Tuesday, February 07, 2006

In Defense (Sort of) of the Moderate Muslims

Listen, the whole thing is stupid. It's scary precisely because it's stupid. People can't hold whole nations hostage because they don't like some editorial cartoon. Well, they can, but they can't expect people to be very sympathetic. But, I'm going to tell you who I do feel a little bad for--the moderate Muslims. Everywhere you look, people are complaining "Why don't moderate Muslims speak out against these crazy psychos who are violent and kill people and who apparently can't be reasoned with?" Hmm. This is a big mystery. Why don't non-crazy people who have families and have to live in communities with these crazy psychos who are violent and kill people and apparently can't be reasoned with speak out against them? Listen, I'm not making an argument for any type of organized religion and lord knows I think we'd all be better off having very disorganized sets of religious beliefs that can't be co-opted and used against us, but it seems to me that we should, in the face of madness, not succumb to madness ourselves. How many Muslim terrorists do you think there are in the world right now? Actual men and women plotting to do violence? They say a cell is roughly 25 people. How many cells? A thousand? Ten thousand? Let's give ourselves over to paranoia a little bit--let's say there are ten thousand cells of approximately 25 people. That's 250,000 terrorists, a quarter of a million people actively planning to carry out attacks against us. And let's say that for every person actively planning on carrying out an attack against us, there are three people providing some kind of support to him. So, that gives us a million radical Muslims hell-bent on destroying us and actively taking steps to insure that happens. One million. That sounds like quite a lot. If I were a moderate Muslim, I'd be cautious, to put it mildly, about bringing down the wrath of a million crazy psychos who are violent and don't mind killing people. But here's the thing we would do go to remember, as we're running around shouting about how violent "they" all are and how no one should have to live near "them"--there are roughly a billion Muslims on the planet. Which means that, using math (and we all know how that goes), even if there are a million crazy murderous Muslims, that's one one-thousandth of all Muslims. Is this the standard now, that we're going to hold every religious group responsible for the actions of one one-thousandths of its membership? If so, then fuck you, United Methodists, for not speaking out against what a dumb idea it was for me to make out in the Sunday School room with that kid who looked like a very large mole, because, as Methodists at the time, and, since the incident happened in a Methodist church, you are responsible for not keeping me from doing something very stupid. Anyway, I've got no great love for Islam, or Christianity, or even Judaism for that matter. But I've grown kind of fond of all our talk about individuals accountable only to themselves, and so I wanted to argue for it in this case.

15 Comments:

Blogger cafiend said...

I've been pointing out for several years al qaeda is a faith-based initiative. If your religion makes it all right to kill people you feel don't measure up to your faith you will be a very scary neighbor. It's a primitive way of advancing your tribe at the expense of others. The big problem comes in when people believe in life after death in which they will be judged on the basis of their religious merit. Were you a pussy who feared death, or a lion of the faith, who laid down his life for the glory of (insert name here)?

A philosophy like that scorns moderation. There is no compromise. Adhere to the faith and insist that others follow it as rigidly as you do. "Kill all. God will know his own." Death ain't no thang. It only hurts for a minute.

Well if death ain't no thang and life is a transitory illusion, why get so fucking worked up about how you are treated?...And why bother to have children and care how they are treated?

You can drive as many buses as you like through the holes in religious "logic," but the true believers just keep putting bombs on them and sending them back.

2/07/2006 06:56:00 PM  
Blogger Kleinheider said...

Everywhere you look, people are complaining "Why don't moderate Muslims speak out against these crazy psychos who are violent and kill people and who apparently can't be reasoned with?"

Hmm. This is a big mystery. Why don't non-crazy people who have families and have to live in communities with these crazy psychos who are violent and kill people and apparently can't be reasoned with speak out against them?


It's not that mysterious to me. While fear might be part of it, it's not the whole story.

The reason is the same reason black folks are reticent to speak out against Farrahkan et al. They may not agree and do not endorse the words and actions of the extremists but they have a greater understanding of how they came to be than the those outsiders who attack them.

Israel and the US have been playing games in the Islamic world for years -- invading countries, killing Palestinians, manipulating and trying to manipulate internal politics, etc.

These "moderate Muslims" see these things. They see their weaker brethern become twisted and violent and turn to terror and suicide in the belief that they have no other choice.

The West then comes in and says, "Look at what these cowardly, evil men are doing in your name. Renounce them."

We are suprised when they politely decline to do so? Please. What would you do? Personally, I'd tell 'em to go F themselves.

2/07/2006 07:59:00 PM  
Blogger Um...why? said...

