Child Marriage in Yemen—See NYT (6/29/08)
Posted: 29 June 2008 06:12 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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I just finished The End of Faith.  I enthusiastically agree with the idea that faith, particularly religious faith, has resulted in horrendous misery.  Reason must prevail over dogma.  Secular moral values grounded in honesty, compassion and love are always superior to any religious values one can conjure up.  But unfortunately Sam Harris has failed to make a case for it.

From the bibliography and end-notes presented in the book it seems very likely that Sam Harris is a well read person.  But from the conclusions he presents it seems his understanding is quite superficial.  Some examples of this include (i) Hindu/Muslim carnage in the wake of Indian & Pakistani independence—the reasons are much more complex than just religion, (ii) Tamil Tiger/Sri Lankan problem—this conflict is entirely secular to the extent that one of the cultural heroes of Tamil Tigers is an avid and virulent atheist (E.V.Ramasamy), (iii)  Israel/Palestinian conflict—Harris simply ignores the asymmetry between the two sides, one side uses helicopters and tanks and the other side is left to respond with stones and their own bodies strapped with bombs, etc.  There are many more examples of superficiality that can be found in the book.

One particularly shocking conclusion Harris presents is the justification for collateral damage caused by aerial bombing and torture of presumed terrorists, as if the alternatives are clear cut.  Why is bombing with the best weapon “available” to one side (say, cruise missiles) with the full knowledge of tremendous collateral damage morally acceptable and the same justification, namely, using the best weapon at their disposal (say, car bomb) morally indefensible.  Sam Harris lost me when he advocated, in effect and not with the same words, “bomb the barbarians to civilization” approach (words in quote are mine, not his).

I agree the tenets of Islam (and the other two monotheistic religions) include so much of violence, the world will be a better place without them and while we are at it get rid of other religions as well and in their place have secular moral values such as rationality, humanity, compassion and love to guide our lives.  In this respect, in spite of religious dogma, most people are moral.  Most people subscribe to these values just stated, Muslims included.  Just look at the news item reported by NYT.  The suffering of two young (very young) Yemeni girls has done more to improving the lives of all girls in Arab societies than Sam Harris’ treatise on Islam.  The fight is just beginning in Yemen.  The fundamentalists will not give up without a fight.  But let us not strengthen their hands with our vitriolic rhetoric.  Let us help the Yemenese human rights lawyer by staying out.

Yes, it would have been much better if Child Marriages do not take place at all.  The reasons they do, even in “advanced” countries like the US are very complex.  Religious dogma is a part of it.  Poverty and illiteracy are two more.  Past US support to despotic regimes for a promise of uninterrupted supply of oil is another.  So, let us be a little humble here.  It is easy to dish out advice.  But insulting the vast majority of well meaning Muslims in Arab countries will only empower the radicals.  The misguided US foreign policy over many decades motivated by greed for oil has resulted in the suffering of generations of these people.  So, enough with blaming them.  A better approach is to let them be and engage them with honest compassion.  That would be beneficial not just for them, but for us as well.

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Posted: 30 June 2008 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Nara52 - 29 June 2008 10:12 PM

I just finished The End of Faith.  I enthusiastically agree with the idea that faith, particularly religious faith, has resulted in horrendous misery.  Reason must prevail over dogma.  Secular moral values grounded in honesty, compassion and love are always superior to any religious values one can conjure up.

Welcome to the forum!  May your stay here be a pleasant one.

Nara52 - 29 June 2008 10:12 PM

But unfortunately Sam Harris has failed to make a case for it.

Getting into it already, huh?  Okay…

Nara52 - 29 June 2008 10:12 PM

From the bibliography and end-notes presented in the book it seems very likely that Sam Harris is a well read person.  But from the conclusions he presents it seems his understanding is quite superficial.  Some examples of this include (i) Hindu/Muslim carnage in the wake of Indian & Pakistani independence—the reasons are much more complex than just religion

Such as?  Would the fighting over Kashmir be as intense if both India and Pakistan were Hindu nations?  Or both Muslim?  Potentially, yes, but butchering the kafir is so much easier to justify if God tells you to do it.

