Religion and Suicide Terrorism

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 1, 2010 in Criticism of Atheists,Reviews

end of faithI’m blogging my way through the book that launched the New Atheist movement: Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Please read the introduction to this series before you read this post.

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Harris opens The End of Faith with a story about a young man who explodes himself on a bus:

Why is it… so trivially easy… to guess the young man’s religion?1

In the original version of this post,2 I agreed with researcher Robert Pape, who argues that suicide terrorism is most associated with foreign military occupation, not with religion:

Since many [attacks of suicide terrorism] have been perpetrated by Muslim terrorists professing religious motives, it might seem obvious that Islamic fundamentalism is the central cause… [But] the data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism… In fact, the leading instigators of suicide attacks are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamntly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents [of suicide terrorism from 1980 to 2003]…3

Pape does a good of defending his views in response to updated data in a 2008 interview. However, after reading a dozen more articles on the subject,4 I’m more skeptical of my conclusions.

Right now, I think the data best support something like the following:

We don’t know for sure what causes suicide terrorism, but it seems to be highly correlated with foreign military occupation and also with some forms of religion.

So what I want to say here is that Harris may be premature in pronouncing his own strong conclusions about the causes of suicide terrorism, without really studying the scientific literature on the subject – which, of course, is exactly what I did.

  1. The End of Faith, page 13. []
  2. Archived in the comments section below. []
  3. Dying to Win, pages 1-2. []
  4. The most useful was Crenshaw, “Explaining Suicide Terrorism: A Review Essay” (2007). []

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{ 110 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron March 1, 2010 at 6:43 am

Scott Atran schooled Sam Harris in Beyond Belief 2006 (you can find this on YouTube) on this subject. In the next Beyond Belief conference, Atran presented a talk on this subject. His conclusions were the same as Pape and he provided data yet Harris still believes his mischaracterisation. This is the same Sam Harris who heads the “Reason Project” and espouses the scientific method! Oh the hypocrisy…

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Haukur March 1, 2010 at 6:54 am

Well, I don’t know. It’s kind of a wash.

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Hermes March 1, 2010 at 8:12 am

Aaron, Scott Atran is quite informative and insightful. Well worth reading and listening to. Thank you for reminding me of his good work.

That said, I don’t think that Sam Harris’ conclusions are entirely obliterated by what Scott has provided. Both are probably wiser and better informed for what the others have written, and I take their head butting at Beyond Belief as a fine example of two people having an informed discussion.

There are plenty of good speakers at the Beyond Belief conferences, and I encourage anyone who is interested in “What’s next?” to listen or watch them. They are available on many video sites as well as The Science Network; Beyond Belief.

[ If you are pressed for time, note that most media players have the ability to adjust the playback speed and shave off a few minutes without making the audio incomprehensible. ]

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Hermes March 1, 2010 at 8:42 am

Anyone read those other new atheists, such as Robert Ingersoll or Bertrand Russell? I hear they have some interesting ideas that have yet to be properly addressed by theists, specifically from the Christian slice of the pie.

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Hermes March 1, 2010 at 9:00 am

One comment that Harris has made that stands out for me;

“Anyone who thinks that terrestrial concerns are the principal source of Muslim violence must explain why there are no Palestinian Christian suicide bombers. They, too, suffer the daily indignity of the Israeli occupation. Where, for that matter, are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? The Tibetans have suffered an occupation far more brutal. Where are the throngs of Tibetans ready to perpetrate suicidal atrocities against the Chinese? They do not exist. What is the difference that makes the difference? The difference lies in the specific tenets of Islam.”

Source: http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/holy-terror

Note that by quoting the above I am not giving the old Tibet regime a clean bill of moral health, nor the Christians. Yet, his point that there is a difference is solid.

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 9:16 am

Hermes,

That’s a good point, though I’m not sure it does anything to alleviate the problems facing a psychological/religious explanation for suicide terrorism.

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manicstreetpreacher March 1, 2010 at 9:23 am

@Luke. Your analysis re: socio-economic factors is wrong. You need to watch this talk by Harris at The Long Now Foundation from 2005.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3975633975283704512#

Ask yourself, where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? If social and economic deprivation and a foreign army in occupation are enough to derange a society to this extent, we should be seeing Tibetan Buddhists blowing themselves up on Chinese buses and crowded marketplaces and thronging in the streets calling for the murder to civilian non-combatants.

Since Mao’s invasion in the 1950s, c. 1.5 million TBs have been killed by the Chinese. Why are we not seeing them retaliate like this?

You and Pape don’t offer any evidence for your assertion that suicide bombing is due to social and economic factors. In fact, the 9/11 hijackers, the 7/7 bombers and the recent Detroit undie bomber were all very well off financially, very well educated (we’re talking PhD level here) and simply not affected by the social and economic factors troubling the Middle East.

So are the leaders and foot soldiers of Hamas, for that matter.

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manicstreetpreacher March 1, 2010 at 9:25 am

@Aaron. Harris wasn’t schooled by Atran at BB2006 at all. It was rather pathetic to see Atran bend over backwards to blame anything but religion for suicide bombing.

Harris pointed out that moderates like Atran are so unwilling to blame religious beliefs for violence, that if the Koran ordered its readers to behead women with red hair who appear on their doorsteps at sunset, every time a bag of women’s heads with red hair is found in a Muslim district in Gaza, Atran and Co would point out that some of the heads had strawberry blonde hair and the other week in Salt Lake City a Moron beheaded one of his wives who happened to have red hair etc. etc.

Have any of you people actually read the Koran and the Hadiths? If you want to discover why Muslims do these kinds of things and Buddhists and Jains don’t, there’s no substitute for confronting the original text…

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Haukur March 1, 2010 at 9:28 am

lukeprog: That’s a good point, though I’m not sure it does anything to alleviate the problems facing a psychological/religious explanation for suicide terrorism.

Well, it’s not like there needs to be one and only one explanation. I don’t see why psychological, religious, social and political elements can’t all factor into it.

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Haukur March 1, 2010 at 9:41 am

Haukur: Well, it’s not like there needs to be one and only one explanation.

I mean, the world is hugely complicated. Why was Barack Obama elected president in 2008?

Because the majority of voters found his platform and personality more compelling than that of other candidates.

Because, although John McCain did well with white voters, a large majority of non-white voters went for Barack Obama.

Because voters were tired of George W. Bush and the Republicans and figured it was time the Democrats had a shot at it.

Because he received 365 votes in the Electoral College, more than the 270 votes needed to win.

We could sit all day writing down true explanations.

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faithlessgod March 1, 2010 at 9:47 am

Hi Luke

Interesting post. I do agree with you with respect to Sam Harris’s mischaracterisation of the Tamil Tigers. This is indeed a largely secular initiative not dependent upon religion for the abhorrent actions of those suicide bombers.

However you miss the Japanese Kamikaze pilots who did it for the emperor. Whether one regards that as religion or extreme nationalist ideology is moot. Don’t forget the refrain “For King and Country” (and sometimes “for God”) in armies of old.

As for your comments on Hezbolla and the Palestinians, you are mistaken (or have read the wrong book). The PLO was largely secular and did not promote suicide bombing, terrorism -with the possible risk or side effect of self-sacrifice – most certainly yes, but that is not suicide bombing. Anyone who engages in war undertakes that risk. Only with Hezbolla and Hamas, which are undeniably religious, did this really start occurring in Israel. Similarly one only has to read Al Quaida’s Declaration of War to know this was not purely soci-political, without the religious aspect it makes no sense whatsoever.

There is no simple answer here – religious or socio-political. Religion is certainly neither necessary nor sufficient and, as another commenter, pointed out, but in my words, one cannot predict whether suicide bombing will occur based purely on similar socio-political factors.

As Ben Goldacre likes to say regarding alternative medicine “its a bit more complicated than that”.

Suicide bombing is a weapon of war. Given a choice of weapons, it may or may not be used. Given no choice it still may or may not be used. The selection of weapons serves, sometimes, not only to obtain victories on the battlefield but also to obtain victories beyond in ideas and policies. I would argue much, but not all, suicide bombing needs to be understood with the latter in mind.

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Eneasz March 1, 2010 at 9:53 am

manicstreetpreacher
In fact, the 9/11 hijackers, the 7/7 bombers and the recent Detroit undie bomber were all very well off financially, very well educated (we’re talking PhD level here) and simply not affected by the social and economic factors troubling the Middle East.

An interesting assertion found here: Reason & Logic can strip a person of his cultural immunity to dangerous memes.

“all cultures have dangerous memes circulating in them, and cultural antibodies to those memes. The trouble is that these antibodies are not logical. On the contrary; these antibodies are often highly illogical. They are the blind spots that let us live with a dangerous meme without being impelled to action by it.”

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 9:57 am

manicstreetpreacher,

Pape doesn’t offer any evidence that suicide bombing is due to social and economic factors? How about counting up all the events of suicide bombing in the last 30 years (up to 2003) and finding that they nearly all take place in a context of occupation, but not necessarily in a religious context? How about the stated objectives of terrorist organizations that use suicide bombing?

