Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I don't believe that Islam is evil

I suppose, when I decided to post on the shouldn't-be-an-issue of the not-a-mosque at not-Ground-Zero, that I should have expected someone to come along and lecture me on how eeeeeeevil those Muslims are, and how they're out to destroy us, and how we're facing an epic War Of Cultures, and like that. To be fair, the commenter didn't actually do that here on my blog. He* just left a somewhat snarky response with links back to his own blog... which is entirely devoted to that topic.

I'm underwhelmed. I'm also unconvinced.

I’ll admit, I don’t know very many Muslims; also I’m in an urban area, working with educated professionals, which may skew my sample further. But the Muslims I do know are much like the Christians I know: they’re basically just people doing their thing.

And, yes, they could be that way in spite of their faith, rather than because of it (or it could have nothing to do with their faith). But the simple fact that they’re no more barbaric than the people around them indicates to me that their faith is not the deciding factor when it comes to barbaric behavior.

Christian beliefs lead people to shoot others and blow up buildings. Is Christianity, then, a barbaric religion?** Political beliefs lead people to shoot each other. Are political affiliations barbaric? Or is it simply that people with a tendency towards extremism will find some belief to support that tendency?

A lot of the less palatable aspects of Islam are actually associated with Wahhabism. While the Wahhabis are fairly wide-spread (including most of Saudi Arabia, for example) they no more represent all of Islam than Evangelicals represent all of Christianity. According to some Muslim leaders, by contrast, an attack on Canada or the U.S.A. is an attack on Muslims. The guy in charge of the community center in the general vicinity of Ground Zero? He's a proponent of the latter viewpoint.

Pakistani Demonstrators Last Year Protest Taliban Flogging of 17 Year Old "Seen" With Married Man (Image Credit: Associated Press; h/t Marzie)

Islam is not a single, monolithic entity. It's as varied and divided as any other major religion. And while some versions of Islam are associated with some very barbaric behaviors, Islam itself isn't the cause of those behaviors. At worst, you could argue that Islam overall isn't doing {much/enough} to prevent them.

I also think there’s a certain amount of information bias involved. We hear about a terrorist attack on the U.S. – attempted or actual – and if the perpetrator was a Muslim, that fact will be all over the news. (Mainly, I think, in an effort to pump up rating by making it sound even scarier to mainstream Americans.) If, on the other hand, the perpetrator is something else – Christian, Hindu, whatever – then the news reports won’t mention their religion at all, except perhaps as an afterthought. Then, too, American news tends to focus on things that affect Americans – understandably – so while the recent history of Ireland (for example) includes a fair amount of non-Islamic terrorism, those events were effectively invisible in the U.S.

There's another kind of information bias here, too. As outsiders, we don't really know what parts of the Koran are customarily ignored or downplayed by mainstream Muslims. (Just as I, though raised as a Christian, never felt bound by my religion to support slavery; nor was I afraid that if I was disrespectful to my father, he would have me dragged to the gates of the city and stoned to death. Why? Because modern Christians have effectively done away with those passages in the interest of having an orderly and just civilization.)

Let me close, on an only-semi-related note, with an observation from Kung Fu Monkey on terrorism and the Epic Clash Of Civilizations (and if you haven't, you should really go read the whole thing):

Maybe it's just, I cast my eyes back on the last century ...

FDR: Oh, I'm sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we're coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How's that going to feel?

CHURCHILL: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We'll be in the pub, flipping you off. I'm slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I'm sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.

US. NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike ... NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!

... and I'm just a little tired of being on the wrong side of that historical arc.

Seriously. Even President George W. "Invade 'Em For Their Own Good" Bush insisted that we are not at war with Islam.

So please don't insist that I have to recognize some nonexistent Epic Final Struggle just because your life lacks meaning and purpose. I have better things to do with my time.

* Commenter's sex isn't clear; I'm guessing.
** Yes, I know this is a wonderful opening for all sorts of cheap shots. Please resist the temptation.


  1. I'll preface this by saying I don't care if they build the thing.

    That said, Islam is an intolerant load of horse shit that would be better off wiped from the boot of civilization. The stuff that passes for "scripture" is some of the most offensive stuff I've ever read, and mind you my favorite book is "American Psycho."

    Honestly, try this experiment when you get a chance. Get a stop watch and a Quran. Start the watch and apen to a random page. Start reading, and stop the watch when you get to a verse about who should die or who will burn in in the lake of fire for eternity. Try this with any other religious text.

    I think you'll find, scientifically, that Islam is the most militant of the major world religions. You know the only other place I've seen vitriolic venom spit with such frequency? Check out a White Nationalist website, like Stormfront.org.

    That said, how closely do people follow the Bible or any other text? I find that people pretty much just go about their life according to custom, not the mandate of a centuries old book.

    I guess what I'm saying is... I hate Islam, but that doesn't mean I hate Muslims. I mean sure, I hate some Muslims, I wouldn't just decide to like someone because they are a Muslim, but to be honest... I don't know most of them well enough to make that call.

  2. See, if the Koran is as thoroughly violent as you say (I haven't read it), then that is a valid criticism... at least of the Koran itself. As far as I can tell, though, it doesn't prevent individual Muslims* from being fairly ordinary citizens in most respects. (This is generally true of the Bible and mainstream Christians, too - the Holy Book may be considered the source and final authority on their beliefs, but custom and culture have a much bigger effect on day-to-day behavior.)

    * There are several in my workplace, one of whom works in my department; there's also a mosque about a mile from my workplace. Strangely, I don't feel at all threatened by this.

  3. I worked with lots of Muslims in my last job, and I lived within a few blocks of mosques and madrassas the whole time I was in Philly. I didn't have one ounce of prejudice for Islam until I picked up and read the Quran.

    Ironically, it was given to me for free by a Muslim. Nice people, but wow... they claim to believe some violent stuff. I honestly recommend you check out a free translation online or something, or you can even go to www.yourmuslimneighbor.com and they'll mail you one for free. If the package is ticking... it's probably because they threw in a free "genuine fake" watch.

    Even when they're about to rip you off, you can't say you weren't warned. Pic from my visit to Turkey, and check out that wicked unibrow.

  4. Sounds like our experience is pretty similar, then. I have a copy of the Koran on the shelves somewhere - it's the Penguin translation, I think. I bought it back in my "I should learn more about this" phase, but slipped into my "functionally atheist - why bother?" phase before I got started.

    I'm actually more comfortable getting my information about Islam from the Muslims at work than from my own reading of the Koran - which is likely to be a bit heretical. Of course, my personal impression of the Bible wouldn't fare any better; my views tend to be... idiosyncratic.

    Love the pic, though.

  5. I am so tired of fear-mongering and really think that being fearful of Muslims and mosques and the whole shebang is just pointless and if anything, falling right into the hands of everything terrorists desire. That said, I think there are a fair number of Muslims who are not happy with the Park51 plan. You can read a synopsis on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_Zero_mosque#Muslims

    The real reason I think it's a bad idea is that I think it's likely to become a target of American terrorists. :(

  6. "The real reason I think it's a bad idea is that I think it's likely to become a target of American terrorists."

    ...Which is far more likely now, after all the media attention and demagoguery.

    Honestly, that's the first source I've seen that's actually mentioned Muslim opinions on the issue.


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