Fainting in coils

I don’t see eye to eye with Ali Eteraz here.

[T]he fact that Muslims around the world insist “Islam means peace” is evidence that a vast number of Muslims do not think that Islam means violence.

No…the fact that (many) Muslims insist that Islam means peace is evidence that many Muslims want to think that Islam means peace, and therefore they 1) simply insist that it does and 2) explain away anything that would cast doubt on that thought, either by saying that violence is extremist and aberrant or by saying that what looks to the uncomprehending like violence is actually peace. In short, they rationalize, as people often do about their chosen religion. It’s a mistake to take people’s defensive, often desperate rationalizations as evidence that they actually think what we want them to think. Really: big mistake. If a Christian tells you that Christianity means love, it would be a mistake to assume that that Christian means what you mean by ‘love.’ Christians will insist that Jesus was all about love then when you cite chapter and verse of Jesus getting quite hostile, they will say ‘Oh that was because he was angry with the Pharisees’ and go right on believing that Jesus was all about love.

Further, when a Muslim does commit something nasty against fellow human beings, and other Muslims decry this person as an “extremist”, this is evidence that a vast number of Muslims find brutish behaviour worth distancing themselves from. This too is a good thing. At the least, it shows that most Muslims share in the universal definitions of good and bad.

How does Eteraz know that ‘other Muslims’ are ‘a vast number of Muslims’ and how do the ‘a vast number of Muslims’ suddenly become ‘most Muslims’? How did we get from other to vast number of to most? Since the numbers are all left vague, we have no clue.

[W]hat is honesty to a secular humanist is psychological devastation to a believer. If a woman-respecting, non-violent, cool-headed Muslim says that he is a good person despite Islam, he would essentially be saying that Islam is irrelevant to his existence. A believer would never say that. He will chalk up his successes to his faith. He will insist that his faith galvanised every good thing in his life.

Some Muslims, in fact half of them, are women themselves as opposed to ‘woman-respecting’ men, but leave that aside for the moment. We know all that (we ‘secular humanists,’ though I’d rather be called an atheist, please), but that’s the problem. Defending the religion comes first, and truth or reality or unpleasant facts come second; the latter have to be made to fit the former, not the other way around. ‘A believer’ has to be able to credit his ‘faith’ for every good thing, therefore the believer will simply insist that the religion is the source of goodness no matter what evidence there might be that it’s not; the result is that whatever belongs to the religion is by definition good, necessarily; thus the believer is unable to judge what is good and what isn’t, and thus bad things are labeled good while remaining bad. That’s the danger of that way of thinking; that’s the danger of having sacrosanct protected ideas or beliefs that can’t be thought about without psychological devastation.

At the end of the piece Eteraz tells us of the contortions believers resort to in order to explain away a Koranic verse on flogging. But the verse remains – and people who like flogging remain, and people who want divine sanction for flogging remain, so what good is it twisting oneself into a pretzel to pretend that flogging is really a kind of massage? Not much.

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