Religion's Role in the Troubles in the Middle East

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Religion's Role in the Troubles in the Middle East

Postby Carleas » Tue Feb 24, 2009 10:39 pm

Pursuant the challenge, d0rkyd00d and Xunzian will be debating the following proposition: "Religion plays a causative role in the current troubles in the Middle East", with d0rkyd00d arguing for and Xunzian against.

The debate will be in the format:
1: 2 Opening statements -- the second poster may not reference the other poster's opening in their's.

2: Rebuttals -- Opening statements are discussed, but the second poster can't reference the other poster's rebuttals.

3: Conclusions -- Closing statements and answers to rebuttals.

The participants have decided that Xunzian will post first, but d0rkyd00d has sworn not to read Xunzian's opening until he has posted his own. Participants will have 2 days to respond, time permitting.
Judges will be Mad Man P, Felix Dakat, and thezeus18.

Good luck gentlemen, may the better argument win.
(EDIT: discuss here.)
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Re: Religion's Role in the Troubles in the Middle East

Postby Xunzian » Tue Feb 24, 2009 11:10 pm

Hegel famously argued that ideas are the driving engine of history, a model which has been adopted by many thinkers since. Within this view of history, few ideas have been given as much weight as those falling under the umbrella of religion. To a large extent, this is an accident of history: most thinkers have held religious beliefs and have included that in their historical analysis. However, secular thinkers (particularly the New Atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, etc) have continued to assign what I feel is undue importance to religion within the historical narrative. To justify this conviction, I will demonstrate that religion is effectively inert in the current troubles in the Middle East, normally a poster-child for the importance of religion. Using the specific examples of the American occupation in Iraq, Hezbollah, and Hamas, I will argue that viewing history through the idealist lens of religion is deeply flawed and that a materialist understanding of these conflicts yields substantially better results.

The American invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq is a complex issue with many interpretations. However, at the command level there has effectively been two understands. The first of these is the ideological understanding favored by the Neo-Conservatives within the Bush Administration and is typified by General Sanchez during his tenure as commander of the multinational forces in Iraq. The second is the pragmatic understanding, which is currently in favor with the occupying forces and is typified by General Petraeus during his tenure as commander of the multinational forces in Iraq. After retiring from public life, Mr. Sanchez would make his understanding of the problems in Iraq plain when he presented the struggle there as a struggle against Muslim extremism (1). Reducing the enemies of America’s occupation to two-dimensional figures dictated his counter-insurgency plans. Far from reducing violence, the insurgency grew under his command. Likewise, this conception of an enemy motivated by religious fanaticism necessitated harsh treatment of prisoners. After all, they couldn’t be reasoned with, their motivations were unreasonable by definition. Likewise, they couldn’t be cowed because they did not fear death. Abu Ghraib, a tragic conclusion to this line of thinking, was a direct result of understanding the enemy not as a rational actor but as a caricature. When the pragmatic General Petraeus took command, he was wise enough to realize that the ideological understanding of the enemy was not working. So when General Stone suggested a radical new means for dealing with the insurgents, General Petraeus authorized it. General Stone set up review panels with participation from the detained insurgents to better understand their motivations. As it turns out, the majority of the insurgents were not the caricature assumed by the ideologues, but were motivated by either economic concerns or fear of intimidation (2). Capitalizing on this newfound realization, paying former insurgents to switch sides and work for the US. This bold new strategy correlates with a precipitous drop in violence and insurgency. While this alone may not conclusively demonstrate that violence in the Middle East is driven by financial concerns, it is part of a trend that I hope to illustrate with subsequent examples.

Before I proceed, I feel it is necessary to address the criticism which is no doubt forming in your mind: if the individual insurgents were just in it for their material well being, what about those who are paying the insurgents? Following the natural regress of the argument, it seems reasonable to suggest that religion plays a causative role in that realm but this too would be naïve. For simplicity’s sake, the insurgents can be divided into three flavors: Iraqi Nationalist, Sunni Islamists, and Shiite Islamists. Iraqi Nationalists are merely trying to regain what they see as their right to national sovereignty, a perfectly understandable secular pursuit. The Islamists, on the other hand, would appear to argue against my thesis. However, upon further analysis, secular foundations can be identified there as well as both groups want to bring the nation of Iraq into the sphere of influence of their patrons, either Saudi Arabia or Iran (respectively). Saudi Arabia and Iran are vying for political ascendancy in the Middle East, with the Saudis currently on top and the Iranians challenging. The political destabilization brought on by the Unites States’ invasion of Iraq represents an opportunity for Iran to shift the balance in its favor. So both sides fund the insurgents and engage in a power struggle by proxy within Iraq’s boarders. Nationalism is the motivation, not religion. The divide between Iran and Saudi Arabia itself may be understood in religious terms, but I have to ask whether further regress is called for? France has historically been a Catholic country while Prussia (and by extension, Germany) has been a Protestant country, yet no one would understand the Franco-Prussian wars and subsequent World Wars as a function of that religious difference. Likewise, the fact that the governments of both Syria and Lebanon are headed by Sunnis did not prevent Syria from incorporating Lebanon into its sphere of influence by military force. No, I do not think such a regress would be fruitful and dub it the fallacy it is.

The second example is Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah was formed in reaction to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon with three expressed goals: a) expelling colonial powers b) punishing the Phalanges, a political faction in Lebanon they blame for the civil war in Lebanon (you’ll note they mention the crimes the Phalanges committed against both Muslims and Christians) and c) national self-determination of the Lebanese people (3). As in Iraq, Hezbollah’s fighters are motivated by financial incentives such as the Al-Shahid Social Association which lavishly provides for the families of those who die in combat as well as more subtle means of manipulation such as the good will bought by their extensive social spending (4). So, again, in terms of your average foot-soldiers, financial, not religious, concerns are the driving force. As for the leadership, the organization was founded in opposition to Israel in reaction to invasion. Abstracting a broader religious motivation seems a regress too far.

Perhaps the most complex of the conflicts being examined here is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most analyses agree the conflict centers around the issue of land. Indeed, the New Atheist Christopher Hitchens blithely suggested that the conflict was merely a land conflict and it is only because religion has poisoned it that no compromise can be reached (5). The conceit is plain: material causes don’t matter, the ideological are what really count! But I believe this is due to a misunderstanding in how people relate to land. The Anglo-American relation to land is markedly different from that of other people’s due to their unique and shared. The Turner Thesis details how American culture has been shaped by the supposedly “unsettled” frontier to which Americans uniquely had access. The same principle can be applied to the English mind and for the same reasons. The English narrative is rife with expansion, where land is cheap and plentiful. First into Scotland and Wales, then Ireland, and then in its most extreme iteration, the British Empire on which the Sun never sat. Contrast that with this Mediterranean proverb: "Olive tree of your forefather, chestnut tree of your father, only the mulberry tree is yours." Far from being conceived as a limitless, fungible property, land is central to identity over multiple generations. Seeking compromise on a matter of such vital importance seems perverse in the extreme. Furthermore, if that were the case secular organizations like the PLO would not have fought Israel for as long and as hard as they have -- diminishing the role of land while emphasizing the role of religion is simply absurd!