Well, it does kinda come down to this doesn't it, religious psychos are psycho...regardless of religion. I consider myself a Christian, no, not the kind that chase you around and hit you in the head with the bible...that never does anything but make you mad, but being a Christian, I still think Pat Robertson is a psycho and needs to shut the heck up!

Faith and Religion are good things. They bring hope, and love, and strength to people. They only become a problem when people start twisting those beliefs to fit their agenda like old Mr. Robertson, and to some extent, what Pres. Bush is doing when he pulls religion into his policy and politics. He uses that to get people on his side. Even if it sounds like a bad idea, throw some religion into the mix, and Christians, especially evangelicals and charismatic’s flock to your side for fear of going straight to hell.

Please don’t be offended, I’ve been a charismatic Christian for some time, I just don’t believe everything I hear spoken, and if it comes from someone on T.V. I believe it even less until I can cross it against the Bible, and my own sense of right and wrong.

In the Muslim world, people also fall prey to the same things that are happening in America, where some so called religious leaders are telling people to do something, or act a certain way, and they blindly follow. This is not the direction God tells us to take, and we have to remember that these people, who we hold up as leaders, are all men (meaning humans, not sexual classification.) They are fallible and all will fall short of the glory of God. This means they will all make mistakes. They are not Gods to be worshiped. Religious Zealots tend to forget that. And so we end up with people with bombs on their chest, and burning down churches, and voting for a man regardless of what they think of his political capability just because he claims to believe in the same God you do, and isn’t afraid to say “In God we trust.”

2/07/2006 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger Zoe said...

Aunt B, I haven't commented here before, I found you through Barista a little while ago.

That post was beautifully written, and that's not just because I agree with you completely.

2/07/2006 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger cafiend said...

Faith and Religion are good things. They bring hope, and love, and strength to people.

I was raised a Christian. Only later did I find out how many people wouldn't consider me a Christian unless I got a whole lot weirder about it. But I came at things from a believer's viewpoint for a number of years after that.

I have now become friends with many ethical atheists who do the right thing because it is the right thing, not because it was copied into someone's scripture, will get them into some nonexistent heaven or stave off the wrath of God. The basic principles of ethical social interaction transcend any single religion.

Because separate religions recognize and stress their differences, they often find it difficult or impossible to cooperate on the basis of their accidental similarities. This isn't true of every follower of every faith, but it is true of enough of them to make a terrible difference in the world. You don't need faith and hope to treat each other decently, only a desire to treat each other decently. The Golden Rule makes sense with or without a benevolent diety smiling down on you.

2/07/2006 09:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fuck you, United Methodists, for not speaking out against what a dumb idea it was for me to make out in the Sunday School room
I'm not sure how it all went down B, but I bet it if it was common knowledge that you were making out in the Sunday School room, someone would have spoke out against you.

w

2/07/2006 10:36:00 PM  
Anonymous indifferent children said...

Faith and Religion are good things. They bring hope, and love, and strength to people.

How about "Religion is a good thing, but Faith is terrible." Why can't Christians say something like, "My ancestors have believed in Christianity for about 1,000 years and I believe in Christianity. But we could be wrong. We hold these beliefs dear to our hearts, but we can't prove that they're true and it's possible that we're wrong. That doesn't make us love and cherish our beliefs any less; we just don't have any justification for shoving them down anyone else's throat."

Why yes, I am reading Sam Harris' "The End of Faith". He has good things to say about religion, but his central premise is that Faith (the kind that moves mountains, and inspires suicide bombers and abortion clinic bombers) is incredibly dangerous and we can't afford to tolerate it in a modern society.

2/08/2006 06:09:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

W., well, in all fairness, maybe they realized at some level how miserable they were making me and that was their once concession to my happiness.

Indifferent Children, I'm going to have to read that, because I think I would have argued just the opposite--that faith (which I might define as some kind of ongoing, personal relationship with the sacred) is much less dangerous than religion (which I would call the bureaucratization of faith in order to mobilize it for earthly ends).

I have faith in the gods of my ancestors, a personal, meaningful faith (that I well acknowlege could be utterly wrong and stupid). But I have no apparatus that codifies that faith and turns around and tells me what the gods expect of me, if anything. And since that apparatus isn't in place, I can't then use it against you.

And part of the problem, which we refuse to acknowledge is that, if a man had three sons and he took each of his sons aside one at a time and said to them, "You're my favorite. I'm leaving my house to you. Don't let anyone but who you and I decide is right come into the house. By the way, your other two brothers? I don't want them in the house.", we'd think that man was a dick.