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Landon Hedrick March 1, 2010 at 10:41 am

Luke,

You wrote: “But there is a bigger problem for Harris’ religious explanation for suicide terrorism. The vast majority of highly religious societies – even highly Muslim societies – have no experience with suicide terrorism. So religious fundamentalism is a poor explanation for suicide terrorism.”

I’d like to see this turned into a more rigorous argument so I can see if it holds water. Here’s my first attempt at it:

(1) Most highly religious societies “have no experience with suicide terrorism.”

(2) If Sam Harris is correct that it is the nature of radical Islam that is the primary driving factor in suicide terrorism that we see today from Muslims, then most highly religious societies would have lots of experience with suicide terrorism.

(3) So, Sam Harris is incorrect to say that radical Islam is the driving factor in suicide terrorism by Muslims.

Is this sort of the line of thinking you’re pushing here? If so, what evidence is there that (2) is true? That is to say, what evidence is there that (1) actually contradicts what Sam Harris says?

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Hermes March 1, 2010 at 10:43 am

Haukur:
Well, it’s not like there needs to be one and only one explanation. I don’t see why psychological, religious, social and political elements can’t all factor into it.  

Exactly.

Summary by analogy; It’s one thing to be bullied, it’s another to be told by your mother that you need to knife the bully or she won’t love you.

An actual example of this type of manipulation; Women that are otherwise not violent are intentionally raped, allowing a handler to manipulate them into becoming suicide bombers.

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/129794

After all, victims of rape can and are punished as the Quran and hadith are cited for those punishments.

There’s a tight knot binding social considerations such as shame and guilt and a religious point of view that promotes this attitude. What came first — the religious considerations or the additional social considerations? They can’t be pulled apart; it’s all in the soup.

[ Oh, yeah, young men are raped too and then given suicide bombing as a way out of their problem. What problem? They can be executed for having experienced 'homosexual acts'. ]

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 11:25 am

Landon,

I think we’re really talking about argument to the best explanation, here, but let me try to make it a cute little syllogism if possible:

(1) If Sam Harris is correct that radical Islam is a primary driving factor in suicide terrorism, then most societies permeated with radical Islam would experience suicide terrorism.

(2) Most societies permeated with radical Islam do not experience suicide terrorism.

(3) Therefore, Sam Harris is not correct that radical Islam is a primary driving factor in suicide terrorism.

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Hermes March 1, 2010 at 11:35 am

I don’t know if #1 is Sam’s point at all. I took it for something along the lines of Steven Weinberg’s oft mentioned quote; “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil — but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.” Specifically, Islam.

The violence, though, might still be there just be redirected from some external enemy towards those not following Sharia Law or the religious texts it is based on. For example, the rape victims being punished while their rapists are not.

Note to Christians, there’s still that little passage in the Bible that promotes having rape victims marry their rapists — a concept that is not any more strange than the other promotion of killing homosexuals that is all the rage (!) in Nigeria now. References provided on request, but these should be well known by this crowd.

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cl March 1, 2010 at 11:52 am

Luke,

BRAVO.

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John D March 1, 2010 at 11:57 am

Pape’s data only going up to 2003 is pretty significant. The vast majority of recorded suicide attacks have occurred in post-war Iraq.

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John D March 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Also, just because occupation is the precipitating context for the use of suicide terrorism, does not mean that religion is not important in maintaining and perpetuating the terrorism.

Indeed, at least one report I read concluded that religious terrorist groups are far more resilient than secular counterparts. (I am basing that on a RAND report from a couple of years back, available at their website if you want to check it out – I’m too lazy right now to link to it).

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Haukur March 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm

lukeprog: (1) If Sam Harris is correct that radical Islam is a primary driving factor in suicide terrorism, then most societies permeated with radical Islam would experience suicide terrorism.

(2) Most societies permeated with radical Islam do not experience suicide terrorism.

(3) Therefore, Sam Harris is not correct that radical Islam is a primary driving factor in suicide terrorism.

Here’s another syllogism:

(1) If militarism, Japanese conceptions of honor and suicide, state Shinto(*) and emperor worship are primary driving factors in kamikaze attacks then there should be Japanese people conducting kamikaze attacks anytime those factors are present.

(2) Japan only had kamikaze attacks in 1944-1945, even though all these factors were present for many years before 1944.

(3) Therefore, none of the factors above are primary driving factors in kamikaze attacks.

I don’t think this is a convincing syllogism and I don’t think Luke’s is very convincing either.

* Note that I am very sympathetic to Shinto and not necessarily unsympathetic to kamikaze attacks.

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Mark March 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Have any of you people actually read the Koran and the Hadiths? If you want to discover why Muslims do these kinds of things and Buddhists and Jains don’t, there’s no substitute for confronting the original text…

Do you really think this is a good arugment? Why don’t we see Orthodox Jews ever stoning people for breaking the Sabbath, since this is what the Torah implicitly prescribes? Could it be that what affects people is not the content of their religious texts per se, but the particular, local traditions through which knowledge of those texts is filtered?

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Mark March 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Oops, that last post was a response to manicstreepreacher’s quote (which was the first paragraph of my post). I can’t edit it for some reason.

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Jake de Backer March 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Mark

Are you the Mark running “Common Sense Theism”? With the “About” column which reads:

Summary: This blog is here to glorify God, and support the work of his true followers on earth. It is also a common sense reply to our brothers and sisters ensnared by the lies of the fallen one…..We post to combat the father of lies, and offer those whom have been enslaved by him a way out of bondage.

I’m only curious. If not, I apologize and humbly beg your pardon.

J.

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Landon Hedrick March 1, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Luke,

Alright, so what reason is there to believe the premises of your argument. I see what the structure of the argument is supposed to be, now why think that Harris is actually committed to (1)?

Suppose a Christian fundamentalist blows himself up at an abortion clinic, and Sam Harris says that the man was driven to kill largely for religious reasons. Would you say that this is a poor explanation, since most Christian fundamentalists do not blow themselves up at abortion clinics? Isn’t it still reasonable to suppose that the man was driven by a religious vision of justice and the afterlife?

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Yeah, I would love to see post-2003 data added to his survey.

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Haukur,

I didn’t mean to offer that syllogism as an argument. I was improving an earlier syllogism offered by Landon.

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Mark March 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm

No, different Mark. I should probably use a less common name.

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svenjamin March 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm

manicstreetpreacher,

“if suicide bombers, then certain socio-political factors contributed”

is NOT logically equivalent to

“if certain socio-political factors present, then suicide bombers.”

You provided a counter-example to the second statement as an objection to the non-equivalent first statement.

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Jeff H March 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm

(1) If Sam Harris is correct that radical Islam is a primary driving factor in suicide terrorism, then most societies permeated with radical Islam would experience suicide terrorism.

To make this a little more precise, we shouldn’t necessarily expect that “most” Islamic societies would experience suicide terrorism, but rather that more Islamic societies would experience it relative to non-Islamic societies.

To give an analogy, if cheeseburgers can be a factor in making you fat, we wouldn’t expect that most cheeseburger eaters would be fat, but rather that a comparison of cheeseburger eaters and non-cheeseburger eaters would reveal a higher average weight for the cheeseburger-eating group.

Of course, that still doesn’t rule out other factors, and doesn’t imply causality. And I have no idea what the actual data is for Islamic/non-Islamic societies. I just wanted to clear up the hypothesis that your syllogism was trying to put forward. Because I’m anal retentive.

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Alex March 1, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Hmm, I’m not happy with this at all, and it seems the flagship of the argument is the whole “Tamil Tigers are a secular initiative.”

WTF? You guys obviously do not understand the Hindi connection at all, that the underlying wholly religious world-views are what enables the “secular” force of the Tigers. When you grow up with reincarnation and the value of life set to “none” (where ‘value of life’ is an idiomatic notion of a self-aware physical human being), the step up from that to drive it as a force for *any* cause, theistic or secular, is spot on.

I’m a bit disappointed with this turn. I’m no Harris fanboy (I’m not the opposite either, mind you), but I *am* a fanboy of reason and contextual analysis. I work in those areas as a secularist (meaning, I work with these people, and our underlying philosophies and religions are in stark contrast), and trust me that the underlying forces at play are *very* religious. You need to be aware that not all religious life is centered around rituals or organisations, that all calls to violence only thrive (in an evolutionary sense) when the fundamental philosophies enables them. And they do. The Tamil Tigers are religious people with religious philosophies fighting a secular battle. The former enabling the latter.

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Alex,

Can you recommend a good article or book on the subject?

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Rhys March 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Man, it is the 21st century. We have the internet and people blowing themselves up for virgins, existing at the same time. Strange world we live in.

On another note, there actually have been instants of Palestinian Christian suicide bombings occurring. In the Beyond Belief conference, it was estimated at roughly 6 separate cases.

Islam has been a constant factor throughout history and suicide bombings have been increasing, but I just cannot imagine someone blowing themselves up knowing that once they die, that is it, game over. However important the political or social cause might be, our desire for self preservation is absolutely ridiculously powerful.

It is also worth mentioning that in The End of Faith, Sam Harris refers to a recent survey that conclusively showed the dominance/presence of Islam within a country is directly correlated to it’s society’s endorsement of suicide bombing. Spooky stuff.

