• “True Islam” and violent extremism

    I am engaged in many conversations and debates across multiple platforms on the internet. At the moment, and in general recently, I have been wrapped up in many debates with my fellow liberals. The subject has been Islam and as to whether it is in some culpable proportion responsible for the violent extremism which is taking place across the globe. From the Middle East and ISIS (incorporating a number of different countries) to France and the Charlie Hedbo events; from Nigeria and Boko Haram to Kenya and Somalia with al Shabaab, things are not looking good. Before I get started, please make sure you read to the end of the article to avoid jumping to conclusions as some have.

    The issue I have is one I hear all the time. Whether it be David Cameron, Barack Obama, Francois Hollande or other leaders and vocal people, the same mantra is repeated in various guises. Here is a selection of some of those quotes from recent months and days:

    “This isn’t the real Islam”


    “This has nothing to do with Islam.”

    “Islam is a religion of peace…. They are not Muslim, they are monsters.”

    And this is repeated by many of my liberal friends, including good people on this network. And I get it, I really do. I just disagree. So I was pleased when Ayaan Hirsi Ali stated:

    “It is embedded in a world religion [Islam].”

    The Hurriyet Daily News questions:

    When it is the first time that one comes across a massacre committed on behalf of Islam, one could look for a conspiracy behind it saying, “Is it really Muslims who have committed this?”

    When it is the second time that one comes across a massacre committed on behalf of Islam, there could be statements like, “The reason for this rage should be understood; that aspect should be focused upon.”

    When it is the third time that one comes across a massacre committed on behalf of Islam, there could be an interpretation like, “This is all the West’s fault; the West is reaping its own harvest; the West is responsible.”

    When it is the fourth time that one comes across a massacre committed on behalf of Islam, it could be said, “This has nothing to do with religion. Islam is a religion of peace; this is not the real Islam.”

    When it is the fifth time that one comes across a massacre committed on behalf of Islam, there could be a diagnosis like, “It is a reaction to exclusion, a reaction to the history of exploitation, a reaction to inequality.”

    When it is the sixth time that one comes across a massacre committed on behalf of Islam… Well, there, you need to stop a little…

    Because now it is time to look for the responsibility in ourselves. Now, the whole matter has reached the point where no excuses can be generated.

    It is now the time to ask the question: “Why is terror coming from a religion of peace?”

    Now, the time has arrived to develop a dignified, serious, firm objection.

    The issue is this: liberals are claiming that these Islamic fundamentalists do not represent “true Islam”; that they have bastardised the true religion of peace. As Kenan Malik states:

    Muslims are not the only religious group involved in perpetrating horrors. From Christian militias in the Central African Republic reportedly eating their foes to Buddhist monks organizing anti-Muslim pogroms in Myanmar, there is cruelty aplenty in the world. Nor are religious believers alone in committing grotesque acts. Yet, critics argue, there appears to be something particularly potent about Islam in fomenting violence, terror and persecution.

    These are explosive issues and need addressing carefully. The trouble is, this debate remains trapped between bigotry and fear. For many, the actions of groups like the Islamic State or the Taliban merely provide ammunition to promote anti-Muslim hatred.

    Many liberals, on the other hand, prefer to sidestep the issue by suggesting that the Taliban or the Islamic State do not represent “real Islam” — a claim made recently, in so many words, by both President Obama and David Cameron, the prime minister of Britain. Many argue, too, that the actions of such groups are driven by politics, not religion.

    I do agree that the media, particularly the right wing media, are maligning Islam in a way which promotes bigotry and a sort of religionism which borders on racism. Yes, I get that, and I condemn inaccurate caricatures of Islam. But one should not silence the debate by pointing out inaccurate descriptions of Muslims and Islam and claiming that any critique falls into that category.

    The question I have tried to investigate is whether Islam is at least largely causally responsible, as a religious wordlview, for the violence and terrorism which is presently taking place around the world. I did this first by showing the differences in approach of the two religions, epistemologically speaking, from the root of their holy books. Then I looked to show that arguers in this are often using the No True Scotsman fallacy. On a prima facie analysis, it would obviously be a yes. These terrorists are all Muslims and are all committing their atrocities in the name of Islam or in defence of Allah, or on account of Allah.

    Things are never so easy. Defenders in the face of this criticism claim that such radicals commit their atrocities on account of socio-economic factors, human cravings for power, issues of politics and geography linked to the areas and whatnot. And these are certainly relevant causal factors in many of these situations.

    First of all, before taking this on, it is wise to watch this debate on whether Islam is a religion of peace or not, between Zeba  Khan and Maajid Nawaz, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Douglas Murray. It’s great and sets out a lot of the arguments:

    The issue tends to be about who properly represents Islam, as I pointed out earlier with the quote, and whether the tough verses in the Qu’ran can be contextualised away, such as is often the case with the Old Testament and Judeo-Christianity.

    In the above debate, and answering whether Islam is a religion of peace, Douglas Murray states that we can look at this in three ways:

    1. The example set and fact of Muhammad starting off the religion of Islam
    2. The holy book of the Qu’ran
    3. The actions of Muslims today

    He actually puts 1) and 2) together, and then has a separate point for Sharia Law, which is something that most nonbelievers, if not all, would not want to abide by. I will not spend much time on that because it is wrapped up in a mixture of 2) and 3) for me. Is it, then, a case that any of these points allow for the defender to say that external factors are responsible for such violence, and that Islam as a religion is not to blame?


    Muhammad was involved in 65 military campaigns, ruled by the sword and led by brutal example. Was Muhammad himself a man, a prophet, of peace? No. He was not. He was a leader who nicknamed his swords things like “Pluck Out ” and “Death” and who himself had a nickname from early Muslim historian Tabari of “The Obliterator”.

    As historian Muir states:

    Magnanimity or moderation are nowhere discernible as features in the conduct of Mahomet towards such of his enemies as failed to tender a timely allegiance. Over the bodies of the Coreish who fell at Badr, he exulted with savage satisfaction; and several prisoners,—accused of no crime but that of scepticism and political opposition,—were deliberately executed at his command. The Prince of Kheibar, after being subjected to inhuman torture for the purpose of discovering the treasures of his tribe, was, with his cousin, put to death on the pretext of having treacherously concealed them: and his wife was led away captive to the tent of the conqueror. Sentence of exile was enforced by Mahomet with rigorous severity on two whole Jewish tribes at Medîna; and of a third, likewise his neighbours, the women and children were sold into distant captivity, while the men, amounting to several hundreds, were butchered in cold blood before his eyes. … The perfidious attack at Nakhla, where the first blood in the internecine war with the Coreish was shed, although at first disavowed by Mahomet for its scandalous breach of the sacred usages of Arabia, was eventually justified by a pretended revelation. … The pretext on which the Bani Nadhîr were besieged and expatriated (namely, that Gabriel had revealed their design against the prophet’s life,) was feeble and unworthy of an honest cause. When Medîna was beleagured by the confederate army, Mahomet sought the services of Nueim, a traitor, and employed him to sow distrust among the enemy by false and treacherous reports; “for,” said he, “what else is War but a game at deception?” … And what is perhaps worst of all, the dastardly assassination of political and religious opponents, countenanced and frequently directed as they were in all their cruel and perfidious details by Mahomet himself, leaves a dark and indelible blot upon his character. [Note 1]

    Now there will be differing opinions of Muhammad depending on what sources you refer to, of course, so we must be careful. However, his brutal militarism is not really up for debate. After the battle of Trench, for example, he decapitated 600-900 men and enslaved the women and children. He was harsh.

