Motives for Terror

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After the evil and senseless bombing in Boston, there was considerable speculation about the motives of the bombers. Not surprisingly, some folks blamed their preferred demons: some on the left leaped to conclusions involving right-wingers while those on the right leaped to conclusions involving Islam.  As it turns out, the alleged murderers have a connection to Islam.

While some hold the view that there is a strong causal connection between being a Muslim and being a terrorist, the connection obviously cannot be that strong. After all, the vast majority of Muslims do not engage in terrorism. As such, beginning and ending the discussion of the motive for terror with Islam is not adequate.

When it comes to terrorist attacks against the United States, the stock explanation is that the terrorists are motivated by a hatred of our freedom. A common variation on that is that they hate democracy. Another explanation is that they simply hate the United States and other countries.

The explanation that terrorists are motivated by a hatred of our freedom (or democracy) does two main things. The first is that it casts the terrorists as enemies of freedom and democracy, thus presenting them as having evil motives. The second is that it casts the United States and its allies as being attacked because of their virtues. Crudely put, the bad guys are attacking us because they hate what is good.

The explanation that the terrorists simply hate the United States and its allies also does two main things. The first is that it casts the terrorists as simply being haters without any justification for their hate. The second is that it casts the United States and its allies as innocent targets. Crudely put, the haters are attacking us because they are haters.

In both of these approaches, the United States and its allies are presented as innocent victims who are being attacked for wicked or irrational reasons. What certainly helps support this narrative is that the terrorists engage in acts that are wicked and certainly seem irrational. After all, the people who are killed and injured are usually just random innocents who simply happen to be in the blast area at the time. Because of this, it is correct to condemn such terrorists as morally wicked on the grounds that they engage in indiscriminate violence. However, the fact that the direct victims of the terrorists are generally innocent victims of wicked deeds does not entail that the terrorists are motivated to attack innocent countries because they hate us, our freedom or our democracy.

One significant source of evidence regarding the motivation of terrorists is the statements terrorists make regarding their own reasons. In the case of the alleged Boston bomber, he claims that he was motivated by the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In the case of other terrorists, they have generally claimed they are motivated by the actions of the United States and its allies.

My point here is not to justify the actions of the terrorists. Rather, the point is that the terrorists do not claim to be motivated by the reasons that have been attributed to them. That is, they do not regard themselves as being driven to attack us because they hate our freedom or democracy. They do often claim to hate us, but for rather specific reasons involving our foreign policy. As such, these stock explanations seem to be in error.

It might be countered that the terrorists are lying about their motivations. That is, that they are really driven by a hatred of our freedom or democracy and are just claiming that they are motivated by our foreign policy and associated actions (like invading countries and assassinating people with drones) for some devious reason.

The obvious reply to this is that if terrorists were motivated by a hatred of freedom or democracy, they would presumably attack countries based on their degree of freedom or democracy. Also, a non-stupid terrorist would take into account the ease of attacking a country and what the country could and would do in response. Hitting the United States to strike against freedom or democracy would thus be a poor choice, given our capabilities and how we respond to such attacks (invasions, drone strikes and so on).  To use an analogy, if someone hated athletes, it would not be very sensible to get into a fist fight with a professional mixed martial artist when one could go beat up a marathon runner (who is not also a martial artist).

It might be countered that the United States is the symbol for freedom and democracy, hence the terrorists want to attack the United States even though they know that this will result in retaliation of the sort that many other democratic states cannot or would not engage in.

While this is not impossible, the more plausible explanation is that the terrorists are motivated by their hatred of our foreign policy. After all, invasions, assassinations and such tend to motivate people to engage in violence far more so than some sort of hatred of freedom or democracy.

It might, of course, be wondered why the motivation of terrorists matter. What matters is not why they try to murder people at a marathon but that they try to do such things.

While what they do obviously matters, why they do it also matters. While I obviously believe that terrorism of the sort that took place in Boston is evil, this does not entail that there are no legitimate grievances against the United States and its allies in regards to our foreign policies. To use an analogy, if Bob blows up Sam’s whole family because Sam killed Bob’s son, then Bob has acted wrongly. But this does not prove that Sam acted rightly in killing Bob’s son. In the case of the United States, the fact that we have been attacked by terrorists does not thus make our invasions or drone assassinations right. Now, it might turn out that our actions are right, but we cannot infer that they are just because terrorists do terrible things.

Sorting out what motivates terrorists is also rather useful in trying to prevent terrorism. If we assume they are motivated by their hatred of our freedom or democracy, then we would have to abandon our freedom or democracy to remove their motivation. This is obviously something that should not be done.

However, if some terrorists are motivated by specific aspects of our foreign policy (such as drone strikes that kill civilians), then it seems well worth considering whether we should change these policies. To use an analogy, if someone keeps trying to attack me because I am virtuous, then I obviously should not abandon my virtues just to stop these attacks. But if someone keeps trying to attack me because I keep provoking him, then I should consider whether or not I should be doing those things. It might turn out that I am in the right, but it might turn out that I am in the wrong. If I am in the wrong, then I should change. But if he is in the wrong, then I would be warranted in not changing (but I would need to be honest about why he is attacking me). For example, if he goes after me because I am stealing his newspaper and dumping leaves in his yard, then I should probably stop doing that. As another example, if he is going after me because I run past his house, then he should stop doing that.

The same would seem to apply to terrorists. If we are engaged in unjust actions that provoke people, then we should stop those actions. If, however, we are acting justly and this provokes people, then we should continue to the degree those actions are warranted and necessary. But we should be honest about why they area attacking us.

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  1. Who specifically thinks terrorists are attacking the US ‘only’ in the name of Islam? And what about the Islam Shia/Suuni conflict, whereby the issue is about the one true Islam? And Islam is democratic and pro free speech only if it’s Islamic ‘democracy’ and the free speech does not criticise Islam, while Muslims are free to condemn the freedoms of the West. Listen to the duplicity here:

    Of course that doesn’t detract from any of the democratic policies of the US, such as rendition, drone strikes in foreign states that aren’t at war with the US, or Guantanamo. But in acknowledging this, let’s not give Islamists a free pass by suggesting they are not motivated by Islamic beliefs as much as political ones (and after all, Islam is a self-proclaimed political religion).

  2. There is a huge flaw in your argument that Islam could not have been the motive for the act of terror. Your argument is essentially that most muslims are not terrorists and therefore additional factors must be present. But consider this scenario: suppose you are part of a cult. The leader of the cult tells everyone to do something very evil, like perform a suicide bombing. Even if most of the followers of the cult decide not to take his advice, it would be absurd to suggest on this basis that the one person who did take his advice wasn’t motivated by the cult leader. This scenario is almost exactly the situation we have with Islam. The Koran and the Hadith, as well as many Islamic scholars, state over and over again things along the lines of “It is every muslim’s duty to wage jihad against infidels, and the greatest possible reward is reserved for those who sacrifice their lives for Islam.” It’s a good thing that most muslims ignore the parts of their religion that are evil, but it is obvious that the people who are committing acts of terror are those who adhere the most closely to what the Koran and the Hadith tell muslims to do. That is, after, why they are called fundamentalists. So yes, there is definitely a strong causal connection between Islam and terrorism.

  3. “Islam is a self-proclaimed political religion” Just like US is a self-proclaimed liberator.

    In fact, this is endless fun, fill in the “moral blank”: US is a self-proclaimed __________

  4. all religions have blood on their hands (for example see sri lankan Sinhalese Buddhist nationalistic individuals and monks promoting violence against Tamils.

    It seems that religious violence in Sunni Islam derives from the writings of Taymiyyah, Qutb which stresses the outer jihad and visions of a cosmic war which casts opponents in a demonic light struggling against the dar-al-Islam and the inevitable peace and justice which follows Islam’s inevitable triumph. At the same time, this coincides with a feeling of victimization and disrespect by the world. (it is no accident that the roots of Islamic fundamentalism lie in Tamiyyah, writing in the aftermath of the fall of the Caliphate to the insufficiently Muslim Mongols, and during the modern era where local governments have repressed Islamists, see Qutb and the Muslim brotherhood as well as Pakistani groups. Read Bin Laden’s messages. There is a large factor of how westerners/false islamic societies (like Mubarak’s Egypt or even the Saudis) in plundering their resources (a gift from god) as well as a insufficent respect for their society (“our duality in both manners and values; your hypocrisy in manners and principles. All*manners, principles and values have two scales: one for you and one for the others”)

    Perhaps the better answer would be they hate us because we are rich and powerful and they feel we are trampling on them and supporting those who are trampling on them and their culture. religion here is inseparable.

  5. Oirish,

    It has nothing to do with morals, so why ‘moral blank’?

    The point of pointing out that Islam is specifically political is to draw attention to a flaw in the OP that wants to attribute terror to political issues rather than to religious belief. If politics is an inherent part of the religion then you cannot separate the religious and political motives so easily. And when the terrorists proclaim that their acts are done in the name of their religion, then they should be taken at their word.

  6. Steve Merrick

    It seems that suicide bombings (admittedly, not exactly the same thing as terrorist attacks) are committed for predominantly political reasons:

    “It is politics more than religious fanaticism that has led terrorists to blow themselves up.” —

  7. Steve,

    From that site: “It shows that though religion can play a vital role in recruiting and motivating potential future suicide bombers, the driving force is not religion but a cocktail of motivations including politics, humiliation, revenge, retaliation and altruism.”

    The vital role religion plays, particularly with regard to Islam at this time, is that it enables the construction of a common cause, and a dogmatic rationale behind which various interest groups, with their own political reasons for being aggrieved, can concentrate their message. The religion of Islam is a recruiting tool that makes many young British Muslims, for example, pledge and allegiance to a common Islamic cause, because there are both religious and political-religious factors that bond them: the ‘truths’ of Islam and the in-errancy of the Qu’ran on those ‘truths’ make for a certainty in their cause; and Islam is such an inherent part of the life of a Muslim that it supersedes all other interests, of state, nationality, family. It is in this context that Islam in particular is the binding factor behind all self-proclaimed Islamic terrorism.

