to outlaw slavery.

          Also must have wiped out all American history in the 1850s leading up to the War as well.

          1. The issue of slavery was definitely the defining difference between the USA and CSA constitution. But, to ensure slavery couldn’t be infringed on, they also incorporated concepts from the Articles of Confederation. Apparently, the CSA historian of the time failed to inform them why that document was discarded.

  22. I love how left wing Islamic apologists downplay the influence of religious writings in the “perfect book” from the creator of the universe, on people’s actions, but then believe the writings of people like Sam Harris have the ability to drive moderate Muslims to extremism. Apparently Sam is more powerful than Allah.

  23. ” Rather, they seem to be fueled by visceral reactions without the benefit of broader understanding and knowledge that comes from scholarly investigations into these phenomena.”
    ..scholarly investigations into these phenomena!
    I don’t have any claim or right to claim, but I know enough from my own visceral freeking reactions that Islam is not of any benefit to the well being and advancement to our planetary goals and needs.. right, left, up or down.
    To aim the above at the professor is the claim of someone who has not done their own scholarly investigation, which is more to the point.

  24. When I was an undergrad history major at U of Penn (not Penn state!), I took a few sociology courses, and it was drummed into me that sociologists do NOT agree on what the causes of various social phenomena really are, including religion!

    In particular, in the field of sociology of religion, there is an ongoing disagreement between “functionalist” approaches, focused on social benefits of religion- with different functionalists DISagreeing on what they are(!) and symbolic/phenomenological approaches (focused on how religion provides a sense of security and safety for individuals), and a variety of other approaches.

    Finally, there has been a long extended history of skeptic/rationalist types (such as most readers here and our host) being mildly skeptical of the soundness of ALL these theories.

    1. Jon,

      You wrote two things that seem to agree and yet I got the impression (quite possibly mistakenly) that these two statements contradicted each other:

      “sociologists do NOT agree on what the causes of various social phenomena really are, including religion!”


      “Finally, there has been a long extended history of skeptic/rationalist types (such as most readers here and our host) being mildly skeptical of the soundness of ALL these theories.”

      Well, as a skeptic who is not a sociologist or an anthropologist or a neuroscientist; I must say that, yes, when qualified experts in the appropriate fields have been unable to reach a consensus opinion, I reserve judgement on all theories (i.e. I ‘m skeptical of all of them).

      If I miss interpreted your comment, I apologize.

      1. Yes, I meant that there are multiple schools within sociology of religion AND some skeptics are equally critical of ALL of them.

        IMO there may be a partial truth to several approaches (they may be all different tips of the same iceberg), but when any school absolutizes its perspective and says definitely and always ONE factor is the MAIN SINGLE cause of terrorism/Nazi-ism/religion and other factors are MERELY SECONDARY/SUPPLEMENTARY causes, you are being ideological not scientific.

        The first major theoretician in “sociology of religion” was Max Weber. Intuitively IMO I think he’s pretty insightful on Protestantism- not so sure his approaches hold up well on understanding other religions.
        But Weber become ensconced in a lot of American universities in the early 20th century because he opposed the theories of Karl Marx on religion and American universities were very eager to show that had something…ANYthing(!!) in the curriculum that was anti-Marxist.

        Data first, theories later.

        1. I agree with what you said, but I don’t think anyone is saying that Islam is the SOLE cause of terrorism in the middle east. It’s just the idea that mentioning that is very probable that it is an enabling factor, suddenly makes you a bigot or right wing tool is ridiculous.

          As a fun side note (and the following is intended to be sarcastically, and yet with a ring-of-truth fun). Speaking of bigotry, IMO, Weber was an egotistical Protestant bigot. Before he spoke about the “Protestant work ethic,” perhaps he should have jacked his butt over to Ireland where Catholic peasants toiled all day for their crown imposed Protestant overlords just so they could stave off starvation. Ah work, Weber wouldn’t have recognized it if it hit him the face. Marx was also about as egotistical as they get, but there was difference. Marx accumulated a large amount of data and then convinced himself (and unfortunately others) that his particular interpretation of the data must be correct. Weber never even accumulated the data.