And even if two of the brothers weren't "legitimate" and had no real claim on the house, we'd expect that the man wouldn't have told them they did.

Which means that either folks are fighting over the inheretance from a man whose inheretance isn't worth much, or each of the three sons is lying about what the father told him.

2/08/2006 07:27:00 AM  
Anonymous indifferent children said...

I have faith in the gods of my ancestors, a personal, meaningful faith (that I well acknowlege could be utterly wrong and stupid).

It seems that our definitions are contradictory (which could be my fault, but it seems that my definitions for faith and religion are similar to those in this book). To me, your set of 'religious' beliefs are a religion, even if only a religion-of-one (you). This is where people say, "I don't accept organized religion." Your personal religion is still a religion, even if it's not organized (no, that wasn't a judgement of your mental processes :-) )

Your statement, "I have faith...[that] could be utterly wrong", violates my definition of 'faith'. Faith is unshakable, eternal, and brooks no evidence to the contrary. A person who has faith cannot be swayed. Only by "losing faith" can a person then change their beliefs.

I hold religious (even theistic) beliefs, but I do not have 'faith'. I believe that my religious beliefs are not exceptionally likely to be true.

2/08/2006 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Well, ha, isn't it fun when two people who obviously have compatable points of view don't realize it at first because they're using what seems like an obvious word--faith--to mean two different things?

I am totally intrigued by this book now and will, hopefully, get to it after I finish the libertarian book.

2/08/2006 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Church Secretary said...

This is quite an interesting topic you've raised, Aunt B. So much insightful analysis here, methinks. I believe what is being said here (correct me if I'm wrong) is that "God" isn't the problem, and faith is a subjective term.

Cafiend's question gets to the crux of it, I reckon. What are people getting so worked up about if God is beyond all this anyway? I don't think it has much to do with God. I believe religion, in this context, functions as a framework of social order and political energy.

This might explain how fundamentalism-- or whatever you want to label it-- has taken hold in large segments of the Muslim world. These people have lived through the demeaning and dispiriting vagaries of colonialism and despotism, and many of them seek a cultural context that validates their existence in a positive manner. Such a context might be expected to have a militant and reactionary nature, given the anger and frustration of which it is born. Mahmood Mamdani examines this dynamic quite well (interview links available here, book here).

Also, a version of this dynamic can be seen at work in what we often label the "religious right" here in the States. How do you get poor and working folks to vote against their interests? Give them decades of bipartisan horseshit to be cynical about, then mask that horseshit with gratuitous Jesus-talk (it helps if you have an avaricious clergy to help you with the religious end of things). Tom Frank touches on this in his book "What's the Matter with Kansas?".

2/08/2006 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger saraclark said...

Cafiend,
Wow, I think I had an epiphany. I don't usually join into any types of religious conversations, because no matter what view you have, you are wrong to somebody. A moral atheist, by your description comes closest to defining my beliefs. Well said.

Aunt B--there was making out at Baptist Sunday School retreats too. So add them in with the Methodists.

2/08/2006 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger HUCK said...

A moral atheist, by your description comes closest to defining my beliefs.

We call ourselves 'secular humanists'. Although, we aren't all atheists. Take me for example...

2/08/2006 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Pick said...

B,

I second the recommendation of "The End of Faith." I read it a few months back, and if I would have still been blogging, you'd have known all about it by now. Anyway, Harris really makes some pretty persuasive arguments against the possibility of moderates even existing in the context of faith. Faith itself brooks no moderation.

Now, I'm fairly certain that most people who consider themselves moderate religionists are acting in good faith, and aren't really causing any harm. But, still, there is a lot to be said for the fact that belief in the Truth of any Religion means you are convinced those who don't know it simply can't be as good (or as Saved) as you are.

2/08/2006 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Um...why? said...

I guess my confusion in all this is no one has said what "faith" means. I have faith in God, that He exists, that He is omnipresent, omnipotent, and that He has unmeasurable love for me, and for all creation. I have faith in my salvation, that my relationship and belief in God, and His son Jesus, will one day allow me to be exempt from eternal damnation.

What I don't have faith in are the denominations, pastors, priests, nuns, monks, scholars, judges, politicians, or people in general. I don't have faith in my particular beliefs being the only way to God, nor do I believe anyone elses are.

You see, faith isn't a bad thing if it isn't held for the wrong things. People who have faith in their denomination or their pastor, or some televangelist have misplaced their faith onto a creature or group that can be and often are wrong. That kind of faith gives you things like bombers on buses and church burners and such.

2/08/2006 06:12:00 PM  

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