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Rhys,

Do you have a page number for that reference, or the name of the survey?

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Scott March 1, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Harris is probably my favorite of the “New Atheists”. He isn’t nearly as shrill as Dawkins. He doesn’t blatantly offend like Hitchens (not saying I don’t enjoy him, but he often appeals to the already-converted). He’s relevant, unlike Dennent. Also, reading “Letter to a Christian Nation” was a huge influence in my decision to be open with my atheism. Short, punchy, effective.

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Alex March 1, 2010 at 7:09 pm

lukeprog: Alex,Can you recommend a good article or book on the subject?

No, sorry, that would be just Googling around which we all can do equally well. But if you have the chance, go talk to some Indian or Sri Lankan friends about these issues. My “advantage” is that I work there, so I get it first-hand and through talking with my colleges about it.

For a feel for where the recruitment is coming from, the Tamils are 80% Hindu and the rest reformed Christians, and are generally poor and a minority outside of Tamil areas in Sri Lanka. Couple that with the “one that is two” of Shaiva doctrine and the history of these beliefs in Sri Lanka and the Indian Karnataka region, and you get a spiritual reincarnation bed-rock based on Shiva the destroyer. The largest group are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaiva_Siddhanta believers (a kind of centrist Shaiva doctrine) who the Tigers have recruited most child soldiers from (and they are the ones that mostly do the blowing themselves up jobs).

So, even if the fight is for secular reasons, they are doing it on a religious platform that allows them to exploit it for their cause.

(I’ll also talk to my colleges to see if they got more specific materials, but this is the Hindu regions 101. :)

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ildi March 1, 2010 at 7:26 pm

lukeprog: Rhys,Do you have a page number for that reference, or the name of the survey?  

I found this interesting study:

Devotion to God or to the Collective? Understanding the relationship between religion and popular support for suicide bombing

Suicide terrorism has become an increasingly popular tactic used predominantly by religiously motivated sub-state groups. This suggests that such organizations are particularly successful in using suicide terrorism while maintaining (and perhaps increasing) their popular support. This success could be a product of devotion to specific religious creeds (Hypothesis 1) or of devotion to the collective which is encouraged and demonstrated through participation in collective religious rituals (Hypothesis 2).

In an analysis of data from a nationally representative survey of 1151 Palestinian Muslims Hypothesis 2 was confirmed; support for suicide terrorism carried out by Palestinian Islamist organizations was predicted by frequency of Mosque attendance but not by prayer frequency. It is concluded that support for suicide terrorism is unrelated to devotion to specific religious beliefs. Instead collective religious rituals that encourage and demonstrate selfsacrificial devotion to the collective may increase support for suicide terrorism carried out by religiously motivated organizations.

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Thanks, ildi, I’ll definitely have to read that article.

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Eneasz March 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Rhys: I just cannot imagine someone blowing themselves up knowing that once they die, that is it, game over.

That seems like an incredibly selfish assertion. It’s on par with the old “No atheists in foxholes” slogan. You’re asserting that no one who believes this is the only life they get would ever be willing to sacrifice that life to make a better future for the world (or for his/her kin?) That no parent would ever sacrifice themselves for a child?

If you’re right, then religion SHOULD win, and atheism doesn’t deserve to be propagated. Fortunately, I feel you are wrong.

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Rhys Wilkins March 1, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Luke,

Check page 125.

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Rhys Wilkins March 1, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Eneasz,

I am not saying it couldn’t be done, but it just seems unlikely is all. Our self preservation mechanisms are ridiculously powerful. However, the belief that you survive death countenances this.

Imagine some secret clone farm where the clones are forced to work 14 hour days, are beaten constantly, receive skimpy rations, hardly any clean drinking water, have to defecate into buckets and so on. The clones are told that for every one of them that martyrs themselves, it will increase the chances that they all get to go free. They will be remembered honorably and receive post-humous medals of valor and so on. However, then you split the group into two. You tell the first group that if they martyr themselves, they will experience eternal bliss for eternity in a non-physical form, subject to every unadulterated pleasure and hedonistic experience they could possibly want. The second group is told once they die that the electrical activity in their brain ceases and they will permanently lose consciousness and self awareness. Which group will statistically martyr themselves more? I don’t think the difference would be trivial.

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eric March 1, 2010 at 11:06 pm

“Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death”

belief in reincarnation or a reward of virgins in heaven for martyrs does not seem a successful scapegoat for that lack of value in life that people often deem as necessary for the act of suicide terrorism. they are simply two of a multitude of post-death fantasies dreamed up by religious believers.
if christians were committing suicide terrorism we might blame their concept of heaven and christ’s forgiveness.
if it was atheists we might blame their random and meaningless materialist beliefs.

Rhys: I just cannot imagine someone blowing themselves up knowing that once they die, that is it, game over.

it’s probably a good sign that you can’t imagine it, but it doesn’t make a difference to the fact that the non-religious (who recognize that death is game over) commit regular non-terrorist suicide at higher rates than the religious. [though these statistics have been criticized themselves because of the high suicide rates in irreligious scandinavian countries which happen to be quite far north, where seasonal depression has a big impact.]

my point being that it is short-sighted to say that people are enabled to commit suicide terrorism by a belief in an afterlife. they are enabled by the endorsement of ideological leaders whom they admire and by the perceived normalcy of the tactic as it grows in popularity in their environment.

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Hermes March 2, 2010 at 3:33 am

Rhys Wilkins: I am not saying it couldn’t be done, but it just seems unlikely is all. Our self preservation mechanisms are ridiculously powerful. However, the belief that you survive death countenances this.

If I could save someone else that I care deeply about, I’d do it without hesitation. Fortunately, that’s an edge of all possible ways to help someone, and rarely the most likely to give anyone else any benefit.

That I don’t exist past the point of death is no different from everyone else. That I know it is only an acknowledgement of that part of reality. If others are deceived or deceive themselves on these points only shows that they are not thinking clearly or don’t really care about reality. As such, anyone can convince themselves of fantastic ideas and act irresponsibly through them.

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Yair March 2, 2010 at 4:32 am

Speaking as an Israeli, with no firm data but some thoughts and familiarity with the subject, I think it can be boiled down to this:

1. People employ suicide bombing when they think it will aid their collective against another (almost without exception). This most often takes the form of a military-weak group fighting off an occupying force, but can e.g. manifest as part of Sunni-Shiite rivalry in Iraq. What it takes is loyalty to the collective, or hate of the other group, plus dire straits (no one kills himself if he thinks he can achieve the same results without doing so). Religion tends to strengthen both collective thinking and produce and maintain dire straits (by being idealistic).

2. Religion influences how people act. So do other ideologies, like Marxism. Islam does very poorly in terms of stopping people from committing suicide bombings, and often encourages it; Christianity does better; Jainism does even better.

3. Committing a suicide attack isn’t a matter of walking into a bar and starting to swing your fists. An effective attack, one that would be “worth” your life, requires infrastructure, planning, intelligence gathering, explosive experts… Religious organizations tend to provide a tightly-knit social group that can facilitate these needs. So can resistance group, such as Communist rebels or the PLO. For some attacks, even a soccer club will do…

It isn’t true that religion doesn’t play a factor, it clearly does. Religious belief also does, I’m sure. But these factors can only work to curtail or strengthen an existing underlying reason for conducting the attack. Contrary to the rhetoric, faith in our time is not strong enough to drive people to conduct holy wars or blow themselves up; the wars are mainly about more secular political problems, with religion only acting as a lubricant on the wheels of war. Perhaps, this has always been the case.

The sad thing is that while all religions, including Islam, have pacifistic and pacifying currents, it is extremely rare to see religion act to oppose the wars. Religious leaders in war-torn countries are almost always warmongers and religious organizations serve as hotbeds for militants.

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Chuck March 2, 2010 at 4:55 am

Luke,

This whole series seems to be more about self-promotion than an honest analysis of Sam Harris’ premise.

You seem to want to either intentionally or accidentally endorse your blog’s “brand” as the “honest atheist” who will demolish the arguments of the “new atheists”.

For you to make the case you make demands a definition of “religious” you have not determined. You simply appeal to some studies that say suicide bombing is secular.

Additionally, for you to analyze behavior it would be helpful to see the index against the total population of suicide bombers relative to the motivating belief behind their claims to socio/political reasoning.

For example, your Tamil Tigers example ignores the root of the problem as an historically religious one from the 18th century when Sri Lanken Hindi groups opposed the missionary work of Protestants. The Tamil ideology while Socialist in its formation rest on this tradition, hardened to myth, to exist. One could make the causal argument that if faith were ended then the catalyzing events for the Tamil Tigers ideology and their “by any means necessary” willfulness would end as well.

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manicstreetpreacher March 2, 2010 at 5:10 am

@Mark. You’re correct that most Jews no longer believe in stoning people to death for breaking the Sabbath because the subsequent two millennia of common sense, rationality and secular morals have dealt fatal blows to the implications of a literal interpretation of their texts.

Unfortunately, Islam has not suffered such a “reformation” and therefore a higher proportion of its adherents do take the entire Koran and Hadith at face value.

