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The Morality of Torturing Muslims
Posted: 22 January 2008 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]  
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Antisocialdarwinist - 22 January 2008 01:11 PM

We both agree that morality is “a useful social construct that allows us to coexist in groups of more than one.”  How can you reconcile this with the idea that an intention is morally wrong (or right)?  Your intentions exist only inside your own head and have no impact on anyone else.  How can an intention affect your coexistence with your fellow group members? 

The fact that our criminal justice system takes intent into account is irrelevant to the discussion, since the CJS is not based strictly on morality.  Here’s an example to illustrate this.  Suppose you and I each point a gun at someone’s head and pull the trigger, knowing that the gun is loaded and with the intent to kill.  Your gun fires and your victim is killed; my gun malfunctions and my victim walks away unscathed.

In both cases, our actions and intentions are identical, so by either standard (intention or action) the two scenarios are morally identical.  Yet we would be charged with different crimes:  you with murder, and me with attempted murder.  If our CJS was based exclusively on morality, as you claim, wouldn’t we both be charged with the same crime?

I never said our CJS was based exclusively on morality, just that it is one way of enforcing morality in a society. Since intentions exist only inside our head, and are difficult to discern in others, our CJS must necessarily include other factors which can be objectively evaluated. While our CJS is concerned with intent, action and outcome, I would argue that morality is only relevant to intent. Would a person who intends to kill another be any less moral just because they were prevented from acting on their intent for some reason?

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Posted: 22 January 2008 10:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]  
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camanintx - 22 January 2008 03:02 PM

While our CJS is concerned with intent, action and outcome, I would argue that morality is only relevant to intent.

Tex, this kind of morality is a lot like a horseshoe tucked inside the boxing glove of rationality. We only use it to bludgeon our opponents verbally when we sense that rationality by itself is not going to suffice.

Consider who you’re arguing with here, a guy who thinks that seeing everything as a struggle for survival of the fittest is going to guarantee his survival.

[ Edited: 22 January 2008 10:24 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 22 January 2008 03:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]  
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camanintx - 22 January 2008 03:02 PM

I never said our CJS was based exclusively on morality, just that it is one way of enforcing morality in a society. Since intentions exist only inside our head, and are difficult to discern in others, our CJS must necessarily include other factors which can be objectively evaluated. While our CJS is concerned with intent, action and outcome, I would argue that morality is only relevant to intent. Would a person who intends to kill another be any less moral just because they were prevented from acting on their intent for some reason?

I think what you mean to say is, would the person be any less immoral just because they were prevented from acting on their intent.  But prevented in what way?  Physically prevented by a third party while in the very act of murder?  In this case, the person’s actions (attempting to murder someone) are already immoral.  Isn’t this the same as the case where my gun malfunctioned and yours didn’t?  Why do we even need to consider intentions in this case?

But perhaps you mean they were prevented before they actually took any action.  Maybe they decide they need help murdering their victim.  Knowing of your prowess with firearms, as well as your dubious understanding of morality, they select you as an accomplice and tell you of their intention.  Rather than helping out, however, you physically prevent them from acting on their intent.  In this case, they have still acted immorally, by conspiring with you to murder someone.  Again, why are intentions relevant?

But what about the case where, instead of physically preventing them, you talk them out of it?  Would you have me believe now that they are just as immoral for having intended to kill someone as if they had actually done so?

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Posted: 27 January 2008 10:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 64 ]  
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After having read the whole thread I feel no closer to understanding the points of the discussion. The point of the thread seems to be the question: What is the morality of torturing Muslims out of their faith? Now we must first understand what is meant by morality. A quick search of an online dictionary says that morality is basically the rules of right conduct. So the natural question should be: what rules of conduct are ASD using and what belief(s) are they based on? After reading the thread I am no closer to understanding what those rules and beliefs are precisely for ASD, but Sam Harris seems to be quite clear. In the event there is a choice between survival and death the use of torture may be morally justifiable to prevent death. In effect Sam Harris is saying that survival trumps everything else, but only to the extent that there is a clear and present danger to survival. ASD, from what I can tell, seems to say basically the same thing but slightly differently. That is that survival, and any possible threat to it needs to be destroyed, trumps everything else. With that line of thinking it is moral to torture Muslims out of their faith…if it works. If it doesn’t then the torturers have not only waisted time and caused an unbelievable amount of pain in the process, but they are also no closer to their stated goal (ending the Muslim religion) and have thus acted quite immorally. As ASD has been arguing throughout the thread, action determines whether one has crossed a moral boundary, and the moral boundary here seems to require progress toward the ending of the Muslim religion.