    The immediate difference would be comparing this divine figure to Jesus who far from ordered deaths or spearheaded violent military campaigns. Christianity, with its bigotry and dodgy verses, can at least feasibly in some sense be called a religion of peace, with a love thy neighbour approach to politics. There is very little example set by its creator of war and warlike behaviour, or punishment and death (as far as the New Testament is concerned).

    I suggest, for further information, people research the military conquests and person of Muhammad.

    The Qu’ran

    It appears that the Qu’ran, from a cynical point of view, is an ex post facto, post hoc rationalisation used to countenance Muhammad’s political violence. In secular history there is some argument as to whether he was purposefully deceiving or genuine in his beliefs of his revelation, over twenty years, which produced the Qu’ran as some direct revelation from God. I have read much of the Qu’ran and have been absolutely staggered by the violence and contempt for nonbelievers. It is dripping with contempt. Yes, there are some nice verses, like the Bible, but the ratio of nasty to nice is quite obviously heavily one-sided when you read it. Sura 2, al-Baqarah, is quite shocking to my sensibilities. By some calculations about 19% of the book is devoted to detailing violent conquest of nonbelievers.

    There are too many verses to quote from, but here are a few:

    Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies of Allah and your enemies and others besides, whom ye may not know (8:60)

    Strive hard (Jihad) against the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell,- an evil refuge indeed.  (66:9, See also 9:73)

    So often the fellow liberals with whom I have this discussion have not read the Qu’ran and I am staggered that they continue having this debate and defending liberal and moderate interpretations of Islam without themselves doing any of the requisite homework.

    Critical scholar Ibn Warraq is one of those who has claimed that the passages in the Qu’ran which make more benign claims and diktats are abrogated by those more numerous ones advocating “violent action”. [Note 2]

    The technique of naskh is iportant here. Burton, in his entry on Naskh in the Encyclopaedia of Islam (EI), states:

    Many verses counsel patience in the face of the mockery of the unbelievers, while other verses incite to warfare against the unbelievers. The former are linked to the [chronologically anterior] Meccan phase of the mission when the Muslims were too few and weak to do other than endure insult; the latter are linked to Medina where the Prophet had acquired the numbers and the strength to hit back at his enemies. The discrepancy between the two sets of verses indicates that different situations call for different regulations.

    Muhammad’s violent conquests increased as his power base grew, and with it grew the progressive revelation.

    As David Hall says of Warraq’s work:

    What the Koran says is not simply a matter of deciphering individual instances of words or verses, but of reconciling those instances once they have been deciphered. In the contemporary context this involves the fundamental question of the nature of Islam itself and vis-à-vis the Western world. We are forever being told by apologists for Islam that it is essentially a religion of peace and love, like all religions, and that anyone using violence in its name are not true or ‘real’ Muslims. That this apologia will not wash is made plain by Ibn Warraq in his discussion of the Muslim exegetical technique of naskh, or ‘abrogation’, whereby, according to the traditional chronology of events, early texts or revelations are over-ruled by later ones. By laying them out in detail Ibn Warraq shows that the majority of texts recommending clemency and tolerance are abrogated by later ones advocating violent action. It seems that ‘terrorists’ have as much right to consider themselves ‘good Muslims’ as any others. [Note 2]

    What is clear is that the Qu’ran places believers so far above nonbelievers in a divinely declared hierarchy that you come away from the book feeling that you have been, as a non-Muslim, dehumanised.

    And that, there, is a massive, massive problem for defenders of the religion of peace claim. Dehumanisation doesn’t have good press in the history of oppression and violence.

    There are a number of places where Muslims are warned not to be friends with unbelievers and one that says you cannot be  a true Muslim with such friends:

    Thou wilt not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, loving those who resist Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred. (58:22)

    So liberals and moderates who wish to shake hands and form a cohesive multi-faith world are defying their own holy book and divine commands in doing so.

    Obviously there is not the space or time to do an exegetical analysis of the whole of the Qu’ran. I have looked at the differences between Islam and Christianity in “Islam vs Christianity: The core differences”. Suffice to say that the Qu’ran does not lend itself to being labelled a book of peace. As one commentator states of the immutable word which cannot be contextualised:

    There is always the plight of context argument with Islam’s holy text Quran. The apologetic version is “Quran cannot be interpreted and understood except with its context.” This paraphrasing is constantly adduced by Islamic apologists whenever any argument against the violent verses within the text is raised.

    But the way Islam justifies the divine origin of Quran automatically exclude it from the use of historical method of exegesis. There is this dilemma for Muslims to face. The text in fact is contextual as understood by Muslim explanation of its historical formation. But it is not a version of facts Muslims want to subscribe when they are fomented to believe in the interminable status of the text. Quran is meant for the whole of humanity is the undisputed Muslim belief. The belief proceeds on as the book is pertinent to the end of times.

    Is not it implausible to believe in the infinite relevance of Quran and at the same time rise objections to critiques by embarking a context smoke screen? Should not Muslims give up the context excuse if they want to use Quran as a text which’s relevance is distended to the end of times?

    There is only an affirmative answer to these questions.

    Let us come back to the Quran. Allah spoke to a seventh century Arab in the latter’s language. And all what he said to this prophet is recorded to fructify a Quran. To sum it up, Allah sent his last message to this same prophet then stopped speaking downright. Because god sent his last message and promised to preserve it forever, he will not speak any more until the day of resurrection. He will not send any prophet, since sending a prophet will stir him up again. This is the end. God sent his final messenger, and even though he did not favor immortality to the messenger, he blessed the message with immortality. 

    So, Quran, Islam’s holy text is not a pushover. It is the ultimate message of god. There is nothing to add or subtract in it. All of its components are divine, equally divine. All are applied to all and all. 

    In conclusion, if there is a command in Quran, there is no need to look for its historical context since humanity from the formation of Quran to the end of times are living in the context of the text. It is the Muslim belief. God, Gabriel, Muhammad, three key figures formed Quran have infinite relevance, so the making (Quran) too necessarily possess the quality of being interminably relevant. If this is the common Muslim belief pertaining to Quran, there is no room for a context excuse in its case. 

    Thus, the context excuse in the case of Quran is flawed in its fundamentals. [my emphasis – source]

    To play the context card, as Nawaz does in the above debate, is problematic, then, given the provenance of the Qu’ran as being the direct word of God (supposedly). To deny this immutable revelation, though, is to see the whole religion as a fraud of some sort. This is the vital key to the Qu’ranic problem, providing a huge barrier to proper reform, and probably why the religion has not gone through the sort of theological reformation that Christianity has. It is just so hard to claim you can explain away the nasty bits with historical contextualisation given the very nature of the book and how it was revealed. In fact, as Muhammad became more powerful, the conquests became more Qu’raniclly prevalent.

    The Actions of Muslims today

    It really looks like this third aspect offers the most hope. Who is a “real Muslim” and what is the current state of Islam today? Well, one problem that greets us, which is something that academic commentator Reza Aslan talks about often, is the prevalence of media outlets and people who declare “Muslim countries” do this or do that when there is a disparity between the actions of Muslim countries, that this is no clear commonality between, say, Saudi Arabia and Turkey or Indonesia.

    And so the argument does really come, certainly in this section, to be about this true representation. Unfortunately for the liberal defender (I don’t like using this term because I see myself ordinarily as such – it should be a defender of this point who is invariably liberal) is that their argument can be turned on themselves. That radicalists are not true Muslims can be applied to liberals and moderates – they are not true Muslims and the radicals have it right.