    This is quite unlike the troubles in Northern Ireland, where the combination of Catholic and Protestant conflict, and the history of the British government’s activities their, and further in history in Eire, made this a local conflict within Northern Ireland and the UK mainland. There were other links around the world, including Catholic Irish sympathisers in the USA; but generally you didn’t get, say Spanish, Italian, Argentinian, …, Catholics responding to a global Roman Catholic cause.

    Another complexity, in relation to Islam when compared to Roman Catholicism, is that there is no central Islamic authority. Pretty much any extreme Islamist leader or cleric from anywhere around the world can motivate Muslims to a cause.

    So, yes, it is more complex that it being simply religion; but in the case of Islamic terrorists around the world the self-proclaimed association with Islam has to be taken seriously. It is, as the site explains, a case of “religion can play a vital role in recruiting and motivating”. That is the point here; not that there are no other contributing factors.

  8. Radicalization often works like this:

    Someone is indoctrinated into a series of beliefs that a group professes.

    The beliefs have certain logical consequences.

    However, the existing group as a whole has managed to mostly ignore those logical consequences through a mixture of rationalization, willful ignorance (see, e.g., Christians who do not read the Bible except during carefully guided tours by professionals literally trained to make sure they don’t stumble upon the problematic parts), and a willingness to live with a degree of cognitive dissonance in order to be part of a community. While the professed beliefs of the group are communicated clearly and openly, both the logical consequences and the means of rationalization are communicated only through informal signalling, if at all.

    The indoctrinated individual decides to take their belief system more seriously. This leads to them discovering the logical consequences that they previously did not notice, because these were not highlighted by the group.

    However, they have not internalized the group’s defense mechanisms against the logical consequences of their professed beliefs. So they act on them, or at least adopt beliefs because of them, in a way that the larger belief group does not.

    And the group general lacks mechanisms to rescue people who fall into this trap, because doing so would require acknowledging that the trap exists. Plus, many of the behaviors that indicate the presence of a problem are behaviors which the group, at least ostensibly, praises.

    TLDR- You can’t tell large groups of people that abortion is worse than the Holocaust and not increase the rate at which they commit anti abortion violence for the same reason that you can’t tell large groups of people that the Koran is morally perfect and not increase the level at which they support ancient and obsolete social norms about gender, politics, and violence.

  9. Patrick
    that seems a bit simplified. its not always stumbling as a minority of educated religious scholars (liked Qutb or someone like Paisly in N. Ireland) take the religious beliefs in such a way that they internalize a cosmic struggle between good and evil which is fought not only on an individual, moral level (as all religons to) but also physically.

    The cause isn’t so much logical consequences but interpreting the religion in such a way to justify violence despite other clear scriptural statement promoting peace (done by making the other demonic and framing your struggle as one of self-defense)

    Ron, I’m not sure the terrorists would see Islam as transcending family and nation as they would be interwoven too tightly (e.g. in the Yale piece Abu Ghraib was seen disrespecting Islam and iraqi’s, who are Muslim (excluding ethnic-religious minorities)

  10. Steve Merrick

    Ron said “The vital role religion plays, particularly with regard to Islam at this time, is that it enables the construction of a common cause, and a dogmatic rationale behind which various interest groups, with their own political reasons for being aggrieved, can concentrate their message.”

    For any given country, nationality would be just as good a rallying point as religion. Looking at the whole world, though, and America’s perceived War on Islam, it is Islam that is the common factor, specifically in the sense that Islamic civilians are the focus of American terrorism.

  11. Steve Merrick

    Ron and jo,

    I was brought up Roman Catholic, with a very clear understanding that my Catholic brothers and sisters across the world were closer to me than those who merely shared my nationality or skin colour.

  12. Steve Merrick:

    You make a good point.

    I was educated as a Jew with the very very clear “understanding” that Jews everywhere were closer to me than those who shared my nationality and skin color and in addition, that the use of violence and state terrorism were
    justified in defending Jews against their enemies, because Jews had historically been victims and because no one else would stand up for the Jews, etc., etc.

    The Zionist ideology I was brought up in (and my family was far from the most fanatical exponent of that ideology which I was exposed to as a child)has lots of points in common with Islamic radicalism, for example, the strange mixture of nationalism, politics and religion.

    Zionists are not necessarily religious; they may be atheists in fact, but they have a kind of Jews ubes alles ideology and feel justified in using extreme violence (see the Stern Gang and the Irgun) in the name of the Jews.

  13. Steve Merrick


    My understanding was in the context of aiding my Catholic brothers and sisters who were less fortunate than myself. But it would translate without effort or discomfort into the rationale you describe for defending my fellow Catholics, or Catholicism itself.

    [I have not been a Catholic for many years; these days I describe my religion as Gaian Daoist.]

  14. Steve,

    Then you confirm the point. And the result is that ‘most’ and ‘moderate’ Muslims, and Roman Catholics for that matter, do not adhere to the tenets of the religion as they ‘should’, as dictated by the religion, or specifically the self-appointed religious leaders. Clearly, many Roman Catholics use contraception, for example.

    Here, the point isn’t that religion ‘always’ supersedes all other interests, because against all religious claims that various ideas, morals etc., are God-given and expressed in their holy books, most humans clearly do either think for themselves to a high degree, or go along with the ideas of their family and local groups. But with religion it is that a particular system is considered to be the source of authority on most matters regarding human behaviour, and various groups rationalise the extent to which they are conforming to the ideas of the system. So, Islamic terrorists rationalise that they are the true Muslims, and often you’ll hear extremists denounce what we would call moderates as not being true believers.

    In the case of Islam there is a claim that the Qu’ran is the inerrant word of God; and like all holy books it’s so vague on so many matters that this inerrancy can conveniently be read to suit one’s agenda. This is why religion is an enabler. It’s the duplicity of the religious language that permits a believer to interpret a book in any way they see fit, while at the very same time claiming it is clear and unambiguous and inerrant.

    As well as the link I gave earlier regarding Islam the same sort of duplicity can be seem in other religiously persuaded sources.

    Here’s one from the pro-life movement:

    Note that here that culprit, Evan Davis, goes to some length to disguise his pro-life affiliations so that he can push pro-life agenda under what seems like (and is, as far as I’m concerned) a legitimate opposition to the subjugation and devaluing of women. This coerced persuasion of women to abort is clearly not what pro-choice activists support. A pro-choice activist would openly say that the choice to abort should be predominantly the choice of these women, and not the choice of their in-laws.

    Another example is here:

    In this case it’s a rather despicable ploy I think, to juxtapose Margaret Sanger’s motivations for birth control with a link and an image representing the modern right to choice movement that requires only that families get to choose how many kids they have without forgoing sexual love, and that in particular women get to choose what happens with their own bodies.

    This is the nature of religious language that brings believers together, and enables not only some simply unevidenced but benign beliefs, but also, because evidence isn’t required when faith is used, any dangerous belief that some sub-group happens to come up with. Currently with Islam, and yes, heavily influenced by the poor political insight into other cultures by Western states over centuries, there is a global antipathy to all things non-Islamic – e.g. recent rioters in Bangladesh demanding the hanging of atheists and blasphemers.

    While it is easy for religious accommodationists to point out all the differences between the various religions, and the differences within religions, distinguishing moderates from extremists, nevertheless, all religionists that tend away from the liberal and towards the conservative see their particular religion as the one true truth. The rest of us do not have any say in what is right and wrong in their eyes. While many ‘moderates’ make all the noises of being conciliatory, when push comes to shove you’ll find many are not that moderate in their beliefs, even if they don’t act out their beliefs to the religiously dictated letter.

  15. Steve Merrick


    I’m sorry, but I can’t work out what your point is. I can read, and I can understand ( 🙂 ), but I can’t draw from your last post the thread of your objection to (o r agreement with) the original piece, or anything I have written. I’m sure this is my stupidity, not your fault, but if you could just nudge me in the right direction…? 🙂

  16. When confronted with lists of things that might inspire jihadists, I am often left thinking, “All of the above”.

    It should be evident that Western militarists provoke terrorism. To deny this, one would have to explain why all those jihadists happened to crop up in Iraq after 2003. That this should be one of many reasons to avoid launching wars is true.

    On the other hand, Western violence provokes terrorism by inclining outraged Muslims towards jihadist trends in Islamic thought. If you have been on the wrong end of our bombs in bullets, it will make a lot of sense to hear that Westerners are awful disbelievers who deserve conquest.

    One does not have to have had substantive grievances before swallowing such ideas, though. Boko Haram do not terrorise Islam because of Iraq, and Jemaah Islamiyah do not target South Asia because of Afghanistan.

  17. Steve,

    The context then…

    First, the OP makes points, “the stock explanation is that the terrorists are motivated by a hatred of our freedom” and “A common variation on that is that they hate democracy”. Both are true. But I don’t know anyone naive enough to attribute all Islamic anti-Western opinion solely to Islam and ignores the many mistakes made by Western states, from initially providing arms or otherwise supporting Islamic regimes, to later attacking those very states.

    But the specific point I’m making is that it is the nature of religion generally, and Islam specifically, to practice unevidenced beliefs that through duplicitous rhetoric are able to convince many gullible people to their outwardly pious causes. Since so many anti-atheist and anti-secular and anti-democratic demonstrations go on around the world in the name of Islam, and since there is so much anti-democratic rhetoric from Islamic religious leaders, the gullible followers soak it up like sponges; so then it’s not surprising that Islam is the leading threat to democracy. It is therefore a mistake to diminish the extent to which religion, and specifically Islam currently is a prime driver and enabler for terrorism. And given the political nature of Islam it isn’t much use claiming there are political causes independent of religion.

    In that context I disagreed with the “It is politics more than religious fanaticism that has led terrorists to blow themselves up”, especially since the article you quoted also says, “It shows that though religion can play a vital role…”. Religion IS politics where Islam is concerned. I also pointed out the nature of religion, and specifically Islam, is to have its adherents put religion before all else, which contributes to the commitment.