Now I wish to be clear, I do not agree with ASD’s possible belief (that survival, and any possible threat to it needs to be destroyed, trumps everything else) or any possible rules that stem from it. I believe this not only because I believe torture is useless but also because I believe there are better ways of dealing with the problem. Some of those ways do involve violence but that is a different thread. There are also several other questions that stem from the above belief such as who or what is to survive and what constitutes a threat, but again those questions are for another thread. ASD if I have misunderstood or misrepresented your original argument, beliefs, etc. please clarify and stay on topic. Thanks.

[ Edited: 28 January 2008 02:15 PM by Sephiroth_deus]
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Posted: 28 January 2008 07:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 65 ]  
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Sephiroth_deus - 28 January 2008 03:06 AM

After having read the whole thread I feel no closer to understanding the points of the discussion. The point of the thread seems to be the question: What is the morality of torturing Muslims out of their faith? Now we must first understand what is meant by morality. A quick search of an online dictionary says that morality is basically the rules of right conduct. So the natural question should be: what rules of conduct are ASD using and what belief(s) are they based on?

I am using the rules of conduct which find collateral damage during wartime acceptable.  The question Harris asks is, why is torture considered morally unacceptable when collateral damage is not?

So we can now ask, if we are willing to act in a way that guarantees the misery and death of some considerable number of innocent children, why spare the rod with suspected terrorists?  What is the difference between pursuing a course of action where we run the risk of inadvertently subjecting some innocent men to torture, and pursuing one in which we will inadvertently kill far greater numbers of innocent men, women, and children?  Rather, it seems obvious that the misapplication of torture should be far less troubling to us than collateral damage…

Separately, Harris also points out that Islam itself (rather than social or political factors) is the root cause of Muslim terrorism:

Given the vicissitudes of Muslim history, however, I suspect that the starting point I have chosen for this book—that of a single suicide bomber following the consequences of his religious beliefs—is bound to exasperate many readers, since it ignores most of what commentators on the Middle East have said about the roots of Muslim violence.  It ignores the painful history of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  It ignores the endemic poverty and lack of economic opportunity that now plague the Arab world.  But I will argue that we can ignore all of these things—or treat them only to place them safely on the shelf—because the world is filled with poor, uneducated, and exploited peoples who do not commit acts of terrorism, indeed who would never commit terrorism of the sort that has become so commonplace among Muslims; and the Muslim world has no shortage of educated and prosperous men and women, suffering little more than their infatuation with Koranic eschatology, who are eager to murder infidels for God’s sake.

Combining these two positions, that torture is just as morally acceptable as collateral damage and that “we are at war with Islam,” leads me to the conclusion that torturing Muslims out of their faith would be just as morally acceptable as bombing an enemy ball bearing factory in the middle of a city.

Sephiroth_deus - 28 January 2008 03:06 AM

Now I wish to be clear, I do not agree with ASD’s possible belief (that survival, and any possible threat to it needs to be destroyed, trumps everything else) or any possible rules that stem from it. I believe this not only because I believe torture is useless but also because I believe there are better ways of dealing with the problem. Some of those ways do involve violence but that is a different thread. There are also several other questions that stem from the above belief such as who or what is to survive and what constitutes a threat, but again those questions are for another thread. ASD if I have misunderstood or misrepresented your original argument, beliefs, etc. please clarify and stay on topic. Thanks.

The finer points of my moral beliefs vis-à-vis survival and threats are irrelevant, since I’m using as a starting point those moral beliefs (whatever they may be) which find wartime collateral damage acceptable.

Is that on topic enough for you?

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Posted: 29 January 2008 04:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 66 ]  
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Yes it was and thank you for responding. Now the first issue I would like to address is the utility issue of torture. The question (Is it moral to torture Muslims out of their faith?) depends on the rules of conduct you are using. In your case they are the rules of war. Let us assume for the moment that torture works exactly as you wish it to and that the use of it makes Muslims stop believing in Islam. Then as I said, yes it is moral to torture Muslims.

Now let us assume that torture doesn’t work at all. Then as I said before it would be highly immoral to torture Muslims. But what is the difference that makes the difference? The answer is obviously because of its usefulness. But why does its usefulness matter? Because the rules of war require it. How is that? To quote Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (which gives a pretty good explanation of the basic idea behind the rules of war),

“But I’ll give you my own-unofficial—views on it. If you wanted to teach a baby a lesson, would you cut its head off?”
“Why ... no, sir!”
“Of course not. You’d paddle it. There can be circumstances when it’s just as foolish to hit an enemy city with an H-bomb as it would be to spank a baby with an ax. War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose. The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him, but to make him do what you want him to do. Not killing but controlled and purposeful violence.”