Having said that, while Jews may no longer think it acceptable to execute their children for drunken insolence, many of them do still think it perfectly kosher to slice off the foreskin of their days-old infant boys in a procedure done without the use of anaesthetic which would otherwise require the subject’s expressed or implied consent in law.

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Chuck March 2, 2010 at 5:10 am

I enjoy this blog Luke and want to state that (mostly because I forgot to click the email notification on my last post and want to keep up with the dialogue here). : )

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manicstreetpreacher March 2, 2010 at 5:11 am

@Luke. I suggest you read this 2005 piece by Harris in which he replies directly to Pape. Scroll down to Point 2.

Like most commentators on this infernal wastage of human life, Pape seems unable to imagine what it would be like to actually believe what millions of Muslims profess to believe. The fact that terrorist groups have demonstrable, short-term goals does not in the least suggest that they are not primarily motivated by their religious dogmas. Pape claims that “the most important goal that a community can have is the independence of its homeland (population, property, and way of life) from foreign influence or control.” But he overlooks the fact that these communities define themselves in religious terms. Pape’s analysis is particularly ill-suited to explaining the actions of Islamists. Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups define their “strategic goals” entirely on the basis of their theology. To attribute “territorial” and “nationalistic” motives to Osama bin Laden seems almost willfully obscurantist, since bin Laden’s only apparent concerns are the spread of Islam and the sanctity of Muslim holy sites. Suicide bombing in the Muslim world tends to be an explicitly religious phenomenon that is inextricable from notions of martyrdom and jihad, predictable on their basis, and sanctified by their logic. It is no more secular an activity than prayer is.

(…)

Several readers followed Pape’s and put forward the Tamil Tigers as a rebuttal to my claim that suicidal terrorism is a product of religion. But it is misleading to describe the Tamil Tigers as “secular,” as Pape often does. While the motivations of the Tigers are not explicitly religious, they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death. The cult of martyr-worship that they have nurtured for decades has many of the features of religiosity that one would expect in people who give their lives so easily for a cause. Secular Westerners often underestimate the degree to which certain cultures, steeped as they are in otherworldliness, look upon death with less alarm than seems strictly rational. I was once traveling in India when the government rescheduled the exams for students who were preparing to enter the civil service: what appeared to me to be the least of bureaucratic inconveniences precipitated a wave of teenage self-immolations in protest. Hindus, even those whose preoccupations appear to be basically secular, often harbor potent religious beliefs.

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manicstreetpreacher March 2, 2010 at 5:14 am

Read this piece by Hassan Butt, a former Islamist operative in the UK:

When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network, a series of semi-autonomous British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology, I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy.

By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed the ‘Blair’s bombs’ line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.

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Chuck March 2, 2010 at 5:17 am

Manicstreepreacher,

You illustrate my point.

It is impossible to isolate the motivating agent behind the suicide bombings and point to the Marxism of the Tamil Tigers (inspired by Sri Lanken traditional superstitions) as strictly “secular”.

I think we need to define terms if we are to make this case.

If one were to operate within the dictates of Islam than the aim would be simultaneously social, political and religious in the form of the next Caliphate.

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Hermes March 2, 2010 at 5:19 am

Stick a fork in it, it’s done.

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Hermes March 2, 2010 at 5:22 am

Chuck: If one were to operate within the dictates of Islam than the aim would be simultaneously social, political and religious in the form of the next Caliphate.

Yep. The whole push for ‘sharia law’ everywhere is a further example of this drive.

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Chuck March 2, 2010 at 5:22 am

I agree with the winged footed one.

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lukeprog March 2, 2010 at 6:18 am

Yair,

Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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lukeprog March 2, 2010 at 6:20 am

Chuck,

Or, is it possible that this is my honest opinion of Sam Harris’ points about suicide terrorism? Is it possible I will end up persuaded by my readers?

People keep asking what my opinions of the New Atheists are, and I am giving them.

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Chuck March 2, 2010 at 6:23 am

Could be Luke but, as a professional marketer it looks like a classic brand strategy.

I believe that Nike believes all it proclaims about sport too but, that doesn’t make it any less pre-meditated.

Based on how you’ve helped me think, your thinking here seems beneath your intelligence but, since I consider you intelligent I am seeking an intelligent reason for what appears to be lazy intellect on this one.

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Hermes March 2, 2010 at 7:01 am

Chuck: I agree with the winged footed one.  

[ tips winged helm ]

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manicstreetpreacher March 2, 2010 at 7:38 am

@Chuck. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

I am not accusing Luke of being dishonest, but I agree that he is attempting to appear “reasonable” in his opposition to religion in contrast to the harsh polemics of the New Atheists, rather like how Michael Ruse and Stephen Jay Gould pimp(ed) NOMA.

This toleration of religious belief of a kind not granted to political ideology proves Harris’ thesis to a “t”. Moderates like Luke here are in fact assisting the extremists by creating a climate in public discourse where it is taboo to criticise faith

You can read what I really think about this nonsensical intellectual trade-off on my own blog here.

I’m an atheist butters like the philosopher Michael Ruse infuriate me more than liberal theologians like Alister McGrath. Ruse accuses Dawkins of being a poor philosopher and not taking the arguments for God existence seriously enough, but ultimately he agrees with his position on the existence of God. This is rather like someone in the 1930s saying that while they disagree with Nazism and do not accept the claims of Mein Kampf, they nonetheless respect National Socialism, appreciate its nuances and feel that only a proper and sincere engagement with Nazi philosophy could overthrow Hitler’s regime.

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Haukur March 2, 2010 at 9:21 am

manicstreetpreacher: Moderates like Luke here are in fact assisting the extremists by creating a climate in public discourse where it is taboo to criticise faith

That doesn’t describe Luke at all – though I admit to some surprise that he would take such a definite stand on this socio-political motivation vs. religious motivation debate. This stance is usually found in circles where people say things like “all religions, when properly understood, proclaim the same truths” and “Islam is a religion of peace”.

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Gato Precambriano March 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

lukeprog: Hermes,That’s a good point, though I’m not sure it does anything to alleviate the problems facing a psychological/religious explanation for suicide terrorism.  

I have the same problem with Harris. His disregard for social/economic/political factors is appaling to me.
Of course I subscribe all criticism of religion, Islam in special, however if religion, even Muslim, is THE main factor, then why the hell aren’t we flooded with suicide bombers, as there’re about 1,5 billion of muslims in the frankin world? In Harris acount the fact that in fact there are so few suicide bombers, is unexplainable.
By saying this I’m not saying that we should disregard the role of religious ideology. I just think the picture is more complex with many factors involved, and we should take them all in the propper account.
For instance, it seems that religious fundamentalists in general (muslims as well as christians as recent quotes from Craig have shown) have issues with the Enlightment, and the separation of Religion and State, in a word: secularism. That’s because for these people religion and politics are one and the same, to criticize one is to criticize the other. We should remember as well that secularization is a very, very recent fenomenon historlically speaking. From most of history everything was religion: politics, science, private life, etc.

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Gato Precambriano March 2, 2010 at 11:49 am

manicstreetpreacher: @Luke.Your analysis re: socio-economic factors is wrong. You need to watch this talk by Harris at The Long Now Foundation from 2005.http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3975633975283704512#Ask yourself, where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers?If social and economic deprivation and a foreign army in occupation are enough to derange a society to this extent, we should be seeing Tibetan Buddhists blowing themselves up on Chinese buses and crowded marketplaces and thronging in the streets calling for the murder to civilian non-combatants.Since Mao’s invasion in the 1950s, c. 1.5 million TBs have been killed by the Chinese.Why are we not seeing them retaliate like this?…

Maybe because there was never ever a “Free Tibet” to begin with. The, f*ing place was a damn theocracy since ever.

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Gato Precambriano March 2, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Another point that should be remembered, one that Harris as well as others seem to be oblivious to, when comenting on the politics in islamic countries, and the Middle East, is that in all those places all secular political organizations, and groups, where destroyed, or coopted (as PNA), as the result of the Cold War. In fact it was a deliberate western policy to stimulate the religious fundamentalist groups as way to put in check the secular, leftists, ones. Guess what? It worked.
In fact Harris seem to be very surprized that US troops face a fierce resistance in Iraq and Afganistan, only explainable by religious fanaticism. As if…you know…it was something very natural to have your country ilegally ocuppied by another one. What could be the problem with that?

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Gato Precambriano March 2, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Haukur:
That doesn’t describe Luke at all – though I admit to some surprise that he would take such a definite stand on this socio-political motivation vs. religious motivation debate. ….

Only if this socio-political vs. religious issue is dealed with as a dichotomy, a manicheistic black x white game. It should not.

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Chuck March 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I agree with you Gato that dealing with this issue may lead to a balck and white fallacy.

Another factor in making a suicide terrorist is personality type. The fact is there are many variables that go into making a sucide bomber but to dismiss a relgious motivation prior to defining terms seems premature.

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Hermes March 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Gato Precambriano: Maybe because there was never ever a “Free Tibet” to begin with. The, f*ing place was a damn theocracy since ever.

I fully agree. They went from a theocratic nightmare to a totalitarian one, and I’d be hard pressed to say what was worse though if 1/2 the stories about the theocracy are true then the Communists are looking like sweetness and light in comparison.