    I then said that the point you made regarding “But it would translate without effort or discomfort into the rationale you describe for defending my fellow Catholics, or Catholicism itself” agrees with that latter aspect, of putting religion above all else, especially for the more conservative.

    From there I was adding more on the duplicitous nature of religious language that allows the religious to sneak in quite disingenuous points while sounding reasonable (with examples from specific sites), and that gullible accommodationists let them get away with it – hence recent support given to the claims of Islamophobia by people like Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) on twitter, in response to Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan), and the deflection away from religion in this OP.

  18. Travisrm89,

    I don’t claim that Islam could not have been the motive. I consider that possibility. My main point is that to assume that Islam is the primary motivation for terror can be an assumption that is too quick.

    The terrorists claim that they are motivated primarily by the foreign policy of the United States. Islam seems to fit in mainly because of the perceived attacks on Islam by the US and its allies.

    Naturally, it is worth considering the claims and arguments of folks who claim that religion is a dangerous thing.

  19. Steve Merrick


    Thanks for that. 🙂

    You say that terrorists hate both freedom and democracy. I disagree, although I merely counter your assertion with my own. We’d better leave this one…. 😉 [I think terrorists hate America, not for itself, its people or its political system, but for its actions.]

    You also say “… it is the nature of religion generally, and Islam specifically, to practice unevidenced beliefs that through duplicitous rhetoric are able to convince many gullible people to their outwardly pious causes.”

    Well yes, but only in the way that a political system or nationalism can achieve the same effect. This is not something you can hang explicitly and exclusively on religion, I don’t think. You are blaming religion for human nature, which seems a little unfair to me. 🙂

    As for your other points, I offer the same response. I agree with your observations, but I don’t agree with your conclusion that it’s all the fault of religion. The things we describe and discuss are things humans have done since our ancestors crawled out of the slime. We don’t need religion (or any of the alternatives I mentioned) to justify killing or maiming one another. 😥

  20. Steve,

    I gave a link, and there are countless others, where Muslims themselves draw a clear distinction between Western freedom and democracy and Islam versions, which turn out not to be free for everyone. Again, Islam is both politics and religion, and where they can Muslims want Islamic states, and where that happens non-Muslims are second class citizens with fewer rights. Their freedom and democracy applies only to Muslims.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t many ‘Muslims’ that believe in the basic theological aspects of Islam and otherwise want to live in a Western secular state because they too want real freedom. Such Muslims aren’t a problem because their religion is a personal one. But, there’s a real sense in which they are then not ‘true’ Muslims.

    When the specific instance of terrorism being examined is a nationalist one only, then yes we pin it on nationalist agenda and not on religion. You could get, for example, nationalist terrorist organisations where the members are from several religions so that there is no specific religious agenda in that specific case. But when the terrorism is so very clearly influenced by the religion that you have to acknowledge that. Otherwise your argument is that just because not all terrorism is religiously motivated then you can’t pin it on religion in those cases where it is?

    I’m not blaming religion for human nature. I’m blaming religion for thriving on aspects of human nature: the desire to control and impose one’s beliefs on others and the gullibility to fall for unevidenced beliefs. That’s the heart of the problem, and a characteristic of religion that is considered viral, by Dawkins and many atheists.

    “I don’t agree with your conclusion that it’s all the fault of religion”

    I thought I made it clear that this wasn’t my conclusion, or the conclusion of any of those atheists that oppose religion. I’ve agreed several times here that it’s more complex, and that Western governments have contributed to that complexity. But that doesn’t change the fact that religion is a great enabler for terrorism because of its unevidenced messages and the methods of rhetoric typically employed that take advantage of the human nature of the gullible to convince them so easily.

  21. swallerstein

    Didn’t Osama Bin Laden himself remark that if he hated freedom, he would have attacked Sweden?

    Of course, motives are tricky.

    People don’t always understand their own motives and I myself have trouble understanding not only my own motives, but also those of my immediate family. If I don’t understand what motivates my son, how can I presume to know what motivates Islamic terrorists from a culture I am not familiar with?

    What strikes me as strange is that some people, such as Ron Murphy, who have constantly and rightly stressed in this blog that we are driven and motivated by unconscious drives and genes rather than by our conscious intentions, now blame conscious religious beliefs for terrorism.

  22. Mike LaBossiere,

    “My main point is that to assume that Islam is the primary motivation for terror can be an assumption that is too quick.”

    The primary motives for the attacks in America in recent years have been for religious reasons – but there is a clear cut political agenda but religion is central to the politics.

    The terrible mistake has been to categorise the religion as Islam. It’s led to a misconception that Islam is monolithic and homogeneous. Which is like considering the Catholic Church, David Koresh’s Branch Davidians, the Westboro Baptists, and Joesph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, all to be the same thing.

    And the differences in Islam can be so great, some groups have a larger interest in wiping out each other than they do Americans.

    The terrorists who have been launching attacks within America are from a splinter of conservative Islam; Salafism. And from the extreme end of Salafism. Most Salafists just like to dress up what they believe to be medieval clothing. Salafi means ‘old style’ but largely outside of Saudi Arabian it’s either pseudo traditionalism or a return to the true way living of early Islam – depending on taste. And Salafi can be used as a pejorative, depending on who’s using it.

    “The terrorists claim that they are motivated primarily by the foreign policy of the United States. Islam seems to fit in mainly because of the perceived attacks on Islam by the US and its allies.”

    It seems baffling. But, when radical Salafists speak, they believe they are the one truth faith and the speak for all of Islam. And in this case the perceived attacks on “Islam”, are not really attacks on Islam, but they are a very real attack on the desires of the radical Salafists. The US is the biggest player in the game, but in reality its’ the US, Europe, Russia, China, secular Muslims and even conservative Muslims, against the desires of the radical Salafists. The French have been bombing radical Salafits in Mali recent, not the US. And in the 70s, when radical Salfists seized Mecca, the religious conservatives called in the French. Who sent their paratroopers in to kill them all. (The French soldiers converted to Islam before entering Mecca – this did not require months of religious study. It’s supposedly the quickest group conversion in the history of the world.)

    What the radical Salafists want. They want to unite the Muslim world in something like the Ottoman Empire, except with their severe interpretation of Islam. They believe if they can get America to remove their influence from Muslim countries they can achieve this. But this is a complete fantasy. Recently Tunisian students used the Harlem Shake to protest against the Salafists. Even if the US, Europe etc, takes their influence out of the Muslim world they’ll still have to contend with their own people.

    Why do most Americans not really understand American foreign policy or geopolitics. One thing is it’s very complicated. The other thing is, when the British ruled the world, and had a huge Empire. The British public were told by their leaders that Britain was bringing civilisation and even Christianity to the savages. School books, and the media were always careful to only show Britain in a good light. This morally justified everything they did. This is what the British public wanted to believe. And it’s only after a very long time, long after the empire has gone that British people believe their own empire was a criminal enterprise. Though some British people still want to believe they brought civilisation to the world. The world they colonised has a completely different view of this.

    Where the British public had spreading civilisation and Christianity, the American public has “Freedom and Democracy”. But I think at this point in time even stupid Americans don’t believe this anymore. And event the neocons have been mugged by reality.

  23. Swallerstein,

    Good points.

    While we do not have a well-developed science of human motivation, some people are quick to claim that certain acts of terrorism are motivated by hatred of freedom/democracy or because of Islam. If the stated motivations (US foreign policy, etc.) are rejected, then one would need adequate evidence to show that the terrorists in question are in error or lying as well as evidence showing their “real” motivations.

    When folks refer to Islam as the motivation for terrorism, that strikes me as rather vague. There is also, as others have noted, the concern about what defines Islam. To say that the Boston bombers were motivated by Islam is rather like saying that the folks who murder doctors over abortion are motivated by Christianity. While there is some truth to these claims, they hardly give the whole picture. After all, most religious folks do not go around murdering people, so there would need to be other factors that caused them to engage in murder.

  24. Mike,

    “some people are quick to claim that certain acts of terrorism are motivated by hatred of freedom/democracy or because of Islam.”

    This is incredibly short sighted. If you keep listening only to liberal Western accommodationists, or keep up this facade that Islam itself isn’t a problem, then you are specifically not listening to Muslims and ex-Muslims themselves.

    Paul Marshall and Nina Shea, both of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, their new book Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide: Includes quotes from the authors and Muslims and ex-Muslims, too many to quote all. You are not listening to people who understand the nature of Islam and the way in which it is interpreted by the movers and shakers of Islam that is either persuading ‘moderate’ Muslims to conform, or to actually take up the fundamentalist cause, and if not the outright support of terrorism then the support of anti-democratic and anti-freedom beliefs.

    “Shut up, or be shot”, “If politics and religion are intertwined, as they necessarily are…with Islam”, “Without religious debate and criticism there can be no political debate and criticism”, “Charges f apostasy and blasphemy, are key weapons in the fundamentalist arsenal strategically employed to prevent reform of Muslim societies, and instead to confine the worlds Muslim population to a bleak colourless prison of social cultural and political conformity”, Khomeini on the fatwa against Salman Rushdie: “ensure that no one dare insult Islamic sanctity ever again”, “Khomeini was spearheading a religious trend with political undertones…with a zeal not seen for several centuries”, “The OIC charter commits it to combat the defamation of Islam [of Islam, not of Muslims, or Arabs, …] … calls for a deterrent of punishment by all states for Islamophobia. The Saudi based OIC [you know, Saudi, our ‘ally’?] and its 56 states gave the anti-blasphemy movement in the west weight and traction.”, “Within the UN for 13 years the OIC successfully pushed for resolutions for a new human right for protecting religion, that is Islam, from defamation.”, “the right of individuals to choose and practice their faith or no faith at all, but the OIC interprets this as respect for a particular religion itself.” “What is being demanded of the West is poorly understood here [in the West]. This movement would compel Westerners to refrain from burning the Qu’ran [isn’t that enough?] but would also mean banning and punishing all critical analysis and debate about and within Islam.”, “expects the West to regulate speech about Islam more than it does for Christianity or any other body of ideas”, “This campaign has been decades long in the making … from the outset it has been accompanied by violence and intimidation” … Shea goes on to list examples. And again, on the duplicity inherent in Islam and Islamic speech, while claiming to be a religion of peace and claiming that blasphemy laws promote freedom of religion, “not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish but they openly beg for the very violent response from extremists .. . What common good is served by creating more division and anger and by tempting belligerent reactions. In fact the hate speech prosecutions foster social disharmony and tensions by creating a rush to litigation by various religious groups. They also empower radicals by giving them a platform”, “the Constitution here [in the US] has given us strong protections … one of the only Western nations that do not have either blasphemy or hate speech laws. There are however two recent trends … first: self-censorship of negative commentary about Islam in some of our major institutions [and the wider press, like Greenwald, or this OP] … the government also self-censors … the term ‘liberty’ was dropped in favour of ‘progress’ … dropped ‘Islamic terrorism’ in favour of ‘man made disasters’ [1984 double speak alive and well in the 21st Century land of freedom!] … second: decision by the Obama administration to partner with the OIC to implement strategies on stopping the negative stereotyping of Islam .. US has jointly sponsored UN resolutions on this topic.