My interpretation of these passages is that war, and the rules governing its use, depend on the goal (in our case the eradication of Islam) and the usefulness of its application (in our case torture). So if the wrong tool were used (H-bomb, ax, torture) on the subject (city, baby, Islam) then it would be immoral because it doesn’t accomplish the task which is required in the rules of war.

If my line of reasoning is incorrect please point out where and how without resorting to attacking my quote. That only forces me to change the quote without actually changing the content of my argument. That is unless my quote is way off base, but I doubt it. If my basic line of reasoning (that torture needs to actually work) is correct however, then ASD, or anyone who wishes to support his position, needs to show some evidence of its actually working in the way he wants it to using historical examples proving its utility. As was pointed out there are an unbelievable number of examples to choose from. Further, showing that in only one case out of one hundred the torture works doesn’t demonstrate it’s utility. So what also must be shown is that, at a bare minimum, a simple majority of cases (50%+1) is required to prove that torture is a useful tool in the fight against Islam.

While I realize the utility argument has been done to some extent already I feel it wasn’t done in the correct context and therefore we should go over some of the issues again just to understand them clearly. The reason why I say ASD, or any supporters, needs to provide the proof is because this is his theory and therefore the burden of proof lies with him. I also invite any who can prove the opposite to provide their proof as well. Ultimately I wish to see the utility of torture and not get bogged down in the minutia of details.

(A note of caution: I wish it to be clear that I am only focusing on Muslims as they are the topic. In theory this line of thinking can be applied to anyone as I alluded to in my previous post.)

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Posted: 29 January 2008 05:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 67 ]  
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Sephiroth_deus - 29 January 2008 09:57 PM

Let us assume for the moment that torture works exactly as you wish it to and that the use of it makes Muslims stop believing in Islam. Then as I said, yes it is moral to torture Muslims.

Fair enough.

Sephiroth_deus - 29 January 2008 09:57 PM


Now let us assume that torture doesn’t work at all. Then as I said before it would be highly immoral to torture Muslims.

Simply “immoral” would suffice.  No need for the adverb.  And no need for the Heinlein quote.  I agree with your statement.

Sephiroth_deus - 29 January 2008 09:57 PM


Further, showing that in only one case out of one hundred the torture works doesn’t demonstrate it’s utility. So what also must be shown is that, at a bare minimum, a simple majority of cases (50%+1) is required to prove that torture is a useful tool in the fight against Islam.

Oh?  How did you arrive at that number?  That’s like trying to quantify precisely how much collateral damage is morally acceptable.  Would you apply the same 50%+1 standard to wartime casualties?  Have more Iraqi combatants been killed or wounded than civilians?  According to Wikipedia, between 16 and 21 thousand insurgents have been killed since 2003, while total Iraqi deaths attributed to the war range from eighty thousand to over a million.

Were more combatants killed or wounded than Vietnamese and Cambodian civilians during the Vietnam War?  Did German and Japanese combatant casualties exceed civilian casualties during WWII?  Was 50% of the total damage inflicted by Allied bombing campaigns in WWII done to military targets?  I don’t think so. 

Your 50%+1 criteria doesn’t hold up for other forms of collateral damage; why should it apply for torture?  It seems to me you are arguing that torture should have a different standard of utility than other forms of collateral damage.  Harris has already made a case for why this doesn’t make sense.  You’ll have to convince me why he’s wrong.

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Posted: 29 January 2008 06:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 68 ]  
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Antisocialdarwinist - 29 January 2008 10:56 PM

Your 50%+1 criteria doesn’t hold up for other forms of collateral damage; why should it apply for torture?  It seems to me you are arguing that torture should have a different standard of utility than other forms of collateral damage.  Harris has already made a case for why this doesn’t make sense.  You’ll have to convince me why he’s wrong.

Fair enough. Would you please provide the quote or series of quotes so that I may identify the error in them. Unfortunately I only own the audiobook and it’s very difficult to work with.

In the mean time what percentage of success would you require?

[ Edited: 29 January 2008 07:22 PM by Sephiroth_deus]
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Posted: 29 January 2008 08:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 69 ]  
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Sephiroth_deus - 29 January 2008 11:33 PM

Fair enough. Would you please provide the quote or series of quotes so that I may identify the error in them. Unfortunately I only own the audiobook and it’s very difficult to work with.

I’ve already done so, both in my original post and in my post of 27 January.  The quotes dealing with the morality of torture are from chapter 6, A Science of Good and Evil.

Sephiroth_deus - 29 January 2008 11:33 PM

In the mean time what percentage of success would you require?

