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Islam and terrorism
Posted: 30 December 2004 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I just heard an interview with Sam Harris on KPFK, a Pacifica station in Los Angeles.  After this I also read Sam Harris' opinion piece in the Washington Times.

In the interview, Mr Harris implies that there are no non-Islamic suicide bombers.  This is not true.  What about the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka?  What about Japanese Kamikaze pilots?

Suicide bombing is a nebulous term.  As it is used in most recent history, it unifies the willingess to die for a cause with the willingness to kill innocent people.  However, there are suicide bombers who attack military targets (to wit, the recent attack on the barracks in Mosul), and there are those who attack civilians without committing suicide themselves (U.S. soliders in My Lai, for example).  So perhaps we should separate these two characteristics of suicide bombing, and talk instead about (1) willingess to die for a cause, and (2) willingess to target non-combatants in a conflict.

On another matter, in his opinion piece for the Washington Times, Sam Harris claims:

"Iraqi insurgents know that we did not come to their country to rape their women or to kill innocent civilians. Every thinking person in the Muslim world understands that if our goal had been to kill Iraqis and steal their oil, millions of Iraqis would now be dead and their oil would be flowing."

This is a straw man.  Very few people believe that the U.S. is there for the sheer joy of killing people.  It's just that we don't really care that much if thousands or millions (e.g. Vietnam) of civilians get killed as long as our geopolitical objectives are furthered.  Anyone who disputes that we are in Iraq to control oil resources need look no farther than "Rebuilding America's Defences," a paper put out by the Project for a New American Century, a think tank whose members are present at various levels in the current administration.  Thinking Muslims understand that the goal is not to steal oil, but to have U.S. bases in the heart of the Persian Gulf, to control its oil resources and maintain U.S. dominance over its future economic competitors like the EU, Japan and China.  The goals of maintaining U.S. dominance are explicitly spelled out in the U.S. "National Security Strategy" document, and also in the thinking of officials from past U.S. administrations (e.g. Zbigniew Brzezinski, and George Kennan).

Furthermore, even if we accept Mr Harris' thesis that there is something special about Islam that makes it more amenable to producing suicide bombers, and killing off people of other religions, we are left with the fact that, absent Western (neo-)colonialism and interference in the middle east, there was no suicide bombing.  This means that suicide bombing requires both the putative tendency of Islamic faith to support it, plus some legitimate grievance.  This means that Harris' theory does not let us off the hook regarding our actions in the middle east.

Also, if there is something intrinsically violent about Islam that causes it to kill non-Islamic people, how can we explain the periods of history in which Jews lived relatively unmolested in Islamic lands while they were being persecuted, killed and exiled from Western nations like Spain and Portugal?

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Posted: 30 December 2004 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Another quote from Mr Harris’ Washington Times editorial:

“Anyone who imagines that terrestrial concerns account for terrorism by Muslims must explain why there are no Palestinian Christian suicide bombers.”

Here’s a possible explanation.  A small minority of the entire Palestinian population are willing (1) to kill themselves AND (2) to kill innocents to further their cause.  The Christians are a minority of the Palestinians, so it stands to reason that a miniscule amount (a minority of a minority) of them would be willing to be suicide bombers.  I’m not discounting Mr Harris’ explanation, but just pointing out there may be other factors involved.

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Posted: 30 December 2004 05:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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When I heard during the debates we are building SIX PERMANENT military bases in Iraq, near the one of the worlds largest deposits of oil, I just knew that old adage “Follow the Money” was prolly pretty correct.

Up until then I had a reasonable doubt about our reasons for invading Iraq.

Iraq was a severe danger IF Saddam was overthrown it would have mostly likely degenerated into a civil war, and IF there were weapons who knows which side would have gotten them.

Iraq was never really a “country” and has at least Three severe divisions and even before the war it was pretty amazing Saddam kept the country together with brute force.

Even with elections, I don’t see the Kurds staying very long, but now that Turkey wants in the EU, they might have a chance of breaking off in the future.  Between the Shiites and the Sunis though, that is a mess.

Anyway this all reminds me of Henry Kissingers Three Point Plan, Nicaragau, Phillipines and Iran.  That worked out well didnt it?

Islam is just like Christianity, it can be perverted to be violent, and has been.

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Posted: 30 December 2004 05:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[quote author=“Iisbliss”]When I heard during the debates we are building SIX PERMANENT military bases in Iraq, near the one of the worlds largest deposits of oil, I just knew that old adage “Follow the Money” was prolly pretty correct.