          1. Your first paragraph- yes indeedy.
            I think that some careless people can give the !*impression*! they think Islam is the sole cause of terrorism (certainly Hitchens did in one debate I witnessed), but they should not be taken as representative of the Freethought community.

            Weber should at least be given credit for advocating that we should listen to what people say is the meaning and purpose of their own actions, something JAC and other critics of Islam are also advocating.

            On the other hand, Weber defended the notion of emergency presidential powers in the Weimar constitution that was very enabling to Adolf Hitler.

          2. Do I correctly understand that Weber asked the rhetorical question, “Is God a capitalist?”?

            I don’t know the context in which he asked the question. Did he or anyone else ever answer it? I think it a good question to ask pious religiosos when critiquing how they treat other human beings – er, um, uh, I mean – their servants – their “human resources” and “human capital.”

  25. LOL, it is mindsets like these that drove me away from far-left liberalism to a moderate libertarianism. If you can’t be consistently liberal in all aspects, you might as well be a conservative sympathizer.

    Neil Godfrey is a crank. He’s a librarian (if I recall correctly) who fancies himself as a Jesus scholar despite being very naive about the literature. I am a Jesus minimalist (not mythicist) and I still think his arguments are tendentious at best.

    1. Aw Dan,

      As an avowed hard-core liberal, I’m sorry we lost you. But if you decide to come back, I can personally testify that you can adamantly disagree with the majority and not be ostracized (my “We absolutely need an effective military,” “We have been modifying ‘natural’ foods for more than 10,000 years,” etc. hasn’t got me kicked out of any of the clubs).

      1. ‘ . . . “We absolutely need an effective military,” . . . .”


        Yep, SOMEBODY’s got to do it. I.e., who has done and is doing it, who has been expected by others to do it – and who has been accustomed and felt entitled to being exempt from doing it – has always been and will be an inconvenient and uncomfortable topic of conversation.

      1. It’s evidently someone who feels that being a librarian is a disqualifying slur. Sigh.

        And no doubt Neil has made one or two bad conclusions or arguments. But he has done a huge amount of very good work as well. His blog “Vridar” has been copious and very high-quality.

        It is when he speaks on issues outside of his research interests where he can get into disagreements with others, including me.

        But the terms “crank” and “Marxist” are being thrown around here with the intention of sullying his research into Christian origins. That is dirty pool.

        Btw, Jesus minimalist is generally used to describe someone who accepts only the verifiable, independently-documented facts about the historical Jesus.

        1. Btw, Jesus minimalist is generally used to describe someone who accepts only the verifiable, independently-documented facts about the historical Jesus.

          Erm…you do realize, do you not, that that’s the null set?

          The least-worst documents in existence are conveniently collected in the Bible. Not a one of them was written within a generation of the alleged events. The oldest was written by a man who made explicit he never met Jesus; never gives any significant biographical details about him; and whose descriptions of Jesus are theologically indistinguishable from those of Philo’s Logos — and Philo was writing before Jesus’s alleged ministry and emphatically not at all about a real human being. The first time we get any “biography,” it’s at least half a century late, after the Roman conquest of Judea, and doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than an Euhemerized fiction crafted in the high Homeric style. And none of the “facts” presented therein have ever been even remotely “independently documented.”


          1. Erm…you do realize, do you not, that that’s the null set?

            I realize it. Thus my question as to what the term is supposed to mean? If it’s the minimal definition of Jesus, well now we’re back to the null set again, one can’t get more minimal than that!

          2. Well, it’s even worse than that! Part of the evaluation of (any) historical Jesus is the discrimination between what is known about the mythical persona vs the historical.

            There is nothing known about the historical, but that is almost a preferable situation to what is known about the mythical, because there are so many contradictory and incoherent myths.

          3. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a mythical persona with a consistent history. Paul Bunyan, for example, goes from being maybe an hundred feet tall when he uses saplings for toothpicks to being maybe ten miles tall when he carelessly carves the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe behind him.

            The more absurd the story, the more certain you should be it’s mythical. And Jesus was the virgin-born zombie king of the undead who beamed up to the mothership….