    Which is sort of my point. Looking at both 1) and 2) it seems that radicalists do have a more fundamentally accurate picture of what their faith is supposed to be. Now, we could adopt some sort of postmodernism which states that they are all right in some sense, and there may even be some merit in this. Obviously, from an atheist’s point of view, they are all wrong, but there must be some sort of accurate representation of what Muhammad set out, even if he was deluded and God wasn’t really revealing himself.

    Looking at his life and actions, and looking at the holy book, I posit that fundamentalist Muslims are more fundamentally correct in their faith (the clue is on the word, right!). What Islam is supposed to be, I wager, from a Muhammadan point of view, is closer to the Jihadi version of struggle against the unbelievers. Liberal and moderate Muslims are more obviously contravening the important diktats of the Qu’ran, and do not appear to be following in the footsteps of Muhammad. Sharia Law does seem to be a natural add-on from the Scriptures, and most Muslims around the world appear to be in some sort of agreement with that.

    Furthermore, the defender of  the religion of peace mantra often claims that other factors, external factors, are responsible for the violence we see.

    Politics is an external factor which supposedly influences these terrorists over and above the causal pull of Islam, and yet Islam is itself a religio-political movement dictating politics, laws and societal frameworks. This is indeed part of the problem. However, to deny Islam causal responsibility in these attacks around the world is very blatant special pleading. It is to say that other causal factors CAN be claimed to be at play (politics/socio-economics) but somehow religion can’t. I can’t over-emphasise this point enough. It is to say that other factors somehow necessarily supervene on religion as a causal factor without showing how this is so, but merely asserting it. Such defenders are happy to invoke causality, just not Islam. It is a causal cherry pick.

    Islam does seem to be more than just a religion, and appears to work as a religio-political framework, with moral and legal diktats. Deferring, then, to political causality as opposed to religious causality is therefore problematic because they are essentially one and the same thing, at least to a large degree.

    The personal views of Muslims around the world is a tricky business, but many surveys have tried to get a good view of the scenario:

    Most Muslims are, like most other people, essentially decent, kind, and appalled at terrorist violence. Yet within Islam is another powerful sentiment, often coexisting with the kindness.

    A Pew Research study shows that most Egyptian Muslims, a whopping 88 percent, think that death is the appropriate penalty for leaving Islam. In Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories, solid majorities of Muslims believe in death for apostates.

    In Turkey, a much more secular, much less conservative country, a solid majority opposes the death penalty for apostates, but even there, 17 percent of Muslims favor it. In Islam, leaving the faith isn’t simple apostasy, as westerners see it, but a form of treason against the larger community, called ridda. As many Americans consider death an appropriate penalty for treason, so do many Muslims, who do not draw the bright line between religion and the rest of life that many Westerners do, see it as the appropriate penalty for apostasy.

    This is not a fringe view. It is mainstream. But even if Muslims favor inflicting death on fellow Muslims for apostasy, that doesn’t mean they favor violence against non-Muslims, and a majority don’t. But again the numbers are disturbing.

    In 17 of 23 countries with large Muslim populations, most Muslims believe that sharia is the revealed word of God. Many of the others believe that sharia was developed by men from God’s word.

    Of those who believe that Sharia is the word of God, most favor making it the law of the land. That number is as high as 99 percent in Afghanistan, 84 percent in Pakistan, and 77 percent in Thailand. Of those who believe it should be the law of the land, 74 percent in Egypt say it should apply to non-Muslims, with more than 40 percent of Muslims believing that across the Middle East.

    The analysis of these numbers is tricky, but they underline an important point: The beliefs and attitudes that promote violence against non-Muslims for offenses against Islam are held by a minority of Muslims, but it is not a small minority. In terms of the absolute numbers, it is probably in the high tens or low hundreds of millions. [Source]

    The statistics should not be taken in isolation, especially when more general moral positions are being exposed. Comparisons to non-Muslims  should also be drawn to at least try and tease out causality. Because even in secular Islamic states like Turkey, the proportion of extreme views are far higher than with nonbelievers or other religions. Islam must play a role. Sharia, after all, makes absolutely no sense without Islam and the Qu’ran! One without the other is absurd.

    Guy Benson has produced a pretty spot on article about this which included:

    But does “extreme” lose its meaning when nearly half of a given population holds the position being described?  I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of all of this data, and I’m reluctant to land on any sort of definitive conclusion pertaining to my internal struggle on these subjects.  Again, I don’t want to fall into the trap of unfairly painting with too broad a brush, nor am I interested in doing the opposite by blithely ignoring data like this (or worse, attacking those who mention it as bigots).  Which brings me to question number two: How can anyone fairly examine any of this data then loudly declare that Islamisms’ worst excesses have nothing to do with Islam itself?  It’s one thing to argue over whether the “tiny fraction” narrative is accurate, or whether it does more harm than good. It’s a dangerous brand of delusion, however, to pretend that Islamist extremism (there’s that word again!) is entirely divorced from Islam.  The many millions of people represented in the statistics above obviously identify as practicing, faithful Muslims.  Shouldn’t that be enough for us, especially based on the Left’s own standards?  Ben Shapiro made this provocative comparison on Twitter earlier in the week:

    If we’re willing to subordinate biology to people’s self-perception on gender, who are we to overrule religious people’s self-image? Erick Erickson went a step further today with this intentionally inciting tweet:

    His point was that those who insist that Islamist terrorists aren’t real Muslims — the approved, “sensitive” position du jour — ought not be offended by this admittedly ugly suggestion. Not real Muslims = no need to treat them as such. Right? Shouldn’t these same people agree that, say, Guantanamo Bay guards could deny Al Qaeda detainees access to the Koran and special Halal diets without violating their human rights?  How do the new “true Muslim” rules work?  I’ll close by again conceding that I don’t know what the appropriate balance should be when it comes to criticizing large elements within Islam.  I’m confident, however, that evading the questions I’ve raised by way of self-righteous preening (“I’m saying these things, regardless of the facts, because I want everyone to know that I’m a compassionate, non-judgmental person!”) does this important discussion a tremendous disservice, and literally endangers lives.

    Yes, violent people look for violent ideologies to follow through with their values. But which breeds which? A four-year-old being brought up on violent Islamic fundamentalism is being given divine countenance and ratification for their violence and values. There is no greater rubber stamp on earth. These are the hardest nuts to crack. One can change politics with greater ease than one can leave a religion and religious framework behind. One is not threatened with the greatest punishment or the greatest reward in human conception for their political belief. Religion has that conceptual power.


    My main conclusion is this:

    Islam is defined by its creator, its holy book and the actions of its people. The first two are highly problematic, the third having large minorities with extreme views or actions. But those actions are largely on account of the first two points. Those liberals who edit out the bad parts of their holy book are cherry picking the holy book and this is diluting the true immutable word of God. If there is such a thing as a true Muslim, I think the radicals approach a more acurate version of that. This means that we need to reform the first two points to change and improve the third.

    These are complex issues and to say that Islam bears little resemblance and has little causal power in the development and sustenance of Islamic fundamentalist religious violence is, to me, absurd. If all of these states were secular humanist states, would such secular humanists be able to carry out such atrocities and claim it for secular humanism? They could carry it out, but no one would be able to ascribe such violence to the notion that they were secular humanists. That would be impossible. Not so with Islam. It’s there in the texts; go read them.