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Alex March 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I’m starting to think that lukeprog doesn’t include religion as a driver at all in his socio-political vs. religion grouping, which, to be frank, is a terribly naive stance. Every large social group are steeped in religious background, every meme and philosophy ever formed have a foundation in a populous with pre-existing memes and philosophies that were somehow different to the former, an evolution indeed, and different parts of the social structure evolve at different times. The secular part of the enlightenment came out of a moderate protestant social setting. “Socio-political” groupings are a placeholder for the evolution of social ideas, and religion itself *is* a social idea.

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Mark March 2, 2010 at 3:03 pm

manicstreetpreacher: Unfortunately, Islam has not suffered such a “reformation” and therefore a higher proportion of its adherents do take the entire Koran and Hadith at face value.

The point is there is no taking it at face value. Every Muslim’s interpretation of its message is intimately bound up with local hermeneutic traditions; it doesn’t occur in some cultural vacuum any more than Jews’ reading of the Torah does. Pointing to prima facie violence-friendly sections of the Qur’an tells us nothing about whether Islam causes violence without examining the ways Qur’anic knowledge is actually transmitted. Your strategy reminds me of the anti-semites out there who point to obscure passages of the Talmud which seem to devalue non-Jews, and who then offer them as proof that Jews really believe themselves to be a superior race bent on world domination.

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Chuck March 2, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Mark,

I recommend this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fi_Zilal_al-Qur'an

And this:

http://www.amazon.com/Terror-Liberalism-Paul-Berman/dp/0393057755

You will need to reconcile dhimmitude in Sharia and abrogation in Islam if you want to claim those opposing the ideology and seeing it as violent are cherry picking the religion to invoke bigotry.

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Mark March 2, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Many of those seeing Islam as violent clearly are cherry-picking the religion. This is true even if there’s good, non-cherry-picked evidence that Islam is violent (whatever that means). I’m not sure why pointing this out requires me to defend Islam against Islamism (though, BTW, I’m under the impression that it’s at least controversial whether Sayyid Qutb would support terrorism against civilians).

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Chuck March 2, 2010 at 5:19 pm

“This movement uses … physical power and Jihaad for abolishing the organizations and authorities of the jahili system which prevents people from reforming their ideas and beliefs but forces them to obey their erroneous ways [i.e. what they want to do] and make them serve human lords instead of the Almighty Lord.”

Yeah Qutb was a gentle and peaceful soul who wanted equality for all. He was a hypocrite who wanted to install Sharia because he didn’t like the secular West.

He wanted to seize the power of those who didn’t honor his superstitions and he would do it in violent ways.

The guys ideas are the organizing epistemology for the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. Please, you protest too much when people honestly see the aims of Islam as a theocratic caliphate and they say in the name of individual liberty it is corrosive.

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Blaine March 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Harris is perhaps over generalizing the cause of suicide terrorism, but Pape’s analysis is incredibly lacking. Take a look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for instance. Pape’s central claims, that suicide bombing occurs as a response to occupying forces and the struggle to eject from native lands, is shattered when one looks at the history of the conflict. Suicide bombing was first used by Hamas in around ’93-’94 during the first intifada. Fatah, the dominant political group in the Palestinian territories, and secular nationalists to boot, had never engaged in such tactics. Now, if you’re going to tell me Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s adoption of suicide bombing as a legitimate tactic has nothing to do with their Islamist nature, then Ill be forced to believe you’re not thinking clearly. Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs brigade only began using suicide bombing in around 2003, and that was because they felt the need to regain their legitimacy by projecting a more Islamist image to thwart Hamas from being able to tar Fatah with the brush of apostasy.

Much like the often labeled “shuhada” of Hamas, who are fighting for more than just the expulsion of Israeli forces from their territory (Their first charter explicitly lays out the goal to establish a Palestinian country under the strict interpretation of Sharia Law), so to are the suicide bombers of Al-Qaeda. Their twenty year awakening plan, which espouses their goal of driving out the “crusaders” from Muslim lands and toppling apostate regimes via a popular movement, which will culminate with the establishment of a regional Caliphate governed by the Ummah according to a strict interpretation of Sharia Law, makes clear that their larger goals are anything but secular (They could be more easily labeled pan-Islamist). For Pape to talk about Al Qaeda’s short term strategy without making mention of its long term goals is the definition of ridiculous.

Similarly, to discuss Hezbollahs use of suicide attacks starting in the early eighties divorced entirely from the culture of Martyrdom that is a staple of their faith (Due to the martyrdom of Ali at Karbala) would be assinine. Pape should know better.

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Mark March 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Chuck: Yeah Qutb was a gentle and peaceful soul who wanted equality for all.

Jeez, I didn’t imply anything like that. I said it’s controversial whether he supported terrorism against civilians, which is what I thought this post was about.

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Yair March 3, 2010 at 1:00 am

Blaine – good post, but you should also consider the cessation of suicide attacks and/or changes in their frequency. This shows that the use of this tactic is driven by strategic/tactical considerations, and that for all of the rhetoric regarding the “cult of death” the Hamas actually prefers not to engage in suicide attacks when it has more traditional, less risky, military options (e.g. rocket fire) that are just as effective. The dead of such operations are then called “martyrs” just like the rest, but in actual fact they’re just more normal casualties of war. On the issue of suicide attacks specifically – the tactic is used only in dire straits, as e.g. in your example of the Fatah, who engaged in such attacks essentially only when it found it needed to do so to survive as a political force.

This does not detract from your excellent point that it is often Islamic movements such as the Hamas that encourage and support such tactics, and that their political and religious motivations are intertwined.

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Jon March 3, 2010 at 5:10 am

Manicstreetpreacher, let me respond to Harris’s reply to Pape you quoted.

Most terrorist do have long term religious goals. But if you read Pape you find that he shows that two factors are important in creating terrorism. Occupation and religious difference. When people of the same religion are occupied this makes terrorism less likely. That’s just the data. So it’s not an either or for Pape as Harris would suggest. Occupation by a superior military initiates the terrorist response, and then that response can be galvanized in religious terms. That’s something we should be aware of.

People here have asked for examples of Christian suicide bombers. You can look at one here. Pape points out that Lebanon has a sizable Christian population. Israeli occupation has motivated a proportionate Christian suicide terrorist response.

My personal belief is that if a foreign government (say China) put an embargo on our country and starved a million people, mostly children, as was done to Iraq, installed military bases in our country, installed puppet dictators, killed civilians with drones, etc, and we were extremely weak militarily you’d see a terrorist response and it would galvanize around Christianity. People would view it in terms of a religious conflict. Religious thinking would strengthen. I’m speculating, but people turn to religion in times of crisis. Our country turned to religion with a mere 3000 dead for a period. Imagine if we, like Iraq, suffered 5000/month due to Chinese imposed sanctions over a 13 year period. Blaming their religion is an easy way to avoid looking in the mirror.

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manicstreetpreacher March 3, 2010 at 9:03 am

@Mark, Gato Precambriano and anyone else on this thread who wants to make thinly veiled comparisons of racism and anti-Semitism at me.

I’m certainly not accusing all 1.4 billion of the world’s Muslims of being members of al-Qaeda. But the actions of bin Laden etc. are a perfectly rational interpretation of the central texts of Islam. In the same was that mainstays of Christian theological seminaries such as Augustine and Aquinas respectively supported torture and execution of heretics.

Those passages about insolent children and homosexuals being stoned to death are as canonical as love thy neighbour as thyself. Religious moderates simply apply their humanistic morality to ignore those unsavoury passages on the grounds of the “context” in which they were written. However, they do not have the courage to admit as much.

There are extremist minorities at work with a disproportionately large influence on the rest of society. Yahweh’s commandment to wipe out the Amalekites is still solemnly debated by extremist rabbis in the Israeli Defence Force who were issuing pastoral letters to troops during Israel’s action against Gaza at the beginning of 2009.

Fortunately, religious moderates are in the majority. I would prefer to have a world full of intellectually dishonest moderates than a world full of deadly-sincere extremists.

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manicstreetpreacher March 3, 2010 at 9:04 am

Harris cites some disturbing opinion poll data from Pew in 2002 among 38,000 Muslims across nine countries from Turkey to Lebanon showing appalling levels of support for suicide bombing against civilian non-combatants “in defence of Islam”.

I’d also recommend bloggers check out the findings of The Centre For Social Cohesion in relation to Muslim attitudes in the UK.

Something like 40% of BRITISH Muslims think that the death penalty for apostasy is acceptable.

Don’t tell me these people don’t believe this stuff.

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manicstreetpreacher March 3, 2010 at 9:05 am

I’m not going to write one word in defence of US foreign policy. I don’t support the war in Iraq. For various reasons that are off-topic for this thread, it has been a disaster.

However, anyone who wants to argue, “Well yeah, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, but…” really ought to research the man’s appalling crimes against humanity and links with terrorism in greater detail and get acquainted with just what a monster the man really was. This paper by Deroy Murdock, Media Fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University is as good a place to start as any.

And has anyone noticed how there appears to be an endless supply of suicide bombers in Iraq? From the BBC News website this morning (GMT):

Three suicide attacks in the central Iraqi city of Baquba have killed at least 29 people and injured 40 more.