    I find it hard to understand then the ignorance and the compliance that is present in liberal commenters who in the very reasonable opposition to restrictions in freedom of belief and persecution of minorities are taken in by the agenda that is inherent in Islam. Whatever may have stirred up this hornets’ nest of a religion, it is a real threat now.

    And its no use wallowing in Western self-recrimination about some of our atrocious political interactions with the Muslim states of the Middle East. Coming out of WWII there was a real tricky problem of resolving the problem of requiring a Jewish homeland, left in th hands of a war weary UK. It wasn’t a great solution. And the bolstering of brutal regimes, for the purposes of keeping the Middle East quiet, selling arms and buying oil, maintaining a sphere of influence in opposition to Eastern Communism, may well have stirred resentment against the West. All this may be true. But that does not get Islam off the hook. It does not mean that Islam is the right answer, or that its proponents get to impose their radical ant-freedom on the West.

    Communism is in principle a system of equality. Its main problem is that it is easy do wrong and to create oppressive states. Islam doesn’t even pretend to be free and equal, except when selling itself to the gullible Western politicians by the use of duplicitous language of peace. So, even though as we look back we see certain tipping points, such as 9/11, if we look back further to post-WWII we see other contributing causes. But then, listen to some of the content below. Our own guilt has been building for over a hundred years, as has the rise of Islam as a political religious system that has at its core the intent to dominate the world. This is a real desire, as real as our wish that everyone were free in a free democratic world. Islam opposes this at its core. The ‘moderate’ Muslims buy into this in principle, even if they do not agree with the more extreme means by which it is being applied.

    This is how many Muslims see the current Western move to bring secularism to the Middle East:
    In many respects their criticisms are right; and the motivations of the Western governments may too be duplicitous, promoting secular freedom while wanting oil. But behind all the politics there still lies the very clear distinction between democratic freedoms and the anti-democracy of Islam. It may be difficult to get democracy right. It may be tough trying to fight against the anti-democratic and anti-freedom controls that are being built in the name of security within our own Western governments. But buying into the even less democratic and free nature of Islam, and appeasing it instead of speaking out against it, is not going to help.

    I support Glenn Greenwald, for example, when he publishes articles about the atrocities that are the drone strikes on states with which the US is not at war, with the undemocratic processes of imprisonment or death without trial that has become a natural state of affairs in the supposedly free US, of all places. But appeasing Islam, as Greenwald does, is not the answer. It’s hard enough struggling against the infractions of one’s own government where it does not live up to our standards; we don’t need to be excusing even more explicitly anti-democratic systems.

    It’s not just the US and Western Europe that face this problem:
    Listen to the Muslims

    Ex-Muslims have been telling us of the problems for years:
    “The Albatross of Liberal Guilt”

    You cannot leave Islam easily, and this is part of the whole process of Islam, of which terrorism is just one extreme:

    This is Choudary, a well-known activist in the UK. The point here is not that most Muslims don’t rise up in arms against the West, but the less than subtle way in which within Muslim communities this rhetoric is quite open and influential.

    Another ex-Muslim – son of a Hamas founder and leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef
    More detail on him:

    Here is a Muslim leader, a representative that is deemed to be a spokesperson for Islam in the UK such that he often appears on programmes like this, and Dawkins has to persist in getting the truth out of this guy on public TV – and, incidentally, note the naivety of the young Muslim woman when asked about apostasy by Dawkins

    Islam comes above nation? No compromise from Islam. “They fall victim to radicalisation. They are told that Britain and Western values are to be despised.” and these messages are easy to get across because of the very nature of the religion and, for example, the conviction that the Qu’ran is inerrant, and because of the isolation of their sub-culture within Britain, and other Western states. This is not a working healthy multi-culturalism but a divisive separationism that promotes difference, not for the goodness of variety but for the stoking of conflict.

    Do you doubt the influence of Choudary and his kind on British Muslims. And here Choudary explains how his work precedes 9/11, which many mistakenly see as the turning point.

    You think ‘moderate’ Muslims don’t buy into this mind-set?

    Amil Imani – He is a critic of Islamic democracy and deems it un-workable. He has also spoken against Shirin Ebadi by stating, “Ebadi, speaking in Paris, denied that Islam needs reformation or modernization. Instead, she said, the West needs to understand Islam.

    You don’t think there is an agenda in Islam? “They learn to speak with two tongues” – The duplicity that you seem to be blind to.

    More duplicity, here expressing appreciation for women while wanting to restrict their freedom and equality. You think that this sort of duplicity applies only to Islamic views about women? No. It applies across the board, and to the Islamic position on ‘equality’ of non-Muslims.

    Intelligence Squared debate raising our self-inflicted suppression of our own freedoms, “We seem to have learned nothing from the Salman Rushdie affair of 20 years ago”

    You still think moderate Muslim Britain supports free speech? “Though they are a tiny minority …” Hitler’s National Socialists were a tiny minority, until they weren’t. Excusing moderate Muslims the responsibility for the actions of these minorities, while tacitly supporting them doesn’t seem such a good idea.

    This is not just a collection of the opinions of a few right wing radical organisations like the English Defence League. But Sam Harris made the mistake of pointing out that it is a shame that these despicable groups are the ones pointing out the problem with Islam while many Western liberals look the other way, or even promote appeasement at the expense of our own freedoms. For that he was labelled an Islamophobe. Here is an example of a right wing Christian group trying to debate and film with an Islamic group in the US. You can make all the objections you like about the group trying to make this film, but does that allow you to dismiss the actions of the Muslims here, and how they enlist the help of the security teams, and the police?
    There is an inherent desire to spread the word of Islam on their terms, using their duplicitous methods, while suppressing criticism.

    This might seem like a bit of a long haul, getting through all these examples. But they are just a small sample from Youtube, that doesn’t even touch on the more extreme videos that are often posted supporting terrorism directly. There is of course a wealth of information that goes way beyond all this which your sentiments seem to ignore. Feel free to criticise any of the examples I give, rather than just repeating the same simplistic rhetoric without providing support for it yourself.

    “some people are quick to claim that certain acts of terrorism are motivated by hatred of freedom/democracy or because of Islam.”

    No, they are not quick to claim it. These claims are based on the evidence from practicing and ex-Muslims, and the stated goals of Islam set out from its beginning, goals which have been merely subdued through a few centuries of Western domination. The terrorist of the OP is just one aspect of a much wider problem with Islam; the terrorism is just the extreme, but it’s all the same religion. Truly ‘moderate’ democratic Muslims are not real Muslims according to the Qu’ran. They are about as Muslim as the ‘Atheist Christians’ are really Christians. It’s the real Islam that is the problem, not the freedom loving democratic Muslims that just happen to believe in some God but who don’t live by his dictates as described in his holy book.

    “When folks refer to Islam as the motivation for terrorism, that strikes me as rather vague.”

    Is the above explicit enough for you? If you want vague then listen to Marshall and Shea on how the vague language of Islam dupes you into a false sense of security.

    “To say that the Boston bombers were motivated by Islam is rather like saying that the folks who murder doctors over abortion are motivated by Christianity. While there is some truth to these claims, they hardly give the whole picture.”

    I’ve said it above, so I don’t know why you are persisting with this canard. Nobody I know that criticises Islam is ignoring the complexity of the motives that stir individuals such as the Boston bombers. But you cannot get away from the significant part Islam plays in pushing them into the larger framework of Islamic opposition to Western freedoms. To suppose that any of the examples of terrorism carried out under the self-proclamations of Islamic influence of the terrorists is just blind.

    “After all, most religious folks do not go around murdering people, so there would need to be other factors that caused them to engage in murder.”

    Because not all religious folk murder does not logically entail that many murders are not religiously motivated. This is atrociously poor logic from a philosopher. Well, because not all people with sociopathic-related neurology do not become sociopaths does not mean sociopathic brains do not contribute significantly to sociopathic murders. Because not all Muslims are terrorists does not mean that Muslim terrorists are not influenced significantly by Islam, especially when they say they are. To what level of gullibility and denial are you going to raise this debate?

  25. swallerstein,

    The illusion of free will is so ingrained within us that our natural use of language efficiently uses the free will model. Using language that spells out the unconscious drives is cumbersome at best. But here’s a sample.

    Within the framework of cause and effect there are many localised causes that cause Muslim brains to be caused to echo the tenets of Islam as if they are true. These causes, in the right environment, such as ‘Muslim enclaves and mosques’ in Western European cities, can cause, convince, young Muslim brains that radicalism is the correct path.

    Within the framework of Western democracy the notion of ‘freedom’ can still be explained in terms of freedom from harm, freedom of expression, even within another framework, that of free will being illusory.

