24 April 2013

It's important to criticize Islam

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not making any secret of the fact that his Islamic beliefs played an important role in his motive for the Boston bombings. From the NY Times:
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev admitted to playing a role in the marathon bombings, which killed three people and wounded more than 260, and told federal agents that he and his brother were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs, when he was interviewed Sunday at the hospital, law enforcement officials said. 
And....
Elmirza Khozhugov, 26, the ex-husband of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s younger sister, Ailina, said that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been enamored of conspiracy theories, and that he was also concerned by the wars in the Middle East.
“He was looking for connections between the wars in the Middle East and oppression of Muslim population around the globe,” Mr. Khozhugov said in an e-mail. “It was very hard to argue with him on themes somehow connected to religion. On the other hand, he did not hate Christians. He respected their faith. Never said anything bad about other religions. But he was angry that the world pictures Islam as a violent religion."
Yeah, why would anyone think Islam is a violent religion?


You can't throw a rock at the internet without hitting some idiot who thinks that any criticism of Islam is tantamount to a criticism of all Muslims – just like those who seem to think that criticism of religion is tantamount to criticism of all religious people.

A young life wasted by fundamentalism
Here's the elephant in the room: criticizing ideas is not the same thing as criticizing people. No one who falls under the "new atheist" umbrella, to my knowledge, has disputed the commonly known fact that the majority of Muslims are not violent people. Nor is anyone saying that religion is the sole cause of the problems in the world.

What we're saying is that some religions preach dangerous and violent ideas, and Islam is quite easily the worst offender because calls to violence are abundant in the Quran. Why, then, is it so difficult for some people to accept that what someone believes about reality might powerfully influence their actions?

Is Islam the sole cause of the Boston bombings? Of course not. If it were, every Muslim out there would be blowing shit up. But for these young men, it was unarguably a pivotal aspect of their ideology.

Moderate religious folks and even some accommodationist non-believers tacitly give a free pass to fundamentalist epistemology: it's all faith, and faith is good – unless it influences you to do bad things. We "new atheists" are just being more consistent: the problem isn't that some people are doing faith wrong; the problem is faith itself – the notion that it's acceptable to believe in ridiculous dogmas devoid of evidence (or whose best 'evidence' is circular reasoning). We must disabuse people of the notion that irrational beliefs are to be respected and valued.

And while it's certainly true that irrational beliefs come in many guises, few if any of them are as pervasive and dangerous as religious belief. That's why it's important that we criticize religion, including Islam. Those who would view the criticism of ideas – not people – as "intolerance" or "bigotry" have simply removed themselves from the conversation by demonstrating their inability to think rationally.

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