Keeping that in mind, I will focus on Hamas, the organization which currently controls the Gaza portion of the Palestinian territories. I think Hamas serves as a reasonable proxy for the broader conflict because of their present political position as well as how they are normally understood as a religiously motivated organization. If that were the case, though, their history is puzzling indeed. Hamas was founded in 1987/88 with the expressed goal of reclaiming land they felt had been stolen from the Palestinians by Israelis; however, it was one of many such Palestinian organizations. The current form of Hamas as we understand it began in 1993 in opposition to the Oslo Accords. Believing that the Oslo Accords ceded too much territory, Hamas radically expanded its social services network. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, by providing social services for Palestinians generates good will and allows them a large measure of political control. Like both the insurgents in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas also provides for the families of those who die in suicide attacks with the going price usually falling between US$3000 and US$5000 (6). Keep in mind that the average per capita income in the West Bank is around US$1,100 (7), so suicide bombing represents not merely a viable financial strategy for a family but also an incredibly successful one.

In all three sets, we observe the same trend. Organizations representing states (either recognized or unrecognized) seek to further their control of territory or territories while using financial incentives to motivate their agents. This is a military paradigm that is as old as time. Soldiers are paid to fight and die, so they fight and die. There is no need to bring religion into it at all! It is my belief that the only reason religion is invoked at all is because of the favored strategy of these movements: suicide bombing. But suicide bombing isn’t necessarily religious in nature. After all, Japanese Kamikaze pilots did not think they would receive some otherworldly benefit for their actions. The Viet Cong, for whom running up to American soldiers with a pulled grenade was a common tactic, were atheists by ideology! So I don't think religion can really be shown to be causal in these instances. What they do all have in common is a group of people who are fighting an enemy that is considerably more powerful than they are and an enemy who has more resources than they do. They have to make sure that every single attack does as much damage as possible. And what is the most surefire way to ensure that the explosives go off where and when they are supposed to? By giving them a brain – and what is the most effective, readily available and (unfortunately) cheapest brain? A human one. It is a very rational maneuver given the nature of the situation.

The cause and engine of these conflicts is material in nature. Land is the cause on a macro-level while financial matters drive the conflicts on a micro-level. When the latter is addressed (as in Iraq), the groups being driven by the former lose their steam. Any organization is only as strong as its members. So, rather than wasting money on educating potential insurgents in moderate Islam, money needs to be spent on job training programs, and on creating the sort of infrastructure that is necessary to create peace. When the Marshall Plan enacted a similar plan in Western Germany after the Second World War, a peaceful ally was created. The flip-side is true too -- the Treaty of Versailles created rampant poverty in Germany which lead to the creation of a violent enemy. Are the people of the Middle East so different? I would say not. The relative peace created by buying out the Insurgents in Iraq demonstrates the first principle, while Israel’s continued economic and military oppression of the West Bank and Lebanon demonstrates the latter. Talking about religion in these instances is like running on a treadmill: you get all hot-and-bothered but no actual distance is covered. Don’t focus on the illusion; focus on what is actually the root of the problem.

1) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/washi ... ref=slogin
2) http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/bmag/s ... isons.html
3) http://www.standwithus.com/pdfs/flyers/ ... rogram.pdf
4) http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=26242
5) God is Not Great, chapter 2
6) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/co ... 37_pf.html
7) http://www.success-and-culture.net/arti ... come.shtml
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Re: Religion's Role in the Troubles in the Middle East

Postby d0rkyd00d » Sat Feb 28, 2009 11:47 pm

First of all, I would like to thank Xunzian for accepting my challenge. He is somebody who’s intelligence, clear voice of reason, and knowledge I highly respect and admire, which is why it’s such a great honor to be partaking in a debate with him.

I’d secondly like to thank the judges who will take time out of their schedule to read, think about, and give their opinion on the debate. Serving as judge on another debate has made me realize how much respect taking on the task of judging these demands.

Also, my apologies for the delay in my opening post, and thank you for your patience. Now, on to the fun stuff. =)

There is no other reasonable assumption to make regarding the cause of violence in the Middle East: it is mainly and mostly due to religious belief. The issue is undoubtedly intricate and infinitely complex, but I believe rational thinking will point to this conclusion, and make the fewest number of assumptions in doing so.

It all starts with belief, and so too will my argument. Undoubtedly it would be a mistake to think there is only one kind of belief, that the word points to only one definition. But for this debate, I am defining beliefs as representations of reality and the world around us, which one holds to be true. In addition, there is an important distinction that (I believe) is made by Daniel Dennett, that there is belief, and there is belief in belief, which is the category that most moderate religious believers likely fall into. They might not actually think that Jesus walked on water, but they think believing in the belief itself makes them a better person, regardless of whether it’s factually true.

Clearly, there can exist a direct correlate between belief and action. If one believes that it’s going to rain later today, they might grab an umbrella before heading off to work. If somebody believes that astrology is accurate, they might act by reading their horoscopes daily. If they then believe what that horoscope says, they might change their behavior or actions in accordance with that horoscope’s advice. The process also works in a reverse fashion: we can see a person’s action, and then link them back to a specific belief. For instance, if we see a person building an intricate underground facility, complete with stockpiles of food, ammunition, drinking water, etc., that is self sufficient and could weather a nuclear war, we could assume that the person believes there is going to be some inevitable event in the future that will force them into their safe haven, where they will live out the remainder of their days. But, as I said, this is only an assumption. Maybe the person actually wanted to build it because they saw it in a movie, and wanted to make the most accurate replica possible, down to being nuclear-war proof in nature. We can reaffirm our assumption, however, by asking the person: “Why did you build this facility?” If their response is that they built the facility because they believe in the near future, an inevitable and horrific end of the world is coming about due to a nuclear holocaust, we can conclude a few different things. Either they truly believe the end of the world is inevitable, and building this shelter is their best chance for survival. We could also conclude that they are lying for some unknown reason about their motivations. Or we can conclude that they are saying one thing, but have subconscious underlying motives for building the facility, and it’s not actually due to the reason they say it is. I’m sure you’ll agree, however, that the last two conclusions require more assumptions than the first.