    The causal effect is that within my brain, and without any real dualistic mind performing any free will in the matter, there are real physical processes that emerge as the experience of mental anguish when I see how Islam oppresses the freedom (think in terms of ‘degrees of freedom’ in a purely mechanistic sense) of others, and the danger it poses for my brain’s natural activity to respond in a manner we label as free, such that freedom of expression is a mechanism of my brain that makes it feel good.

    In that context the opposing systems of collective brains expressing themselves for wider degrees of freedom or religiously restricted limited degrees of freedom, then there are causal possibilities where one set of brains might, over time, cause other sets of brains to ‘change their minds’. This is political debate in physicalist terms.

    In the language of the illusion that is free will we express this as people debating and possibly changing their minds. The brains do choose, in the sense that any dynamic logic system chooses to flip a switch one way or another, though in human affairs the physical processes that underlie all this are so complex that we humans naturally think of it all in terms of free will choices.

    Does that explain it sufficiently? Does that explain why superficially it sometimes seems that those that think we do not have a real free will, that think there is an illusion of free will, are behaving inconsistently in expressing things in terms of free will? We still use the efficient and natural language model of free will that humans have developed and possibly evolved to use.

    In one example Jerry Coyne asked readers of his site to choose between compatibilism and incompatibilism. There were some smart arse critics that jumped on this as if Coyne was blindly making a fool of himself by suggesting we freely choose to say we cannot freely choose. Clearly the right interpretation is that Coyne’s brain does not freely choose to ask people to freely choose but is so cause to ask that in the context of familiar free will language. Clearly the Coyne brain was outwardly caused to behave to write that request, and the readers’ brains were caused to respond, either by being causally influenced to so ‘choose’, or by being causally influenced to ridicule Coyne.

    It still comes down to that situation that all human behaviour, no matter how clever we think we are, how intentional, how free, we are still nothing more than the dynamic interaction of physical particles.

    Watch slow motion videos of dropped glasses of water and the amazing unpredictably complex patterns as the water molecules interact with the surface they land on, the air around them, the gravity well they are falling in. That’s all that’s happening in brains. Within the confines of skulls molecules are moving around energy gradients; ions are forming wave patterns we know of as action potentials; neurotransmitters are crossing synaptic junctions. Without any evidence to the contrary its physics all the way down, even though on the large scale it looks so unfathomably complex that we have evolved or developed a notion of free will, that sometimes we are even fooled into attributing to inanimate objects.

    It takes awkward effort to transpose language into physicalist terms, and since it’s not a model all people agree with, particularly the religious, who are addressed by the OP, it seems only reasonable to continue to use the language of free will. But, you know I don’t mean it literally, don’t you? You were caused to make the point despite your own knowledge of what I really mean, so that you didn’t freely will to make the point?

  26. Ron Murphy:

    If you don’t literally mean to use the language of free will, why use it?

    I agree that motivation is very complex and that brain and cognitive sciences seem to tell us that conscious intentions play a very small role or no role at all in motivating us.

    Since that is the case, why don’t we, insofar as we are aiming for philosophical rigorousness,
    declare a moratorium on the use of the language of blame?

    A moratorium until brain science delivers more information on the relation between conscious intentions and motivation…..

    I realize that in day to day life most of us are likely to recur to the language of blame, but here we are striving for more exactness.

    Yesterday I was listening to an interview on the radio with a psychiatrist who was discussing the case of a young delinquent, now about 14, who has been in the news since at age 10 (I don’t recall the exact age) he robbed a car at gunpoint. Since then, he was been in and out of juvenile prisions for robbery, assault, drug use, possession of guns, etc.

    A judge has ordered the boy to be jailed in a juvenile prision (the language of blame) where treatment facilities are almost nonexistent to the cheers of hardline politicians, but the psychiatrist points out that the boy has a severe bipolar disorder aggravated by drug use and a dysfunctional family (his mother has a bipolar disorder and uses drugs) and that the boy had responded well to a combination of medication and
    very specialized psychotherapy while he was treating him.

    There is no point in blaming this boy.

    There really is no point in blaming anyone until we know much much more about how the brain works.

    So it seems to me that people like Coyne (whose discussions about free will are often convincing) contradict themselves when they use the language of blame to describe how Islam motivates terrorists.

  27. swallerstein- Neo still called the cat a cat.

  28. swallerstein,

    “If you don’t literally mean to use the language of free will, why use it?”

    Because I don’t have the free will to avoid using it? Or, I do mean to use it (in a non-free-willed sense): efficiency. The same reason that if I want to calculate the motion of an iron ball I use Newton’s equations and not Einstein’s equations of motion, or those relating to subatomic particles.

    But, in using that language model you can read into it the understanding that I don’t think we have free will. Similarly, I shouldn’t have to keep spelling out that I don’t think religion is the sole cause of terrorism, or that each and every Muslim is anti-democratic, anti-free speech. I get that many aren’t.

    What neither you nor I know, because of the duplicitous language of many, is which ‘moderate’ Muslims are really moderate to the extent they are happy for Islam to be criticised without wishing for blasphemy laws to suppress free speech on Islam. It seems to be the opinion of some here that we must avoid the conclusion that Islam is dangerous simply because some unknown but probably large number of Muslims are not using Islam directly as a threat to freedom.

    That many Muslims spell it out for you, that many persecuted ex-Muslims spell it out, that many organisations supporting human rights spell it out, that dead cartoonists spell it out in their blood, that the twin towers spell it out, that Islam was an influence in the Boston bombings, …, all this isn’t enough for you to make the connection?

    “aiming for philosophical rigorousness, declare a moratorium on the use of the language of blame”

    This is unbelievable fatuous. There is no philosophical rigor here. It has nothing to do with logical rigor in philosophy, such as not being able to refute solipsism, or prove that there is no God, and so reserving a modicum of scepticism. They demonstrate on the streets of Bangladesh that they want to hang apostates, blasphemers and atheists – three terms that only mean anything at all in a religious context. You don’t need philosophical rigor to figure this out.

    I’m using the language of cause and effect. The religion of Islam can cause the effect of irrational belief and easy indoctrination. It has sufficient variability to be selectable for both language of peace and language of war, and is used for both. Listen to the Muslims and ex-Muslims in the videos.

    “A moratorium until brain science delivers more information on the relation between conscious intentions and motivation”

    OK, let’s do that. And also resist complaints about US drone strikes until we have evidence to explain the psychology of the military/security system. We use what we have. Sometimes simple observations, such as listening to the Muslims and ex-Muslims and other observers, is sufficient to identify cause and effect. Let’s stop locking up criminals. What will that achieve while we wait for the neuroscience to catch up?

    “There is no point in blaming this boy.”

    You don’t have to blame him in the religiously motivated sense of retribution. But simple cause and effect determines that the brain/body system of that boy is the most immediate and localised cause of that event. It would be great if the justice system sometimes had more compassion, and if there was enough money to fund better detention and correctional facilities that actually improved his prospects instead of committing him to a place where he’s likely to come out offending again. That would be great, but that’s not how it is. Perhaps if we could get a bunch of politicians to buy into the illusory free will position and … but heck, they can’t even get on board with gun control.

    “There really is no point in blaming anyone until we know much much more about how the brain works.”

    You gotta be kidding me. Listen to the Muslims and ex-Muslims. Listen to what they are saying they think is their view on freedom and democracy. You’re not listening to them. This is pure denialism.

    “So it seems to me that people like Coyne (whose discussions about free will are often convincing) contradict themselves when they use the language of blame to describe how Islam motivates terrorists.”

    I explained this above. The language model we choose does not need to reflect how the world works. Language is a representation system and isn’t always literal. Think of the free will language only as metaphorical, as all language is to some extent. The language of blame is heavily instilled in us, along with our ingrained notion of feeling we have free will, and is difficult to shake off. Think of it this way: I don’t have the free will to will myself into avoiding the language of free will; my brain is physiologically driven, through a long habitual experience, to using the language of free will, and even of blame, when I’m busy typing responses to messages here. And even then, even if I did review each comment before posting, would it help to translate it into much complex cause effect language?

    It is contradictory that we know that the visual illusion of the Necker cube makes us see it flip direction, when we know it does not. We realise the contradiction is superficial due to the optical illusion, and even though we see it flip we are content to know it does not. I continue to feel and speak as if I have free will, even though I think that we do not. The mental illusion is just too awkward to overcome, and I only avoid using it on occasions when it matters. I don’t think it matters enough here; but if anything the non-free-will language gives a fine causal explanation of how religion gets into the brains of what in other circumstances might be fine people. It can explain, as the causal process of indoctrination, why people can believe stuff that brings harm to others while feeling they are living the religion of peace.

  29. Dennis Sceviour

    You are raising good points today.

    I am not sure the unmasked motivations are cerebral. That is an academic assumption.

    Motivations may be intrinsic rather than extrinsic. That is, the extrinsic religious icons, political flags and moral beliefs are only masks. The motivations are intrinsic, or from within a person. Although psychology tries to isolate some of the motifs of human behaviour, there may be a raw disposition to natural aggressiveness displayed by all living things. The battle zone is simply spatial confrontation.

    Of course, this may be too simple an explanation. What could possibly motivate Ariel Castro?

  30. swallerstein

    Ron Murphy:

    I think that we can apply philosophical rigorousness to the discussion of almost every issue.

    Otherwise, we end up trading insults and slogans.

    You call what I say above “fatuous”. I could reply in kind with an insult disqualifying what you say, but I won’t. You’ll have to guess at what choice insult I’d apply to your discourse.

    Since 9-11 I have listened to literally hundreds of experts on Islam; some say X and some say not-X. Really, I don’t know why your experts on Islam are any more credible than other experts who say exactly the opposite of what your experts say.

    I have no idea why the testimonies of ex-members of Islam should be especially privileged as you suggest that it should be. During the cold war, we were serenaded with the testimonies of ex-communists on the evils of the communist system. Now it’s the turn of the ex-Muslims.

    Maybe soon it will be the turn of the ex-New Atheists.

    I myself would tend to trust the word of secular intellectuals from the Muslim world
    such as Edward Said and Tariq Ali rather than your chorus of ex-Muslims.