The original comparison was between torture and wartime collateral damage.  For the analogy to hold, the ratio of (tortured Muslims who renounce their faith) to (tortured Muslims who don’t renounce their faith) would have to be no less than the acceptable ratio of (damage to legitimate military targets and personnel) to (collateral damage).  What that number is precisely, I don’t think it’s possible or even necessary to know.

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Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

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Posted: 29 January 2008 09:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 70 ]  
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First, will you provide any proof of any kind that proves torture works in the way you want it to?

Second, I did not ask you what the military or anyone else uses as its ratio for the level of acceptable collateral damage, I asked you what you would use for the level of acceptable collateral damage. I don’t care if you say 25%, 5%, or one out of a million. I simply need a number.

Third it is important because if you cannot provide evidence of at least that percent then you have failed to prove that torturing Muslims is useful and therefore failed to prove the utility of torture. And if you cannot prove the utility of torture then you have successfully proven that attempting to torture Muslims out of their faith is not just immoral but highly immoral because it violates many other rules of conduct.

Fourth, to move this discussion on a little, since you are willing to accept some number of failures in torturing Muslims out of their faith, what will you do with them? Since you haven’t given any indication in your original post the obvious answer would be that you would continue to torture them until they either died or went insane. In either case they would be unable to pose either a threat or be able to renounce their faith.

Fifth, since we are talking about a religion of 1.3 billion people a simple failure of one percent constitutes 130 million people intentionally killed or driven insane. Increase the percentage of “acceptable” failures and you thus increase the number of people killed or driven insane. So again what the percentage of failure you would use is supremely important.

Finally, what Sam Harris was advocating was that the use of torture on terrorists and some number of innocents should trouble us less than collateral damage. Since in the former permanent damage isn’t even necessary in getting the information in the few cases we need to use it, assuming they stop after obtaining what they wanted, and in the latter permanent damage is in the definition. Do you not see the difference between using torture in a few emergency cases and perpetrating a crime equaled only by Hitler and Stalin in scope and reasoning?

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Posted: 30 January 2008 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 71 ]  
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Sephiroth_deus - 30 January 2008 02:48 AM

Second, I did not ask you what the military or anyone else uses as its ratio for the level of acceptable collateral damage, I asked you what you would use for the level of acceptable collateral damage. I don’t care if you say 25%, 5%, or one out of a million. I simply need a number.

Third it is important because if you cannot provide evidence of at least that percent then you have failed to prove that torturing Muslims is useful and therefore failed to prove the utility of torture. And if you cannot prove the utility of torture then you have successfully proven that attempting to torture Muslims out of their faith is not just immoral but highly immoral because it violates many other rules of conduct.

I understand the point you’re trying to make here, about the utility of morality.  And while I agree with you in theory, this line of reasoning has two problems.

First, it (again) holds torture to a higher level of utility than other forms of wartime destruction.  No one asked for a “number” when they decided to firebomb Dresden.  No one asked for a “number” when they decided to drop an atom bomb on Hiroshima or firebomb Tokyo or bomb Cambodia or invade Iraq.  Why should torture be singled out for some specific moral hurdle rate?  You tell me what the moral hurdle rate is for war and I’ll give you your number.

Second, it oversimplifies the situation.  We can never know precisely how effective torture will be, just as we can never know precisely how effective a bombing raid or an invasion will be.  What, then, does your moral hurdle rate get you?  You have nothing with which to compare it.  In fact, I suspect the effectiveness of torture would vary in time and space.  It might be more effective, for example, against Muslims living in a garbage dump in the Phillipines than against Taliban fighters living in caves in Pakistan.  And its effectiveness would increase over time as we refined our technique.

So while it sounds good it theory to compare the effectiveness of torture with some predefined hurdle rate, in reality it’s neither practical or necessary.

Sephiroth_deus - 30 January 2008 02:48 AM

Fourth, to move this discussion on a little, since you are willing to accept some number of failures in torturing Muslims out of their faith, what will you do with them? Since you haven’t given any indication in your original post the obvious answer would be that you would continue to torture them until they either died or went insane. In either case they would be unable to pose either a threat or be able to renounce their faith.

As you point out, I thought torturing them to death in the event they didn’t renounce was obvious enough that it didn’t need mentioning.

Sephiroth_deus - 30 January 2008 02:48 AM

Fifth, since we are talking about a religion of 1.3 billion people a simple failure of one percent constitutes 130 million people intentionally killed or driven insane. Increase the percentage of “acceptable” failures and you thus increase the number of people killed or driven insane. So again what the percentage of failure you would use is supremely important.