  26. I am not all too fond of the essentialism that shows through the answers. There is probably not The One True Motivation. Especially in societies that are less plural, the two circles of religion and culture merge and almost become identical. That makes it hard to tell what caused anything. Obviously, religious people—even the most pious—can overlook certain tenets. Yet, in other cases they might go further than demanded by scripture or authority. And people never do anything just because culture or religion suggest it. Someone must find it in themselves to act out the suggestion.

    However, this doesn’t let religion off the hook. To the contrary, it makes it worse. First, religion divides humans into tribes, and suggests that dissidents can be fought, converted, subjugated or slayed. Abrahamitic religions themselves are imperialistic and totalitarian and if a soceity feels threatened, for good reasons or imagined, the religion will be by their side just as it is in any other facets of life (that makes them totalitarian). Second, the most potent rationalisation for any behaviour—especially what’s hard to justify otherwise—is the belief that the creator of humans, life or everything wants it, too. This is a kind of autotheism. People can almost thought of hiding behind their scripture. They grew up with its ideas, and in turn uphold them. It stabilizes, normalizes and thus conserves its tenets well, and at the same time people think their individual views are identical to what god wants, “Deus Vult!”. Third, religions are ancient and for the reasons aforementioned shackle a society to the past, where the Better Angels’ voices were much quieter.

    I find it plausible that a terrorist has many reasons other than religion per se. They deem themselves at war with another society; they want to eagerly do their part and matter in some ways; have perhaps little perspectives in life; and believe the afterlife might be better to them. They feel their identity is under attack, and their story is a religious one (as opposed to, say, a national one that can also produce young people eager to shed their blood for a colourful rag hoisted on a pole). Then they find the rationalisations in the holy writ, just as a Tarot card seer “finds” meaningful patterns in random bits of meaning offered by the cards. I would thus frame it differently and believe it’s more accurate to see god as the Greatest Rationalisator. If you want to murder people because you believe it meaningful, perhaps you are offended by cultural imperialism of the West and afraid that your identity will vanish, God is by your side and can convince you that murdering random people is a great idea.

    1. I think you make an excellent point. Mass violence always has multiple factors behind it. But, I don’t think that that was Jerry’s point. I believe his point was that there is a group of journalists who hold to the idea that whatever the underlying causes of violence may be, “Thou shalt not include religion as one of them.”

  27. As someone who is pretty far to the left politically, I’m getting really disappointed with the fixation others on the left have with political identity. As if all one needs to do these days is label someone a conservative or a neoconservative as sufficient to disregard the speaker. Even if it’s true (and in most cases, it’s dubious), it’s no reason to ignore what someone is saying.

    The politics of identity is what you do if you are too vapid to debate the ideas in offer. Just shove the word ‘neoconservative’ or ‘libertarian’ onto the person and that’s it – no more debate needs to be had. Because obviously neocons and libertarians by virtue of holding such views don’t have any moral or intellectual standing…

  28. Oh good grief. Argument from authority topped off with shaming that an authority figure (a scientist) is not bowing to authority as all authority figures should.

    Sorry, not how critical thinking or science works. No one needs to consult scholarship to hear someone say they are doing something in the name if Allah, and witness them do it to draw the conclusion that perhaps that person’s motives were religiously inspired.

    This type of faulty logic (blindness to the blatantly obvious in favour of a ideal) is the exact same thinking of the faithful.

  29. I just realized something. Gay marriage is legal throughout the USA. That means Alabama is now more liberal and progressive than Germany and Australia.

    1. Incorrect. Alabama has had it forced on them by federal statute. (Am I right about that?)
      It’s imposed, not inherent.


  30. I also don’t get the “it’s not religion, it’s politics” line of thought, as if somehow religions aren’t political in both instruction and practice. People aren’t debating theology, they are debating the political role religions play.

      1. Indeed — can anybody present an example of a religion that isn’t political to some degree? And how could it be otherwise? You’ve got a super-powerful entity dictating its desires to humanity for how it wishes us to behave, and politics is all about coordination of human behavior. I simply can’t imagine how one’s religion couldn’t dictate one’s politics.