    But in this game, unless we apply some rigorousness, everyone just picks those experts which suit their preconceived notions. I do it too.

    So I reiterate: let’s apply some rigourness to the question of blame, both when we talk about common criminals and when we talk about terrorism, be it Islamic terrorism or whatever kind.

    Applying rigourness to the question of blame certainly does not imply not protecting ourselves against criminals and terrorists, as you imply.

    Confession: I learned a lot in my discussions with you about free will. I started out as a compatibilist and as a result of talking with you, I’m a bit less of a compatibilist and a bit more of a determinist.

    I find it sad that on the subject of Islam you resort to insults and slogans.

  31. swallerstein

    Dennis Scevoir:

    I agree with you that ideologies are often merely masks for inner drives. I also agree with you that so-called religous wars are often turf wars, battles to control real-estate, as in Syria today where different tribes, in the name of religion, battle to control territory.

  32. Asking whether religion causes awful beliefs, values, and actions, is like asking whether music causes notes.

  33. Yes, you can apply philosophical rigorousness to the discussion of almost every issue, but in some case it is pointless, which is all that ‘fatuous’ means in this context. It was an assessment the pointlessness of doing so, in what is essentially a debate about evidence.

    But go ahead, apply whatever rigour you like. Give me some examples of how you would apply that rigour to those Muslims I’ve listed that make their own claims about what Islam really is about. Forget the ex-Muslims if you like and just stick to those Muslims that have made clear statements about what the goals of Islam are.

    Edward Said is predominantly a commenter on Palestine and not so much on Islam. Tariq Ali tends also to take a rosy view of Islam and complains of Islamaphobia. But do either of them address the specific points I’ve made about Islam and its inherent goals? Have you anyone more convincing, more in tune with what the fundamentalist Muslims are actually saying?

    If you want rigorous analysis try this:

    How about the Quilliam Foundation:
    “With Islamist extremism in particular, we believe a more self-critical approach must be adopted by Muslims. Westophobic ideological influences and social insularity needs to be challenged within Muslim communities by Muslims themselves whilst simultaneously, an active drive towards creating an inclusive civic identity must be pursued by all members of society.”

    “Much of Quilliam’s research, including Mosques Made in Britain and Reprogramming British Muslims – A Study of the Islam Channel, has examined factors which encourage some British Muslims to feel as though they do not belong in Britain and as though they cannot and should not integrate into British civic life. As explored above, such marginalisation risks encouraging individuals to question their identity and may feed a perception of grievance, both of which can be manipulated by recruiters to facilitate radicalisation.”

    “It is the belief that Islam is a political ideology, as well as a faith. It is a modernist claim that political sovereignty belongs to God, that the Shari’ah should be used as state law, that Muslims form a political rather than a religious bloc around the world and that it is a religious duty for all Muslims to create a political entity that is governed as such. Islamism is a spectrum, with Islamists disagreeing over how they should bring their ‘Islamic’ state into existence.”

    “Some Islamists seek to engage with existing political systems, others reject the existing systems as illegitimate but do so non-violently, and others seek to create an ‘Islamic state’ through violence. Most Islamists are socially modern but others advocate a more retrograde lifestyle. Islamists often have contempt for Muslim scholars and sages and their traditional institutions; as well as a disdain for non-Islamist Muslims and the West.”

    “In recent years, terrorists from both Islam’s Sunni and its Shi’i denominations have used Islamic references in order to justify attacking civilians. That said, certain types of theology are more conducive than others in creating a mindset in which carrying out attacks against ‘unbelievers’, ‘heretics’ or ‘enemies of Islam’ is considered appropriate. Wahhabism, for example, with its historical intolerance of Shi’ite Muslims, and condemnation of ‘popular’ Islamic practices, is one such theology.”

  34. swallerstein

    Ron Murphy:

    Our conversation was about the motives of Islamic terrorists, not about Islam.

    I suggested and still suggest that the same rigour be applied to the analysis of their motives that we would apply to those of a 14 year old drug addict and thief.

    I imagine that we both would agree that if we want to understand the 14 year-old thief’s motives we would have to take into account the findings of neuroscience about the fact that conscious intentions in general do not cause our actions and that our actions are caused by extraordinarily complex brain processes which scientists are only beginning to understand, that our conscious intentions are often only “after-the-fact” rationalizations of unconscious processes which drive us.

    That is very different from the way that most people see the 14 year old thief: they see him as morally bad or evil, as being worthy of blame, as being the conscious author of crimes.

    What’s more, psychiatrists who work with young offenders confirm that their behavior is modified by medication and that after a process of medication and very specialized psychotherapy (not common “express your inner being” or “blame your parents” type of therapy), young offenders stop offending.

    Now as far as I know, no one has really sat down with terrorists and studied their brains.
    They don’t do that in Guantánamo, although it would be a good idea, much healthier for everyone than torturing and mistreating them.

    I suggest that in the case of the young man responsible for the Boston marathon bombing that they study his brain, that they apply scientific methods to try to learn what motivates him.

    Maybe they will discover that reading the Koran is the real motivation behind his actions.

    Maybe not.

    Until then blaming Islam for his actions is as pointless as blaming hip hop music for juvenile delinquency.

  35. Mike LaBossiere,

    “some people are quick to claim that certain acts of terrorism are motivated by hatred of freedom/democracy”

    Some people being George W Bush. It sounds trite and even dishonest, but there is a truth to it.

    In the blame game, fingers are being pointed in all directions but when it comes to the specific opposition to American freedom and democracy. There is a coherent source of this ideology. A philosopher of the modern era. The Egyptian Sayid Qutb.

    Contrary to the impression you might get nowdays, there was a strong desire in countries like Egypt, Iran, Turkey, to modernise and secularise. In material terms they wanted the American way of life (nice houses, big cars and shopping malls). This is very disruptive to a “traditional” way of life. Qutb saw changes in his own country (young people wearing western fashions etc) and he also had visited America. American society appeared to him as materialistic and meaningless – he feared the modernistation of Egypt would eventually lead to an American style society; a pagan free-for-all like the Muslim world before the prophet. Essentially this is where secular democracy and secular freedoms led.

    Now, foreign policy is very complicated for all countries. Security and access to resources have an existential importance. And this is why there has been an inconsistency in American foreign policy. Democracy and freedom is fine for Germany and Belgium, but not for Egypt and Franco era Spain (America kept Franco and Mubarak financially propped up). The American foreign policy that creates very serious problems for everyone, and which is radically inconsistent with America’s purported values, is when a very rich, very powerful, and very greedy minority use the power of the American state to further their own commercial interests. Iran had a secular democracy, in the 1950s. But the democratically elected government of Mohamed Mosadegh was overthrown by a British and US backed coup, and the undemocratic government of the Shah was installed. Mosadegh’s crime, like the democratically elected Hugo Chavez, was to take the lions share of Iranian oil profits for the use of the Iranian people. The Shah got to live like a king, the American “entrepreneurs” got to keep their “fair share” of the profits, and the American state assisted the Shah in making sure there was no chance of democracy or freedom breaking out.

    Americans may be shocked at water boarding and the other torture carried out in the course of the war on terror, but they’re not a patch on what happened in Iran. The Shah being a dictator, needed a mechanism of oppression to maintain his dictatorship. This was done through the SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, who were trained in America. One method of terror was to kidnap the children of people they wished to terrorise. Torture and kill them, then send their hands and feet back to their parents in shoe boxes. The training for this method most likely originated in the US, probably at the School of the Americas, as it was repeated in South America in the 70s. The School of the Americas, where if you asked too many questions, you disappeared. The problems freedom loving American businessmen had with South America were very similar to their problems with Iran. The torture and oppression eventually led to the Iranian revolution, and bad blood with the US.

    But how did the Iranian revolution lead to a theocratic dictatorship and not a secular democracy?

    The reality of life is you can be graced with good fortune through no wit or enterprise of your own. You could be born into a family where your social and familial connections get you a very good job, be economically privileged, inherit a corn farm. The world over conservatives have a very simple heuristic; any change that does not directly benefit them is the slippery slope to them losing all their nice stuff. The conservative corn farmer is against contraception, he believes it may lead to him losing his agricultural subsidies. He’s against same sex marriage, as he believes it will lead to him losing his farm. He’s against a brown president because he thinks later on down the track, he’ll lose his farm, because the brown president will take his agricultural subsidy and spend it on brown people in cities, and not on a fine “traditionally” coloured rural Americans like him.

    The corn farmer feels deep anxiety and unease when he sees young people wearing strange clothes and listening to strange music – he feels this will lead to him losing his farm. This is the same anxiety Sayid Qutb felt both with developments in Egypt, and from his experience of America.

    India’s early government were progressives who wanted to modernise India. To quell the anxieties of the Hindu conservatives, they gave the cow, which is sacred in Hinduism, legal protections. In Pakistan the democratic government made similar concessions to the religious conservatives. Pakistan a country with many deeply conservative Muslims, is also very progressive. They’ve even elected an unveiled woman, as prime minister in the past. When the Catholic Church were going through Vatican II, initially they were going to allow contraception – then there was back pedaling to placate the conservatives. Contraception was the concession that allowed a drastic modernisation.

    And this is where the Shah of Iran went wrong. He banned the wearing of the veil and encouraged western fashions. Beautiful Iranian women, with great legs, were walking around in short skirts, and wearing makeup. This, predictably, drove the religious conservatives nuts. They were reading Qutb, and short skirts were the beginning of the end of the world – a reaction familiar to many an American prude, who fears a bare leg will lead to them losing their corn farm.

    There was also a secular democratic opposition to the Shah. but as soon as the Iranian revolution happened, the religious conservatives had all the progressives killed. Out went the short skirts and in came the veils.

    Iranian women are not forced to wear the full Abaya covering as women are in Saudi, but they are not allowed expose their hair in public. So instead they wear head scarves – often stylish Jackie Kennedy things, that look really nice. And they pull a little bit of hair from their forehead outside their scarf, just enough that so if they are stopped by the moral police they can claim it was accidental. But it’s no accident, these girls are rebels.