So now we’ve established that a belief can have a direct effect on a person’s actions, but how powerful can these beliefs be? Can they override our evolutionary instinct of survival, or the survival of our offspring, and even cause us to harm or kill ourselves or the ones we love? The answer is a resounding yes, and the examples of this are limitless. In ancient civilizations, parents offered their children to be sacrificed, and while we can’t ask them why they offered their children, unfortunately we have cases in the present that will demonstrate my point. I used to be a Jehovah’s Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, based on scriptures in the old testament, that blood cannot be eaten or transfused. (1) That means no blood sausage, but far more tragic and deadlier, no blood transfusions. Every once in a while, a story will capture the headlines regarding parents who let their child die because they didn’t want them to accept a blood transfusion. At one point in my life, I too would’ve given my life to serve my Jehovah God to ensure my place in paradise. Clearly, there is no other reason they would let themselves or their child die, except for that sole belief, which is, as far as I know, unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses. But there have been other obvious examples. Over forty members of the Heaven’s Gate cult died due solely to their belief that leaving the earth immediately would secure their place on a recycled earth. And of course, in the forefront of our minds, the ruthless suicide bombings in the Middle East, where people are not only killing themselves, but innocent women and children because of the belief that they and their family will be richly rewarded in heaven. In Africa, thousands, if not millions, have died of AIDS, not because contraceptives aren’t available, but rather because they aren’t used due to the religious belief that somehow contraceptives are immoral, that discarding sperm is equivalent to murder in the first degree.

I’ve been discussing individual beliefs; only a sliver of the complexity that is organized religion, consisting of hundreds or thousands of beliefs that are inextricably linked. But I don’t think this dilutes my point. It is very obvious that certain belief systems are more likely to produce certain behaviors. Sam Harris uses Jainism an example. Jains believe that non-violence is the path to attaining God-consciousness (2). The more fundamentalist a Jains becomes, they less violent they will be, some even going so far as to put cheese cloths over their mouth so they don’t accidentally inhale and kill an insect. Given the choice, I’d much rather be surrounded by a crowd of fundamentalist Jains than a pack of fundamentalist Christians, or most terrifying, fundamentalist Muslims.

Finally, let’s connect all the dots. Muslims believe the Quran, and many the Hadith, to be the model for human morals, ethics, rules, and behaviors. It is the final revelation, the word of God himself. Once one accepts such a belief, and the belief that to follow that word exactly is the path to salvation, bliss, eternal contentment, and heavenly reward, one is bound to the contents within it. And scripture of jihad, death, war against infidels, and martyrdom abound, of which I’ve chosen a few to demonstrate my point. From the Hadith:

“Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom, would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s Cause).” (3)


And from the Koran:

“It is the same whether or not you forwarn them [the unbelievers], they will have no faith” (2:6). “A fire “whose fuel is men and stones” awaits them (2:24). “God’s curse be upon the infidels!” (2:89). “Theirs shall be woeful punishment” (2:175). “Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Idolatry is worse than carnage….[I]f they attack you put them to the sword…Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God’s religion reigns supreme. But if they desist, fight none except the evildoers” (2:190-193). “Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. God knows, but you know not (2:216). “Believers, do not make friends with any but your own people. They will spare no pains to corrupt you. They desire nothing but your ruin. Their hatred is evident from what they utter with their mouths, but greater is the hatred which their breasts conceal” (3:118).


And believe me, the list goes on.

But as if that wasn’t enough, we have words directly from such extremists:

Leading Muslim clerics often refer to the love of death. Chief Palestinian Authority cleric Mufti Sheikh Ikrimeh Sabri stated, "We tell them, in as much as you love life, the Muslim loves death and martyrdom. There is a great difference between he who loves the hereafter and he who loves this world. The Muslim loves death and [strives for] martyrdom." Saudi Sheikh Abd Al-Muhsin Al-Qassem in Al-Madina added: "The Jews preached permissiveness and corruption, as they hid behind false slogans like freedom and equality, humanism and brotherhood... They are cowards in battle... they flee from death and fear fighting... They love life."

Former head of the Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee Sheikh Atiyyah Saqr was asked the following question in an online chat room on March 22, 2004: "What, according to the Koran, are the Jews' main characteristics and qualities?" He explained one of their worst traits: "Cowardice and love for this worldly life are undisputable traits [of the Jews]." Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah revealed in an interview after the recent prisoner swap between Israel and his group: "We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death." (4)


And, from an Islamic website:

Anti-Jewishness and anti-Judaism, is intensifying throughout the Muslim World. Anti-Jewishness and anti-Judaism constitute a major political instrument in the hands of both state governments and Islamist organizations to mobilize the entire region for the destruction of Israel. Both governments and islamic leaders are using anti-Jewishness incitement as a most effective instrument of popular mobilisatin in order to reach to the grassroots and get results. Therefore, with the spread and expansion of militant radical Islam, anti-Jewishness and anti-Judaism will continue to intensify in the Muslim World. Anti-Jewishness and anti-Judaism will thus continue to be a most potent instrument of governments throughout the Muslim World.

Among the Islamists, presently the most vibrant and rapidly expanding segment of the Muslim World, the very existence of a Jewish state called Israel constitutes a contradiction of major Qur'anic tenets. On the most basic level, the mere existence of a political entity run by the Jews, particularly on a land claimed by Islam, is a profound challenge and affront to Islam that is political and not only religious in essence. Thus, Israel is unacceptable under any circumstance. Indeed, modern Arab/Muslim ideology stresses the political aspects of the historical enmity and worsening conflict between Jews and Muslims sens the emergence Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel on a piece of Muslim land. (2) Israel, as a political affront to the Muslims, they argue, is the root cause for the flare-up of anti-Jewishness throughout the Muslim World. (5)


When we are told by those causing the largest disturbance in the Middle East that it is due to their Islamic faith, their hatred for unbelievers, because they love death more than the infidel loves life, we again have only a few choices. We can believe they are telling the truth, that their actions are a direct result of their beliefs. We can assume they are lying for reasons unbeknownst to us. Or we can assume that there are other, subconscious reasons for their actions, contrary to what they say. And as I stated from the very beginning, I prefer to employ Occam’s razor and believe that which requires the least amount of assumptions.



(1) The Watchtower, June 1, 1969 pp. 326, 327
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jainism
(3) www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/reference/searchhadith.html
(4) http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/s ... 240846.asp
(5) http://www.radioislam.org/forum/english/isljews.htm
"We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a this year's fact. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years." -Robert Ingersoll

"My "faith," if truly I have any, is in the idea that methodically applied science increases our knowledge of the Universe." -Phaedrus
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Re: Religion's Role in the Troubles in the Middle East

Postby Xunzian » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:46 am

A strong opening argument by Dorky, however I feel it falls short in several critically important areas: a) it relies on circular reasoning, b) conflating justification and motivation and c) ignoring the history of the Middle East.