    I am not saying that Islam as a cadre of writing, history, and people is entirely responsible for extremist violence, otherwise all Muslims would be terrorists. Likewise all other external factors involved cannot wholly be responsible otherwise all other people with those factors at play (socio-economic etc) would be violent extremists. But there is a dangerous mix of many factors, of which Islam appears to be an important or necessary contributing cause.

    Islam needs a reform; I just don’t know if one could reform a religion which is based on a holy book which is the direct word of God without making the religion some kind of syncretic, effectively secular religion with little pedigree or relevance to its core history and contemporaneous values.

    If it did, though, I would be the first to be very happy about that indeed.


    Finally, there can be (and has been) criticism of my position that pointing out the correct causality in connecting Islamic fundamentalist terrorism with the religion of Islam may well be true but this does not help solve the problem. It is a consequentialist ethical position that though there is a truth, this truth doesn’t help and so should be suppressed.

    Possibly. I don’t know whether it helps or not. An alcoholic needs to admit problems with their core behaviour before reforming themselves. In such a way, Islam needs to reform by first accepting the problematic issues within its own theological, political and moral framework.

    Personally, I am interested in truth first and foremost, as a general rule of thumb. It is hard to get robust philosophy and morality without knowing the proper facts, and living on illusion. If Islam does have causal responsibility for Islamic terrorism on account of its holy book and divine characters, then I am sure as hell going to point it out. That said, I would not want my post to be used to unnecessarily drive divisive and counter-productive wedges between nonbelievers and liberal or moderate Muslims. Right-wingers may want to jump on views like this and use them for their own particular ends.

    Nothing’s ever easy.

    I leave you with the recent watershed remarks of the Egyptian President:

    “Is it possible that 1.6 billion people (Muslims worldwide) should want to kill the rest of the world’s population—that is, 7 billion people—so that they themselves may live?” he asked. “Impossible.”

    Speaking to an audience of religious scholars celebrating the birth of Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, he called on the religious establishment to lead the fight for moderation in the Muslim world. “You imams (prayer leaders) are responsible before Allah. The entire world—I say it again, the entire world—is waiting for your next move because this umma (a word that can refer either to the Egyptian nation or the entire Muslim world) is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”…

    “The corpus of texts and ideas that we have made sacred over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. You cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You must step outside yourselves and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.” …

    “We have to think hard about what we are facing,” he said. “It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing, and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible.”


    Note 1 – Muir, W. (1861). The Life of Mahomet, Volume IV (pp. 307–309). London: Smith, Elder and Co.

    Note 2 – David Hall (Spring 2003). “No Apologia”. New Humanist 118 (1). Retrieved 5 Aug 2012.

    Category: AtheismEpistemologyExtremismFeaturedIslamPhilosophyPoliticsReligion and SocietySecularismSkepticism


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

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    • ThePrussian

      Excellent piece of work. What I would say, re:pragmatics, is that Christianity knocked it off with this stuff when its texts became so criticized that people stopped taking that evil nonsense in it seriously. Islam has to be similarly criticized, so that happens. Now, it may be that the pressure of criticism is such that Islam will not reform, merely break apart into mass apostasy – if so, so much the better.

      • The question being CAN it reform as immutable word of god?

        • kraut2

          My reading is: No. The quaran stipulates that it is the unalterable and last word of god (BTW – I have read quite a few pages of this unholy book, and the amount of boredom induced by the unrelentless condemnation of all those not adhering to the word is staggering) and as such it can only be “reformed” by admitting that those statements are untrue.
          While in Judaism the word of god is commented upon, is dissected as to its meaning that in the end the commentary is much more vast then the original text as no such command of immutability exists, I simply cannot see a similar move in Islam without actually admitting that the claim of immutability is false, and thus destroying the basics of Islam as a superior religion being the last and decisive word of allah.

          • And I think we agree there kraut.

            (I wonder who kraut1 is)

          • Fracking Saves

            Hey, Kraut, are you familiar with the doctrine of Biblical infallibility? Seems somewhat relevant ..

            • kraut2

              That is a Christian concept as far as I recall – therefore I referred to how the torah was interpreted over the centuries by Jewish scholars.

              A Jewish friend once told me: every Jew has to find his/her own version of god.

              But even among Christian denominations that claim of inerrancy/infallibility is not universally accepted.

              Nowhere in the bible (the OT and NT) is this demand explicitly voiced.

              To wit: “The idea of Biblical infallibility gained ground in Protestant churches as a fundamentalist reaction against a general modernization movement within Christianity in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the Catholic church, the reaction produced the concept of Papal infallibility, while in the Evangelical churches the infallibility of the Bible was asserted”


              The Qur’an states:
              “Then do they not reflect
              upon the Qur’an? If it had been from [any] other than Allah ,
              they would have found within it much contradiction.” http://quran.com/4/82

              This to my mind clearly says there are no contradictions in the Qua ran, it is inerrant.

              a nice take down here:


              and then there is this:
              “They wish you would
              disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do
              not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the
              cause of Allah . But if they turn away, then seize them and
              kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper.”

              Nice, ain’t it?

            • Fracking Saves

              The doctrine of Biblical infallibility is predominant among fundamentalist Christians and is found on numerous creeds of Protestant churches:


              Catholics Popes have declared the Bible inerrant as recently as 1943:


              More information from an advocate of Biblical infallibility here:


              Here is a creationist defense of Biblical inerrancy:


              And a whole website devoted to the subject:


              For these reasons I think it safe to conclude that Christians really do believe in Biblical infalliblity.

              Of course, any rational well educated person who actually reads the Bible knows that the book is full of errors, contradictions, mythologies, absurdities, propaganda and lies.


              As to the passage quoted from the Qur’an threatening violence, I think it safe to say that there are millions of documented instances in which Christians have committed violence against each other over doctrinal differences.

              Christians in the USA should be very aware of this circumstance because our ancestors fled from Europe in order to escape from Christian persecution, warfare, torture, oppression and threats of extermination against Christian minority groups.

            • kraut2

              Please – i clearly stated that contrary to the Qua ran in the bible itself inerrancy is nowhere clearly stipulated. and also other than the Qua ran, the bible is the work of various authors, so this demand likely never occurred to them.
              If the biblical, and I emphasize biblical demand for inerrancy was ever part of the bible, the Talmud simply would have bee superfluous.

              It is therefore the work of generations after the establishment of Christianity as a somewhat coherent body of work that this demand or the belief in inerrancy was voiced. This is the point that the quaran and the bible (as in the christian bible, comprising both the OT and the NT) differ. In the quaran that demand is spelled out – the bible left that to later interpretation and interpolation, and that is why the bible allows much more flexibility and thousands of denominations, while in Islam there are only two major schisms.
              And – the demand to accept the bible as infallible is simply shown to be a joke with several thousand often quite antagonistic branches.

            • Fracking Saves

              Sorry, I cannot make any sense out of your comment.

              Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant and have done so for centuries.

              As to the Jews, they’ve seen enough prophecies fail to know that the Bible isn’t inerrant. For example, the Bible promised a messiah and no messiah ever came.

            • apeon

              Well there was and is Jesus—–inerrancy is regarded by some to be true—–More christians believe in the concept of the Bible being Divinely Inspired—but in such a manner that you really need to know Jesus as Lord to truly understand it, and even then, all will not agree bout everything

        • ThePrussian

          Again, I think that it will just collapse. Keep the pressure of criticism on it, and Islam will simply implode into apostasy. Twenty years of solid criticism and it would cease to exist.

