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.
2) http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/bmag/s ... isons.html
3) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/w ... 426900.ece
5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassan_Nas ... ichel_Aoun
6) Adapted from Watson, Burton Hzun Tzu
“Dispelling Obsession (section 21)”