While my own conception of how thoughts and beliefs relate to action is somewhat complicated (1), though I do not think it is incompatible with the model Dorky has presented. So then we have to ask ourselves whether Islam is coherent on the issues that Dorky described. The answer is a very clear “no”. For example, Dorky presented a large list of passages demonstrating the violent nature of the Qu’ran and Hadith, yet “peace” appears nearly twice as many times in the text as “war” and “war” is mentioned less in the Qu’ran than in the Christian Bible (2), so making the texts appear violent is a matter of emphasis as opposed to something actually contained within the text. Likewise, the use of the term “unbeliever” in those passages is interesting because the Qu’ran explicitly excludes Christians and Jews from the title of unbeliever in sura 2:62 (3)! Of course, that doesn’t mean that some Muslims don’t believe that Christians and Jews ought to be included under that umbrella, as Dorky pointed out. But there is a great deal of textual ambiguity and the hermeneutics are anything but clear on this issue. So what Dorky has presented is a very tight circle that begs the question via selection bias: he believes that Islam is a violent religion, so he reads the texts in question looking for instances where violence is advocated, leading him to the conclusion that Islam is a violent religion. He isn’t the only one doing this, of course, some of the violent extremists he mentioned engage in the same activity. But can religion be said to be causative in such a situation? I do not think so, after all, the conclusion was built into the premise for Dorky as much as for the radical clerics he cited. What we have here is the difference between justification and motivation.

Motivation is what causes us to do something, whereas justification is why we say that we did or plan to do something. The line between these two concepts is often confusing because we cannot divorce ourselves from our passions so we often conflate the justifications we give with our motivations. I find the following excerpt from the first chapter of former Vice-President Al Gore’s book, “The Assault on Reason” illuminating:
One of the world's leading neuroscientists, Dr. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, has written, "Our mental life is governed mainly by a cauldron of emotions, motives and desires which we are barely conscious of, and what we call our conscious life is usually an elaborate post hoc rationalization of things we really do for other reasons." There are other mental structures that govern feelings and emotions, and these structures have a greater impact on decision making than logic and reason. Moreover, emotions have much more power to affect reason than reason does to affect emotions -- particularly the emotion of fear. A scientist at Stony Brook University, Charles Taber, went so far as to say, "The Enlightenment model of dispassionate reason as the duty of citizenship is empirically bankrupt."

If we can’t keep our justifications and motivations straight in our own minds, how can we except to divine them in others? The answer to both challenges is the same and it is ironic that it is, in fact, easier for us to apply them to others than it is to ourselves, provided sufficient information is present. The answer is: observe how they act. Dorky eloquently demonstrated how belief relates to action and how action relates to belief. In my opening argument, I described at length how the actions of Muslims in the Middle East do not match up to a religious motivation. After all, if the motivation were religious in nature, mere bribes would not sway the insurgents in Iraq, and the fighters and suicide bombers of Hezbollah and Hamas would not need the financial reward they receive. The religious model is bafflingly inconsistent with the data on the ground.

Indeed, the more one examines the history of the Middle East, the less data one finds to support the religious hypothesis. For example, there is the problem of the dhimmi. Dhimmi are non-Muslims living in Muslim lands. While the term was normally reserved for Christians, Jews, and Sabians as outlined by Sura 2:62, it has at times been expanded to include Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Mandeans, Buddhists, and even Hindus (4). If it is indeed religion which motivates the current atmosphere of violence in the Middle East, why would they have been allowed to persist? Now, Dorky, the Judges, and the readers of this debate are no doubt familiar with some of the terrible acts of violence committed against dhimmi; however, I do not feel this weakens my position in the slightest. Indeed, it is precisely what one would expect if religion were unrelated to the issue at hand. If Islam demands nothing but violence towards non-Muslims and Islam is the causative agent of violence, one would expect nothing but violence towards non-Muslims. If, on the other hand, violence is cause by a variety of factors unrelated to religion, you’d expect a mix of violence and non-violence as those other factors demanded.

No discussion of the dhimmi would be complete without discussing the jiyza, a special tax they had to pay. This is often presented by advocates of the religion hypothesis as a sort of bribe non-Muslims would pay not to be killed. For a moment, I’ll take that bold assertion at face value and say, “so what?” Even at face value, that supports what I have been arguing the entire debate, that the roots of conflict are material (financial) in nature as opposed to religious. If the root cause were religious, would mere financial compensation be sufficient? If a religious zealot is easily swayed by a bribe, can they really be considered a religious zealot? Now, it can be argued that the jiyza was a tool to convert the non-Muslim population. But, again, such an assertion falls apart under closer scrutiny. After all, there are plenty of instances where non-Muslims in conquered areas were forcibly converted to Islam. Provided that the Islam in those situations is more-or-less the same, why would there be some instances were non-Muslims are forcibly converted and others where they are allowed to maintain their old faith provided they pay a special tax? If Islam is the motivating factor, it simply doesn’t make sense. However, if there are separate motivations, motivations unrelated to religion, then the hodge-podge nature of their application makes all the sense in the world. Indeed, it gets stranger for the religion hypothesis, as there were instances where dhimmi were encouraged not to convert to Islam (sometimes even going so far as to make it illegal for them to do so) because they were such a vitally important source of revenue for Muslim rulers.(5) If religion is indeed a motivating factor and this religion will not countenance other faiths, why on Earth would they discourage people from converting? Of course, if it isn’t about religion, if it is about material concerns, then it makes perfect sense.

So let us examine Occam’s Razor as it relates to the religion hypothesis as presented by Dorky. The principle of Occam’s Razor states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory (6). I have tried to make a compelling case that religion is not effective as a predictive tool when the conflicts and troubles of the Middle East are viewed through that lens. In my opening statement, I primarily did this by comparing the paucity of results the religious understanding has generated compared to the numerous results the materialist understanding has generated. In my rebuttal to Dorky’s opening position, I have tried to maintain a more unbiased position and examine the religious hypothesis as Dorky presented it by its own merits. It is my hope that I have successfully demonstrated the religion hypothesis is nonsensical. The foundation of the religion hypothesis is based on the assumption that religion is indeed the causative agent and then actively seeking out sources that would support that position. Whether the process is conscious and cynical or unconscious and misguided, the results are the same: fitting the data to the hypothesis as opposed to fitting the hypothesis to the data. This dubious foundation is then used to conflate justification with motivation. In many ways, this is a re-iteration of the first sin, because the words which support the initial assumption are given more weight than the actions which do not. Lastly, the fact that the Middle East and other areas of the world have been Muslim-ruled for a long time, yet despite this fact, millions of non-Muslims have lived there in relative peace. Not only that, but at times conversion of these non-Muslims was actively discouraged. If Islam cannot tolerate other religions as Dorky and other holders of the religion hypothesis are correct, why would this be so? The materialist vision I outlined in my opening argument, while far from perfect, does not share this problem of incoherence. Likewise, many of the historical trends which make no sense under the religion hypothesis make perfect sense and are easily understood under the materialist hypothesis. So Dorky’s religion hypothesis is disqualified under Occam’s Razor, they very tool he sought to use in justifying it.

