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The Morality of Torturing Muslims
Posted: 09 February 2008 09:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]  
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Antisocialdarwinist - 08 February 2008 05:05 PM

Suppose we do consider intentions?  What is the intent behind a bombing raid?  To defeat our enemy by depriving him of men and materiel which might otherwise be used against us.  But we drop the bombs “with the knowledge that some number of children will be blinded, disemboweled, paralyzed, orphaned, and killed by them” (Harris, chapter 6, A Science of Good and Evil). 

What is the intent behind torturing Muslims?  To defeat our enemy by depriving him of suicide bombers and terrorists which might otherwise be used against us.  Sure, we torture them with the knowledge that some number of them might not actually be used against us.  But our intent is still to defeat our enemy.  How is that any worse, morally, than dropping bombs we know will kill and maim innocent civilians?

But can’t we judge intent by the choices one makes between available alternatives? While collateral damage is an unfortunate consequence of bombing raids, wouldn’t you consider it immoral to inflict more collateral damage than necessary to destroy the intended target? Even the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed thousands of innocent civilians, were weighed against the eminent ground invasion of Japan that would likely have killed many times more people.

I think you would be hard pressed to show that torturing people out of their religion is the most effective method for depriving our enemy of suicide bombers and terrorists which might otherwise be used against us. Didn’t our government try to suppress knowledge of Abu Ghraib and CIA detention camps specifically because they were likely to incite the type of hatred that leads to terrorism?

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Posted: 11 February 2008 06:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]  
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camanintx - 10 February 2008 02:40 AM

While collateral damage is an unfortunate consequence of bombing raids, wouldn’t you consider it immoral to inflict more collateral damage than necessary to destroy the intended target?

Sure.  With the caveat that it’s impossible to know ahead of time how much collateral damage will be necessary, or even how much will occur.

camanintx - 10 February 2008 02:40 AM

I think you would be hard pressed to show that torturing people out of their religion is the most effective method for depriving our enemy of suicide bombers and terrorists which might otherwise be used against us. Didn’t our government try to suppress knowledge of Abu Ghraib and CIA detention camps specifically because they were likely to incite the type of hatred that leads to terrorism?

First, I don’t buy the government’s claim that Abu Ghraib and CIA detention centers were kept secret because they were afraid of inciting more Muslim hatred.  That sounds like a bullshit excuse to me.  I think it’s far more likely that they kept it secret because they knew they were crossing the line and didn’t want to get caught.

I think you’d be hard pressed to show that torturing people out of their religion isn’t the most effective method for depriving our enemy of suicide bombers and terrorists—at least not without trying it.

camanintx - 16 January 2008 12:53 AM

Harris’ claim that we are at war with Islam is misguided and myopic. I would challenge him to quote one Islamic terrorist who has attacked us simply because we are not Muslim. Al Qaeda attacked us not because of what we believe, but because of what we were doing in the Middle East.

I think this is probably the most convincing reason for why taking any sort of collective action against all Muslims would be immoral.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call Harris’s claim misguided and myopic because I think there is some truth to his position.  But I think he does overplay his hand when he says we’re at war with Islam. 

I doubt if most suicide bombers really understand our Middle East policy beyond what they’re told by their religious leaders.  Faith in Allah translates into faith in their mullahs and imams.  Would they still carry out their attacks if they didn’t believe there was a special place in heaven waiting for them?

Your response, if I may risk anticipating it, is, “Would they still carry out their attacks if we weren’t meddling in their affairs?”  But a better question might be, “Would their religious leaders still send them to attack us if we weren’t meddling in their affairs?”  Maybe, maybe not.  Maybe Kemal Ataturk had the most pragmatic approach of all.

[tangent]

camanintx - 10 February 2008 02:40 AM

But can’t we judge intent by the choices one makes between available alternatives? While collateral damage is an unfortunate consequence of bombing raids, wouldn’t you consider it immoral to inflict more collateral damage than necessary to destroy the intended target? Even the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed thousands of innocent civilians, were weighed against the eminent ground invasion of Japan that would likely have killed many times more people.

The Hiroshima example illustrates what I feel is an important drawback to using intent to gauge morality—especially when it comes to gauging it in other people.  It’s impossible to know someone else’s intentions with certainty.  For example, I don’t necessarily buy the idea that we dropped the A-bombs to avoid a ground invasion.  I think the ground invasion was already off the table.  Not out of concern for lives, but because it would have prolonged the war and raised the specter of a Soviet invasion of northern Japan.  A Japan divided into Western and Soviet spheres was even less palatable than Japan’s conditional (rather than unconditional) surrender. 

We wanted Japan to surrender unconditionally so that we could try the emperor as a war criminal, but the Japanese were intransigent on this issue.  Since an invasion was out of the question, the only alternative was to use atom bombs.  But even that didn’t convince them, and the eventual surrender was conditional after all.  The emperor remained as the figurehead leader of Japan and was never held accountable for Japan’s war crimes.  (Imagine if we had accepted Germany’s surrender with Hitler remaining in a figurehead role!)  We gained nothing of significance by dropping the bombs. 

The intent, then, may well have been limited to a last ditch attempt to force Japan to surrender unconditionally instead of conditionally.  The morality of dropping the bombs becomes a little more ambiguous under this scenario.  I wonder, if we’d had twenty bombs instead of only two, how many more would we have dropped, given that the first two didn’t achieve their intended effect?

Is it fair to change your statement, “...wouldn’t you consider it immoral to inflict more collateral damage than necessary to destroy the intended target?” to “...wouldn’t you consider it immoral to inflict more collateral damage than necessary to achieve the desired result?”  Given that a conditional surrender was already assured, if the intended result was Japan’s unconditional surrender, and you believed it would take two A-bombs to achieve that, would you consider it moral to drop them?

Using intent to gauge morality only works if we know what the intent is.  We know our own intentions, of course, and we can use them to gauge the morality of our own actions.  But, going back to scenario two of your example with the school bus, it would be impossible for an outside observer to know I acted immorally when I flipped the switch intending to kill the man on the tracks.

Admittedly, this point is moot for the case of torturing Muslims since we do know what our intentions are.
[/tangent]

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