Insane, you say?  Some might argue they’re already insane.  From that standpoint, we’d be liberating them from the insanity of their religion.  Who knows?  They might even welcome us with open arms.

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Posted: 04 February 2008 10:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 72 ]  
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Antisocialdarwinist - 30 January 2008 03:09 PM

Some might argue they’re already insane.  From that standpoint, we’d be liberating them from the insanity of their religion.  Who knows?  They might even welcome us with open arms.

“Some might even welcome us with open arms?”
Why do I get a flashback to Cheney’s pre-war “We’ll be greeted as liberators” bullshit?

Antisocialdarwinist, are you kidding me?  First off, let me say that your whole idea of torturing Muslims out of their faith is preposterous.  And I can’t believe that many people in this thread have taken that idea seriously and are actually replying as if it was an honest intellectual inquiry on your part.  All of you are just as insane as the insane muslim fanatics. 

Just imagine, for a second here, that all the Christians in USA decided to torture all atheists until they said that they ackowledge Jeebus as their personal lord and savior because they were afraid that atheism is sinking their society into immorality and therefore is dangerous.

That’s basically the case you’re making, with some different players.  It’s beyond ridiculous.

This is pure madness and descent into medievalism would ensue as sure as you’re sitting right there and reading this post right now.

And your proposal is ridiculous at an even deeper level than that.  Let’s for a moment put all reason and civility aside and adopt your proposal.  Let’s say you’re torturing a muslim right now, until he denounces his mulim faith.  What will satisfy you?  Just a simple “I don’t believe in Allah” or what?  People can just say something, get off the hook, and then have reason many more orders of magnitude stronger to hate you.

What you’re proposing is a return to the witch trials.  It’s abandoning all reason and logic.

Realize that you can’t make somebody force to stop believing something no more than you can force somebody to believe something.  Beliefs don’t work like that. 

Yours is an argument so devoid of any connection to reality that it is hard to even take it seriously.

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Posted: 04 February 2008 11:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 73 ]  
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Just imagine, for a second here, that all the Christians in USA decided to torture all atheists until they said that they ackowledge Jeebus as their personal lord and savior because they were afraid that atheism is sinking their society into immorality and therefore is dangerous.

That’s basically the case you’re making, with some different players.

Not really.
Because atheists do not belong to an evil death cult whose holy book advocades the genocide of unbelievers. Muslims DO adhere to such a cult, since that is precisely what the Quran dictates.

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Posted: 05 February 2008 12:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 74 ]  
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arildno - 05 February 2008 04:48 AM

Just imagine, for a second here, that all the Christians in USA decided to torture all atheists until they said that they ackowledge Jeebus as their personal lord and savior because they were afraid that atheism is sinking their society into immorality and therefore is dangerous.

That’s basically the case you’re making, with some different players.

Not really.
Because atheists do not belong to an evil death cult whose holy book advocades the genocide of unbelievers. Muslims DO adhere to such a cult, since that is precisely what the Quran dictates.

I expected somebody would have something like that to say about that particular statement by me, and also the payload of uninsightful baggage that a view like that carries around on its back.

The bible also dictates that people be killed for all sorts of imaginary infractions, so let’s torture christians as well.  Let’s torture everybody who is a member of some group whose main text preaches something that we find offensive or dangerous.

Arildno, you should know from my posts on the “Islam in Bosnia” thread that not ALL muslims, or people who call themselves muslim, take what the quran says and act on it, just like not all christians take what the bible says and act on it.

Once again, I’m not defending Islam in the least bit, I find it repulsive just like all the other monotheisms.  I am defending individual people who are being unfairly bunched together with lunatics and genocidal murderes just because they call themselves “muslim.”  Or “christian” for that matter.

And regardless of that, your point is irrelevant to the larger discussion. 

Are you saying that you believe that it is possible to torture somebody out of their beliefs?  Please answer that question.

That is about as Orwellian as an outlook can get.

Welcome to the free democratic society of America, where Big Brother dictates what you will think or tortures you out of your unacceptable beliefs.

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Posted: 05 February 2008 01:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 75 ]  
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Are you saying that you believe that it is possible to torture somebody out of their beliefs?  Please answer that question.

Indeed. It is called brainwashing and torture, and is daily being done within Islam upon their own children, gradually warping their natural instincts of morality, or beliefs if you will.
Violence works, and generates a slave mentality in the naturally placid ones
and a bully mentality in the naturally dominant ones.

For some of those bullies, a reverse shock therapy in the form of physical correction might well be the only way to deprogram them.


Note that I have NOT said that I advocate the torture of all Muslims just because they are Muslims, but all I said was that your analogy was inept.

[ Edited: 05 February 2008 02:05 AM by arildno]
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