1) It is largely influenced by Wang Yangming, which can be explored here for those interested. At present, I doubt such esoteric concerns will be relevant to the debate at hand, but should further discussion prove necessary a suitable primer is warranted.

2) http://www.rumiforum.org/server/index.p ... &Itemid=35

3)
Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve/


4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhimmi

5) http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Jizya

6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor
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Re: Religion's Role in the Troubles in the Middle East

Postby d0rkyd00d » Thu Mar 05, 2009 9:03 pm

I would first once again like to apologize for the delay in my response. Usually, my only time to get a chance to work on these is at work, and I’ve been swamped. Thank you all for your patience.

Thank you Xunzian, for your opening and well thought out post. While informative, however, I believe it fell far short of proving your point, that religion is inert in the troubles in the Middle East for several reasons. Here’s why.

In Xunzian’s first argument, he states that a review panel was set up to interview the insurgents fighting against the U.S. military, and it was found that mostly, their fighting was motivated by economic circumstance or “intimidation by others.” It first must be brought to light that in the same article, only one paragraph before, we are informed that the “true extremists” were separated from this group. But it is these true extremists that pose the greatest threat, as they are certainly blinded from reason by their religious fervor, and although the article never mentions what they said when they were interviewed, I am almost certain they wouldn’t respond that their actions were driven by economic circumstance or intimidation by others. Additionally, by one estimate, there are approximately 1.8 million Islamic jihadists who are capable and willing to carry out terrorist attacks, which some would consider a conservative figure, a staggering figure. (1) They are most likely the intimidators in question. I’d also like to focus on the second motivation mentioned by those interviewed: intimidation by others. In Islamic states and countries, non-Muslims are considered lesser and unequal by a great degree. The obvious explanation for this is the teachings in the Koran and the Hadith, which repeatedly state explicitly that Muslims are superior. The “extremists” and their excessively violent nature, as well as their zealous devotion to their religion, would intimidate anybody who would consider choosing an alternative lifestyle. Clearly, this intimidation can also be traced back to religious belief.

In Xunzian’s second argument, he states that the nationalism is another causative factor for the current troubles in the Middle East. But nationalism and religious belief are not mutually exclusive. Additionally, I believe it is difficult for the western mind to wrap their head around what Islam truly is. It is more than a religion. It is a geopolitical project, a system of government, and a political ideology. Of course Islamic countries are vying for political power in the Middle East, and really across the world. Islam is dedicated to the hegemony of Islamic law in the world, and believe once it is established, peace will come. This is what many mean when they say that Islam is a “peaceful religion.” Of course, there are various branches of Islam, which also fits why Muslims would be fixated on ensuring their belief system is the one that successfully dominates the world. This can be achieved through various means, one being gaining greater political clout.

Xunzian’s third subject is how land relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The issue of land and the Islamic faith are so inextricably linked, I can’t help but wonder why this was brought up. One only needs to look back through the history of the Islamic faith to see the issue of land and the religion of Islam are inseparable. In 640 A.D., the holy land of Palestine and Israel was conquered by Muslims. One of Islam’s holiest sites, the Dome of the Rock, was built where the Hebrew Temple of Soloman once stood in Jerusalem. (2) When Seljuk Turks began interfering with Christians’ ability to travel to their holy lands and shrine in Jerusalem, and when their physical safety was at risk, the Western Christian crusaders acted as protectors of their holy lands and reconquered them. In Islam, it is their duty and obligation to spread the religion across the earth. But in particular, lands that were once under Muslim rule that have been captured are of the utmost importance to reconquer. So it is not only the nationalistic desire to expel European and Jewish settlers, it is the Koranic obligation to make sure land once ruled by Muslims is reverted to their rule.

Sahih Al-Bukhari Vol 4, Bk 53, Hadith 392: While we were in the mosque, the prophet came out and said, “Lead us to the Jews.” We went out till we reached the Bait-ul-Midras. He said to them, “If you embrace Islam, you will be safe. You should know that the earth belongs to the allah and his apostle, and I want to expel you from this land. So, if anyone amongst you owns some property, he is permitted to sell it. Otherwise you should know that the earth belongs to allah and his apostle.


In response to the financial incentives, while it’s obvious that soldiers throughout various times and locations have been compensated for their service, this is not an argument that downplays the role of religion in extremist actions. If an Islamic extremist believes his family will be richly rewarded in heaven, and he will receive the blessing of Allah and things the mind can’t even imagine in the afterlife, then the financial compensation of their family after their suicide attacks or attacks on infidels is only icing on the cake. Xunzian states that suicide bombing isn’t necessarily religious in nature, because other people have used suicidal attacks as a tactic. Obviously, however, the motivation behind an attack has nothing to do with the way in which it is carried out. Just because others have used bombs or other suicidal attacks to further their motive doesn’t mean, of course, that all of their motives are the same. One could blow themselves up to further their nationalistic ideals, or their religious ideals. The difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims is clearly and solely religious in nature, and many of the suicide bombers not only kill innocent civilians, but blow up Mosques, shrines, hospitals, etc. (3) While it may be true that it is an example of a smaller population battling against a larger population or force, the difference between the populations is religious.

The Koran demands that Islam be spread to the farthest corners of the earth, even if by force. The struggle for power in the Middle East, as well as the hatred for the West and the desire to fight western infiltration into Muslim lands, is blatant and overwhelming evidence of the correlation between the desires and commands of Allah and the prophet Muhammad as unchangeably written in their holy texts, and those who commit atrocities admittedly in Allah’s name. Compensation for such actions is only more motivation to carry out these atrocities. How many Muslims have to stress the verses of the Koran that mandate the unwavering violence towards unbelievers to spread Islam throughout the world as justification for their actions before we listen?