  36. Patrick,

    And guns don’t kill people, people kill people. OK, got that.

    Or, could it be that people with guns kill more people more easily with guns, and that people without guns don’t use guns to kill people? Could it be that Muslims that believe in an afterlife, that Islam should be spread around the world and those that resist are their enemies, so that people that have a literal interpretation of the Qu’ran are persuaded to kill people more easily, while those that tend to ignore those aspects of the Qu’ran while still claiming it to be the inerrant word of God are both ‘moderate’ but inconsistent in their following of Islam?

    Do you really think I think that ‘Islam’ got itself up and inserted itself into the minds of Muslims? Or do you think I think that Muslims are persuaded to follow Islam by being persuaded by other Muslims, and that I think that Islamic terrorists are persuaded to become terrorists by other terrorists and by the rhetoric of some non-terrorist Muslims?

    Islam, as a religious and political ideology, is a tool of those that use it, moderate or terrorists. The religion dictates governance, and so you cannot separate the politics and religion of Islam. According to Christianity there should be a separation of church and state: give unto Caesar, etc., which many US Christians seem to forget. But with Islam it’s the link is explicit.

    So, does Islam directly and of itself cause …? No. Is Islam an element in the causal chain that leads to terrorism? At this moment in time, yes. It’s a common thread through what would otherwise be disparate politically motivated groups around the world. It is a causal link in the chain that leads British Muslims form various parts of the world to go and fight Syria, on the sole grounds that they are joining their Muslim brothers in a fight against a regime that government which was supported by Western democratic powers that they see as being decadent in allowing immoral practices in their home, Britain. Islam is a tool to unite disparate groups around the world so that they have common training in terrorist techniques, where the only common ground between them is Islam.

    Are there examples of non-Muslim terrorists? Sure. Have there been links between non-Muslim terrorists and Muslim terrorists? Sure. There have been links throughout the 70’s where several terrorist groups around the world co-operated, sometimes with the collusion of various governments. The US has dabbled on both sides of conflicts around the world, switching sides when it suits them. This is the nature of international conflict. But, at this moment in time, what is the one common factor uniting Islamic terrorists specifically (the point of the OP)? Islam.

    Does Islam, as a religion, ensure a Muslim will become a terrorists? Of course not. No one is claiming that. But Islam, with its literal interpretations, because of the Qu’ran’s claimed inerrancy, and because of the stricter moral codes it has regarding freedoms, and because of its inherent political nature that is specifically anti-democratic, and because of its opposition to the criticism of Islam is anti-free speech, is a common ideology that is far more easily turned to an excuse for terrorism than other religions – at this time.

    Could Islam be turned into a benign religion, which Christianity mostly is? Yes, sure, by being reformed. Christianity has had a history of reformations, from the very peaceful and passive early Christianity, through that of the Dark Ages where the church power rested in the pope, often in conflict with the emperor and other powers around Europe, through the post-Islamic times in Spain where the Inquisition plied its power, through the splits that left the various Christian denominations we have today that range from the rather passive brands through to the stricter Roman Catholicism.

    The problem is, at this time, that most Muslims do not want Islam to be reformed. Or, perhaps many do but are unable to cause reform because under Islam, whether in Islamic states or in concentrated Islamic communities in Western cities, it is very difficult to get past the conservative Islam that dominates. As long as most Muslims, or the most powerful and vocal Muslims, insist on the inerrancy of the Qu’ran it cannot change, cannot lose the political element that insists that it’s Islam or nothing.

    So, while Islam doesn’t kill people, what do you think is behind the claims made by the demonstrators in Bangladesh that there should be death for blasphemy and apostasy, and that atheists should be hanged? If it’s nothing to do with Islam then why these specific demands?

    What do you make of Muslim clerics in the UK that on TV, as I linked to earlier, that agree that the penalty for apostasy should be death? Do you think the tenets of Islam have nothing to do with that? Do you think this one specific point is not preventing would-be ex-Muslims leaving Islam? Do you think all Muslims are Muslim because they want to be? Perhaps many of the ‘moderate’ Muslims often appealed to in these arguments are not really Muslims, but are Muslim only in outward behaviour because they have to disguise their true beliefs. In the UK it is not unknown for young ‘Muslim’ women to be forced into an Islamic way of life, or even to be killed by their own family members if they do not.

  37. swallerstein,

    “Our conversation was about the motives of Islamic terrorists, not about Islam.”

    The OP very clearly is looking at the link between Islam and Islamic terrorists, and the gist of the OP is that Islam itself is not a cause but other factors are.

    “While some hold the view that there is a strong causal connection between being a Muslim and being a terrorist…”

    So how is this discussion not about the extent to which Islam, as a religion, plays a part. “Being a Muslim” is being a follower of Islam, and the word Islam, as Muslims will point out, means submission to Allah, which, as Muslims will point out, speaks to them through the inerrant word of the Qu’ran.

    “…the connection obviously cannot be that strong. After all, the vast majority of Muslims do not engage in terrorism. As such, beginning and ending the discussion of the motive for terror with Islam is not adequate.”

    Let’s be philosophically rigorous on this point. It’s not a good argument.

    1) Nobody is using it as the beginning and ending of an argument, so that’s a straw man. All the commenters on this issue that, as you paraphrase it, “blame Islam”, agree that it is a complex issue with a long history. JMRC gives a good analysis, as does Ibn Warraq who explains the greater history, as does Tariq Ali, who also covers the history.

    2) All Islamic terrorists are Muslim, but not all Muslims are Islamic terrorists. Agreed. But that does not mean that Islam is not a significant influence for Islamic terrorists. The clue is in the name: “Islamic terrorists”. This is simple set theory.

    [Islam [Islamic terrorists]][non-Islamic terrorists] non-Islam]]

    What distinguishes an Islamic terrorist from a non-Islamic terrorist? Islamic terrorists themselves tell you they are fighting for Islam, plus whatever their personal grievance is in their home land. How are you not getting this?

    3) There are several areas around the world in which cultures there clash with Western influence. The Western influence is a historical result of Western power applied around the world. But let’s be clear that Islamic influence in the Middle East and North Africa and Spain and parts of Europe came about through the expansive power of Islam. Historically Islam spread by conquest – oh, and then the invitation to become Muslim, with only the minor disadvantage if you don’t of paying a fee and not having equal rights. Non-Muslims are equal to Muslims in Islamic states, except to the extent that they are not. The historical mix of interests we have now has this history. Nobody is denying any of this. The question now is, what is the common influence that unites Islamic terrorists? Islam.

    “I suggested and still suggest that the same rigour be applied to the analysis of their motives that we would apply to those of a 14 year old drug addict and thief.”

    But that’s precisely what you are refusing to do in the case of Islamic terrorists. I agree already that the motivations are complex, but you are the one denying a seriously influential component.

    OK, so your 14 year old has been indoctrinated into the drug culture. It seems he has been introduced to it from an age where he didn’t have sufficient experience to overcome the pressures that made him take up drugs. Not his fault. let’s help him.

    What about the 14 year old indoctrinated into Islam and influenced by older radicalised young men around him, so that by the time he’s 18 he is fully on board with radical Islam. Not his fault. How do we prevent that happening? Try reading the stuff from the Quilliam Foundation that addresses this specific problem.

    “That is very different from the way that most people see the 14 year old thief: they see him as morally bad or evil, as being worthy of blame, as being the conscious author of crimes.”

    This is a red herring. I’m not saying Muslims are evil. I’m saying that Islam is a strict ideology combining both religion and politics that is in direct conflict with Western democracy and freedoms, and that Muslims indoctrinated into Islam from childhood buy into it through no fault of their own. I’m saying that in that system it’s far easier to radicalise Muslims into even greater opposition to Western democracy and freedom than it would be without Islam. I’m saying that Islam is used as a tool to unite Muslims that have desperate grievances. I’m saying that Islam is an enabler of terrorism, given the literalism and conservatism of the religion when contrasted to the liberalism of the West. I’m saying that the requirement of death for apostasy and other pressures are preventing many Muslims leaving Islam, and has resulted in the death of many. I’m saying that the depths to which Muslims hold Islam as a sacred belief system makes it hard for them to accept criticism of Islam, which plays out as Muslims wanting blasphemy laws; and even if many or even most Muslims don’t agree that the penalty for blasphemy should be death their support for blasphemy laws is anti-free speech.

    “What’s more, psychiatrists who work with young offenders…”

    Are you proposing we have psychiatrists work with Islamists out there? How does that work? What medication do you prescribe for Islamic terrorism? Is that something we can ‘cure’?

    Personally I think that debate is a far better tool. In that respect I think pointing out the problems with Islam and how, as a religion with political aspects to it, is anti-democratic, and that the opposition to criticism of Islam is aniti-free speech, and that the punishment (heck, that there even should be punishment) for leaving Islam is oppressive and anti-freedom anti-democratic. Could you use your philosophical rigour and address these very specific points for me.

    “Now as far as I know, no one has really sat down with terrorists and studied their brains.”

    Good luck with that. This is why I think the point fatuous. We are dealing with a global movement that has politicised religion at its core and that enables terrorism by the easy interpretation of tenets that are meant to be taken literally. Studying brains in this case has to be done remotely, psychologically, behaviourally, by analysing what they say and do. Islamic terrorists say their cause is Islam. Are you in a position to psychoanalyse them remotely and say they are mistaken?

    In the meantime the Quilliam Foundation and others are trying to identify what the problems are, and Maajid Nawaz, having been a radicalised British Muslim terrorist is in a good position to understand them. So, try this:

    In your philosophical rigour you decided not to listen to the ex-Muslims I suggested. But in your rigour you didn’t address what Muslims are saying. So again, I offer this: Listen to the Muslims.

    In your philosophical rigour you offered Tariq Ali and Edward Said, but I couldn’t find anything they had to say on this issue that was pertinent, and in your philosophical rigour you haven’t come back with anything from them as evidence.