    • Dex

      Good stuff sir. I think you broad brush conservatives when you state that our criticism of Islam is bigoted. I suspect your liberal lens is coloring your view where anything a conservative says HAS to be bigoted..sigh! You may not like the messenger or even the manner in which he delivers the message …calling a spade a spade should be simple!!

      • Thanks. Where did I say that, though?

        • Dex

          “I do agree that the media, particularly the right wing media, are maligning Islam in a way which promotes bigotry and a sort of religionism which borders on racism”

          Correction on my part, you were referring to right wing media! I stick by my point however in that many right wing publications are simply calling it what it is….”a religion that instructs its followers to kill” Much of what you have said here has been covered on right wing sites – you just did it in much greater detail. Perhaps you’re not too crazy about the tactics to deal with the problem! Profiling, reducing the number of visas etc.

          • Of course, there is a delicious parallel here with a no true right-wing media…

            Point being that people like FOX and the Daily Mail in the UK play on fear tactics and use nefarious techniques to fulfil dubious agendas, often involving social identity theory.

            ie in group and out group psychology of us and them.

            That is not what I am about. I want an inclusive and lovey dovey world! But I will call truth where I see it.

            • Dex

              Fair enough Jonathan, and I appreciate your noble intentions…”an inclusive and lovey dovey world” Human nature has a tendency to rear its ugly head and group identity always comes back full force. I think those of us on opposite poles as you and I are, tend to suspect nefarious agendas on the part of our ideological enemies (strong word I know), its simply the way it is! It is refreshing however to have a conversation instead of just speaking AT each other! Bravo sir, much appreciated

            • No problems. Thanks for dropping by. As a philosopher, it is important that if I hold a view, they are robust, and when challenged, I can back that up. Of course, I was being a little tongue in cheek with my lovey dovey world; but essentially my politik is all about improving the world. For everyone, not just my in group!

              Human nature is interesting, because this debate is partly about hat is just human nature using religion, and what part is it religion using human nature?

            • Dex

              by the way I forwarded your piece to my 18 yo college freshman son who is surrounded by a majority that share the same political identity as yourself. he tends to be apolitical but he does not simply follow the herd and this Charlie Hebdo slaughter has no doubt has offended his sensibilities. Suffice it to say, the debate with his friends has begun and much of what you say here about your liberal friends rings true as my kid is experiencing the same thing…your piece should be required reading for many of those folks…

            • I wouldn’t want this to be a stick to beat people with. We need Islam to reform. This is not about slagging Muslims off. This is about showing how difficult it is to reform Islam when the core values are taken from a holy book and person which are fairly immutable and which have those same values at their core.

              It’s going to be a hard job, and I wouldn’t know how to start it. Muslims are going to hate non-Muslims telling them what to do. We seem to make a habit of that. At the same time, they, as a religious commmunity, need to take a long hard look and have some frank an brutal conversations about how such a reformation could even be possible without effectively jettisoning the central tenets of the religion itself.

            • Dex

              Oh I agree….there are people in my sphere who I love and will forever cherish that happen to be muslim and they are beside themselves with these events. I try to engage on these very points but they are quick to dismiss the individuals as extremist, they’re simply not prepared to deal with the religion itself. I’m afraid this will be a very long and difficult battle with no end in sight…not to be pessimistic, but many fear the extremists and and not adequately prepared to handle them. Many of our so-called allies encourage this sort of thing (Saudi Arabia) and they will not give up their power easily. After all, reform will mean allowing the ray of liberty and freedom into the room of ideas….can you envision that?

            • That is a huge problem. We would prefer to sell arms to and buy oil from Saudi rather than implore them to sort their shit out. We must take some responsibility for, say, continued Saudi dodginess. Bullshit walks because money talks.

    • I reject the notion of “true Islam” along with “true Christianity” and “true Judaism” and “true Hinduism” and “true Communism” and “true Feminism.” These are collections of ideas, some of which are good and some of which are terrible, but what counts as fundamental to any given ideology is socially constructed and evolves considerably over time.

      • Of course, so do I from an atheistic secular point of view. But given the axiom, from a Muslim pov, of the truth of the Qu’ran, then there must, given its provenance, be some more accurate Islam compared to another strain.

    • Fracking Saves

      If Islam is responsible for all the violence committed by Muslims, I think it safe to conclude that Jusus Christ is personally responsible for 2000 years of violence committed by Christians and that the Constitution is responsible for all of the violence of the United States of America and the American people.

      Incidentally, I wonder if anyone would care to explain how World War I and II happened to occur in Christian Europe if Christianity is a religion of peace. Also, how is it that Christian America murdered 1,000,000 Vietnamese if the American people are less violent and barbaric than the Muslims?

      • Of course, the OP is not saying that all violence committed by Muslims has 100% causal responsibility rooted in Islam. It is obviously way more complex than that. But does Islam have a large enough causal role in Islamic terrorism? I think yes.

        • Fracking Saves

          If Islam has a causal role in Islamic terrorism, precisely what shall we attribute as the cause of the Civil War, which having killed 600,000 Americans vastly exceeds in violence 9/11?

          Given that the United States of America invented the nuclear bomb and possesses an arsenal of nuclear weapons sufficient to exterminate the entire human population of the Earth, I’d say that Islam is a religion of peace compared to Christianity.

          • pboyfloyd

            You’re not making your case that Islam is a religion of peace by comparing Islam to Christianity on an atheist site!
            Yes Islam is as bad as Christianity, they’re both bad. Did you not read the post, about Mohammed and his violence?
            You seem to be ignoring Islam’s violent past, (Muslims aren’t that bad now!), and comparing Islam now, with the West’s violent past!

            I can insult Islam all day long and nothing will happen to me here, but if I go to the Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia and insult Islam, I’d be imprisoned, lashed and fined over 1/4 million dollars!

            My comparison is real and now. Yours, not so muchee.

            • Fracking Saves

              You do know that Saudi Arabia is essentially a protectorate of the United States of America. Are you unfamiliar with the history of the Middle East and specifically with the crimes committed by the Western colonial powers as they sought to establish monarchies and dictatorships specifically so that they might exploit the resources of the Middle East?

              Isn’t it odd that George W. Bush failed to bring Freedom & Democracy to Saudi Arabia? He held the king’s hand and kissed him, though!

            • pboyfloyd

              Seems to me that you’re casting about trying to find something that will offend.
              Not sure if you’re a Muslim or a troll, or both.

            • apeon

              No one else has done it either—least of all you—the world has never been perfect—and the Saudi’s were very complicit in engaging the US–as they had been turned down by the Brits

            • apeon

              One Conflator to another

          • apeon

            The Conflation continues

      • pboyfloyd

        “If Islam is responsible for all the violence committed by Muslims, I think it safe to conclude that Jusus Christ is personally responsible for 2000 years of violence committed by Christians”
        Not true.
        Islam is not responsible for all the violence committed by Muslims. That’s not what anyone, except you, is saying.
        A better analogy would be, “If Islam is responsible for all violence committed by Muslims in the name of Islam, then, Christianity(not Jesus) is responsible for all violence committed by Christians in the name of Christianity.
        At least this is logically valid, right?
        This strange, “Christians are worse than Muslims.”, argument is tu quoque.(you’re as bad as(if not worse than) us!)