Nara52 - 29 June 2008 10:12 PM

(ii) Tamil Tiger/Sri Lankan problem—this conflict is entirely secular to the extent that one of the cultural heroes of Tamil Tigers is an avid and virulent atheist (E.V.Ramasamy),

“While the motivations of the Tigers are not explicitly religious, they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe some very improbable things about the nature of life and death.  The cult of martyr worship they have nurtured for decades has many of the features of religiosity that one would expect in people who give their lives so easily for a cause.” (Harris, 239)

Black Tiger Day

Nara52 - 29 June 2008 10:12 PM

(iii)  Israel/Palestinian conflict—Harris simply ignores the asymmetry between the two sides, one side uses helicopters and tanks and the other side is left to respond with stones and their own bodies strapped with bombs, etc.

In actual fact, Harris closely examines the asymmetry - specifically the idea that seems to be worming around in this statement - that the Israelis are the cruel oppressors of the innocent Palestinians - “The Israelis have shown a degree of restraint in their use of violence…that no Muslim society would contemplate today.” (Harris, 135)

Don’t forget: the Israelis have the military might to completely drive the Palestinians into the annals of history, if they chose.  But they don’t.  There is indeed an asymmetry - one side deliberately targets civilians, the other does not.

Nara52 - 29 June 2008 10:12 PM

One particularly shocking conclusion Harris presents is the justification for collateral damage caused by aerial bombing and torture of presumed terrorists, as if the alternatives are clear cut.

This is a grievous (and very common) misreading of the text, one so large and pervasive that I wonder if some people take the time to actually attempt to understand what it is they’ve read.  The chapter is an investigation into a rational approach to human ethics, and Harris uses the comparison between aerial bombing and torture to illustrate an ethical illusion that many people have - that torture is somehow more grotesque then aerial bombardment, despite the fact that aerial bombing inevitably results in civilian causalities, children counted among.  “Rather, it seems obvious that the misapplication of torture should be far less troubling to us then collateral damage: there are, after all, no infants interned at Guantanamo Bay” (Harris, 194)

Harris concludes the section with: “Because I believe the account offered above is basically sound, I believe that I have successfully argued for the use of torture in any circumstance in which we would be willing to cause collateral damage.  Paradoxically, this equivalence has not made the practice of torture seem any more acceptable to me; nor has it, I trust, for most readers.” (Harris 198)

Nara52 - 29 June 2008 10:12 PM

  Why is bombing with the best weapon “available” to one side (say, cruise missiles) with the full knowledge of tremendous collateral damage morally acceptable and the same justification, namely, using the best weapon at their disposal (say, car bomb) morally indefensible.  Sam Harris lost me when he advocated, in effect and not with the same words, “bomb the barbarians to civilization” approach (words in quote are mine, not his).

Harris does not make this argument, as outline above.  He does, however, argue that the motive of the attack is the issue - there is no reason to believe that Bush (regardless of what you might think of him) would ever knowingly, deliberately target an innocent civilian - despite the fact many of them die anyway.  But Osama bin Laden?  Targeting innocent civilians is his entire strategy. (Harris, 143)

Nara52 - 29 June 2008 10:12 PM

Yes, it would have been much better if Child Marriages do not take place at all.  The reasons they do, even in “advanced” countries like the US are very complex.  Religious dogma is a part of it.  Poverty and illiteracy are two more.  Past US support to despotic regimes for a promise of uninterrupted supply of oil is another.

Complex?  Is it, really?  The only place that child marriage takes place in the US on a regular basis are among the Warren Jeffs-style Mormon cults.  The other reasons you cite would be justifications for terror attacks on the US.

Nara52 - 29 June 2008 10:12 PM

So, let us be a little humble here.  It is easy to dish out advice.  But insulting the vast majority of well meaning Muslims in Arab countries will only empower the radicals.  The misguided US foreign policy over many decades motivated by greed for oil has resulted in the suffering of generations of these people.  So, enough with blaming them.  A better approach is to let them be and engage them with honest compassion.  That would be beneficial not just for them, but for us as well.

Child marriage in Yemen has nothing to do with American foreign policy - it is propagated and justified by conservative Islam.  Mohammad took a child bride, so it’s a little difficult to argue against other Muslim men doing the same.  The fact is this: if you marry and have sex with a ten-year-old girl, you’re a paedophile.  If you have an ancient text and a prophet that says it’s okay, then the text is wrong and you AND your prophet are paedophiles.  If you’re a Muslim and you find this practice distasteful, then change it - but don’t get upset that I have the audacity to point a finger at you say, with all the conviction that my white middle-class Canadian atheist frame can muster and say “you’re wrong,” - and all the bad decision making at the US State Department doesn’t change that.

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Why did it take so long to outlaw slavery, since Jesus so clearly opposes it?  Oh, yeah…right.  Never mind.

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