Two explosions happened within minutes near a police checkpoint in the city, 60km (40 miles) north of the capital Baghdad.

A third blast shortly afterwards targeted the city’s main hospital.

The attacks came just days before nationwide parliamentary elections, only the second such polls since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.

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Gato Precambriano March 3, 2010 at 10:40 am

Jon: My personal belief is that if a foreign government (say China) put an embargo on our country and starved a million people, mostly children, as was done to Iraq, installed military bases in our country,…

Good analogy.
There is another point although, that is a complete absence or extreme weakness of secular alternatives. People used to galvanize around the existent leadership ro the most effective when there are options. In islamic world there aren’t many.

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Gato Precambriano March 3, 2010 at 11:02 am

manicstreetpreacher: @Mark, Gato Precambriano and anyone else on this thread who wants to make thinly veiled comparisons of racism and anti-Semitism at me.

As for me, I really don’t know what you are talking about, and I have no idea from what you possible take this “veiled comparisons”.
To make things clear, I’m not saying people should stop to critize religion, nor I’m saying that religion don’t have anything at all with the violence of groups like Al-Qaeda and the like.
What I said is that if religion is the sole, main factor for violence then the fact that the majority of, not only muslims but religious people in general, do not engage in such violence is unexplainable. And it is.
Groups like Bin Laden’s are political AND religious. They see both as one. So, we cannot say that it’s only about religion, BUT, we cannot say that it’s only about politics either. It is both.
It’s wrong to say that Bin Laden have secular goals. He have political ones, as a religious man. People tend to take politics as a secular bussiness because it is for us, but it is not for him, and people like him, muslim or christian.

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Gato Precambriano March 3, 2010 at 11:11 am

manicstreetpreacher: Harris cites some disturbing opinion poll data from Pew in 2002 among 38,000 Muslims across nine countries from Turkey to Lebanon showing appalling levels of support for suicide bombing against civilian non-combatants “in defence of Islam”.

Disturbing indeed, however it’s relatively easy to support the martyrdom of anybody else in a poll. What I would like to know is how many are volunteers for suicide bombing in real life, and who they are, what are their profiles?

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manicstreetpreacher March 3, 2010 at 12:08 pm

@Gato Precambriano

I accept that there is a gap behind what someone will tell a pollster and what they will actually go through with are two different things and yes, far fewer people would become a suicide bomber than express support for such practices, but you must understand that beliefs have consequences.

If a person really believes that what they are doing is right and moral, that death is an illusion and they and their families will be rewarded with an eternity in paradise if they carry out these acts, they are far more predisposed to carry them out in reality.

As I posted in my opening salvo on this thread:

In fact, the 9/11 hijackers, the 7/7 bombers and the recent Detroit undie bomber were all very well off financially, very well educated (we’re talking PhD level here) and simply not affected by the social and economic factors troubling the Middle East.

So are the leaders and foot soldiers of Hamas, for that matter.

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Blaine March 3, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Blaine – good post, but you should also consider the cessation of suicide attacks and/or changes in their frequency. This shows that the use of this tactic is driven by strategic/tactical considerations, and that for all of the rhetoric regarding the “cult of death” the Hamas actually prefers not to engage in suicide attacks when it has more traditional, less risky, military options (e.g. rocket fire) that are just as effective.

Thank you for compliment, I appreciate it.

That said, all tactics could be said to be driven in part by larger strategic goals/considerations. Of course suicide bombing is no different. The issue at hand here, and one where I believe Pape errs considerably, is his complete misunderstanding of the larger goals being pursued (Or his ignorance of them). To classify the goals of Hamas or Al Qaeda as “secular” is profoundly misleading. Al Qaeda is an adherent to a virulent form of takfiri Jihadist ideology that is explicitly transnational. They are not nationalist. And they are CERTAINLY not secularists. Their tactics, like any group, have underlying goals, but those tactics must be understood as a part of (rather than apart from) their fundamentalist ideology and the goals that ideology entails if we truly wish to understand why they use said tactics.

Hamas, as you mentioned, traditionally engages in other tactics, namely Qassam rocket fire from their Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. This is true. And it’s also true that they typically engaged in suicide bombing during lengthy bouts of violence (First and Second intifada) with Israeli forces. What that says? I don’t know. I’ve felt for some time that Hamas adopted suicide bombing as a legitimate tactic in part because of the desperation of the situations (Many of the people involved in these operations that have been captured alive have spoken at length about their desperation and how they didn’t see how going on living was much of an option, and of course, looking at the both intifadas one can see how desperate a group like Hamas was to undermine Fatah/PLO) coupled with the inflaming of passions that tends to lend itself to hard line ideologies and fundamentalist tactics. But I believe that is precisely why we didn’t see this in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict UNTIL Hamas emerged during the First Intifada. Fatah was no doubt an extremist group during its first few decades (and they still have militant wings). But they lacked the kind of religious undercurrent for “martyrdom operations” that Hamas has been able to tap into (Which grew from the late 60′s to the late 80′s, when they were formally established, as a result of the spread of Islamism).

The dead of such operations are then called “martyrs” just like the rest, but in actual fact they’re just more normal casualties of war. On the issue of suicide attacks specifically – the tactic is used only in dire straits, as e.g. in your example of the Fatah, who engaged in such attacks essentially only when it found it needed to do so to survive as a political force.

Well of course they’re just the casualties of war like any other person engaged in conflict. But the set up of suicide bombing operations, and this especially true of Hamas, is VERY different from that of other militants of the organization. The grooming of suicide bombers, which often includes the creation of “martyrdom wills” (See the recent use of a suicide bomber in Khost in Afghanistan at an FOB where CIA agents were stationed) in the forms of written letters and even videos, differs from that of militants involved in regular operations (So to, to some extent, does the treatment of suicide bombers compared to other militants. Bombers are often featured more prominently in their media than run of the mill militants).

@John

Occupation and religious difference. When people of the same religion are occupied this makes terrorism less likely. That’s just the data.

I would dispute this. How does Pakistan fit into this narrative? The Pakistani Taliban has primarily targeted either fellow Muslims or military targets (note that these military targets are PAKISTANI military targets) in the country with suicide bombings (and other acts of terrorism). That doesn’t lend itself to Pape’s narrative (Nor, of course, do some of the suicide attacks that occurred in Egypt post 2000, where no occupation was under way and the targets were diverse in nature). It is true that occupation can and does lead to an increase in terror incidents in said country, that is something most people expect. But it is not necessarily the only cause, as history shows us. Terrorism, like anything, is multi-causal.

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lukeprog March 3, 2010 at 5:53 pm

BTW, everyone, I am quite open to changing my mind about this, so any scientific (probably, sociological) literature on the subject that is offered here will be greatly appreciated.

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Jon March 3, 2010 at 6:13 pm

manicstreetpreacher: Harris cites some disturbing opinion poll data from Pew in 2002 among 38,000 Muslims across nine countries from Turkey to Lebanon showing appalling levels of support for suicide bombing against civilian non-combatants “in defence of Islam”.  

I wonder what Harris would think about the widespread Christian support for Hezbollah, a group that pioneered suicide bombing in recent years.

http://www.parapundit.com/archives/003604.html

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Rhys March 3, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Hermes,

If I could save someone else that I care deeply about, I’d do it without hesitation. Fortunately, that’s an edge of all possible ways to help someone, and rarely the most likely to give anyone else any benefit.

Wow man, that is some valor right there. I also think I would do it, but I can’t say I’d do it without any hesitation. Ill be honest, I’m a human being and I want to live! Id only sacrifice myself if I knew there was no other way.

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Jon March 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Blane, you are correct to say that in some cases suicide terrorism can be directed at those with common religious positions. Really this shows that it’s not about the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in this case. Pape is not claiming that suicide terrorism cannot occur when you are dealing with the same religion (as far as I remember from my reading) but suicide terrorism is more likely to occur with religious difference. I offer that just to kind of help anybody understand how a suicide terrorist group can come to couch their resistance in religious terms. It’s not so much about Islam as about human nature.

In the case of Pakistan I don’t know how Harris could possibly fit this into his model of Islamic jihad. What I understand to be happening is the U.S. is sending drones that kill about 50 civilians for every 1 successful targeted kill. Enraged people are lashing out. They can’t attack a drone, but they can attack the Pakistani military and police forces which are hunting them at the behest of the U.S. My understanding is limited here though, so there’s probably more to this.

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Gato Precambriano March 3, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Blaine: How does Pakistan fit into this narrative? The Pakistani Taliban has primarily targeted either fellow Muslims or military targets (note that these military targets are PAKISTANI military targets)

AFAIK in Afganistan and it’s imediate surroundings, as Pakistan, the loyalties are not to nationals or “fellow muslims” but to the clan first, then to the tribe, and then to the ethnic group.
Talibans are first and foremost pashtuns. In Afganistan the game is pashtuns versus everybody else (they are the largest group, Hamid Karzai is a pashtun himself, from a traditional family). This is a dramatic case where the countries’ borderlines are more than anywhere else just lines on a map, artificially and arbitrarily drawed.
So when talibans hit pakistani targets, they are probably hitting non- or anti-pashtun targets, and non-pashtun muslims.
And besides the ethinical divides, don’t forget that for wahabists (and talibans were/are talibans(students) of wahabists madrassas), all non-wahabist muslims are just apostates, and herectics, that as such should be put to death, as any infidel.

