Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Islam, ISIS, Ben Affleck, Bill Maher, And Sam Harris, Oh My

I can't believe that I haven't yet written a single post about the radical Islamic militant group ISIS, although I've tweeted plenty about it. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or simply just the Islamic State, are a band of radical Islamic militants who, through a campaign of violence and terror, have gained control of many parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq and seek to establish a new Islamic caliphate based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, known as Sharia. They've been accused of beheadings, crucifixions, and mass killings, and are considered even too extremist for Al Qaeda.

ISIS's brutality is once again reigniting a debate that we never actually finished having which became part of the national conversation after the events of September 11th, 2001. The debate is over whether Islam is a religion that condones violence and oppression, and whether the problem with terrorism and violence among Muslims is caused, at least in part, by the Islamic religion.

Recently, on Real Time with Bill Maher, Ben Affleck got into a scuffle with Maher and guest Sam Harris over this very issue. What ensued was a classic failure of liberals like Affleck to understand the argument. Affleck did exactly what Harris says liberals do when he said, "We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people and that is intellectually ridiculous." Almost right after that Affleck does exactly what Harris just said people do by calling it "racist" to criticize Islam, which is a fucking religion! What Affleck fundamentally doesn't understand is that Maher and Harris are criticizing the religion of Islam, not the followers. They're criticizing the Koran and what it says, and you can criticize the Koran without saying all Muslims are violent or sexist. The Koran has many violent and sexist verses in it (as I will get to), but we all fully acknowledge that most Muslims are not violent. They're not all trying to blow themselves up to get 72 virgins, or cut the head off of the nearest infidel. Critics of religion like Maher, Harris and myself, can recognize this important distinction that far too many liberals like Affleck fail to see.

Yesterday on MSNBC, the liberal cable news channel that I watch on occasion, all the hosts of every show that brought up the Affleck/Maher/Harris scuffle took the side of Affleck in condemning the "bigoted" remarks made by Maher and Harris. It seems that liberals will never be able to publicly acknowledge that Islam has values in it that are anti-gay, anti-freedom of speech and against gender equality. They will criticize Christianity for those same flaws, and make it a point to call out the right wing evangelicals and Catholics who use the Bible to justify their hatred and discrimination, but somehow Islam gets a free pass. It's obviously all because of political correctness and I want it to stop. Recently, I've been itching to debate a liberal on the the issue and I've been getting great enjoyment whenever I get the chance in person to challenge them on Islam.

Large percentages of Muslims support death for apostasy and adultery

The statistics are alarming, although they are often misquoted and exaggerated. A 2013 Pew forum poll found that 86% of Egyptians, 82% of Jordanians, 79% of Afghans, 76% of Pakistanis, and 62% of Malaysians who say Sharia should be the law of the land, think the penalty for leaving Islam should be death. In some Muslim majority countries the figure is lower, although still disturbingly high, including Indonesia at 18%, Turkey at 17%, Tunisia at 29% and Lebanon at 46%.

On adultery, the same poll showed disturbingly large numbers of Muslims support stoning, including 89% of Pakistanis, 85% of Afghans, 81% of Egyptians, 67% of Jordanians, 60% of Malaysians, and 58% of Iraqis.


Can anyone imagine if countries like Brazil, Mexico or Italy had similarly high numbers of people thinking that death was the appropriate penalty for leaving Catholicism? Even if just 10 percent of the people in those countries thought such a thing, that would be alarming. But it's unfathomable in any religion today to see these percentages of its adherents with these views, except in Islam.

The common counter-argument against the ghastly beheadings done by groups like ISIS, or by the Saudi Arabian government (which beheaded as much as 8 people just last August), is that these acts are done not in the name of Islam, but in a name of theocracy or ideology. However, decapitation is justified in the Koran. Chapter 47:1-4 says unbelievers can be beheaded in battle and that doing so is a test from god to see if you are capable of doing it(!):

Those who reject Allah and hinder (men) from the Path of Allah,- their deeds will Allah render astray (from their mark). But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (Revelation) sent down to Muhammad - for it is the Truth from their Lord,- He will remove from them their ills and improve their condition. This because those who reject Allah follow vanities, while those who believe follow the Truth from their Lord: Thus does Allah set forth for men their lessons by similitudes.

Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others.

From chapter 8:12:

Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them."

There are some really disturbing passages in the Koran that Islamic scholars struggle to interpret. A bare reading of the text would certainly lead one to think that Islam condones the beheading of infidels in battle. ISIS is taking its commands right from the Koran. Scholars would emphasize context and try to argue that the disturbing passages of the Koran are only meant for that time and place, and are not meant to be universal commands for all of time. Who do we trust? Why should god's "perfect" and final revelation require one to be an Islamic scholar and fluent in Arabic, since, god apparently also intended his revelation only to be perfect in only one language? 

I'm not an Islamic scholar, but I've heard both sides of the debate. I don't think that it is that hard to reasonably interpret the Koran as justifying barbaric violence, such as beheading, in battle. The modern world has progressed past such behavior, and Islam, the world's second most popular religion, with some 1.6 billion adherents, is keeping alive barbaric, antiquated morality, which is hindering moral and intellectual progress.

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