        I may as well ask you, “How is it that no one in Europe or North America is being held in prison and being lashed once a week in the name of Islam, for ‘Insulting Islam’?”
        Your comeback surely cannot be, “Well, the two World Wars and the Viet Nam conflict were on account of an insult to Christianity!”, right?

        • Fracking Saves

          When Christians had political power they committed all sorts of atrocities on behalf of their faith. Christians do not do so today specifically because Europe is now post-Christian and the United States of America is a secular nation.

          Incidentally, the Founding Fathers created a secular nation and established the First Amendment specifically to deprive Christians the right to commit violence on behalf of their faith.

          • apeon

            And most of them were staunch believers–and many had fled persecution—–stop the Conflation

      • Herpy Derpy Tumpatoo

        Honest question, did you read the whole article before making this comment?

      • apeon

        You may discuss that with Jesus at the Great White Throne——–you are rampantly conflating what people do as an accurate representation of what a religion/belief system says—both with Islam and Christianity——fundementally—if I may use that term—-Christianity is following Jesus—-living and doing as He did—–Islam rejects that, and goes its own way…

    • Johnny Wong

      And for a more a more thorough analysis that actually examines data and evidence. Please consult this article below.

      • A peculiar comment given that the data here is not important for the case, only appears embedded in a quote, and is not mentioned at all in the conclusion!

        Makes me wonder whether you read the piece?!

      • Whilst your post looks exceptionally interesting, and I look forward to reading it, it has little or nothing to do with my 1) and 2) which inform the 3). The ability for reformation of the Qu’ranic understanding of Islam is little influenced by numbers, and more by theology.

        You take away the ability for a terrorist to attribute their actions to God and think about the just world theorising of an afterlife, and I wonder how many suicide bombers you would get, and how many terrorists. Secular humanists are very much unlikely to do that sort of thing. We will not behead in the name of our worldview because it contravenes it; the Qu’ran and the example of Mohummad countenance it even if there are otehr causal factors involved too.

        • Johnny Wong

          There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Now according to survey data
          From a 2001-2007 survey of thirty-five predominantly Muslim nations (with 50,000 interviews randomly chosen to represent about 90 percent of the Muslim world), a Gallup study projected that 7 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims thought that the 9/11 attacks were “completely justified.” A 2013 Pew Research Center poll asked Muslims around the world whether attacks on civilians were justified.

          So those polls still leave minorities in the hundreds of millions who feel that violence is sometimes justified. Yet out of the many millions who express support for or condone violence against the out-group, there are only thousands willing to actually commit violence.

          Now, if you want to find convincing answers to why so few turn to violence we’re going to have to be a lot more precise than your Quran tells them to do it theory.

          By the way, you do know that a lot of research, such as those by M15’s behavioural science unit, suggests that Islamic terrorists have a very limited knowledge of the Q’uran.

          • ThePrussian

            Even granting this, that means that over a hundred million Muslims support violent jihad, far more than the Nazis and the Communists could muster COMBINED. That is supposed to reassure us infidels?

            However, in point of fact, that study is crap. It has been examined and shown that Esposito cooked the books and manipulated the figures to downplay the real numbers.

            Here’s a few other facts that don’t fit your picture: 86% of Egyptian Muslims support the death penalty for Apostasy. Same with 82% of Jordanians and 62% of Malaysians (that is moderate, modern Malaysia for you). I can keep doing this, believe you me.

          • One must wonder at direction of causation etc.
            So straight away the does not, to me, absolve religion. In fact, the opposite. It says that the more education one gets, the more one’s religious motivations are abrogated. This means that if one then uses the Qu’ran to justify peaceful action over and above violence, then this might well be cherry picking on account of improved and robust secular moral philosophy.

            It is a well-known collateral of theological study that conservatives who take up theology and divinity end up becoming much more liberal. But this will have a lot to do with improved philosophy upon which theology supervenes.

            My best friend is a theologian. He has become less radical in obtaining his qualifications and subsequent psychology masters and whatnot. As his secular education (which was very good anyway) increased, it abrogated the power of his religious education, and he then (given a divorce) was able and more motivated to liberally cherry pick his Bible to suit his moral needs.

            So the more that one not only learns the Qu’ran, but also becomes learned in other fields, the more one can have a nuanced approach to sidestepping the difficult issues. In general terms, the more educated people become, behaviour will adjust accordingly. Unless you can control for other other educative factors, that claim on its own is not replete with much meaning.

            This says not so much about the Qu’ran and its claims, but more about education. We see much more liberalisation or movement away from aggression with greater education across many different fields (see, eg, Lochner and Moretti).

            So, as mentioned in the article, there are many factors at play. But Islam is an important one.

            Otherwise, you would get Christians in similar socio-economic or political situations committing the same sort of violence. Notwithstanding the obvious issue that Jesus clearly did not condone such behaviour, and Muhammad did, explicitly, say, beheading nonbelievers on account of their nonbelief.

            • Johnny Wong

              Again, this is all based on what? Numerous studies show that most jihadis have a secular education as opposed to a religious one.

            • Well, what level of education? What type? A qualification in engineering will not get you the critical thinking skills of other subjects. So there are many variables.

              I think it might be important to note, however, that every single Muslim terrorist invokes Allah or the Qu’ran as reason for what they are doing. Whether this is post hocc rationalisation is one thing, but the fact that the religion CAN be used for such rationalisation and IS used is very important.

            • apeon

              At least some of the 911 murderers were well educated—-education is in the mind, evil is in the heart

        • apeon

          You must be fairly ignorant of secular humanism

          • Can you define secular humanist, then?

            I suggest you read the declaration of secular humanism, eg here, if you are unaware of the core tenets of secular humanism:


            • apeon

              The ‘fundeental’ tenets are anti-christian, people are good, eugenics will save us

    • pboyfloyd

      I think the real question is, “Is the World subject to Islamic Law? That is, if something is considered blasphemy by Islam, blasphemy for Muslims, is it blasphemy for non-Muslims?

      If you imagine so, aren’t you imagining that everyone is really a Muslim, most people in this World just don’t know it. Everyone ought to be held up to the standards of Islam regardless of whether they are Muslim or not.
      I am for freedom of expression. Just so long as there are blasphemy laws, obviously Islam, and any Muslim following that rule, is not! (unless you regard Islamic blasphemy laws to be for Muslims only)

      • Fracking Saves

        Huh ,,, please clarify. I cannot make heads or tails of what you are claiming here.

    • Guy Walker

      V interesting JP. I agree that the terrorists are continuous with the Umma or Muslim community and can’t be hived off into a special separate group – in some sense they express Islam. I also feel that the problem with European Muslim communities is that Islam, like it or not, is a displacing religion which, by its nature, can’t tolerate secularism. This gives it a big problem. Most “moderate” muslims in the West naturally try to play this fact down but this places them under continual tension. Finally, I believe that the internet, globalisation, social networks etc have shone a light on Islam and made it acutely conscious, especially in the younger generations, of it’s outdatedness in the modern world (e.g. it just can’t continue to treat women as it does). As a result I think it is on the way out. This process may take many hundreds of years and there will be many convulsions but the Muslim countries will gradually secularise. Unfortunately this kind of process and the consciousness of it will cause many to become more extreme as with IS etc. This is reaction against the inevitable. Also we shouldn’t forget that the Muslim communities are here in Europe because of our pretensions to expand our power in previous centuries. We bear some responsibility for this situation where we are living shoulder to shoulder with ideologies that don’t fit together. And very finally I have to say that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons as shown on their Front pages (have a look at them) were the equivalent to poking a sleeping dog in the eye repeatedly until it bites you. You may feel the dog is an anachronism as I do but that’s not the way to change it and bring it into line with us. There was no subtlety or nuance there.