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manicstreetpreacher March 4, 2010 at 6:02 am

Gato Precambriano: As for me, I really don’t know what you are talking about, and I have no idea from what you possible take this “veiled comparisons”.

@Gato Precambriano – I’ve re-read the comments in this thread and my apologies for including you in that comment. However, Mark said:

Why don’t we see Orthodox Jews ever stoning people for breaking the Sabbath, since this is what the Torah implicitly prescribes?

As well as:

Your strategy reminds me of the anti-semites out there who point to obscure passages of the Talmud which seem to devalue non-Jews, and who then offer them as proof that Jews really believe themselves to be a superior race bent on world domination.

Are those not thinly veiled accusations of racism and/or anti-Semitism?

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manicstreetpreacher March 4, 2010 at 6:02 am

@Jon – Before I’m done with this thread, I have never argued that suicide bombing is a problem exclusive to Islam.

I am certain that if people of other faiths really believed that they would be rewarded with an eternity in heaven for committing murder and dying in the process, they would grab the opportunity with both hands, regardless of their secular goals.

Indeed, Zen Buddhism informed much of the ideology of the Japanese Kamikaze (“Divine Wind”) pilots of WW2.

And didn’t the popes during the Crusades declare that killing a Muslim infidel was not murder, but the path to heaven?

MSP

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Gato Precambriano March 4, 2010 at 6:50 am

manicstreetpreacher:
@Gato Precambriano – I’ve re-read the comments in this thread and my apologies for including you in that comment.

Accepted. I became a collateral damage I guess :-)

Are those not thinly veiled accusations of racism and/or anti-Semitism?  

I see, I’ve missed that.

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Blaine March 4, 2010 at 1:31 pm

@Jon

Really this shows that it’s not about the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in this case

I believe part of it is due to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism actually. I would never attribute it wholly to Islamic fundamentalism obviously, but I do think it plays a role.

In the case of Pakistan I don’t know how Harris could possibly fit this into his model of Islamic jihad.

Neither Harris or Pape have models that could be said to be “all inclusive.” However, as I said before, one cannot divorce terrorism from ideology. Pakistani terror groups like LeT are just as entangled in Islamist doctrines as transnational terror groups like Al Qaeda. These doctrines provide them with legitimacy and justification that they would be unlikely to find elsewhere (and would be extremely unlikely to find sympathy in their region).

What I understand to be happening is the U.S. is sending drones that kill about 50 civilians for every 1 successful targeted kill. Enraged people are lashing out. They can’t attack a drone, but they can attack the Pakistani military and police forces which are hunting them at the behest of the U.S. My understanding is limited here though, so there’s probably more to this.

Well, first off, statistics on casualties from drone strikes are all over the place, so I’d skeptical of the reports being pumped out on ratios and such (The discrepancy is large when one looks at the statistics used by the likes of Exum and Kilcullen, who use sources primarily affiliated with the Pakistani Government versus Bergen and his cohorts at the New America Foundation who use on the ground reports from media outlets with no direct affiliation to Government authorities for instance).

And secondly, you are correct in saying there is more to it. The Pakistani security apparatus has always had a rocky relationship with the terror groups and war lords they were instrumental in propping up during the 80′s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. This is due to multiple factors (including their recent clampdown of militants, but suicide attacks have been occurring long before that in Pakistan), which include the fact that many militants view Pakistan as an “apostate” regime and hope to spread their version of Sharia Law to all of Pakistan instead of being confined to FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where, until recently, militants were given much leeway to implement their own style of Governance in return for a cease fire).

AFAIK in Afganistan and it’s imediate surroundings, as Pakistan, the loyalties are not to nationals or “fellow muslims” but to the clan first, then to the tribe, and then to the ethnic group.

Well, this isn’t actually all that true. Allegiances and loyalties in Afghanistan are as complex as anywhere else and can easily cut across clan, tribe, ethnicity, etc. There have been many experts (Including the like of Bernt Glatzer), who have researched the extent of social identity in Afghanistan and neighboring areas, and most of them have come to the conclusion that ideas like “tribe” or “clan” are far more elastic and less critical to identity than most people think.

@ Gato Precambriano

Talibans are first and foremost pashtuns. In Afganistan the game is pashtuns versus everybody else (they are the largest group, Hamid Karzai is a pashtun himself, from a traditional family).

In recent years, the Taliban have actually expanded their base of support outside of traditional Pashtun areas. That said, the Taliban are not tribal. Yes, most of them are Pashtun (Which is to be expected given the ethnic make up of Afghanistan), but their ideology rejects tribalism (Even if not all of the Taliban do) in favor of a united Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan, with religion as the principle identity of the state. This is well known.

So when talibans hit pakistani targets, they are probably hitting non- or anti-pashtun targets, and non-pashtun muslims.

That’s doubtful, Pashtuns are the second largest ethnic group in Pakistan outside of Punjabis. And the attacks against civilians thus far have been indiscriminate rather than targeted toward a certain ethnic group.

And besides the ethinical divides, don’t forget that for wahabists (and talibans were/are talibans(students) of wahabists madrassas), all non-wahabist muslims are just apostates, and herectics, that as such should be put to death, as any infidel.

Wahhabism had an element of influence on the Taliban, principally due to the fact that the Saudis were one of the primary benefactors to terror groups and militants in Pakistan during the 80′s, but a strict, fundamentalist interpretation of Deobandi Islam and the likes of Abul Maududi had far more influence on the Taliban than Saudi Wahhabist doctrines.

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lukeprog March 7, 2010 at 3:37 pm

By the way, this is a great interview, in which Pape discusses the data updated to 2008, and responds to some of the objections put forth in this comments thread.

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lukeprog March 7, 2010 at 4:14 pm

ORIGINAL VERSION OF THIS POST

I’m blogging my way through the book that launched the New Atheist movement: Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Please read the introduction to this series before you read this post.

Harris opens The End of Faith with a story about a young man who explodes himself on a bus:

Why is it… so trivially easy… to guess the young man’s religion? ((The End of Faith, page 13.))

The problem is that most of us will guess incorrectly. We will guess the young man is a Muslim. But if we follow the facts, it’s most likely the instigator of suicide terrorism is a secularist. Here is terrorism researcher Robert Pape:

Since many [attacks of suicide terrorism] have been perpetrated by Muslim terrorists professing religious motives, it might seem obvious that Islamic fundamentalism is the central cause… [But] the data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism… In fact, the leading instigators of suicide attacks are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamntly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents [of suicide terrorism from 1980 to 2003]… ((Dying to Win, pages 1-2.))

How does Harris counter these facts? By saying that the Tamil Tigers were not, in fact, secular:

While the motivations of the Tigers are not explicitly religious, they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death… Hindus, even those whose preoccupations appear to be basically secular, often harbor potent religious beliefs. ((The End of Faith, endnote #2.))

Probably, we all harbor some pretty kooky ideas. None of us has the time to rationally investigate every belief we hold. But that’s beside the point. Both a data analysis and the stated goals of terrorist organizations themselves show that most suicide terrorism is motivated by secular concerns

…including those of Hezbollah to drive the United States, French, and Israeli forces out of Lebanon; by Palestinian terrorist groups to force Israel to abandon the West Bank and Gaza; by the [Tamil Tigers] to compel the Sri Lankan government to accept an independent Tamil homeland; by al-Qaeda to pressure the United States to withdraw from the Persian Gulf region. Since August of 2003, [another terrorist] campaign has begun, aimed at driving the United States out of Iraq… ((Dying to Win, page 5.))

But there is a bigger problem for Harris’ religious explanation for suicide terrorism. The vast majority of highly religious societies – even highly Muslim societies – have no experience with suicide terrorism. So religious fundamentalism is a poor explanation for suicide terrorism.

Indeed, psychological explanations for suicide terrorism fail badly on several fronts:

…psychological explanations cannot explain why… the overwhelming majority of societies… exhibit no suicide terrorism but a handful of societies have experienced dozens of attacks each. This requires a political or social explanation. Similarly, …psychological explanations cannot account for why over 95 percent of all suicide terrorist attacks occur in organized campaigns that are concentrated in time. ((Ibid, page 17.))

So religious motivations – a type of psychological factor – don’t explain the suicide terrorism we observe. Socio-political factors do.

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Hermes March 11, 2010 at 6:40 am

Great! Glad to see the revisions.

Maybe it’s time to consider some tweaks to other text as well? http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=6814 (p.2, section 2)

Reason: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=6382#comment-34778

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Conversational Atheist March 12, 2010 at 12:55 am

I’m a little wary of telling people the ‘real’ reasons behind why they do something. When the suicide bombers say they are doing it for religious reasons for the glory of god, I tend to take them at their word. I could be wrong, of course.

What would you say to a person who explained your atheist blog by claiming that you are not “an atheist who is motivated by the belief in the inherent utility of rational discourse”, but instead, you are really motivated by socio-political factors?