I was actually pretty surprised that came up in the debates.  I thought that the Republicans and Democrats, both being pro-war, wouldn’t bring up the delicate topic of those bases.

[quote author=“Iisbliss”]Anyway this all reminds me of Henry Kissingers Three Point Plan, Nicaragau, Phillipines and Iran.  That worked out well didnt it?

I’m not familiar with this.  I heard that good ol’ Henry said something like “oil is too important to be left to the Arabs.”

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Posted: 31 December 2004 03:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/047167186X/qid=1104510185/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-0212205-0867845?v=glance&s=books

By Edwin Black.

JL

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Posted: 31 December 2004 04:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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The “something intrinsically violent about Islam that causes it to kill non-Islamic people” is the notion that the masses need not know about allegory. That the masses should simply believe the literal text.

The literal text is the problem.

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Posted: 07 February 2005 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“dchoweller”]I just heard an interview with Sam Harris on KPFK, a Pacifica station in Los Angeles.  After this I also read Sam Harris’ opinion piece in the Washington Times.

In the interview, Mr Harris implies that there are no non-Islamic suicide bombers.  This is not true.  What about the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka?  What about Japanese Kamikaze pilots?

Suicide bombing is a nebulous term.  As it is used in most recent history, it unifies the willingess to die for a cause with the willingness to kill innocent people.  However, there are suicide bombers who attack military targets (to wit, the recent attack on the barracks in Mosul), and there are those who attack civilians without committing suicide themselves (U.S. soliders in My Lai, for example).  So perhaps we should separate these two characteristics of suicide bombing, and talk instead about (1) willingess to die for a cause, and (2) willingess to target non-combatants in a conflict.

On another matter, in his opinion piece for the Washington Times, Sam Harris claims:

“Iraqi insurgents know that we did not come to their country to rape their women or to kill innocent civilians. Every thinking person in the Muslim world understands that if our goal had been to kill Iraqis and steal their oil, millions of Iraqis would now be dead and their oil would be flowing.”

This is a straw man.  Very few people believe that the U.S. is there for the sheer joy of killing people.  It’s just that we don’t really care that much if thousands or millions (e.g. Vietnam) of civilians get killed as long as our geopolitical objectives are furthered.  Anyone who disputes that we are in Iraq to control oil resources need look no farther than “Rebuilding America’s Defences,” a paper put out by the Project for a New American Century, a think tank whose members are present at various levels in the current administration.  Thinking Muslims understand that the goal is not to steal oil, but to have U.S. bases in the heart of the Persian Gulf, to control its oil resources and maintain U.S. dominance over its future economic competitors like the EU, Japan and China.  The goals of maintaining U.S. dominance are explicitly spelled out in the U.S. “National Security Strategy” document, and also in the thinking of officials from past U.S. administrations (e.g. Zbigniew Brzezinski, and George Kennan).

Furthermore, even if we accept Mr Harris’ thesis that there is something special about Islam that makes it more amenable to producing suicide bombers, and killing off people of other religions, we are left with the fact that, absent Western (neo-)colonialism and interference in the middle east, there was no suicide bombing.  This means that suicide bombing requires both the putative tendency of Islamic faith to support it, plus some legitimate grievance.  This means that Harris’ theory does not let us off the hook regarding our actions in the middle east.

Also, if there is something intrinsically violent about Islam that causes it to kill non-Islamic people, how can we explain the periods of history in which Jews lived relatively unmolested in Islamic lands while they were being persecuted, killed and exiled from Western nations like Spain and Portugal?

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Posted: 07 February 2005 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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I would like to ask just one question. Did Sam Harris or any other person using the term “Islamic Terrorism” have a chance to learing any thing about “Isalm” from its original sources or they are like the large majority of the people nowadays learning from the media? This is a direct challange to Sam Harris and those who are like him using that expression, learn first about the subject and meet me for a debate any where you like. Just tell me where and when and I will show up. It is a tragedy that some people claim to be “intellectuals” and do not do the very basic things that that entails!!. Did any one using that term meet one of the suicide bombers and ask them if they were really muslims (Isalm is a behavior not just a name!!)?. Good luck!!

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Posted: 09 February 2005 05:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“Anonymous”]I would like to ask just one question. Did Sam Harris or any other person using the term “Islamic Terrorism” have a chance to learing any thing about “Isalm” from its original sources or they are like the large majority of the people nowadays learning from the media? This is a direct challange to Sam Harris and those who are like him using that expression, learn first about the subject and meet me for a debate any where you like. Just tell me where and when and I will show up. It is a tragedy that some people claim to be “intellectuals” and do not do the very basic things that that entails!!. Did any one using that term meet one of the suicide bombers and ask them if they were really muslims (Isalm is a behavior not just a name!!)?. Good luck!!