        I mean, really. Like a “love” got who, in the beginning of his most famous speech, condemned to infinite torture all men who have ever lusted after a woman and failed to immediately gouge out their own eyes would endorse a candidate who’s been divorced? Fuck no — he’s voting for the candidate who wants to make (or keep) divorce illegal.

        Or the “peace” god who spoke of stones and trees that cried out to his followers to announce the presence of Jews hiding behind them so his followers might kill them…he’d endorse the candidate whose platform included an Arab-Israeli peace settlement? Yeah, right. Pull the other one; his candidate is the one promising increased funding for nuclear weapons development.

        Politics, through and through.


      2. I think people definitely know or already, but mistake their own interpretation of what a religion ought to be politically for the political reality of the religion. The fundamentalists are those who understand the totality of their religious conviction, while the moderates and pluralists are those who understand the limited domain of theirs.

        The fundies, the moderates, and the pluralists are all trying to be the people who get to define what religion is – forgetting that religion is multifaceted and they *at best* represent only one form of what constitutes religion. The arguments routinely boil down to “that’s not *true* religion” as if somehow only what they think of as legitimacy is what’s legitimate.

        1. The arguments routinely boil down to “that’s not *true* religion” as if somehow only what they think of as legitimacy is what’s legitimate.

          Of course that’s what they think. If they could put their own religion into the proper context, they’d have to admit that it’s as much bullshit as any other.

          Stephen F Roberts put it superbly: “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” Applies as much to the religions as an whole as it does to their gods.


        2. In many Islamic States the religion is the politics. It is the way of life, the air you breath. Even in the more progressive Turkey, while you ride around in a cab you hear the music non-stop coming out of the churches.

      3. Yep, politics/political science and religion are both concerned with human herd management (manipulation). (re: “hoi polloi”)

  31. “Godfrey, who writes the website Vridar and has criticized New Atheists for being Islamophobes . . . .”

    I might be inclined to listen to his “Islamophobe” claim, provided he acknowledges the existence of Islamofascism.

  32. I have been reading Vridar for a long time now, and it often has quite interesting posts about the history of Christianity. However Neil Godfrey’s politics are dubious and his vicious attitude to anyone who disagrees with him is more than a bit alarming. It opinions about Islam make no sense to me, I ignore those pieces, they are just anti-western polemics designed to assuage his conscience for the original sin of being born in the ascendant west. He says he writes them to fight Islamophobia but, by his own standards, we can ignore his stated reasons and substitute some that we prefer.

    1. “In another comment a Marella accused me of posting “vicious” responses to those who disagreed with my politics. I asked her for evidence of that. But again my comment got whisked away into ether…. so far.

      Do I really sound “vicious”?”

      Neil Godfrey made this comment on his website Vridar just now. I cannot back up my claims with the exchange/s that caused me to have this opinion, it was too long ago and when I try to search his site, either the search engine is not very effective, or I am searching the wrong things and I can’t locate the post/s in question. As I said I stick to the history posts these days.

      However I admit that “vicious” is probably too strong a word, and I would like to apologise for using it. Perhaps “unpleasant” would have been a better choice.

  33. “I would maintain that this “scholarship” we ignore (and, in fact, I’ve read it) is tendentious and ideologically motivated, and that Godfrey is pulling the credentials card here.”

    Exactly! How ludicrous to suggest that we consult the “scholarship” of the same anthropologists and sociologists who not long ago were responsible for the Blank Slate catastrophe.

    “More important, what kind of “scholarship” tries to discredit New Atheists’ criticisms by simply saying that we’re right-wingers? Only a moron who ignores everything we’ve written would claim that those of us named above are ’embedded in the political right.'”

    The same kind of “scholarship” was used to vilify anyone who suggested there might actually be such a thing as human nature a while back. In retrospect, it’s obvious to what degree such scrambling for the moral high ground can be construed as “science.” When religious zealots claim they are acting in the name of their religion, it is not only unreasonable but suicidal to disbelieve them. It is a form of denialism that disarms all of us, and particularly atheists, in the face of an existential threat.

  34. “What “scholarship” that people like Godfrey and Robert Pape have mentioned or produced has completely ignored what the terrorists say about their own motivations”

    If this reasoning is true, then the entire field of psychology should just be giving people surveys instead if elaborate experiments that seek to indirectly ascertain peoples’ true motivations.