(1) http://www.danielpipes.org/comments/65537
(2) http://www.iupui.edu/~ghw/lessons/mater ... NFLICT.doc
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunni-Shia_relations
"We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a this year's fact. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years." -Robert Ingersoll

"My "faith," if truly I have any, is in the idea that methodically applied science increases our knowledge of the Universe." -Phaedrus
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Re: Religion's Role in the Troubles in the Middle East

Postby Xunzian » Fri Mar 06, 2009 5:09 pm

Throughout the debate, we have seen two models of history competing for understanding. I have been arguing for a materialist understanding of the current troubles in the Middle East, whereas D0rkyd00d has been arguing for an idealist understanding using religion as the driving force. In my opening statement, I outlined why a pragmatic approach entails a materialist outlook of the situation. In my rebuttal, I demonstrated that the internal logic of the religion hypothesis is twisted -- based on setting the data to the hypothesis as opposed to setting the hypothesis to the data. These views were not unchallenged by Dorky, and I hope to address those remaining criticisms of my approach and sway and remaining undecided readers.

In all of his rebuttals, Dorky very cleverly blends religion with the explanations for violence that I put forward. On all of these accounts, I feel that the circularity I began discussing in my rebuttal is still very much evident and at play. It is precisely because of the neutrality of religion that it can be blended with any other concept to give it an apparent role. For example, in the case of the insurgency in Iraq, he creates a separation between “true extremists” and “extremists”. For the moment, let’s put the “No True Scotsman” fallacy aside and examine this claim on its own merits. Let’s go a step further and assume for the moment that religion is truly the motivating factor for these extremists, ceding most of my argument. Even then, would they be sufficient to explain the current troubles in the Middle East, to be the causative agent? While a heroic vision of history might allow a small group to hold such a sway, I think the weight of history is against such a vision in this case. Did the American South “rise again” after a group of extremists attempted to kill the heads of the Union Government after the Civil War (and succeeded in the case of the President!)? Did the American government collapse after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City? Small groups can certainly wreak havoc, but they are unable to generate the sort of sustained momentum that we observe in the Middle East.

But what if they aren’t a small group? Dorky believes that to be the case and cites that there are 1.8 million such individuals. However, I believe it would be worth examining how the source arrived at those numbers. It was arrived at through the same circular logic I have been speaking out against, first by conflating supporters of Hamas and other groups with jihadists and then by saying that those who commit terror do so because of Islam. I really suggest reading the source, which I have cited again (1). One of its more absurd moments is suggesting that it is impossible for Iraqis to justify killing Americans without an appeal to radical Islam. Think about that for a second, the author believes that it is impossible for someone to think it is acceptable to kill members of a force that is illegally occupying their country without an appeal to religion. I should like to see the author’s explanation of the American Revolution, where it wasn’t even a foreign force occupying the territory!

So what makes a “true extremist” and does religion really play a role at all? Here I’ll reclaim my true argument and say that religion is not causative in this case. It is true that in an article I cited earlier, they did use religion to separate the “true extremists” from the other “extremists”, but let’s examine how that was done: “Religious education by moderate religious leaders is also a key component. Stone told the Financial Times that religious discussion groups were helpful in identifying the true extremists, who were then separated from the rest of the detainees.” (2) You will note, the purpose of religious education is not to dissuade members of their views, but merely to identify those who are willing to speak out against the instructor in such a situation.

Remember, these people are prisoners in a military prison run by a country whose Government has described the rules of the Geneva Convention as ‘quaint’ (3). Yet certain individuals are still willing to argue against an authority figure in a situation like that. Those are people who need to be worried about from a moral perspective, since they will continue to foment discord. But how to ferret them out? Jobs training classes seem a poor way of doing that, after all, the instructor will be recognized as skilled within the field they are teaching and, by their very nature, they involve an unequal distribution of skills. Even the most ardent of recidivist is likely to be silent during those times. Indeed, that does appear to be the case because, while job training does dramatically curb recidivism in criminals, it does not eliminate it completely (4). In order for job training to curb, but not eliminate recidivism, recidivists must necessarily complete the job training without significantly standing out. If I were to try and identify likely recidivists in such a program, I would create an area where the line between correct and incorrect was substantially blurrier and see who negatively reacts to authority. And they would be even easier to identify if they reacted against authority at great risk to their own well-being. That is precisely what those religion classes allow for. Religion is incidental; it provides a common language for discussion that allows for recidivists to make themselves known. I do not think the case has been made that there is any causative role here, merely that strong opinions on Islam correlate with insurgent activities. The real trick is to identify not those with extremist views, since more-or-less all the insurgents captured have views that Dorky and others would consider ‘extreme’ (indeed, the source I debunked earlier made just such an argument), but those who knowingly reject American authority at personal risk. These are the “true extremists”.

In terms of intimidation as a method, it most surely does exist. But I will admit that Dorky’s point was less than clear, because he spends a lot of time discussing how non-Muslims are viewed by Muslims and uses that to explain how intimidation plays a role in insurgency. I am afraid I do not fully understand this point, since the individuals being intimidated into insurgency are Muslim. But the question I believe he was trying to express is: how does intimidation apply to my materialist outlook? The answer to that question is simple, and it goes back to poverty. Those living at the whims of local warlords have little choice but to follow orders, lest they and their families be brutally killed. The gross imbalance of power created by a massively uneven distribution of wealth allows for abuses to manifest themselves in a variety of ways.

In the case of Iraq, I believe Dorky’s attempt to attach religion to the problem was at its crudest, relying on a source whose assumptions are justified by its conclusions, then misconstrue the role of religion in identifying true extremists, all while mixing it with a heroic view of history that defies analysis. His next two arguments are considerably more subtle, since they rely on how religion, as a premodern construct, has not undergone the sundering of modernity and so separating religious ideals from concepts like “nation” and “land” is difficult if not impossible. But even if they cannot be separated, is the religious element the driving force?

Dorky claims that, “[Islam] is more than a religion. It is a geopolitical project, a system of government, and a political ideology.” Given the interrelated nature of the last two, I will tackle that part of the statement first. If Islam were a system of government and a political ideology, one would expect a great deal of parsimony between governments and political ideologies of nations run by Muslims. Even a cursory glance at Muslim countries reveals this statement to be entirely false. Turkey is a parliamentary republic, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, Iran is a constitutional theocracy, Jordan is a constitutional monarchy, UAE is a federal monarchy, and so on. If Islam does present a unified view on the issues of government and political ideology, its expression would seem to be so varied as to be meaningless. Likewise, you find the insurgents in various areas fighting for different expressions. In Iraq, you have some fighting for inclusion within Iran’s constitutional theocracy, those fighting for inclusion within the Saudi monarchy’s sphere of influence, and a variety of other positions. Look at Hezbollah, a group which I used as a centerpiece for nationalist thinking, one of their primary political goals is to end the confessionalist voting system in Lebanon and introduce the concept of “one man, one vote”(5). This is evocative of the broader incoherence found in the religion hypothesis, whereby certain points are difficult to address because they simply don’t make sense. Likewise, given the conflicts between Muslim countries, both presently and throughout history, the nature of the geopolitical project is highly suspect since it has a plurality of conflicting interpretations. This goes back to the comment I wrote about Occam’s Razor earlier, Islam is all over the place in these areas and including it in the theory actually complicates it as opposed to simplifies it. Nationalism, on the other hand, exists just fine without Islam in other areas and, without Islam, has lead to atrocities, abuses of power, international and national conflicts, and so on. So why include religion in the discussion at all?