I suggest you go over to   and answer the claims made about Muslim Imperialist designs.

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Posted: 12 February 2005 08:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“dchoweller”] This means that suicide bombing requires both the putative tendency of Islamic faith to support it, plus some legitimate grievance.  This means that Harris’ theory does not let us off the hook regarding our actions in the middle east.

I don’t see how a legitimate grievance would be the deciding factor. After all, the vast majority of oppressed Muslims with legitimate grievances, even the ones who are fighting their oppression through armed rebellion (like the Kurdish peshmerga), are not engaging in suicide bombing or any other kind of terrorism.

The deciding factor is ideology, not grievances, legitimate or otherwise. In the case of suicide bombing against civilians, though, it doesn’t even need to be ideology. All that’s required is the right combination of depravity and delusion.

Suicide bombers and other Muslim practitioners of terrorism do it for the same reason that Christian abortion-clinic bombers do: because they are right-wing fanatics who believe God has given them the right to kill. No other reason.

Also, if there is something intrinsically violent about Islam that causes it to kill non-Islamic people, how can we explain the periods of history in which Jews lived relatively unmolested in Islamic lands while they were being persecuted, killed and exiled from Western nations like Spain and Portugal?

It’s true that Jews and Christians under medieval Islamic rule were treated better, in general, than Muslims and Jews under Christian rule.

Unfortunately, that’s not saying very much. It was, after all, medieval rule. You might as well praise conquerers who feed their subjects rotten bread with butter over those who only feed them rotten bread. That’s the essence of the difference that was in force.

Under the Pact of Umar—the standard legal text imposed on conquered non-Muslims—Jews and Christians (and, it’s worth noting, only Jews and Christians; other religions got it much, much worse) lived under the following restrictions. Violating them was punishable, in most places, by either torture or death.

They were required to pay a jizya, or protection tax, to their Muslim rulers, while Muslims were not required to pay this tax.

They were not allowed to build new churches or synagogues, or to repair old ones. Crumbling churches and synagogues had to be left deteriorating or fallow.

They were required to grant all Muslims up to three days of free room and lodging in their homes, on demand, without question.

They were not allowed to learn or teach the Qur’an on their own, but had to be instructed by the proper authorities.

They could not practice their religion publicly, not discuss it publicly, nor try to convert anyone.

They were required to show “respect” to all Muslims, and grant Muslims their chair in public places if no other non-Muslim seats were available.

They were required to wear distinctive clothing, so that Muslims could always tell them apart on sight. What’s more, their uniforms had to be the same every day, and had to be marked with a specially-colored zunar tied around the waist.

They were not allowed to ride saddled horses, or build houses taller than Muslim houses, or in any other way ever have their heads higher than those of Muslims for any reason.

They were not allowed to display or sell their religious books or symbols in any Muslim market, nor to publcly raise their voices in prayer during funeral processions, nor to bury their dead in the same cemeteries as Muslims.

In exchange for following these laws, dhimmi, “protected persons,” were, it’s true, given relatively better treatment than in Christian Europe.

Forgive us moderns for not being terribly impressed by this, however.

The Pact was the standard treaty of submission imposed (and backed up by armed force) on all conquered peoples by Muslim rulers from the 7th Century onward, and remains one of the pillars of shari’a law to this day. The Taliban enforced it ruthlessly in Afghanistan, and versions of it, in one form or another, are in force in most Muslim countries today, particularly those where the right-wingers of Islam hold great political influence or direct political power.

Compared to other medieval legal codes, the Pact was, it’s true, pretty progressive. But the problem is, history has passed it by. Today, we’d call these codes apartheid or worse.

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Posted: 12 February 2005 08:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“dchoweller”]I suggest you go over to   and answer the claims made about Muslim Imperialist designs.

They aren’t “claims,” they are facts. Big difference. Just check any standard history text, including those written by Arabs and Muslims.

I should point out, however, that there is nothing special or unique about this aspect of Muslim history. That is, I’m not singling out Muslims just because they are Muslims. Muslim conquerers were only human; it shouldn’t be surprising that they behaved as badly as any other set of conquerors ever did.