    You keep going on about philosophical rigour but you are only stating it should be used. You are not using it. You have offered this example of a 14 year old, and I agree with your views on that, but that’s not helpful. It would be great if we could overcome the obstacles to getting inside the heads of Islamic terrorists. Until we do we are left with what they tell us: it’s Islam they are using to justify their unity and their targets and their methods.

    “But in this game, unless we apply some rigorousness, everyone just picks those experts which suit their preconceived notions. I do it too.”

    Well, I can see you did that with Tariq Ali and Edward Said, who as far as I am aware don’t address the specific issue of the extent to which Islam influences Islamic terrorists. I offer you a range of sources: non-Muslim, ex-Muslim, Muslim, Muslim terrorists, Muslim non-terrorists, and they vary in the extent to which they think Islam is a problem, in that some think it is the misinterpretation of Islam while others think that it is Islam as an ideological political religious system that is the problem; but none of them are saying Islam is not a significant contribution. But you ignore those – or rather you only specifically object to the ex-Muslims I offer, so your philosophical rigour doesn’t extend to addressing the others.

    Your philosophical rigour hasn’t yet addressed the point about Bangladesh and the way in which tenets of Islam played a part in the demonstrations by ordinary Muslims there. In fact you haven’t addressed anything I’ve said, except to say that rigour should be applied, without actually applying it.

    The other unrelated example your offer is of a 14 year old drug addict. I don’t notice 14 year old drug addicts forming terrorist training camps and uniting 14 year old drug addicts with disparate grievances. So, while I accept that it would be helpful to examine the brains of Islamic terrorists, do we really need to do that when the terrorists themselves consistently tell us that they Islam is their motivation? We can see that they have other grievances too, but do we need a brain scan to see that the common thread is Islam? This doesn’t seem philosophically rigorous. This seems like denial.

  38. Steve Merrick

    some people are quick to claim that certain acts of terrorism are motivated by hatred of freedom/democracy

    It is hard to believe people can be so stupid. 😥 Why would anyone hate freedom? ‘They’re so jealous of our freedom and democracy, they attack us?’ Ridiculous. One doesn’t attack someone out of jealousy, one steals from them whatever it is one is jealous of! 🙂

  39. Ron Murphy- In this thread, I have made three posts.

    The first talked about the processes of radicalization, particularly in a religious context. Religion didn’t come out looking so great.

    The second responded to the old chestnut argument “if we don’t have free will, why do you keep using the language of free will?” It wasn’t the clearest post, and could probably have been rewritten: “There was no spoon, but Neo still called it a spoon.” It didn’t address Islam.

    The third objected to the framing of the question of the relationship between religion and beliefs. It asserted that religion doesn’t cause the negative things attributed to it, but rather, religion, as a set of beliefs and practices, IS the set of beliefs and practices it motivates people to hold.

    So I don’t understand what motivated you to write all of that to me.

    In short, my objection to the OP is this- he has the question backwards. Instead of asking questions like “Does Catholicism motivate opposition to birth control,” the interesting question is something more precisely phrased as:

    “Millions of Americans publicly and personally identify as Catholic, regularly swear public oaths declaring that they accept the Catholic hierarchy and tradition as a legitimate and binding moral authority, and are fully aware that the Catholic hierarchy and tradition teach that the use of birth control is a significant moral evil. And yet large numbers of these people, perhaps even a vast majority, do not believe that birth control is even a slight moral evil. What gives?”

    It is easy to understand why someone who professes belief in a putative moral authority might adopt moral values that are clearly present in a brief, facial reading of that moral authority. The question answers itself.

    The hard question is why so many people publicly profess belief in a putative moral authority, and yet DON’T adopt its clearly expressed values. We forget that’s the hard question because we’re so accustomed to Jews, Christians, and Muslims who are everyday, normal, decent people. The vast majority of all three religions’ adherent, in fact! But they’re the aberrations that need explained, because they’re the ones who behave in ways inconsistent with their own explanation of their own behavior.

  40. Steve Merrick,

    “It is hard to believe people can be so stupid. Why would anyone hate freedom?”

    Right. Take a conservative corn farmer. His 18 year old daughter dresses up in short skirt and makeup. He won’t let leave the house until she changes her clothes, and removes the makeup. “While your living under my roof, you’ll live by my rules”. Does he hate freedom? Of course he hates freedom.

    Conservative Catholics who campaign against contraception and abortion, and then go use contraception and have abortions. They hate freedom too.

    In many “traditional”, not even specifically Muslim, societies individual freedom doesn’t exist. The societies are hierarchical. Usually patriarchal. Both women and young men are told who to marry – money and property is often involved. In Pakistan there is a tradition of cousins marrying cousins. This has nothing to do with the Koran or Islam. It’s to keep property in the family. If suddenly, all the young individuals in Pakistan decided they’re going to marry who they like, this would be socially and economically explosive. Family property would be shattered. The family structures that many people depend on would break down.

    Many people really hate freedom.

  41. Steve Merrick,

    Never underestimate the power of stupidity. 🙂

    A case could be made that some terrorists do hate certain aspects of Western freedom. For example, those who are religious fundamentalists could hate the freedom of religion (such fundamentalists would want a one religion state). As another example, certain religious fundamentalists probably hate the freedoms that women are allowed in the West.

    But, as you say, it would be rather odd to claim that foreign terrorists target the US for such things-since they usually have plenty of domestic targets to attack.

  42. patrick,

    Being so short and sweet as it was I took your third point to mean that religion, Islam in this case, isn’t a cause of Islamic terrorism just as music doesn’t actually cause notes, and so was implying Islam wasn’t a significant contributing factor. With your expanded explanation I take your point, and my comments stand not in opposition to your intended point but to my understanding of your “Asking whether religion causes awful beliefs, values, and actions, is like asking whether music causes notes.”

    “The hard question is why so many people publicly profess belief in a putative moral authority, and yet DON’T adopt its clearly expressed values.”

    I don’t think that’s such a hard question. I think the answer is some combination of the following, and some are common to all religions:

    1) It is the religion they were brought up to believe
    2) They don’t feel the need or desire to live by its more strict tenets
    3) They don’t think about it too deeply
    4) They disagree conscientiously, but can’t really speak out as they would like
    5) Faith and authority go unquestioned – that’s how religion works
    … that will do, but we could probably come up with more.

    I think (3) is a significant explanation as to why many decent ‘moderate’ Muslims don’t find fault with Islam generally and why they might not engage with the criticism of Islam, or even of terrorists. Perhaps they hear the conservatives make similar noises to the extremists and accept their views on Islam and the West.

    Three examples of how this works:

    a) In this set the people interviewed don’t seem particularly dumb or homophobic, and indeed seem quite open minded; and yet they are caught out for not thinking. I find this to be a double whammy, because after watching this and thinking, well homosexuality probably isn’t a choice, a little more thinking can easily conclude that both homosexuality and heterosexuality can have elements of choice in them, for some people. If one has the capacity to be bisexual then one is open to a choice to live as homo-, hetero- or bi-, and to change throughout one’s life, which some people do. But if one is strongly biologically driven to be homo- or hetero- then one’s orientation is likely not a choice.

    b) With Islam: The Muslim woman, when questioned by Dawkins on death for apostasy, doesn’t respond. It’s difficult to determine if (3) (I expressed it as naiveté when I linked this earlier) or (4) might apply.

    c) On gun control, watch how easily it is to expose the unthinking nature of people that have some strong publically expressed opinions. It’s worth watching the set of clips. Other examples for the US right have been those examples where ant-gay republicans suddenly find one of their children is gay and that changes their perspective. In the second video of this set the democrats don’t get off lightly either.

    Interesting to note in (a) and (c) the way that analogies play their part. In (a) a good analogy provided to the interviewees reveals incomplete thinking, whereas in (c) the interviewee is kind enough to provide an analogy that kills his own case.

  43. Mike LaBossiere,

    “But, as you say, it would be rather odd to claim that foreign terrorists target the US for such things-since they usually have plenty of domestic targets to attack.”

    Yes, and they attack plenty of domestic targets. It’s election day in Pakistan today, and there have been three bombs. The radicals interpret democracy as being apostasy; only God can rule, not man.

    Pakistan’s military are deeply secular – but they have some very bad habits. You could ask the question, as many have, why Ossama Bin Laden was able to live beside an army base in Abbotada Pakistan. And the answer is the US is not the only country with a complicated and problematic execution of their foreign policy.

  44. Steve Merrick

    JMRC said “You could ask the question, as many have, why Ossama Bin Laden was able to live beside an army base in Abbotada Pakistan.”

    Perhaps the answer is that a sizeable number of Pakistanis backed the man who opposed the terrorists who daily fire their drones at innocent Pakistani civilians, in order to kill the odd ‘terrorist’? Using missiles against unarmoured civilians? 👿

  45. I applaud the attempt by the author to identify the motives of persons who were arrested for terrorism. This has, obviously, nothing to do with endorsing their acts. However, before attempting to identify motives, it is necessary to determine beyond reasonable doubt that the person in question engaged in the terrorist act. Secondly, it is imperative to ensure that what he said about his motives was neither the result of coercion nor that of a deal made with the prosecution, but that person’s free discourse.

    Unless these conditions are fulfilled, we cannot even begin to discuss “terrorists’ motives”.

    There is a huge difference between individuals living under a regime of oppression who may, due to exasperation, engage in a blind terrorist act (i.e. Palestinians living under occuption), and those claimed to be motivated by some abstract political agenda, such as opposition to U.S. foreign policy. I will not buy it, unless proven beyond reasonable doubt by an independent, and impartial, court, that any person would risk his life for a totally abstract agenda, such as opposing the foreign policy of a country. This goes against common sense.

    For the above reasons, I do not believe that the alleged Boston attacker engaged in the terrorist conduct. Nor that the 19 alleged “hijackers” of 9/11 had anything to do with that mass-murder.

  46. this is not factual argument

  47. Air Strikes | - pingback on November 29, 2015 at 5:02 pm

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