    The whole of psychology is not just giving people surveys, so either every psychologist is wrong, or you are wrong.

  35. ‘Not, of course, that the U.S. is completely blameless in oppressing and attacking the Middle East…’ Forgive me for saying this, but this concession is really not adequate, when one considers the mess that was made of Iraq by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Bremer (I should add the British poodle, Blair, but it was chiefly American ‘shock and awe’ and incompetence that brought the mess about). Many thousands of people were killed, many thousands made refugees, Iraqis (and in Afghanistan Afghans) were wrongly imprisoned, were tortured, were rendered for tortures elsewhere, were murdered in custody or in the street (by American soldiers or by mercenaries belonging to Blackwater, who, so far as I know, have not been brought to account); and the political chaos that resulted from the lack of any strategy for dealing with the aftermath of the war has a great deal to do with the rise of ISIS. John Horgan, in what seems to me to be a fair discussion of the dispute between John Gray and Steven Pinker published in Scientific American, writes, ‘Pinker fails to acknowledge “the enormous contributions of the U.S., especially since September 11, 2001, to global violence.” Far from eliminating violent Muslim extremism, U.S. military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have arguably exacerbated it.’
    Yes, of course the dreadful Left are wrong to lay the blame for everything at the feet of ‘Western colonialism’, and, yes, we should take the declared motives of those who want to establish a new Caliphate seriously, and, yes, there are a number thoroughly nasty types in the Middle East (and elsewhere) – Matthias Kuntzel in Jihad & Jew Hatred: Islamism, Nazism, & the Roots of 9/11 – gives a good account of the influence Nazi ideology has had on contemporary Islamism, and the poisonous influence of Saudi-trained clerics on anti-Semitism in France. The example of Marxist revolutionaries has also played a part. The problem with this quarrel between the Left and New Atheists is that it has come to be principally a about an either/or, with the Left plumping for one side (Western colonialism is evil) and the New Atheists plumping for the other (religion, and in particular Islam, is evil), and other factors that brought about the situation are not being addressed. Is it not possible to get away from this either/or, which is mainly an ideological dispute, one that leads people to make some questionable statements, and take a broader view that genuinely seeks to understand things, and to recognize the multiplicity of factors that are involved?
    I have small liking for religion, but I have known and do know some Muslim people, and am on friendly terms with them. They are not Islamists. So, to me, remarks – sorry, Ben – like ‘No-one who is a good Muslim can be a good human being’ come perilously close to aphorisms like ‘The only good Injun’s a dead Injun.’ One of the people who protected people caught in the Jewish supermarket in Paris at the time of the Charlie Hebdo massacre was a black Muslim, and in the recent massacre of foreign tourists in Tunisia Muslim members of staff put themselves in danger of being shot by the gunman in order to protect the tourists. These people were surely good human beings. And one thing that needs to be done is to distinguish such good human beings who happen to be Muslim from the Islamists and their destructive ideology. If we are going to tar all Muslims with the same brush, then we surely play into the hands of the Islamists.

    1. They are not Islamists. So, to me, remarks – sorry, Ben – like ‘No-one who is a good Muslim can be a good human being’ come perilously close to aphorisms like ‘The only good Injun’s a dead Injun.’

      I don’t know how I could possibly have made it more clear that the people you later gave as examples are good people, and the fact that they’re good people makes them bad Muslims.

      Take your own words and substitute, “Nazi,” in place of, “Muslim.” Would you not agree that a Nazi who rescued people from the concentration camps was being a very good person precisely because he was being a very bad Nazi?


