Saturday, October 31, 2009

The stupidity ... it burns! D'Souza edition

I haven't been posting in a while, so I thought that I would look a little around on the internet, and see if I could find something to write about. I came across a few things, but nothing that really made me think "that'll work". Until I came to an article titled What Really Riles Muslim Extremists?
by Dinesh D'Souza. Jackpot.

Let the fisking begin.

More insurgent bombings in Iraq. More Taliban strikes in Afghanistan. What's up with these people? Just Wednesday, a deadly car bomb exploded in Peshawar, Pakistan, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Islamabad. Is Islam the problem?

No. Islam is not the problem. There are many peaceful adherents of Islam. Fanaticism on the other hand, is the problem.

Many atheists, and even some believers, would like us to believe that Muslim fanatics are doing this in the hope of going straight to heaven, so that they can enjoy the company of 72 virgins there. Some go as far as saying that religion itself is to blame, because it makes people susceptible to fanaticism, terrorism and violence.

Actually, it would be more correct to say, "Many people believe that Muslim fanatics..." Many other people understand that there are multiple reasons behind these terrorist attacks. Having said that, religion is to a large degree responsible for the particular mode of attack.

An example of this is described here. As the article explains, Iraqi women were raped, and afterward pressured to become suicide bombers to remove their shame. This is only possible where religious and cultural norms creates an atmosphere where it is better to be dead than live "in shame".

But this accusation against religion is nonsense. Even against Islam, it's questionable. Robert Pape's study of insurgency and suicide bombing shows that these actions have nothing to do with promises of heavenly reward. Rather, extremists are motivated by more mundane motives: they invaded our country, they stole our land, they raped my sister, and so on.

Again, I refer back to the article I linked above, which shows that the motivation can be religious in nature, even if there is no expectation of heavily rewards.

Whether or not this is true, Islamist terrorism is a special case. The original suicide bombers, the Japanese kamikazes, were not motivated by religion but rather by fanatical loyalty to the emperor.

D'Souza demonstrates his appalling lack of cultural awareness and lack of historical knowledge. The Japanese soldiers were fanatically loyal to the emperor exactly because of religion!

The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka conduct suicide attacks in a desperate struggle over land and self-determination.

Yes, it's true that Tamil Tigers conduct suicide attacks, but not in the numbers that Islamic terrorists do. I would also claim that there is a vast difference between the oppression that the Tamil face in Sri Lanka, and the conditions in Pakistan.

If religion is the problem, where are the Buddhist suicide bombers?

Buddhists tend to be non-violent, but again, D'Souza shows his ignorance. The very example he mentioned himself, the Japanese pilots, where often Zen Buddhists.

Nor has anyone been able to identify the Christian bin Laden, the Christian equivalent of al-Qaida or Hezbollah, or the Christian country today run along the lines of post-Khomeini Iran.

Do I need to explain North Ireland, the IRA etc.? How about Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda?

Regarding a Christian country run along the lines of post-Khomeini Iran, try to look at what some of the far-right groups in the US are trying to introduce.

Most people in the world believe in God and the afterlife, yet hardly any of them launch suicide attacks in the hope of going straight to heaven.

A religious belief is not sufficient for launching suicide attacks. That requires fanaticism and perceived oppression. I say "perceived", since many of the right-winged terrorist attacks seen in the US since Obama was elected, were made by people who perceived themselves as oppressed, without any evidence of them being so.

The atheist attack on religion fails.

Even if every example that D'Souza had given had been non-religious, it would not make the "attack on religion" fail. It could perhaps be overly broad, but even if suicide attacks were unique for one particular subset of religion (which I have already explained isn't the case), doesn't mean that religion wasn't the cause.

But even more significant, it boomerangs on the atheists. To see why, you have to understand the larger atheist critique. For two centuries, atheists have said that belief in the next world detracts from the pressing task of improving this one. The afterlife, in other words, is anti-life. We see this in the subtitle of Christopher Hitchens' book, How Religion Poisons Everything. But the most famous atheist to make this accusation was Karl Marx.

Even if everything D'Souza had written so far was correct - and it isn't - this wouldn't follow logically.

Interestingly enough, suicide attacks could be considered a way of trying to move the world towards a particular path, and thus improve it (in the eyes of the suicide attacker).

Marx famously said religion is the "opiate of the people." He meant that religion is a kind of drug that numbs us from being aware of social injustice.

No, that wasn't what he meant. What he meant was that religion was a force in getting people to accept social injustice. That's not quite the same.

Marx's call to eradicate religion was taken up with a vengeance by a host of dictators: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ceausescu, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il. These despots have collectively killed millions more than even bin Laden could ever dream of orchestrating.

Kim Jong-il created a different religion, with him as a deity.

For the rest of them, it's important that their defining characteristic was not that they were atheists, but that they were totalitarians, and thus wouldn't allow any potential groups to become too powerful. Stalin is a good example of this complexity - at times he heavily prosecuted the Orthodox Church, and others he allowed it to grow and become influential. It was dependent on what suited him at the time.

Had these despots been so avidly atheist as D'Souza believes, and had atheists really believed that religion completely removes religious peoples' focus on the current, then why wouldn't they let the religions continue? It would make things easier for them. The answer is, of course, that the despots understood that religion can distract, but it can also be used to get people to do things - such as suicide attacks - which means that they either needs to control it, or get rid of it.

Beliefs in God and life after death have proven far less dangerous to society than the attempts to establish the God-free utopia.

Please give just one example of any society where they have tried to create a God-free utopia.

Most of the time, the focus were on getting rid of the earlier despots - the Russian Revolution and the Long March happened for a reason. It wasn't like the earlier regimes were exactly likable. Much like how the Iran Revolution also happened for a good reason, likewise the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

After that, the focus were on staying in power, often through ruthless suppression of anyone who might be a threat, including religious groups.

Fine, let's listen to the atheists who say we need to watch out for heaven-seeking Muslims bent on blowing up civilians and flying planes into buildings.
But let's be just as vigilant against atheist fanatics who are willing to murder millions in order to establish their version of heaven on Earth

Only one of these groups is real - the religious fanatics. The other groups is a strawman, since there are no one willing to kill millions for atheism. There are people who wants totalitarian power, and those we should indeed look out for, be they religious or otherwise.

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Blogger Brian Westley said...

If stupidity burns, D'Souza is some sort of universal solvent.

October 31, 2009 7:15 PM  
Blogger Akheloios said...

Aren't Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands close to being (relatively) god-free utopias? Looks like it from the UK.

I think the rationalist/atheist movement should ditch religion as a label anyway and go for ideology. That covers both extremist religion and the Maos of the world.

October 31, 2009 8:48 PM  
Blogger Green Stone said...

Thank you for posting this! I saw this article and it absolutely infuriated me. You should post a link to this article in the NPR comments.

November 24, 2009 6:33 PM  
Blogger Green Stone said...

Thank you for posting this! I saw this article and it absolutely infuriated me. You should post a link to this article in the NPR comments.

November 24, 2009 6:33 PM  

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