Sure, there is overlap between national and religious identity, but does the religious identity play any role in how nations operate? I have yet to see a case made that it does. Some Christian/atheist/Muslim/Buddhist (pick one) nations torture, others do not. Some Christian/atheist/Muslim/Buddhist (pick one) are bellicose, others are dovish. The examples go on and on, because there is no relationship between what religion a nation is (through majority, constitution, or ruling group) and how a nation behaves in international and domestic arenas. Indeed, given the pliable nature of religious interpretation, which I have already described at length with respect to Islam and the Middle East, I do not see how it could. Think about national flags, we all agree that national flags have overlap with national identity, indeed, they often serve as a symbol for national identity. I could point out that having the color red in a national flag correlates very strongly with nations that either are currently engaged in military activities in Afghanistan or have in the past. It would be based on the same logic employed here, where an element/symbol of nationalism is misconstrued as causative in a struggle. It simply does not make any sense.

Dorky’s argument about land continues this perverse line of reasoning. A people feel they have been unjustly displaced from their homeland, and they want to reclaim what they feel is rightfully theirs. There is no need to include religion in that analysis at all. Yet Dorky argues that the Palestinians are compelled to retake the land currently occupied by Israel because it used to be ruled by Muslims and that the land is sacred to Muslims. And that is without bringing history into the discussion at all. If Muslims place special value on lands that were once ruled by Muslims and are compelled to reclaim them (in addition to the rest of the world), why don’t we observe similar situations in Andalusia, Spain – or Greece, or Sicily, or any other number of territories formerly controlled by Muslims? Layered on top of that argument is the idea that Jerusalem and other sites in the Levant as especially sacred to the Muslims. But again, this is terribly twisted thinking. Religion develops as a product from the land, it is no accident that the holy sites of every religion are placed within the ancestral homeland of the practitioners. It wouldn’t make any sense for Daoists to venerate Mt. Olympus while Hellenes venerate Mt. Tai, but the reverse makes perfect sense because that is where the religions developed. So that Jerusalem and other areas are especially sacred to the Palestinians is because that is where their ancestral homeland is found, so it plays a critical role in their religion. I won’t deny that land is an important factor in religion, but the questions of why and how land is important are critical.

Lastly, Dorky tries to argue that the motivations for suicide bombings are religious and not financial. That hypothesis would make perfect sense if financial incentives could not be used to dissuade suicide bombers, but, demographically speaking, I’ve demonstrated that financially disincentivizing suicide attacks does dramatically reduce their number in my opening post. What I have not seen demonstrated is a reason to abandon an interpretation which seems to be working for one that has not. Dorky takes it as self-apparent that religion is causative in this case and it is precisely that self-apparent assumption that riddles his entire argument.

The philosopher Xunzi wrote, “The thing that all men should fear is that they will become blinded by a small corner of the truth and fail to comprehend its over-all principles . . . If one fails to use his mind, then black and white may be right before his eyes and he will not see them; thunder or drums may be sounding in his ear and he will not hear them.” (6) I believe that Dorky and others in the sway of the religion hypothesis have been blinded by their fixation on religion. I agree that at first look, religion does seem to play a central role in the conflicts in the Middle East but when one truly examines the matter, religion’s role becomes ever more distant until it can’t even be seen unless it is assumed to be there and justifications are built from that starting point. Yet their blindness compels them to do just that. I sincerely beg everyone to consider the argument that I have presented here: that the religion hypothesis fails on a variety of metrics both internal and external. Internally, the religion hypothesis fails because it relies on circular logic, conflates justification with motivation, and ignores the history of the Middle East. Externally, the religion hypothesis fails because plans based on the religion hypothesis are substantially less successful than plans based on other, competing hypothesis, such as the materialist one I have presented here. Reality is substantially more complex than the Manichean view presented by Dorky and others and I beseech you to reject the blindness it fosters.

I’d like to acknowledge the fine Judges for this debate, Carleas for providing the medium in which the debate could occur, and D0rkyd00d for his spirited defense of his views.

Thank you.


1) http://www.danielpipes.org/comments/65537
2) http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/bmag/s ... isons.html
3) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/w ... 426900.ece
4) http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-983327.html
5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassan_Nas ... ichel_Aoun
6) Adapted from Watson, Burton Hzun Tzu “Dispelling Obsession (section 21)”
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Re: Religion's Role in the Troubles in the Middle East

Postby d0rkyd00d » Sat Mar 07, 2009 8:36 pm

Thank you again, Xunzian, for your thoughtful response to my opening post. You have presented a lot of great points that deserve to be addressed thoroughly and completely, and I appreciate the amount of time and research you have spent on the ideas that you currently hold. I am hoping, however, by the end of this debate, that the folks on this forum have a new outlook on the subject in question, or at the very least a more thorough understanding of the situation we’re dealing with. Either way, it’s been a pleasure.

Let’s start off with Xunzian’s first point: that in actuality, the Koran mentions peace more than violence, that war is mentioned more in the Bible than in the Koran, and that making the texts appear violent is merely a matter of emphasis. Context is extremely important here. We cannot look at the number of times a word appears and draw a conclusion on whether a text’s overall message is one of peace or violence. As I mentioned in my previous post, many Islamic extremists think the Koran’s message is one of peace: that is, when the entire earth is Muslim, peace will ensue. This is hardly the same as having a “peaceful” message, for the path to a worldwide belief in Islam would undoubtedly be carved in the same way it was in the early and middle seventh century: with the sword. Secondly, there is something that everybody reading this debate needs to know to understand how violence relates to Islam: the Koran is not in chronological order. Rather, it is in order from the longest to shortest chapter. Why this is important will become clear in a moment. You see, in Islam, certain laws and teachings handed down by Allah can be abrogated. So if there is an earlier teaching or lesson in the Koran, it can be replaced by one that occurs later on:

“Whenever we abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotton, We exchange it with a better or similar one; don’t you know that God can do anything?” (2:106, 16:101)


The Koran breaks down into two sections, the first that was inspired to Muhammad in Mecca, and the second that was inspired to Muhammad in Medina. The early career of Muhammad was peaceful. He lived amongst Christians and Jews. This all changed with the establishment of Muhammad’s theocratic state in Medina. He becomes a warlord, the head of a totalitarian state, rich and powerful, and extremely intolerant. This is where the chronological order of the Koran becomes important, because even though peaceful verses may occur later in the Koran, that doesn’t mean they came into being later on. If there is a contradiction, then the later verse replaces the earlier one. The ninth chapter of the Koran, inspired when Muhammad was in Medina, is considered by many Muslims to be the last revelation, if you will. And this chapter is racked with violence and bloodshed, demanding hatred and warfare towards nonbelievers.
Xunzian says the actions of Muslims in the Middle East do not match up to religious motivation, because “mere bribes would not sway the insurgents in Iraq.” But this, too, can be traced back to a loophole in the mind of Muslim insurgents and extremists provided by the Koran. The first is the teaching of hudibiyya. Essentially, this teaching allows Muslims to concede to peace when the enemy is stronger than they are; however, as soon as their strength and numbers grow, they no longer concede to peace and resort to violence. So if they are fighting a losing battle, why not take a few bucks and agree to a brief period of peace? Once again, it is a win-win for the extremist.