  36. The trouble is, Ben, that whether they are good or bad at being Muslim in your terms (Islam and Islamic civilisation constitute no single or simple thing), they probably regard themselves as good (ie observant) Muslims and, for them, being a good Muslim, in their terms, is a good thing to do. There is an internecine struggle between what one might call ‘liberal’ Muslims (and please don’t assert at once that that is an oxymoron) and the Islamists, and it is surely of the utmost importance to support such as the British imam who spoke despairingly of the ‘grooming’ tactics (as in paedophilia) used by ISIS to attract young people to join them. It is important that Muslims themselves should seek reform, and be encouraged to do so. I am sure your logic is impeccable, but people and reality are rather more complex than such chop-logic suggests. Ways need to be found to break the hold Islamist thinking has over many Muslims (a hold that also has to do also with the judicious use of terror as well as taking control of Muslim organisations that were not in origin Islamist at all), and help those Muslims who favour of more liberal kind of Islam and who stand against the Islamists.

    1. they probably regard themselves as good (ie observant) Muslims and, for them, being a good Muslim, in their terms, is a good thing to do.

      Of course they do.

      Because everybody — even lots of atheists like you on this thread — keeps telling them that being a good Muslim is a good thing to do.

      It’s not. And the chances that it’ll even occur to them just how evil it is to be a Muslim are dramatically reduced when everybody keeps lying to them and encouraging their faith.

      Religion is the problem. (Not the only one, of course.) And the problem of religion will only go away when we all of us — believer and atheist alike, but I’d be happy to start just with the atheists — can admit that and say it out loud.

      You can be a good human, or you can be faithful to your religion. You must pick one or the other, for the two are incompatible. Even if you like to pretend that you can put the decision off, you can’t; everything you do will either further humanity or your gods, the one at the cost of the other.


      1. > > Sorry, Ben, but where things are so splendidly black and white for you in > this case, I see many shades of grey. At times, when faced with a clear-cut > situation, it is important to see things in a black and white way, but at > others those shades of grey need to be taken account of, if reality is to > be addressed justly. Jerry is absolutely right to take a strong position > over anti-Semitism in universities, or the craven way certain universities > give in to what in some cases at least they only suppose to be the demands > of Muslim students (eg, Leeds University in 2003 in connexion with a talk > about the Nazi influence on Islamic anti-semitism) , or the ridiculous > business about students having to feel ‘safe’ at university. But what I > feel is important is to encourage and assist those many liberal Muslims who > are the first victims of Islamism, and for this end I do not think it is > useful to suggest that all Muslims are tarred with the same Islamist brush > merely by virtue of being Muslim. The rise of Islamism, aided as it has > been by the actions of the West (the support for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan so > that the regime established by the Soviet Union could be destroyed, the > refusal to bring pressure to bear on the Saudi regime for its spreading of > Wahabist poison, the refusal on the part of the West to take issue with, > say, the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir when he publicly makes > ant-Semitic remarks, the interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria that have > created the conditions in which organisations like ISIS can thrive), is a > tragedy first of all for those many Muslims who wish to live in an > atmosphere that is free of terror and to live normal lives. I shan’t go on, > but will merely say that there is, in the West, a great prejudice against > Muslims that has resulted in numerous acts of violence against Muslims (you > might read Hanif Kureishi’s account of a visit to Bradford in 1986 – just > Google his name together with Bradford, or ‘Bradistan’). To tar all Muslims > with the brush of Islamism is to play into the hands of bigots, racists and > chauvinists, it seems to me, and to help bring about that ‘war with Islam’ > of which Sam Harris is the prophet. Europe has been torn to pieces by > religious wars in the past. I do not want to see the world torn apart by > religious wars in the future.

        1. But what I > feel is important is to encourage and assist those many liberal Muslims who > are the first victims of Islamism, and for this end I do not think it is > useful to suggest that all Muslims are tarred with the same Islamist brush > merely by virtue of being Muslim.

          You’re trying to square the circle.

          The reason the liberal Muslims are in such a bind is because they — and you — are trying to have their Kate and Edith, too.

          Each and every thing you find abhorrent about “radical” Islam is, in fact, overwhelmingly supported and commanded by the Q’ran and Hadith.

          The reason liberal Muslims are in such a bind is because liberalism is irreconcilably and fundamentally antithetical to Islam.

          Again again, you can be a good person, but not by remaining true to Islam. You want to help the liberal Muslims liberate themselves from the shackles of “radical” Islam? Wonderful — but you can’t do that by keeping them in velvet-lined chains forged in the same foundry.