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manicstreetpreacher March 12, 2010 at 1:05 am

@Conversational Atheist

Nail. Head. Respect.

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Jon March 12, 2010 at 4:00 am

I agree. You should take terrorists at their word.

Here are a few citations from Bin Laden’s videos. I simply called up the most recent ones, but you can look at a variety of them and the message is the same.

Sep 25, 2009

In summary: We demand neither something unjust nor absurd; and it is certainly part of justice for you to stop your injustice and withdraw your soldiers. It would also be sensible not to treat your neighbors badly.

Sep 13, 2009

At the beginning, I say that we have made it clear and stated so many times for over two decades that the cause of the quarrel with you is your support for your Israeli allies, who have occupied our land, Palestine. This position of yours, along with some other grievances, is what prompted us to carry out the 11 September events. Had you known the magnitude of our suffering as a result of the injustice of the Jews against us, with the support of your administrations for them, you would have known that both our nations are victims of the policies of the White House, which is in fact a hostage in the hands of pressure groups, especially major corporations and the Israeli lobby.

Jan 19, 2009

I don’t see a transcript, but it is entitled “A Call for Jihad to Stop the Aggression Against Gaza”. This is during the awful Israeli incursion into Gaza that killed 1400 basically defenseless people trapped in a concentration camp called Gaza.

Here’s an interesting one where OBL talks about how he has no quarrel with Christians and Jews generally who live in peace in Muslims territories and how the holocaust was a European incident, not a Muslim one. I won’t quote it because it’s quite long, but I think it again makes clear what has been said so many times by him. The occupation and the issue of Palestine, the violence of which is enabled by U.S. policy, is his motivation.

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Aaron March 12, 2010 at 7:38 am

@Conversational Atheist

I think you are missing the forest for the trees here.

When a bully says they are picking on a nerd, the bully may say its because they are a nerd. But is this the real reason the bully is bullying? No! The real reason may be a combination of many factors including a bad home life, incorrectly taught values, mental problems/learning difficulties, etc.

Similarly if we ask a burglar why they robbed a house they might say they need the money. But is this the real reason? Yes and no. They might need money because they are unable/unwilling to get a job and support themselves, they are incapable of keeping a job, etc. They also might be doing it because they live in an unequal society where people are impersonal and unwilling to help their fellow man.

To characterise the motives for action of people on the basis of what is essentially their last thought completely dismisses the history, background knowledge and chain of thought which lead that person to their course of action. Without taking these into consideration you will never be able to solve the issues because you will be forever treating the symptom instead of curing the disease.

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manicstreetpreacher March 12, 2010 at 8:03 am

@Aaron

What evidence would satisfy you that religion had any part to play in conflict?

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manicstreetpreacher March 12, 2010 at 8:04 am

@Jon

Why don’t you read OBL’s Letter to America?

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,
“Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory” [Quran 22:39]

“Those who believe, fight in the Cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Taghut (anything worshipped other than Allah e.g. Satan). So fight you against the friends of Satan; ever feeble is indeed the plot of Satan.”[Quran 4:76]

Some American writers have published articles under the title ‘On what basis are we fighting?’ These articles have generated a number of responses, some of which adhered to the truth and were based on Islamic Law, and others which have not. Here we wanted to outline the truth – as an explanation and warning – hoping for Allah’s reward, seeking success and support from Him…

The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased

Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily…

It is the Muslims who are the inheritors of Moses (peace be upon him) and the inheritors of the real Torah that has not been changed. Muslims believe in all of the Prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all. If the followers of Moses have been promised a right to Palestine in the Torah, then the Muslims are the most worthy nation of this.

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lukeprog March 12, 2010 at 8:15 am

Conversational Atheist,

You raise some excellent points. Thanks.

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Jon March 13, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Wow, manicstreetpreacher. It’s very interesting where you installed those ellipses. Right at the point where OBL’s main motivation for violence is clearly expressed.

“While seeking Allah’s help, we form our reply based on two questions directed at the Americans:

(Q1) Why are we fighting and opposing you?
Q2)What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?

As for the first question: Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple:

(1) Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.”

He goes on to describe the ways Muslims are being attacked. By proxy governments, by occupation of U.S. military forces, by starving the children of Iraq via sanctions, etc. The very first question is answered very clearly and in a way consistent with what I’m saying, but it kind of looks like you’re trying to obscure it.

As to the second question, yes, he does say he would have us covert to Islam and he does conclude by saying the violence will continue until all conditions are met (presumably also the condition of conversion). All of this is very consistent with Pape’s thesis.

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Conversational Atheist March 13, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Jon: …
All of this is very consistent with Pape’s thesis.  

Of course you and Pape aren’t aruging for this thesis because you think it’s true — you may, but that’s irrelevant. You are arguing this thesis simply because of your own socio-political reasons.

So, manicstreetpreacher, to counter Jon, we should not look to convince him that he and Pape’s thesis is false, but we need to address the social conditions that give rise to Jon feeling the need to defend such a thesis.

——————–

On the other hand, maybe I’m being oversensitive to all the times that I hear a Christian tell me the REAL reasons that I’m an atheist. It’s not any of the reasons I give them. No, it’s because I’m angry at God and want to live an immoral life without guilt.

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manicstreetpreacher March 14, 2010 at 1:02 am

@Jon

Not a deliberate attempt to quote-mine, I can assure you. The post would have been too long if I had included all of OBL’s comments, so I included the original link so bloggers could read for themselves, which I am glad you did.

However, to say that OBL is motivated exclusively by secular concerns is wrong. Why have you chosen to accept his comments over US occupation and ignore those about religion?

If you scroll up, you will see that I posted Harris’ response to Pape. Neither Harris nor I deny that Islamic terrorists have short-term secular goals, and certainly America is an obviously target for them.

But Pape simply doesn’t understand the mindset of the jihadist. He doesn’t deal with beliefs about martyrdom, the afterlife and paradise at all. Nor does he address that these communities define themselves along religious lines.

Islamic terrorists kill each other for being the wrong kind of Muslim.

MSP

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manicstreetpreacher March 14, 2010 at 1:02 am

@Conversational Atheist

What social-political factors are we talking about here?

If America withdrew altogether from the Middle East do you think that would stop them from killing each other? Would that make the situation better by one iota?

Look what’s going on in Pakistan now. America’s involvement is minimal compared to Iraq and Afghanistan.

What about the Iran-Iraq war? America was not involved, yet the Iranians sent their children out to clear minefields fergodsake.

The people suffering most under Islam are Muslims. They are poor and undereducated because their religion dictates that they be so.

MSP

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Jon March 14, 2010 at 5:10 am

Manicstreetpreacher, there was no suicide terrorism in Iraq prior to U.S. involvement. None. So yes, I think if U.S. forces withdrew you’d see dramatic reductions in violence in Iraq.

You must know that America was involved in the Iran-Iraq war. Directly. Heck, the war ended with the shooting of an Iranian civilian airliner by a U.S. warship (Iran Air flight 655).

I did not ignore OBL’s comments about religion but discussed them directly. I’ve explained how it would be expected for terrorists that are seeking comfort and support to turn to religion in their efforts to oust occupying forces. We’d become a very Christian nation if China had military bases in our country and chose our President for us, who exported our wealth to China. In fact we became more Christian after 9/11.

Conversational atheists, I’m not sure if you’re agreeing with me or not, but I agree we should take people at their word. OBL is pretty clear about his grievances. My view is that a lot of his grievances are legit. Others are not. I think we should address his legitimate grievances and see what happens. I’d expect the violence to drop of radically, as occurred with the IRA.

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Hermes March 14, 2010 at 11:13 am

Jon: there was no suicide terrorism in Iraq prior to U.S. involvement. None. So yes, I think if U.S. forces withdrew you’d see dramatic reductions in violence in Iraq.

Sure. Maybe the Bath party has a new supreme leader that can keep the country under their thumb and on schedule? Too bad the old one isn’t around anymore. Whatever happened to him? I think he had a fondness for Stalin. Now, if only the Russians had someone like him again! Maybe Chechnya would be a garden of eden once again!

[ If the USA should be in Iraq or not is not the issue. It went in, changed things, and is in the country right now. Things aren't going back to the way they were before regardless of what the USA does, and those times weren't ideal either. As such, the example is just not a good one. ]

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manicstreetpreacher March 14, 2010 at 1:26 pm

@Jon

Poor choice of words. The US did not occupy Iran or Iraq in the ’87 war.

Not that I am writing a word in support of the guy, but clearly Saddam’s brutal regime at least kept the lid on a can of worms which the Coalition have opened and cannot contain.

But if the Coalition withdrew tomorrow, no I do not think that the hostilities would just cease or reduce significantly.

I stand by my earlier comments at the beginning of this thread about what would happen when Buddhists and Jains face an army in occupation. They would not resort to suicide murder because it is not in their core set of beliefs.

MSP

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Conversational Atheist March 20, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Hey, a Christian Philosopher discovers the *real* reason for atheism:

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100318/christian-philosopher-explores-causes-of-atheism/index.html

I have this sense of deja vu…

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Lucian December 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Here’s an article to expand one’s horizon concerning religion and terrorism… :-)

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