      • Thanks for your comments, Guy. Really interesting stuff. I have been trying to get my head round the cartoons and what I think there. I have no problem with them conceptually,though it is like you say, and perhaps the inevitable happened. Though it is not on account of them not realising this. The shame being that people not involved in that transaction ended up dying.

        • Guy Walker

          Charlie hebdo’s staff have a pedigree in the 1968 student “revolution”. They also, clearly, draw strongly on the particularly French anti-clerical tradition that stems from Voltaire and, then, the French Revolution. This is why their cartoons are allowed in France. In the UK they would not have been allowed on the grounds of inciting hatred. What happened in Paris could only have happened in France I reckon. As I’m sure you know and probably would applaud, Voltaire was in favour of subordinating everything to the human reason of the Enlightenment. Charlie Hebdo took him at his word. The results, including, as you say, the death of people not involved in the transaction, shows that free rational speech still needs the curbs of responsibility, nuance and, perhaps, kindness. Maybe life includes other elements in addition to naked reason.

    • Zytigon

      Excellent article by Jonathan MS Pearce, thanks

      • That is the golden question: What do we do now? What does the secular or non-Muslim community do to try and nullify the extreme ends of every religion? CAN we do anything?

        • Fracking Saves

          Perhaps you could lead by example. For example, the USA has 2000+ nuclear weapons and a dozen aircraft carriers poised to inflict violence upon any and every nation on the planet. Such possessions aren’t consistent with Americans being a peaceful people.

    • Buddy Paraiso

      Not true Islam? : Taqiyya

    • This will probably only be viewable for Brits:


      looking at where, if anywhere, it goes wrong, and where extreme ideology turns into extreme violent ideology. An ex-extremist states that it is effectively social identity theory: it starts when there is a segregation of us and them, of in group and out group.

      However, this feeds back into my original point above: there is no surprise in this happening since this is exactly what the Qu’ran does in verse after verse after verse.

      Also, it featured this video by The Honesty Policy taking Pharell Williams’ Happy song and hainv gloads of happy Muslims dancing. I thought it was really nice and smiled throughout:


      And yet, sadly, the backlash from hardline British Muslims followed quick on the heels, as this video by Straight Path shows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bcwOJvpyJA

      which made me sad and upset. They declared that a mix of Muslims mixing with non-Muslims, music, and Muslims “wanting” to be non-Muslims means that it is very un-Muslim. The whole reply video spells out the difficulty in meaningful integration.

    • Pingback: It’s an honour, gentlemen | The Prussian()

    • Saxon

      Interesting and all correct if somewhat incomplete. To be a Muslim you must believe that the Quran, the words of the Quran, are the actual words of God, as delivered to and memorised by Muhammad. The ‘Islamists’ do what they do on the basis that those words are correct and irrefutable, the ‘moderates’ believe that the words need to be ‘interpreted’ and ‘put into context’ i.e. the words of the Quran don’t mean what they say! That’s the problem.

      • Hi there and thanks for the comment, although I think you may not have read it all because I express exactly that in the Qu’ran section.

        • Fracking Saves

          Those people who happen to agree with you are extremely ignorant and proud of their prejudice and bigotry. That might reflect poorly upon your ideology. It reflects accurately the shallowness of your analysis and scholarship.

      • Fracking Saves

        You aren’t qualified to speak on behalf of Islam and your words reveal the depth of your ignorance. Get an education before speaking prejudice and bigotry against 1.8 billion humans.

    • Zytigon

      It could help if the above Intelligence squared film was shown on all main t.v. channels or at least they could provide a link & also a link to the books recommended on SIN by Jonathan Pearce.

      In my opinion it would be good if the world would say Mohammad was the last prophet because Allah got cancer and died in the 7th Century therefore the Coran ceased to apply after the 7th Century and we will just have to make up new & better rules now as best we see fit; to maximize human well being and minimize human suffering.

      British Journalist Leo McKinstry made some good points in his article,”Political class in denial over cause of jihadist threat” He mentioned,” The American liberal comedian and commentator Bill Maher put it very well recently when in response to the fashionable argument that the Muslim terrorists were just a “few bad apples”, he said: “When there are this many bad apples there is something wrong with the orchard.”

      • Yes, I think that debate is really good and exposes exactly this argument.

        It would be nice if we could reform the religion in that manner, though I fear that reform in any proper manner might be a pipe dream.

      • Fracking Saves

        You seem to have forgotten all of Western history. The crimes committed by your ancestors vastly exceed those committed by the Muslims.

        Jesus was a terrorist by the way and he suffered the punishment: crucifixion.

        • Zytigon

          I think there is quite a good chance that Jesus never existed but from all the things I have read I haven’t come across the idea that he was crucified for being a terrorist. Maybe he was crucified because he was upsetting the religious orthodoxy, blaspheming convention, drawing caricatures of lofty priests?

          I don’t deny there were barbaric acts carried out under the banner of Christianity. I think that the threat of hell is barbaric but I can see how as a mind game it could be used to persuade someone who has had a relative murdered to not take physical revenge but rather imagine that the murderer will rot in hell- Romans 12v19″Vengeance is mine saith the Lord, I will repay” So maybe the fantasy of hell is not without its uses. Christopher Hitchens gave a speech in 2006 on free speech in which he mentioned the idea that religion gives formal vent to our worst hatreds


          . How many people wish that their enemies would suffer ever more. However how would that work if the enemy turned round and declared themselves in possession of a get out of jail card because they confessed Jesus as Lord = a bit galling. The story is so adhoc & makeshift that it isn’t really coherent.

          However I note in Romans 12v20, “On the contrary:”If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head” [ I doubt that would be the effect, shouldn’t it be, in doing this you might pacify him ?] v21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [ So maybe we can overcome the evil of Christianity with the good of science & reason ?]

          I think the Babble and Coran should have had their last verses as “Corrections welcome, improvements welcome, updates welcome” rather than “These words may never be changed, we accept no new ideas, to hell with anyone who meddles with my ideas”

          • Fracking Saves

            You are quite mistaken about Jesus since you’ve fed your brain on the propaganda written by his followers who happened to portray Jesus as a peace-loving hippie specifically so that they might escape from the punishment which Jesus suffered for terrorism.

            Anyone who doubts that the Messiah claim rendered a person a terrorist should read:




            For a first century Jewish critique of the various Messiahs you can read Jospehus:


            Yes, these people were terrorists:


            A group represented among Jesus’ disciples as Judas Iscariot:


            The presence of such a terrorist among Jesus’ most intimate followers presented a problem to the early Christian propagandists and therefore he was transformed into the betrayer of Jesus and Jesus into a peace-loving hippie and the Romans into the victims of the Jews and even Pontius Pilate into a saint:


            Of course, this propaganda worked wonders for the Christians and eventually the Roman Empire became a Christian empire and at that point the Christians utilized all of the tools of empire to kill whomever they wished, committing atrocities against so-called heretics, Jews, pagans and pretty much anyone else who they could kill.

            This particular custom of violence by Christians is an enduring tradition and it continues to this very day. Did you know that a Christian nation dropped nuclear bombs on innocent newborn babies?

            Yes, indeed, Jesus was a terrorist.