          And: why are you so eager to see liberal Muslims remain deluded by their religious belief? What makes you so sure that your superior intellect permitted you to escape the bonds of religion, but the liberal Muslims are too stupid to come to the same conclusions?

          The problem is Islam. The cure is to ditch Islam. Anything less just strengthens the problem of Islam.


          1. Yes, Ben, of course you are splendidly and wonderfully right within the confines of your drastically simplified and theatrically logical world – I might even call it your sceptic tank – and you can of course congratulate yourself on your heroic intransigence, as you no doubt do. But there is a a struggle going on within Islam, one that has been going on for some time (Matthias Kuntzel gives some account of its history in ‘Jihad & Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11’) between Islamists and moderate Muslims, and much as I should like Islam to disappear from the face of the Earth it is not going to happen in any near future, so for the interim I should prefer to support those moderate Muslims against the Islamists so that the latter do not prevail. But perhaps you do not agree? Perhaps you would prefer a complete Islamist take-over of the Islamic world (which makes everything nice and simple and logical, as in ‘Animal Farm’ – ‘all Muslims bad!’)? Perhaps you would prefer that war of civilisations that Huntington spoke of?

            The still somewhat shaky settlement between Unionists and Catholic nationalists in Ulster was not achieved through Mrs Thatcher’s theatrical intransigence but through Mo Mowlem’s patient and pragmatic approach, an approach that recognised and addressed in a responsible way difficult realities.

          2. I should prefer to support those moderate Muslims against the Islamists so that the latter do not prevail. But perhaps you do not agree?

            Of course not. Especially considering the millennium and an half of evidence to the contrary, what on Earth should make you think that the solution to the problem of the barbarism that is Islam is to be found within Islam itself?

            And that’s trebly so considering that the way Christianity has been defanged has been by outright rejection of Christianity in favor of Enlightenment values, and the grafting of Enlightenment values onto the remains of Christianity.

            These sorts of “little people” arguments as you are proposing, that Muslims are incapable of embracing the rationalism you yourself prize for yourself, are profoundly insulting and patronizing to the Muslims. Do you not think that a Muslim would recognize your hypocrisy in advocating for them that which you yourself find abhorrent?


          3. I responded to this comment a few days ago, but since I was out of Tokyo I was not using my computer and so the response seems not to have gone through.

            I shall merely point out, Ben, that helping moderate Muslims in their struggle against Islamic fascism in no way precludes hoping that Islam will disappear and doing what one can to bring this about, and that I have nowhere suggested that it does; so that your fervid smear – for that it is what is – is baseless.

            Talking of intelligence, among my acquaintances here is a young woman from Southeast Asia who is doing a graduate course in one of the biological sciences at one of Japan’s most famous universities. She may well be more intelligent than either you or I. She is a delightful and humane person with a great sense of humour. She is also a Muslim, and she knows I am an atheist with no great love of any (in particular) Abrahamic religion. We get on very well.

            I have noticed before, Ben, that when crossed you lash out with wild and baseless accusations and smears that seem designed to create a kind of vehement smoke-screen so that it may appear, you hope, that you are winning, since winning seems to be very important to you. It is an infantile and dishonourable way of behaving.

  37. This reminds me of a situation just recently where I was installing a car seat in my Mom’s car so they could take my kids on vacation. The buckle was stuck and I had to remove the seat and reinstall it. When I was finished, my mom started praising Jesus and thanking him. My wife said, “How about thank Chris, the one who installed the car seat?”

    When I relayed this to my “spiritual” but non religious friend, he said my wife and mom were both right, just in different ways.

    No, sorry, they are not both correct in their own way. And if they are, the fact that Jesus helps perfectly capable people install car seats while letting kids by the millions die of curable diseases, well Jesus is an asshole.

  38. Jesus helps me in numerous mechanically awkward situations. As in “Jesus ******* Christ, get in that ******* hole you ******* bastard of a bolt!” I find it more therapeutic than ‘Oh dash, isn’t this awkward!’ 😉


      1. That usually does help quell my anger to call out to Jesus in that way too. Of course, his middle name is a noun when I say it. The version where it’s a verb would just be an odd thing to say in a fit of rage…

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