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Posted: 12 February 2005 09:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“Iisbliss”]When I heard during the debates we are building SIX PERMANENT military bases in Iraq, near the one of the worlds largest deposits of oil, I just knew that old adage “Follow the Money” was prolly pretty correct.

And within those bases, no doubt, will be the secret back room where imperialist witch doctors rattle their shibboleths and cast their mind-control spells, robbing the populace of their free will and turning them into puppets, as they have done in all those other countries with American military bases, like Germany and France.

Iraq was a severe danger IF Saddam was overthrown it would have mostly likely degenerated into a civil war, and IF there were weapons who knows which side would have gotten them.

Iraq was considered a danger by the U.N. for decades because of Saddam, not in spite of him. Why else would they have passed all those resolutions against him, and imposed sanctions?

Oh wait. It was probably because the U.N., being HQ’d in New York, was also subject to America’s magic mind control spells and had lost all free will.

Iraq was never really a “country” and has at least Three severe divisions and even before the war it was pretty amazing Saddam kept the country together with brute force.

So, you actually agree Kissinger, then?

And Saddam didn’t keep the country together. He tore it to pieces through standard totalitarian divide-and-rule tactics. The ruin of that country is his fault.

Even with elections, I don’t see the Kurds staying very long, but now that Turkey wants in the EU, they might have a chance of breaking off in the future.

Doubtful. The more likely scenario is that Kurds from Turkey (where they are an oppressed minority) will flee to freedom in Iraq.

Between the Shiites and the Sunis though, that is a mess.

Right, which is why the so-called “Shi’a ticket” now apparently leading in the election has 30 Sunni candidates on it. And why all those voters were at each other’s throats on election day, along with the Shi’a and Sunnis in the provisional government, too. BTW, most of the Kurds are Sunnis. How do they fit into this lazy bit of analysis?

The “mess” between Shi’a and Sunni in Iraq is largely a myth. Zarqawi and his thugs have been doing their damnedest these last couple of years to foment such a “mess,” with a consistent record of failure.

Islam is just like Christianity, it can be perverted to be violent, and has been.

This is certainly true. But it’s important to remember that the two religions are not always being equally perverted, in the same ways or at the same time. Right now, the violent perversion of Islam by right-wing fanatics is a far bigger threat to the world than is its counterpart in Christianity.

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Posted: 17 February 2005 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“global village idiot”]I don’t see how a legitimate grievance would be the deciding factor.

It depends on what you mean by deciding factor.  If a legitimate grievance did not exist, people like Bin Laden wouldn’t be able to recruit. 

The deciding factor is ideology, not grievances, legitimate or otherwise.

If the grievances did not exist, the ideology would not have support among oppressed people.

In the case of suicide bombing against civilians, though, it doesn’t even need to be ideology. All that’s required is the right combination of depravity and delusion.

Similar to the depravity and delusion we used against Dresden, Cologne, Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the fire-bombings of many other “enemy” cities?

Also, if there is something intrinsically violent about Islam that causes it to kill non-Islamic people, how can we explain the periods of history in which Jews lived relatively unmolested in Islamic lands while they were being persecuted, killed and exiled from Western nations like Spain and Portugal?

It’s true that Jews and Christians under medieval Islamic rule were treated better, in general, than Muslims and Jews under Christian rule.

Unfortunately, that’s not saying very much.

This is a non sequitur, because it has nothing to do with the original point, concerning whether or not there is something intrinsically violent about Islam that causes it to kill non-Islamic people for reasons of pure ideology.

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Posted: 17 February 2005 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“Anonymous”]
It depends on what you mean by deciding factor.  If a legitimate grievance did not exist, people like Bin Laden wouldn’t be able to recruit.

Hogwash. Madmen have always been able to recruit followers without appeal to legitimate grievances. And Bin Laden’s recruitment efforts towards fellow Muslims are made on the basis of appeals to Islam’s glorious imperial past, and belief in the Master Faith, as well as to Jewish conspiracy theories. His appeals are not based on legitimate grievances at all; al-Qaeda has openly stated that its beef with America is our secular liberalism, and that its goal is the submission of the entire Earth to Islam.  His recruitment is specifically based on the notion of reviving the Caliphate and the age of empire. To this end, he regularly makes reference to important events and dates in Muslim history, knowing full well that Muslims will know more than us what he’s referring to.

To their credit, though, most Muslims aren’t falling for it.

If the grievances did not exist, the ideology would not have support among oppressed people.