            • Zytigon

              Well I agree with you that there are many different factions each with their own propaganda trying to establish its view as certain. Maybe uncertainty is the most certain thing but I’m not sure.

              I scanned over those webpages

              Are you saying you think there was a real person called Jesus who tried to lead an armed revolt, failed and was rewritten as a miracle working rabbi ?

              A minimalist view is that there were probably a couple of Herods and a Pontius Pilate & John the Baptiser but beyond that the rest of the gospels could be fiction. However from what little is known about Pilate it seems unlikely he would be swayed by a crowd into releasing someone on death row. However Sir James Frazer in “The golden bough”, chapter 5, p667 in Oxford world classics, offers the possibility that the Jewish festival of Purim was a continuation under a changed name of the Babylonian Sacaea, and that in celebrating it by the destruction of an effigy of Haman the modern Jews have kept up a reminiscene of the ancient custom of crucifying or hanging a man in the character of a god at the festival. So Pilate may have given over a condemned rabbi / terrorist/ innocent bystander to take the part in the play.
              I suspect there have been millions of words poured out trying to refute that possibility

              “What Jesus blatantly fails to appreciate is that it’s the meek who are the problem.”

              What is real in the world ? People meet in groups and chant stuff, say “snap”, nod their heads, have something to eat & drink together then go home ?

            • Fracking Saves

              There was real person named “Jesus” and his claim to “messiah” was a threat to the Romans and therefore an act of terrorism against Empire.

              Jesus suffered the death of a terrorist on the cross.

              Beyond that nothing more needs to be said. The Bible is mostly fiction and myth and a mishmash of historical error.

    • apeon

      I have not read all you wrote—but this I understand as Islamic teaching—-peace will be achieved only when all are believers—therefore there will be NO conflict—and they are commanded to achieve this in any manner—ends justify the means

    • Michael R

      Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales. He has been studying political Islam, in South-East Asia and globally, since the early 1960s.

      The Islamic State and ‘Religion of Peace’

      “The interpretation of Islam that is provided by the militants is not the only possible construction of the Islamic inheritance and agenda. And it may not be the preferred version of the moderates and the liberals and of Islam’s well-meaning apologists. But it is a version, and one that can be constructed on grounds that are indisputably internal to Islam, not some external intrusion or imposition implanted by the ignorant or the ill-intentioned.

      The militant and fundamentalist versions of Islam are forms or variants that can be “sourced” and derived directly—dare one even say “authentically”?—from Koranic writ, from early formative Islam as recorded in the traditions and practices (hadith and sunnah) of the Prophet in his own lifetime and worldly career, and within historical Islam as it developed on that foundation. The militant version is a reading or construction of direct intellectual lineage and identifiable descent within historical Islam. It has its foundations—genuine, not spurious or fictive or prejudicially confected foundations—in what, from the outset in the Prophet’s own time and career, Islam is and has been in its worldly history and evolution.

      Though sourced within mainstream historical Islam, not some dubious or marginal heretical tradition, it may be an extreme reading and, like all such readings of sacred traditions, it may be highly selective in its derivation and character. But, even so, it is a derivation from—and rests upon the reactivation and reanimation of something that, as much as anything else, is part of—that historic tradition.

      No amount of selective doctrinaire invoking of an ideologue’s preferred version of “idealised Islam” can undo or alter or erase what, in its worldly career, “actually existing Islam” was and did, what it condoned and how, in consequence, the Islamic faith, in the course of its historical evolution, was shaped by the civilisational vehicle in which it rode through world history. Militant Islam—the Islam which now finds expression in the Islamic State movement and its caliphate—has those doctrinal roots and is built upon that process of historical elaboration, upon those identifiable historical foundations.

      It must be recognised for what it is. There is no other way to understand, and still less to counter, the challenge that it represents and poses…”

      • That is absolutely fascinating. Thanks for posting that. I also came across this, by Badir, which I am looking forward to reading:



        In Open Letter To Muslim World, French Muslim Philosopher Says Islam Has Given Birth To Monsters, Needs Reform

        In an essay published October 3, 2014 in the French newspaper Marianne, French Muslim philosopher Abdennour Bidar, author of Self Islam: A Personal History of Islam (Seuil, 2006); Islam without Submission: Muslim Existentialism (Albin Michel, 2008), and A History of Humanism in the West (Armand Colin, 2014), wrote that Muslims cannot make do with denouncing and repudiating terrorist barbarism, but must acknowledge that its roots lie within Muslim society, and especially within the Islam that is prevalent in the Arab world today. He points out that Islam, like all religions, has throughout its history been a source of much good, wisdom and enlightenment, but that today’s mainstream Islam rejects the freedom and flexibility that are advocated by the Koran and instead promotes rigidity and regression that ultimately give rise to terrorism. The Muslim world, he concludes, must therefore reform itself, and especially its education systems, based on principles of freedom of religion and thought, equality, and respect for the other.

    • Josh

      Interesting and extremely thorough piece, Jonathan! I think the very idea that there is a universal essence of Islam that you can be more or less true to is ridiculous, though. It’s just a label, and it can mean whatever any particular person wants it to mean. The theological understanding and cultural context of Islam has changed dramatically over its nearly 1400 year history, there have been many millions of Islams. Certainly there seem to be more a higher ratio of Islamic murderers than Jewish murderers for example, but there is an even HIGHER proportion of fairly normal, law abiding Muslims to said murderers, which implies that most Muslims are not essentially terrorists. I think that the statistics re: Countries were Islam is prevalent are largely an issue of social tolerance and convention. The banality of evil, one might say. Most Egyptian Muslims, for example, world accept death for apostasy because that’s always been the received opinion; only rarely questioned by their sharia background, something akin to the tolerance of slavery by most American Southerners prior to the 1860s. I’d be very interested to see similar statistics for the UK!

    • Michael R

      Carol M. Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University.


      Charlie Hebdo attacks prove critics were right about Islam

      “What would it take to make us admit we were wrong about Islam? What horrendous attack would finally convince us that Islam is not like other religions in the United States, that it poses an absolute danger to us and our children unless it is monitored better than it has been under the Obama administration? …

      It becomes clearer every day that Islam is not just another religion to be accorded the respect given to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Baha’i and other world religions. The Jan. 7 terrorist attack resulting in 12 deaths at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that committed the apparently unpardonable sin of lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, once again illustrates that Islam is a dangerous set of beliefs totally incompatible with Western beliefs concerning freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.

      … Islam has a problem with the West. Islam will never understand the freedoms that we live and die to preserve. If America is to be safe, it must remove the foxes from the henhouses and institute serious monitoring of Islamic organizations.”


      Apologists for Islam will have a hard time calling Carol Swain a racist, she’s black. But I think she’s a Christian, so they’ll still call her a bigot.

    • Michael R

      Here is professor Clive Kessler on Australian radio:


      “Militant Muslims are part of the Islamic tradition”.

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    • Fritadita de Dios

      First of all Islam already had a reformation what it needs is a counter reformation, sadly the lack of authorities in Islam leads to no dialogue whatsoever. Also to base a “religion” (which is more of a political movement) on a Nestorian/sect ideology, on a pedophile prophet who was involved at least 55 times in pleasure marriages/prostitution under a religious formality, a liar, a traitor and hater/bigot etc, was never a good idea. Really you can’t get anything good from it except for a relativistic healthy diet. Maybe we should address it as it is: A really dangerous and ignorant sociopolitical movement which if someone dares to imitates its founder lifestyle or pay the zakat would lead to terrorist activity.