Xunzian then mentions that there are non-Muslims living in Islamic states and countries that have not befallen violence. This, too, is compatible with the Koran. Non-Muslims can live amongst Muslims, so long as they agree to be treated unequally (for instance, paying the special tax he talks about in his next paragraph), and concede that Islam is the true religion. If non-believers submit to being unequals, they are allowed to coexist. Whether this is contradictory to other parts of the Koran is irreleveant; there are lots of contradictions in the Koran, and plenty of justification to be found for contradictory beliefs. And who can blame Muslims for making a profit while still maintaining their beliefs?
His final point, that millions of non-Muslims have lived in relative peace, seems to ignore the history of the entire region. Since the spread of Islam in the middle of the 7th century, every Muslim nation has been in conflict with its neighboring countries. There are religious conflicts in East Timor, Muslim rebellions in the southern Philippines, religious conflicts in the Spice Islands, Muslim separatist movements in Thailand and China, the Indian Hindu holocaust (1), the war in Sudan, the constant instability in Nigera, etc. And throughout history since the spread of Islam, conflicts have abounded, interspersed with times of peace when the Muslims were weaker and rebuilding their strength. Muslims have always had a difficult time integrating and getting along with their neighbors, which makes absolute sense when one reads the Koran, and models their life after that of Muhammad.

In closing, I believe that the difficulty in attributing these atrocities throughout history, and the current atrocities in the Middle East, to the Islamic faith, is simply because of a lack of understanding of the religion. It is clear that we can only have one experience of reality, our own. It’s also clear that unless one has been a Muslim extremist, or a violent faith-based extremist of any religion, it is impossible to picture what it is like to be driven to terrible acts solely based on faith. Westerners compare Islam with the way they understand religion. In Western societies, religion is mostly a personal issue. Believe what you want to, and let others believe what they want to. Islam is more than a religion. It’s more than a spiritual journey. It’s a geopolitical project, a system of government, and a political ideology. It is a form of government to the world first, and then a personal application of how one should live.

Additionally, in today’s societies, fundamentalist congregations tend to be associated with higher in-group cohesion than traditional or mainstream religious groups, and have less tolerance for outgroups. (2) Many studies indicate that the stronger one’s religious commitment to fundamentalist beliefs, the less tolerant one’s politics and sense of justice will be. (3) Scott Atran hit the nail on the head:

Fundamentalism often exacerbates social and national conflict, if only by associating other casual factors (economic or social inequalities, territorial or resource-control disputes, etc.) with absolute, categorical discriminations that thwart negotiation and compromise.(4)


Clearly, although there might be smaller underlying causes for the troubles and conflicts in the Middle East, they are almost impossible to resolve while fundamentalism exists and abounds.

At this point, our debate has been much too small in scope, and I’d like to expand that in my closing arguments. This isn’t just about conflicts and bloody battles, or insurgencies in Iraq, or Muslim uprisings. In Saudi Arabia, 27 million people are subjected to the rule if Islamic fundamentalists. In a court of law, the cases are interpreted through the Koran and Hadith. There are no rights to a fair trial. Judges are making rulings to gouge out eyes (5), rape victims are being served lashings for being with members of the opposite sex in cars, (6) and 11 year old girls requesting divorce from their 70 year old husbands are being denied (7). People’s hands and feet are literally sawed off for stealing or adultery. Women are being denied education based on the undeniable sexism in the Koran and the Hadith. This isn’t merely about violence, it’s about justice and rights being denied or served through the lense of the Koran, it’s about torture, and it’s all thanks to the Koran-based Shari’a law.

Finally, I’d like to invite everybody to imagine for a moment that Jesus, Christianity’s final prophet and the final word of God, had gone around commanding people to lie to a person so they would be in a position to murder them. I’d like them to envision Jesus preaching that Christians take unbelievers to the sword, that people’s hands and feet be sawed off, that women deserve to be treated poorly, that he commanded his followers how to dress, how to deal with government and politics, that those who leave Islam be murdered, and that peace would only be achieved when followers in this world spread Islam, via the sword, until it was accepted worldwide. Imagine Jesus had said that his later teachings would replace and be better any earlier ones, and that his career, while early on was peaceful, had become wracked with violence, intolerance, and carried a message of violence and death in his later years. Fortunately, this isn’t the note that Jesus left on. But it is the note that Muhammad left on, and while there might exist moderate Muslims, there does not exist moderate Islam. The belief system of Islam is and always will be incompatible with western thinking. We can only hope that Muslims continue to find a way to circumvent the true teachings of their religion due to their moral conscience and rise above their most sacred prophet’s teachings, because as Sam Harris states, it is possible for somebody to be intelligent enough to build a nuclear weapon, and still believe they’ll receive 72 virgins in heaven after they take their life, and the life of millions of others.
Once again, thank you Xunzian for your time and patience in the debate, you will always have my utmost respect, and thank you to the judges for devoting your time to weighing out the opinions carried herein, as well as those who take the time to read and consider the words written by both parties.

(1) http://www.hindutva.org/holocaust1.html

"The massacres perpetuated by Muslims in India are unparalleled in history, bigger than the Holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis; or the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks; more extensive even than the slaughter of the South American native populations by the invading Spanish and Portuguese."

- Francois Gautier


(2) (Alston and Aguire 1979; Welch 1981; Kaldor 1994)
(3) (Smidt and Penning 1982; Powell, Steelman, and Peek 1982; Eckberg and Blocker 1989; Young 1992; Greeley 1991, 1993)
(4) (Atran 1990b)
(5) http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2005/12/08/s ... gouged-out
(6) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/ ... tpop_story
(7) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/ ... tpop_story
"We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a this year's fact. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years." -Robert Ingersoll

"My "faith," if truly I have any, is in the idea that methodically applied science increases our knowledge of the Universe." -Phaedrus
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