But you’re assuming it does have support (which says more to me about your apparently low opinion of “the oppressed” than anything else). By and large, it does not. A majority of oppressed people do not sign on to imperial cults and reactionary death squads. The Lebanese are not conducting suicide bombing on the streets of Damascus. Kurds are not hijacking airplanes and slamming them into buildings in New York. Tibetans are not calling for, let alone practicing, the murder of Chinese civilians. The only “root cause” of terrorism is an aggrieved superiority complex. Nothing else.

Similar to the depravity and delusion we used against Dresden, Cologne, Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the fire-bombings of many other “enemy” cities?

Not similar at all. And if you don’t understand why, there is no point in dignifying you any further.

This is a non sequitur, because it has nothing to do with the original point, concerning whether or not there is something intrinsically violent about Islam that causes it to kill non-Islamic people for reasons of pure ideology.

Something “intrinsic”? Well, study the history of Islam. It’s age of “tolerance” is largely a myth, except for some isolated times and places that are not unique to it as a religion. “Tolerant” periods in Islamic history—such as the reign of Akbar the Great in India—have occurred when rulers went against the mainstream of the religion in an attempt to reform it. Medieval Islamic society was every bit as oppressive and brutal to religious minorities as was medieval Christianity. Islam has historically always been spread chiefly through conquest and forced conversion, practiced even by Muhammad himself. And thanks to the doctrine of abrogation, the violent verses of the Qur’an are considered by most Muslim theologians to be more valid than its earlier, compassionate ones.  Right from the beginning, Islam has been a religion that both advocated and practiced outright conquest and empire.

Now, that’s a quite a different thing, however, from saying that Muslims are inherently violent. They’re not; at least, no more so than any other humans.  But insofar as any set of arbitrary ideas can contain “instrinsic” characteristics (a notion I find hard to support in the first place), then, yes, it is inherent to Islam. It’s no coincidence that “fundamentalist” Muslims are, on average, more violent as a group than “fundamentalist” Buddhists or “fundamentalist” Jainists. Religions are not created equal, and some of them really are, empirically, more conducive to violence than others. An extremist Muslim is far more likely to kill you than is an extremist Jain. That’s a simple fact of life.

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Posted: 17 February 2005 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“global village idiot”]They aren’t “claims,” they are facts. Big difference. Just check any standard history text, including those written by Arabs and Muslims.

I should point out, however, that there is nothing special or unique about this aspect of Muslim history. That is, I’m not singling out Muslims just because they are Muslims. Muslim conquerers were only human; it shouldn’t be surprising that they behaved as badly as any other set of conquerors ever did.

I’m referring to your claims about the current intentions of Muslims.  Your claims suggest that Islamists object not to our interference in their countries and support for Israel, but are actually imperialists themselves.  You seem to suggest that, as soon as the West stops interfereing in their affairs, they will acquire nuclear weapons and invade and conquer the whole world.

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Posted: 17 February 2005 09:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“Anonymous”]I’m referring to your claims about the current intentions of Muslims.

Well, Muslims do not all think alike. I’m not talking about “Muslims,” I’m talking about the specific believers in the ideology that’s been called, variously, “Islamism,” “terrorism,” “Islamic fascism” and so on.

Your claims suggest that Islamists object not to our interference in their countries and support for Israel, but are actually imperialists themselves.

They’re not mutually exclusive claims. Hitler objected to the Treaty of Versailles for imperialist reasons. That doesn’t mean the Treaty wasn’t important, or that it was just. It simply means that rescinding it would have done absolutely nothing to deter Hitler. It’s the same with “Islamists”; changing our policy towards Israel or other countries will do absolutely nothing to deter Islamists. On the contrary, it will likely embolden them, as similar acts of appeasement have always emboldened totalitarians.

You seem to suggest that, as soon as the West stops interfereing in their affairs, they will acquire nuclear weapons and invade and conquer the whole world.

Well, that’s what they’ve openly stated they want to do.  And all that’s necessary for us to ensure their success is to do nothing about it. Well, not their “success”; world conquest will remain an impossible goal for at least a few more centuries. But that won’t stop totalitarians from trying.

What I’m suggesting is simple: when totalitarian madmen say things like “the entire world should be subject to the religion of Allah” and claim for themselves the divine right and the intention to acquire nuclear weapons and use them against us, then we are fools if we don’t take them at their word. History is replete with tales of liberal countries who failed to understand that madmen with impossible goals really do mean what they say, and end up paying a heavy price for it in the end.

Or, to put it more simply, we have met an enemy, and for once, it is not us. We fail to recognize that at our own peril.

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